After an express passage to Casablanca, we are in a bus to Marrakech (3 hours with the company CTM, which we recommend).
We’ve heard a lot of good and a lot of bad about this city and want to make our own opinion. That’s why we book an Airbnb for only a week when we usually book for a month. If we don’t like it, we can quickly go somewhere else.
Part 1: Travel Diary
The rates are so cheap that we opt for a privatized riad, with 3 bedrooms, 4 bathrooms. Just for us. 30€/night. In order to extend our stay and welcome friends if they want to spend Christmas here.
But it’s really too big for us. We are too lazy to move from one floor to the other. Just to talk to each other, we have to use Whatsapp 🙂
And the riads aren’t made to receive a lot of sun inside => It’s too cold. It must be great in summer, but in winter, the insulation is non-existent, the heating is absent, we always have a comforter on us. #fail
Internet is super slow (but there, we had been planned, it’s like that everywhere in Morocco), so we continue to use 4G to connect.
Back from vacations for only a week, we are super solicited by our customers. And I have to admit that coding, curled up on a piece of sofa, in a cuddly blanket, with a huge blanket and a mini table, was not my best experience of the year 😀
The good news is that the riad is located in a beautiful residence, with local restaurants, super good and cheap, and cute street cats who love my food (here I am again the official cat feeder of the residence). At 9pm, there is another lady who feeds the cats. In Muslim countries, everyone loves cats (because the prophet loves them), but dogs, on the other hand, are considered not super clean… we haven’t seen many of them.
The cab scam
Beyond the cold, what completes us is the endless negotiations with cabs. As our Airbnb is a little bit off-center, we are obliged to take cabs to the medina.
And it’s tiring.
5€ for the outward journey. 5€ for the return journey, sometimes 8€ for 1.5km during rush hour because the driver doesn’t want to put the meter on. We want to pay a little more than the locals (who pay 0.8€), but 10€/day just for the cab while a tagine costs 3€, that’s enough. When we ask them to put the meter, they stop dead and put us out. JB inquires and finally, we manage to remove this daily stress, by ordering a cab on an application or via the phone (we talk about it here)
Even for locals, it’s expensive to hail a cab. Some drivers never take Moroccans because it is more profitable to rip off tourists.
Here, cabs can be shared (the meter is multiple). It’s like Gad Elmaleh’s sketch described, when you stop a cab, there are already people inside, you give your destination and they tell you if the cab is going in the same direction or not. There are about 2500 cabs in Marrakech, they are all taken during rush hour, and can announce prices that would make Parisian cabs blush with jealousy.
Fortunately, with the surprise arrival of a fellow SEO colleague and his family in Marrakech, we are finally motivated to visit this city and get past the chaotic first impression. They paid a private driver to visit the city, and I think it’s a great idea because it avoids endless negotiations with cabs.
Of course, we visit the Jemaa el-Fna Square, which is animated during the day as well as at night, but more from the afternoon onwards anyway. There is everything: cosmetics vendors, fruit juice vendors, henna tattoos, food stalls like musicians, snake charmers or guys dragging poor monkeys in chains to attract tourists.
The atmosphere is really superb and you feel super safe even if you have to be careful with your wallet.
We spent a good part of the afternoon from the terrace of one of the many restaurants overlooking the square, doing people watching with A. and his family.
They took us to the souk and showed us a small door leading to the “souk of the locals” (and not the clean and wide tourist souk). We will come back there during the day (because it is closed quite early, around 6pm). Their children call the souk “the labyrinth” (they are 5 years old, too cute). They even befriended a shopkeeper and one of them introduced us like that to the shopkeeper: “they are customers who go around the world” ahaha, so cute. 5 years old and already a rabble-rouser!
Walking in the souk and the alleys around this square is my favorite experience in Marrakech (as long as you don’t buy anything and don’t linger in front of a stand, otherwise the seller will jump on us). I prefer this souk to the bazaar in Istanbul or Cairo.
There are some very nice lamps and candelabra with different levels…
Argan oil is almost sold by the liter. However, I am wary of the quality of this oil (I will give you another address). The black soap is sold by the kilo (10dh the kg, that is to say 1€), the clay too (20dh/kg), the ghassoul too… nothing to do with prices in France.
There are also some strange things that we don’t see the use of such as: skate eggs, turtles… they will explain us that it is surely for witchcraft. The wizards give the shopping list to their customers. Many tourists come only for that.
We have dinner with A, with another SEO colleague now living in Marrakech with his Moroccan wife. They took care to choose a top restaurant in the Guéliz district (the modern part of Marrakech), with live music and a belly dance show at 10pm. We tested there the 100% marrakech tagine(tanija marrakchi).
This dish is traditionally prepared by men because they prepare it while the women see each other (and do not cook). It is a very consistent dish, with 95% and 5% chickpeas (for the 5 vegetables per day). I didn’t take a picture of this dish but you can type tanijamarrakchi on Google Images.
For carnivores, it’s a very good dish, but for JB, it lacks vegetables 😀 This restaurant also offers chicha (which we didn’t test) but the waiter made me a juggling demo with a piece of burning coal. I was too stressed for him. In any case, during this extremely culturally enriching dinner (S., our table neighbor worked in tourism and knows Morocco by heart), we were able to ask lots of questions about (1) how to take the cab in Marrakech (2) planning our future trip to the desert (3) how easy it is to come to Morocco etc.
