Essaouira - A Colorful Medina -

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Essaouira is a port city perched on the Atlantic Ocean about two and a half hours for the bus ride from Marrakesh. The bus lines are operated by Supratours. Buses depart from Gueliz and arrive at a bus stop adjacent to the Medina in Essaouira.

If you’re lucky, you’ll be greeted by blue skies filled with seagulls along with a refreshing sea breeze and bustle of busy fisherman scurrying about. The Medina of Essaouira is circled by tall walls. Within you’ll find the famous white and blue buildings along the main roads surrounding the souk. If you’d like to stop for a drink or something to eat, I suggest the square in the center of the Medina. The souk here is a much less chaotic and more maritime version of the one in Marrakesh. It is still just as disorienting though, especially the Souk au poisson (fish souk).

Walking around the seafront, you’ll notice numerous stalls selling freshly squeezed orange juice, or alternatively, some sweets made with marijuana ;-).

For dinner, I strongly recommend trying one of the many fish stalls around the “grillade de poissons” (grilled fish). Here you’ll be able to find grilled freshly caught fish straight from boat to plate.

Essaouira - Kitesurf, Camels & Quad -

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The beaches of Essaouira offer many interesting activities, just don’t expect crystal clear beautiful waters though.

Walking along the beach, why not stop to take some sun at the Ocean Vagabond. It is one of the few places equipped to rent water-sports equipment (kitesurfing, surfing, and windsurfing gear). If that’s a little too exciting for you, just enjoy lunch among the beautiful blue buildings.

If you’d like to have a go at riding a camel, dromedary, or ATV, ask for Rajid. He’s well known in the area and usually handing out by the quad parking lot near the Ocean Vagabond. If you can, be sure to go on a camel ride around sunset, the lighting and atmosphere at this magical time are really something special!

Marrakech - Something Special -

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Looking for a few ideas outside the box and to beat the crowds at the usual tourist sights?

For those who decide to stay in Marrakesh for more than 4 days, there are some interesting options for spending relaxing days or even trying having a very strong olfactory experience...read on to understand.

A REGENERATING HAMMAM

You can’t leave Marrakesh without having visited a hamman, either in your riad or one of the many spas such as the one in the Les Jardins de la Koutoubia 5 star hotel. This spa is sponsored by Clarins and offers a vast array of treatments. There are no doubts that this is among the cleanest and most hygenic spas in Marrakesh. Relax and let yourself be pampered!

NIKKI BEACH LE PALMERAIE

Of course, there’s even a Nikki Beach in Morocco. It is located a little ways out from the center in the Palmeraie area. This beach hot-spot is 15km from the the airport and easily reachable from the Medina in 10-15 minutes by taxi.
 

VISIT THE TANNERIES

As you may have learned, I love to go from one extreme to the other. This experience is not for the faint of heart, and I must warn those of you who have a hard time with strong odors. The tanneries are located on the eastern outskirts of the Medina in order to be in close proximity to the waters of the Oued Issil. Local guides are easily found as they tend to hang out near the tanneries, although, they may not be required. You’ll be struck by the strong smell of the skins, especially the excrement used to soften and lighten them. In fact, The processing and treatment is all very natural...the skins are immersed in pigeon excrement to soften them before proceeding to be colored using natural pigments from saffron and poppies. Once colored, they are put out to dry in the sun.

Marrakech - Palais de la Bahia & Mellah -

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The Palais de la Bahia (Bahia Palace) is, in my opinion, the most interesting palace in Marrakesh. The palace, built in a nouveau riche style, served as the former harem for the visir, housing his 4 wives and numerous concubines. Although there are no longer any furnishings, the opulent decorations and mosaics on the courtyard walls are worth the visit. The palace includes 8 hectares of gardens all interconnected by magnificent fountains. Entry is quite cheap at 10 dirhams, around one euro.

Mellah, the Jewish quarter, is just steps away from the Palais de la Bahia. It’s not hard to see at first glance that this neighborhood is different than the rest. It is the poorest and least touristic area, as evidenced by it’s cleanliness and upkeep compared to Medina. Mellah is, however, famous for its spice market. Here you can find items at considerably lower prices than in the souk. Don’t miss the synagogue and Jewish cemetery!

Marrakech - Restaurants & Food -

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The most typical dishes of this marvelous city include:

Cous cous: often the perfect companion to greens, chickpeas, or even chicken.

- Tajine: a dish that borrows its name from the terracotta clay pot that is used to cook and serve its contents. Typically, a tajine stew will be chicken, prune, or lamb based. This spicy dish is frequently accompanied by dried fruit, a key ingredient in Moroccan cuisine.

Pastilla: great as an entrée, is a sort of puff pastry stuffed with chicken or sea food. This delicacy combines both sweet and salty together; usually almonds and cinnamon are blended into the dough. The pastilla au poulet (chicken pastilla) is my favorite!

Patisserie Marocaine (Moroccan Pastry), is a sweet made with almonds and honey. It is always served with the world famous mint tea that I am absolutely crazy about.
 

