a week in marrakech

A few weeks ago, Tom and I headed off to Marrakech for a sunshine break. Sadly, although we did get to see a smidgeon of sun, the temperatures in the whole of North Africa took a substantial dive the exact week we’d chosen. It also rained. A lot. So, there was nothing else for it, but to turn our planned fly-and-flop into a city break. Although I made sure that ‘city break’ involved lots of reading and napping time, obviously. Let’s not get crazy.
We stayed at the ClubHotel RIU Tikida Palmeraie, just 15 minutes from the main square – Jemaa el-Fna – and it was the perfect choice. The pool went on for weeks (just a shame it was too chilly to even dip a toe in), the food was go-back-for-thirds good, and the staff were some of the friendliest I’ve ever met. And I’ve been to Thailand. For the days when it was warm enough to sit out on a lounger (albeit swathed in numerous layers), I devoured a pile of books. Including The Miniaturist, which was just as mesmerising as I’d heard. And when it was too cold, I found a cosy little nook that I’d curl up in with a giant bag of Cheetos from the gift shop. Holiday happiness, right there.
But when we weren’t slothing, we headed out into the great unknown. I love an excursion, especially when the lovely people at Thomson do all the legwork for you, so all you need to do it show up on time for the bus. On one of our trips we took a walking tour around the old fortified city and had a chance to dive into the souks, which has been on my wishlist for years. If you’ve been there yourself, you’ll know what I mean when I say it’s an experience. It’s an assault on the senses. It literally thrums with activity… there’s incessant drumming, you’re offered the weird and the wonderful from every direction, you can smell sweet and sour spices in the air, and it’s more than just a maze of stalls. It’s a tangled web of tiny alleys and passageways that go on forever, all looking exactly the same. Do not attempt to navigate them yourselves because you will get lost… I don’t care how good a sense of direction you have. There’s no 80’s David Bowie to help you, either.
The souks were another level of crazy, and I can’t say that I’d visit them again in all honesty, but the eye candy for interior design fanatics like me almost made it worth it. Perforated gold lanterns that would look stunning above a kitchen island, a rainbow of ceramics that would make a cultured addition to a coffee table, throw blankets at prices that make you want to buy two more suitcases for the journey home. If, like me, the thought of haggling for your chosen item cranks your anxiety levels up a notch, then head to the nearby Berber Cultural Centre. It has all the goodies you’ve eyed up in the souks, but the (incredibly reasonable) prices are set in stone, and the shop keepers leave you to browse in peace.
On our walk through the city, I was aiming my iPhone at everything. Intricate tiles (oh, the tiles), tranquil white-washed courtyards, and the local wildlife, including this very contented feline…
Archways, fabrics, dress materials. Interior inspiration was everywhere. If it wasn’t for the fact that Tom reminded me that I already have a zillion cushions at home, you can betcha I would have smuggled home many many new companions for them.
Let’s talk about the food. Because it was magnificent. We ate our body weight in cous cous soaked in all manner of delicious spices, tender lamb stews, sweet orange slices sprinkled with cinnamon (trust me, try that one at home) and, yes, random buffet food combinations like pizza with a side of roast beef. One night we had a tasting menu at a riad. Not only was the restaurant out of this world – twinkly lights, sumptuous courtyard, all the Moroccan trimmings – the food was so god-darn-good, Tom and I still have lengthy conversations about it.
Tom – That chicken pie, though…
Me – That salad platter, though…
Tom – That tagine though…
Me – Those pancakes, though…
You get the picture. Also, the mint tea. Not the same as the bog standard peppermint stuff from Twinings. It’s meticulously prepared and served in a shot glass. Oh, and forget your sugar embargo and make sure you add a lump or two, I promise you it’s worth it.
So, the verdict on our Marrakech holiday. It was the perfect blend of loafing and exploring, with food that I’m still dreaming about, and that gratifying feeling of seeing somewhere completely removed from your everyday routine. Like a great book, it does stay with you for a long time… but whether I’d go again, well, the jury’s out. Although, that chicken pie could well be enough to convince me.