Come on I give you the name of the restaurant: Azar Restaurant but be careful, the price is the same as a chic Moroccan restaurant in Paris (50€/person).
Dar Si Said Museum
The next day, before meeting A. again, we quickly visit this museum dedicated to the Moroccan carpets.
On the way to the museum, there are already a lot of carpet dealers.
This museum gives brief explanations on the manufacture of different types of carpets. But I admit that they are much less beautiful than those we saw in Turkey. The interest of the museum lies in the beauty of the place. By following the arrow, we pass from one room to the other, before falling on a very charming garden, then a room of a breathtaking beauty upstairs, before another courtyard puts us full of it. This building is a successful demo of Moroccan craftsmanship (whose techniques we have read about in Casablanca). I highly recommend the visit! If I remember correctly, the entrance costs 20dh/person and there are almost no tourists.
We meet A. and his family in front of the Bahia Palace. Beware, the entrance isn’t the one indicated by Google Maps, but the small door near the restaurant El Ba hia (tap on Google Maps). The entrance costs 70dh/person. The complex contains 250 rooms but we only have access to a very small part of the complex (10 big stuff). There are a lot of tourists, making the place less magical than the carpet museum visited 30 minutes before.
However, just look at the details, the stucco decorations, the painted cedar ceiling, the ceramics, the colors … What I find unfortunate is the absence of the furniture. Because the rooms are almost all alike, and it is hard to imagine what it was like 200 years ago. Why are the rooms so dark and the windows so small? I was also expecting more water than that, more fountains, more basins. I don’t know if it’s because these parts aren’t accessible to us??? In any case, it’s incomparable with what we saw for example in Seville.
Dinner on the big square
Before leaving Marrakech, we absolutely must test one of the many restaurants on the main square that we want to try. The barbecue is lit from 5pm. The competition is terrible, the beaters fight each customer. The solicitation is such that we do not manage to look at more than 4 restaurants, and as all seem to be the same, we finish in a restaurant which promises us a free drink (it is the case), and 6 skewers for 40dh.
Finally, the skewers we are interested in cost more like 70dh, the drink and the salad are included as promised. It’s OK but not extraordinary either. In any case, A. advised us to eat here instead, because the classy restaurants overlooking the square (with terrace) are expensive (count at least 100dh the tagine, or 3 times the normal price) and moreover, he had digestive problems afterwards.
While the stands, boui boui on the square, have more customers so the ingredients are surely fresher.
I am intrigued by the presence of many snail stands and opt for a small bowl of 5dh. The snails are marinated with spices, and served in a bowl filled with hot spicy water. One can ask for free a little more water (spiced) at the end. One sees a little too well the shape of the snail, but otherwise, I like it.
My favorite addresses
I take advantage of our passage in Marrakech to eat Asian food (it’s been 2 months, since Turkey, that we haven’t eaten Asian food). So I recommend you the restaurant called petit thai (in Guéliz) It’s delicious! and they know how to dose the chilli pepper (I asked for “a little chilli pepper” and they respected the request).
And as I was short of oysters, I went to the Bagatelle restaurant (still in Guéliz) to eat French food. The oysters come from Morocco and they are delicious.
For the argan oil, I told you that I had an address, it’s Naturelle d’Argan (still in Guéliz). This brand, certified Ecocert, was distributed in France at one time (I had a 50ml bottle), and then it disappeared, apparently, the prices charged did not ensure their profitability in France, so they only sell it in Morocco now. It’s a very good oil, which doesn’t smell (unlike the lower quality oils that stink of goat droppings), about the same quality as Melchior & Balthazar, which I’ve talked about at length here.
The price is very sweet: 10€ per 50ml. 15€ per 100ml. I noticed that only argan oil could properly moisturize my hands (since we are in North Africa, my hands are suffering).
We also went to the hammam, Les Bains deMarrakech. Advised by S., the place is 2000m² so we are completely lost and we always need someone to show us where to go. We opted for the Marrakech treatment at 79€/person and we stayed there for at least 3 hours. Afterwards, we came out with our skin all soft, well moisturized, and clean. The experience is super luxury compared to what you can get in a popular hammam (where the exfoliation is done on the floor), but I find the exfoliation sloppy. It’s still to be done at least once (in addition to a real authentic non-tourist hammam). It is better to book the day before.
Attention: the hammam is mixed but each couple has the right to a private cabin, it is above all a place to wash oneself so it is necessary to get naked (finally with disposable underwear). I specify because some people do not feel comfortable with that.
That’s it, that’s all for this first travel notebook in Marrakech. We will spend a month in Essaouira, before coming back to Marrakech, I will publish the second travel diary in Marrakech in a month here
Part 2: Practical Tips
- Airbnb : 30€/night
- Restaurant Bagatelle : count 25€/person/meal
- Restaurant Azar : count 50€/person/meal
- Restaurant on the main square: count 5€ to 7€/person/meal
- Truly local restaurant: count 3€ to 5€/person/meal
- Cab: 30dh/route is an acceptable fare (we won’t let you pay less anyway)
- Dar Si Said Museum: 20dh/person
- Bahia Palace: 70dh/person
- The baths of marrakech: from 220dh