My phone buzzed, a message from Sam: “I want to eat Tagine, but not in Vienna and not when it’s below zero degrees. Are you in?” Since I love spontaneous things, especially when they are related to food, my response was very straightforward: “Hit me, yes”. Five minutes later our flights for a four-day trip to Marrakech were booked.
Before we dive into our adventure, something you should know: Morocco is the most visited country in Africa and Marrakech is the most visited city in Morocco. Therefore, we tried to be even more aware of the environmental, social and cultural impact of our visit – call us responsible travellers. For this we did two things. Number 1) We started with a mindful decision about when we visit (December is in the shoulder season). Number 2) we made mindful decisions about where we stay, eat and explore, staying off-the-beaten path and skipping the well-known tourist spots. If you are also part of the responsible traveller / eco traveller gang or want to be, read on and find out how make your own experience with four days in Marrakech and surroundings whilst avoiding the masses.
Day 1 – a first taste of Marrakech
We started our trip with the conscious choice of not taking the taxi, but the bus, number 19 to be precise, which leaves directly in front of the airport arrival hall, costs 20 dirham (about 2 €) and takes you directly to Jamal El Fna, the main square of Marrakesh – easy. Next step: finding our hotel – not so easy. A couple of bustling streets full of vendors and quiet streets full of cats later (and wrong turns) we arrived at our hotel. And what a hotel it was. Riad Jnan El Cadi is a traditional riad – a Maroccan house around a courthouse with a fountain and used to serve as stately home of wealthy citizens. Now it hosts eight very authentic rooms and a set of wonderful and incredibly friendly staff, that took time to give us a real introductions to all the dos and don’ts of Marrakech.
We spent the rest of the day exploring the surrounding alleys and settled for a rather random but beautiful rooftop cafe on place des Epices called Chinguitti. It was the perfect place to have our first tagine at above zero degrees whilst watching the sun set over the Atlas mountains. Pro tip: directly across the entrance of Chinguitti you will find the oldest spice shop of Marrakech (according to our riad owner, so don’t quote us). You might expect a rather touristy thing, but no, it is a humble shop where locals go and you will be charged normal prices.
Day 2 – getting lost in the medina
Our second day in Marrakech was for exploring the city, but not the standard tourist way. We stayed away from tourist hotspots such as Jardin Majorelle, Yves Saint Laurent Museum, Bahia Palace and the like but instead decided what everyone needs to do in Marrakech: Getting lost in the alleys of the medina. We picked the north-eastern quarter of the medina which is less dotted with shops but where the population lives. With awe we watched hot bread being made behind hidden doors, fresh fruit being sold in the street and happy children playing football. This is what we came for: to see the city and its people. For lunch we decided on Couscous Naima, a super tiny and basic family run restaurant that only serves one dish, you guessed it, couscous. Having watched the cook prepare her food with great love and passion directly in front of our eyes, made everything taste even better. In the afternoon we decided to explore a bit of Marrakech’s lesser known past and venture to the Jewish Quarter. The Synagogue was particularly stunning with its blue and white mosaic tiles. Secret hint: ask the guard if you can go to the rooftop. He will open a door and there you have it: Marrakech lying below your feet all for yourself.
Day 3 – the Atlas mountains are calling
On the third day we decided switch it up. We wanted to see Morocco’s countryside and rented a car to drive to our base for the next two days: Eco Lodge Ourigane, a stunning hotel in the middle of the mountains and a 90 minute scenic drive from Marrakech (read our review here). Our drive there was already an adventure with many random stops along the way – from watching camels to giving Berber people a lift to the next village and then being invited for tea. Once arrived in Ourigane we decided to take a short walk in the surrounding hills and were rewarded with stunning views. Another reward was stumbling upon a boarding home for girls, run by the charity Education for All, which sets up boarding homes close to schools to give girls from rural communities access to education. The friendly owner gave us a small and inspiring tour, where we met the lovely girls (if you are looking for volunteering opportunities, this is their website). We ended our day with watching the sunset from a cliff over the mountains in complete silence, appreciating the beauty around us.
Day 4 – driving through history
Our last day in Marocco was spent very spontaneous. A super nice couple, Merel and Thais, we had met at the eco lodge had spoken about a secret waiting for us if we continue along the road away from Marrakech. And what a secret it was. 90 minutes and a very scenic drive through canyons later we arrived at Tinmel Mosque. We found the guard to the mosque, a super friendly guy from the village who opened the doors for us. As the guide explained, the mosque was built in the 12th century and is one of the only two mosques open to non-Muslims in Morocco (the other being the Hassan II Mosque in Casablanca). A real architectural gem, if you ask us, that is well worth the drive – especially since you have the entire building to yourself! On our way back we once again took random stops wherever we pleased, pondered about Morocco’s past and dreamed about all we had seen during the past days.
In only four days we managed to have a first but real glimpse of Morocco. From wandering bazaars and getting lost in secret alleys in Marrakech, to finding our own road in the mountains, it’s the experiences, not the sights, we will remember.
Next spontaneous trip, Sam, sign me up, please.