The Slower Side of Marrakech
On first impressions and by popular preconceptions, Marrakech is a hectic city where slow living isn't even an option. Everyone is constantly on the move, all of your senses are constantly being bombarded, and you have to have your wits about you at all times to avoid being run over by a motorbike. If you're looking for a slow paced holiday, why would you even consider visiting this vibrant but busy destination?
After spending four days in Marrakech back in November, I have to admit that my own ideas of what the city would be like were dashed. I'd expected not to have any time to sit and relax, anticipating a hectic holiday where I'd always be slightly on edge. This couldn't be further from the truth. Yes, the souks are chaotic, but there's much more to this intriguing city than first meets the eye. If you're searching for peaceful spaces to relax, you'll find them in abundance if you know where to look.
From the desert camps on the outskirts of the city to the riads and cafes that provide serenity among the chaos of the souks, there is another side to Marrakech that is focused on the needs of both tourists and locals to step back and take a breath. We stayed in two beautifully designed riads in the medina, both offering peaceful patios and serene roof terraces that we took advantage of every time we needed a break.
Riad BE was our home for our first two nights in the city, providing a tranquil place to eat, sleep and rest. I was blown away by the attention to detail in this small hideaway, the colourful tiles, traditional textiles and abundance of plants providing a space that I wanted to photograph every inch of. The plunge pool in the centre of the patio would be the perfect place to refresh during the hot Moroccan summer, and several shaded areas on the roof offered cover from the strong midday sun. In the mornings, mid-afternoon and evenings, I found myself settled down on one of the comfortable seats (or the hammock and swing up on the roof), writing in my journal, reading a book or simply sipping a glass of mint tea.
Our last night in the city was spent in Riad Yasmine, another tranquil respite from the hot and hectic streets of the souks. The calming white and green patio with its cushioned loungers was an ideal spot to relax following a particularly manic shopping session that left us hot, tired and thirsty. On the night that we stayed here, we took our mint tea up onto the roof and sat on our own, listening to the festivities on the streets below.
There are other ways of relaxing in Marrakech, besides retreating to your riad for a dip in the pool or simply to lounge on the roof. We discovered an array of peaceful cafes located around the medina, perfect for popping into when in need of a break. Cafe des Epices, located on one of the busiest squares in the souks, was our first choice for escaping the sun and refreshing with an ice cold glass of lemon-mint. Directly opposite, Nomad offeres a tranquil lunch spot, especially if you can secure a table sheltered from the sun with a view of the square. Deeper in the maze of the souks, Le Jardin offers a relaxing green space where tortoises wander among the scattering of cafe tables. In the evening, Henna Art Cafe and Earth Cafe were welcoming spaces serving delicious vegetarian food in tranquil environments. And if you're after someplace a little more luxurious, El Fenn's seemingly endless roof terrace offers plenty of private spots to watch the sun set over the city.
It's important to take this time to relax if you want to enjoy your trip. I've heard tales from other travelers who have hated their stays in Marrakech, blaming the constant chaos, hot streets and hectic atmosphere. I had the complete opposite experience, falling in love with the city and wishing only that my trip was longer. I'm pretty sure that if I hadn't taken the time to relax, it would have been a different story. Over the past year, I've begun to appreciate slowing down while traveling, and Marrakech is a destination where this is even more imperative. As much as I love rushing around and trying to see as much of a new place as possible, or setting off on an epic road trip, I'm learning that I also need time to stand still and appreciate my surroundings.
Try it out for yourself. Next time you're away, even if you haven't planned a relaxing beach or poolside holiday, take a little time to just sit and appreciate your surroundings. Even if you're on a road trip where you're constantly on the move, use the time that you have in the car to gaze out of the window (concentrating if you're driving!) and gather your thoughts. Put aside a day or two out of your itinerary to stop in one place and recoup, ready for the rest of your journey. Book a night in a peaceful glamping destination of spa hotel. Allow yourself an afternoon to sit by the pool/on the beach/on top of a hill/in your room with a notebook and pen, jotting down memories that you'd like to capture of your trip so far. Return home feeling like you've actually had a holiday (you can thank me later).