MY HOME AWAY FROM HOME: A weekend in Marrakech

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I always want to travel everywhere, but if anyone asks where I would choose to go at any given time, I’d probably say Marrakech. So our last trip of 2016 was my fifth time in this magical city.

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SECRET GARDEN:

I had heard that Le Jardin Secret was a good place to visit, so we decided to check it out. There are actually two connected gardens and also a tower with views of the medina and the Atlas Mountains.

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The gardens look great, and there are interesting videos – one explaining how the water flows across the site, the other about the recent renovation (it was only open to the public this year). A guide takes you up the tower and explains some aspects of the building and points out the different highlights of the medina.

Tickets cost 50 dirhams for the gardens plus 30 dirhams for the tower (both are worth it). This is a great place for a chilled break in the medina, and there’s also a cafe inside for a meal al fresco.

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FOOD:

It was getting late, but we got to Le Jardin just in time to get a yummy dinner. We had vegetable tagine and a selection of Moroccan salads, and both were delicious. This is an expensive place for Marrakech standards (dinner for two including tip for 220 dirhams), but it’s beautiful, and great for food or just for drinks.

We also visited the Earth Cafe, an old favourite which serves delicious veggie food. It uses local flavours and ingredients, but the dishes are not your usual offer of tagine and couscous. Dinner for two including a soft drink and tip for 200 dirhams.

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We wandered off Djemaa el-fna and stopped for lunch at Bakchich, one of the many nice cafes around rue des Banques. A yummy lunch of veggie couscous and tagine plus juice for two including tip for 120 dirhams. There are lots of other places in the same area which also looked good.

Another good thing to do in Marrakech is stocking up on local food: the dates are cheap (40 dirhams for a kilo) and delicious; the orange juice from the stalls at Djemaa el-fna is always great (4 dirhams per glass); the massive pomegranates from carts around the medina are always juicy (around 10 dirhams for one); and the olive selections from the olive souk (just off Les Terrasses De L’Alhambra at Djemaa el-fna) always make it impossible to choose (20 dirhams for kilo).

We also discovered a Carrefour not far from the medina, and that’s a good place to stock up on basic supplies. They also sell alcohol.

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A TRIP TO THE HAMMAM:

I decided to visit a hammam for the first time. We chose a more touristy experience (in the authentic version men and women attend different ones) at Rosa Bonheur, which had great reviews on TripAdvisor.

I had the 45min hammam which included different scrubs and a black soap mask – it was intense! They take layers and layers of gunk from your skin and you’re splashed with lots of water. Still, weirdly relaxing. This cost 30€. You can also get massages (from 30€ for 1 hour) and combos including various treatments and a meal. It’s definitely good value and an energising experience.

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CYBER PARK:

We walked around Cyber Park, which is a nice park just outside the walls of the medina. This is a lovely area for a break and good to rest for a bit on a sunny day.

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SHOPPING:

Haggling in the souks is always great fun, but sometimes it’s good to have an idea about prices. Following on the same road from the Saadian Tombs, there’s a big fixed-price shop (you’ll know it by the big marble statues at the entrance).

This is a massive shop covering two floors selling pretty much everything you’ll find in the souks. It’s more expensive, but it’s good if you want to browse with time and get an idea of what to buy and a ballpark figure of what to pay.

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Another good place for fixed-price shopping is the Ensemble Artisanal, where you can buy handicraft directly from those who make it. The opening hours are quite confusing, so it was lucky that it was open when we visited.

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STAY:

There are loads and loads of riads in Marrakech, and my experience has always been good. This time we stayed at Riad Adika, which was close to Mouassine (my favourite area in the medina) and had good reviews at TripAdvisor. It was quite difficult to find (you can arrange for them to pick you up at the airport for ease), but it was a lovely place. We paid 138€ for two people for two nights.

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This was another lovely trip to one of my favourite places. Because I’ve visited Marrakech so many times before, we could just take our time to visit some old favourites or check out what’s new. And as ever, I left this buzzing and crazy city already plotting my return.

Someday I might write up my complete guide to Marrakech, but for now you can see all my posts here.

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COMING BACK FOR MORE: Places I visit again and again

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My current travel objective is to visit all European countries. And although I’m only (or already, depending on how you look at it) halfway there, I also keep coming back to my favourite places – it’s hard to find a balance! These are some of the places I want to visit again and again:

1. Berlin

I’ve been to Berlin three times already, but I think I haven’t even scratched the surface yet! Berlin strikes the perfect balance between having lots for tourists to do while still being cool and modern.

I’m looking forward to my next trip in August!

2. Paris

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Paris was the first place I’ve ever visited in Europe, and I’ve been there eight or nine times, spending whole months there. I still visit almost every year: it’s very close to London and wandering around is always great.

It’s just so scenic… you can’t really go wrong in Paris.

3. Rome

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I went to Rome for the first time in 2003, and only returned (twice) this year. Rome is, in many ways, the birthplace of western civilisation, and just by walking around you grasp the importance of the place – the architecture is absolutely awe-inspiring, and history is everywhere.