As for restaurants, I’d like to list some of my favorites. These cover the whole gamut from the most spartan and traditional to the more famous and refined. The nice thing about Marrakesh is that you have an excellent selection of different experiences, all with their own merit.

Terasse des Epices, a definite MUST. This is one of the terraces i mentioned earlier, ideal to admire the red rooftops or simply to try some cous cous or tajine. This spot in Medina is steps away from the souk. I recommend it for a cute lunch or even some drinks and dinner.   

Cafe Arabe is very similar in setup: a typical Moroccan restaurant with a great terrace and view. Perfect for lunch and an afternoon break.

-  Le Jardin is another very cute bar also located within the souk. The only difference between this bar and the previous ones is the fact that it is located in a courtyard. You’ll be surrounded by greenery instead of perched on a rooftop terrace, afterall, Jardin is french for garden.

Tgi’in Darna is a bar positioned perfectly to admire the sunset in Jemaa-el-Fna square. Mint tea, and Moroccan bites...enjoy the sunset!

Al Fassia is known for the best Pastilla au poulet in Marrakesh. There are two locations in different neighborhoods, I suggest the one in Gueliz. This one is unique for its white motifs and strictly female staff. Best to make a reservation here:

The Kozy Bar is chic and refined nightspot in the Jewish quarter, Mellah. I would recommend it for anyone spending an extended period of time in Marrakesh who wants to try something other than local food. The Japanese chef makes excellent sushi. Enjoy a meal here with a great view of the old walls of the Palais el Badi and its stork nests.

- Saving the best for last, Jad Mahal is easily one of the most famous spots in Marrakesh. Restaurant, lounge bar, and disco: you must spend a night here. During dinner enjoy being interrupted by belly dancers moving from table to table; be careful, they may even have you try as well!

Marrakech - The Souk & Place Jemaa-el-Fna -

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The souks, or suqs, are the typical covered markets that you can find scattered throughout the Medina. They are one of the main attractions of Marrakesh. As soon as you enter, you’ll get lost in the small alleys full of tiny shops, colorful stalls, exotic smells, sounds, and the loud voices of the merchants trying to tout their wares- all sure to leave a lasting impression on any visitors. Remember the golden rule in Marrakesh, NEGOTIATE for EVERYTHING! The market stretches from the Ben Youssef Mosque in the North to the famous Jemaa-el-Fna square in the South. It is organized into areas dedicated to specific goods and activities: leathers, wool, jewelry, produce, lanterns, apparel, dried goods, spices etc.. Take a break afterwards in one of the many terraces to sip on a mint tea and admire the sunset.

Of the souvenirs available I suggest: some small bottles of argan or rose oil, spices (curry, turmeric, etc), the famous black soap used in hammam for a quick scrub or the iconic Morrocan slippers worn by none other than Aladdin.

Jemaa-el-Fna square is the true epicenter of all the chaos that is Marrakesh. During the day, you’ll find snake charmers and stalls selling dentures (yes, you read correctly, dentures), street artists, monkey trainers, henna tattoo artists, horse drawn carts, and vendors selling dates and freshly squeezed orange juice.

By night, the market makes way for stalls serving up fresh local cuisine. It is definitely worth trying at least once! Although there are seemingly an infinite number of stalls, they are all in fact numbered which is helpful to find specific ones. The most famous that I tried was the“Aicha N°1” read here to learn more!

The square is dominated by the Koutubia mosque, the tallest in Marrakesh. A few steps from the mosques is the Cyber Jardin on Avenue Mohammed V, and L’Embsemble Artisanal, a sort of artisans quarter where prices are fixed and there is no bargaining. It seemed a little too touristy for my liking.

Marrakech - Useful Info -

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If you live in Europe, Marrakesh is the perfect destination for a long weekend or quick getaway. Although it is a very lively city, here you will still have the chance to unplug and escape hectic day to day life back home.

Marrakesh Meanara airport is quite near to the city, only around 10km. This makes transportation to and from the terminal rather quick and efficient.
Taxis should be relatively cheap, even for trips within the city. From my personal experience, they can also be wildly inconsistent.  When I took a taxi from my hotel to the airport, it cost me only 2€, meanwhile, my trip from the airport to my hotel came out to 27€.

When it comes to overnight accommodations, you must have already heard of the famous “Riads” of Marrakesh. These are traditional Moroccan style buildings with internal courtyards that usually house a swimming pool or a hammam. I absolutely recommend spending some time in one of these. As for neighborhoods, there is no doubt that the Medina is by far the best. The Medina is the historic heart of the city surrounded by the ancient fortifications. It is made up of winding alleys and lanes that make up an impressive labyrinth.

The Aya Riad is an excellent choice for those who want a little peace and quiet while at the same time not compromising on location. It is a few steps away from the chaotic markets of the old town! The Riad is composed of 8 rooms decorated in traditional Morrocan style surrounding a courtyard and a spectacular terrace. The terrace is the ideal place to have breakfast while taking in amazing views of the famous rooftops of Marrakesh or the breathtaking sunsets. Sofia, the manager of the Riad is very friendly and organized. She can be reached by email at: riadaya.marrakech@gmail.com - tell her that Giulia referred you!