Plus the food is probably the best in the world. I’m not a foodie in any way, but as soon as I get to Italy all I can think about is food!

4. Marrakech

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My dad is always asking if I work for the Moroccan tourist board (I don’t, but I’d definitely take that job!) because Marrakech is the first place I suggest whenever people ask me where to go on holiday.

Somehow it really feels like home to me, which is weird given that it’s completely different from anywhere I’ve ever been. I love the food, the people, the architecture, and, most of all, the bustling atmosphere. I don’t know when I’ll be going back, but it’s just a matter of time!

Where do you want to go back to?

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I WANT TO LIVE THERE: What I say every time I travel

My dream was always to live abroad. Many years of hard work and a Master’s degree later, I succeeded! I left my home country and never looked back.

Funnily enough, moving countries actually put me off doing it again, so I have no plans of relocating. But I can’t help myself – every time I visit a new place, I immediately start imagining how great it would be to move there!

Here are three places where (I daydream) I could live:

 1. Marrakech, Morocco

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Growing up I wanted to live in Paris. The French capital was the first place I visited in Europe and it completely changed my world view.

Then a few years ago I went to Marrakech and got that same feeling all over again: now I’m absolutely obsessed with the place (I’ve been four times), the souks, the food, the amazing energy.

How I wish I had a whole riad to decorate!

2. Berlin, Germany

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It took me a long time to go to Berlin, and I so shouldn’t have waited!

The city is absolutely great – there’s so much to see and do. There are lots of different neighbourhoods where you can spend days finding new interesting places. And there’s so much to learn about the country’s history, with remnants of the Berlin Wall and Checkpoint Charlie serving as reminders of how much the place has changed.

Get a flat in Prenzlauer Berg for the best Sunday brunches ever.

3. Belgrade, Serbia

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I visited Belgrade at the end of my Old Yugoslavia tour. The city is very understated, so it’s not as if there’s tons of things to do.

But then we hit the bars, and it was THE BEST. There are so many places around, from cocktail bars to French bistros, and the prices are amazing!

A great place to buy a little flat and hang out a few weeks per year.


Where you would move to if you could?

TRAVELLING IN THE WINTER: Don’t wait for the weather to be good!

It’s very easy to find places to go in the summer. But who wants to wait this long to go somewhere? Here are a few ideas of places to visit this winter:

1. Go to a big city

The big European capitals have a lot to offer, so it’s easy to find something to do indoors. Berlin is a good option, as you can spend a lot of time in museums and cafes, but there are also good Christmas markets around.

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2. Escape the cold

You don’t need to travel halfway across the globe to find somewhere warmer. Morocco and Egypt are quite warm during the winter, and can be reached within 3-4 hours.

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3. Discover somewhere new

Last December we went to Ljubljana just because we wanted to go somewhere – it was great! Very cold, but a great little trip.

There’s still time to go somewhere this winter!

HAVING FUN IN THE SOUKS: Tips on shopping in Marrakech

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I don’t normally think about shopping when I travel, but haggling in the souks is a part of everyone’s time in Marrakech.

There is so much amazing local handicraft on offer (and at great prices), that somehow everyone ends up buying a few (or lots of) things to bring back home.

Getting lost in the souks is part of the fun, and you can easily spend hours trying to find your way around amid all the tapestry, silverware, ceramics and stalls selling all sorts of products.

Not everyone likes haggling, but that’s not really optional in the souks. I actually quite enjoy the process! So here are my tips on how to survive the souks:

  • Start by doing some window-shopping at a fixed-price shop. L’Emsemble Artisanal is a good place to visit before hitting the souks. There you can check what is on offer and see how much everything costs. Prices are higher than in the souks, but money goes straight to the producers.
  • Decide how much you want to pay for things. In the souks everything is worth what the parties agree, so decide on a price and start with an offer somewhat lower than that.
  • Don’t be afraid to start low. Sometimes you end up buying an item for a third of the price originally suggested by the seller, so don’t be afraid to start low. On the other hand, if the asking price is not much higher than what you want to pay, there’s no need to ask for an even lower price.
  • Speak French. This may not be possible for everyone, but speaking French makes a MASSIVE difference.
  • Tell stories. Stall-holders in the souks will always tell you stories: ‘you’re the first client of the day’, ‘you’re the last client of the day’, ‘I have a cousin/brother/friend who lives in England’. Make sure you have your own repertoire: ‘this is my last day here’, ‘it doesn’t fit in the suitcase’, etc.
  • Be happy with what you got. You may not always get what you want because sometimes you may not agree on a price with the seller. That is fine – what you do get, normally comes with a good story alongside it!

Get shopping!

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4 DAYS IN MARRAKESH: returning to one of my favourite places

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I’m mostly an urban soul, but inexplicably Marrakech resonates with me like almost nowhere else. This was my fourth time there and I loved it all over again – it’s only a few hours from London but it’s a completely different place.

There were five of us, so we rented a whole riad just for ourselves. This place was amazing: three ensuite double bedrooms, a tree growing in the middle of the living room, a terrace with views over the Koutoubia mosque… perfect!

This was also the first time I stayed around Mouassine/Bab Laksour, an area of the Medina that I really liked.

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Djemaa El Fna:

Marrakech’s main square is a Unesco Heritage site due to its amazing atmosphere. The place is always packed with locals and tourists, with anything from serpent charmers during the day to live Berber music in the evenings. It’s easy to spend hours around the many cafes and restaurants simply watching the world go by.

Jardin Marjorelle:

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We took a taxi from the Medina and headed to Jardin Marjorelle. Taking taxis in Marrakech can be a painful experience which involves taxi drivers trying to overcharge you in a range of different ways.

But these gardens really are worth a visit. The place was owned by Yves Saint Laurent, but have been open to the public since his death.

The place is beautifully decorated with plant pots in vibrant colours.

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Bab Agnaou / Saadian Tombs:

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I had never been to Bab Agnaou before. This is a very impressive gate in one of the walls of the Medina, and the area around it was also nice.

Nearby are the opulent Saadian Tombs, a mausoleum beautifully decorated. A short walk away is Badi Palace, with its many stork nests. This is also the area of the Kasbah, with its narrow streets and terracota buildings.

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House of Photography:

La Maison de la Photographie was another place we visited on this trip. This is a nice museum in the Medina. There is a wide range of early photographs of Morocco, and you can see how much and how little the country has changed over the past hundred years.

Food:

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The local food is one of my favourite things in Morocco, with lots of options and great prices. I always stock up on dates, pistachio nuts, olives, pomegranate and other local delicacy.

I also love the local restaurants. Earth Cafe is an old favourite, a veggie place with amazing flavours. Chegrouni at Djemaa El Fna has great food and is perfect for people watching.

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Other great places I visited this time were Souk Kafe (great atmosphere), Le Jardin (same owners as the popular Terrasse des Epices), Dar Cherifa (in a beautifully restored riad), Kosy Bar (great local white wine) and Dar Tazi (right next to the Maison de la Photographie). But it’s always good to ask for recommendations, as many amazing places are hidden behind unassuming doors.

But really Marrakech has so much variety and so many options that you’re spoilt for choice.

Day trip to the Atlas mountains:

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We decided to take a day trip to the Atlas mountains, and arranged it at the riad where we were staying.

We left Marrakech at 9.30. Our first stop was a cooperative where women produce Argan oil. We then stopped at a market town, which didn’t have a particularly good market AND we were massively harassed the whole time we were there.

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We quickly left that behind and drove through dry valleys to reach Asni, a small town in the foothills of the Atlas mountains, where we stopped for a hike. Our local guide took us through Berber villages and the scenic countryside.

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After a couple of hours we reached Chez Momo, a guest house ideally located which served a very nice vegetable couscous.

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We hit the road back to Marrakech through a different route, stopping to take pictures of the views along the way.

Our driver dropped us back at the riad at around 5pm. The trip cost 120€ for all 5 of us, plus 250 dirhams for the guided hike. Lunch at Chez Momo cost around 15€ per person.

HOW TO DO IT:

  • Go: flights from London take about 3h30. They’re not as cheap as they used to be – return tickets with Easyjet cost around £150.
  • Stay: staying in a riad hugely improves your Moroccan experience. These buildings often have sunny terraces and beautiful courtyard fountains. Expect to pay around 60€ for a double room in a nice riad – but cheaper places are available from as little as 20€ for a room. After this experience, I recommend staying around Mouassine, which is a great area – close to Djemaa El Fna but quieter than other areas. We stayed at this riad which we booked through Airbnb and is a great place if you’re travelling with a group of people.

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Every time I go to Marrakech I discover something new – there’s so much to see and do! I’m already planning what I want to do next time I’m around. I’ve only just left but can’t wait to go back!

AMAZING PLACES: MARRAKESH

I went to Marrakesh for the first time a couple of years ago and it immediately became one of my favourite places. I’ve now been three times, and will go back this October.

Walking through Jemaa el-Fnaa for the first time is a unique experience: the main square of Marrakesh is always full of life, there are lots of cafes and shops, and it’s the best place to watch the sunset behind Koutobia mosque.

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Photo by Antiquote (www.flickr.com/photos/antiquote/)

HOW TO DO IT:

  • Go: Flights from England are widely available, but booking in advance is essential to guarantee good prices.
  • Stay: Staying in a Riad is the best way to enjoy Marrakesh. There are lots of them available at Hostelworld, and the prices are great.
  • Eat: Food in Morocco is amazing and very cheap. Chegrouni in Jemaa el-Fna is one of the best in terms of location, but our favourite for food is the Earth Cafe, with an amazing vegetarian menu.
  • Shop: no trip to Marrakesh is complete if you’re not losing yourself in the souks. There you can buy anything from olives to rugs, all at a very good price (provided you like bargaining, which is not optional).

I can’t wait to go back!