Posted by: vlibrizzi | December 16, 2009

Graduation trip to Morocco: Three days in Marrakesh

For C.’s graduation (and mine too, I guess), we joined a group of friends for a five day trip to Morocco. We stayed in Marrakesh each night, but took two day trips (First, to the Atlas mountains, and then to the seaside town of Essaouira). So, in order to conserve space, I’ll break the blog about our trip into two entries: one on Marrakesh, and the other on our day trips. 

So, first: Marrakesh.

We arrived late on Wednesday night to our Riad in the medina (old city). Since we were a large group, we were able to rent a whole Riad (a little mansion tucked away behind big stone walls) for ourselves. We absolutely loved our Riad, called Riad Sofia, which had it’s own hammam, pool, rootop deck with a real Berber tent, and lots of lounging around space (which is just what we wanted for a few days away with friends!). 

To the left and below are some photos of the interior of our riad (from above and below)

Unfortunately, the city of Marrakesh didn’t impress us as much as our riad. I’m not sure exactly what we were expecting, but the city seemed very dirty and dingy, and us, women, didn’t feel incredibly safe walking around the medina on our own. Luckily, we did mostly everything in a large group which made things more fun, and safer for all of us.

On the first night, we visited the Jamma-el-Fna(a large square with a huge outdoor market) to have some dinner. It was quite a scene, with locals just sitting down at these small stands to have a quick bite to eat before heading over to another stand. It seemed to us like a huge, outdoor tapas restaurant. Very cool!  C. and  I stopped at three specific food stalls to try the food and sip on mint tea: one that sold a yummy sausage (photo to the left)…

…another that sold snails in a yummy, briny broth (photo to the left of the stall owner dishing out his snails)…

…and finally, one that sold this amazing pita filled with egg, cheese, and potato (phot. The food was fabulous! And for dessert, we stopped at a stall selling dried apricots and assorted nuts. 

The next day that we spent in Marrakesh, we decided to walk around the souks (miles and miles of outdoor markets). We spent the whole day getting lost in the mazes of shops and stalls, and spent a lot of time haggling like the locals over prices. When we needed a break from the market, we stopped for a quick lunch at a restuarant near the Jamma-el-Fna called Chez Chegrouni. I had a nice omelet and some amazing avacado juice (I know, it sounds weird, but if you’re ever in Morocco, you must try it…it’s fantastic!)

My favorite souk was the Olive Souk with stalls selling all different types of yummy olives (see photo to the left). C. really liked the musical instruments souk, and our friends bought bags at the leather souk. All in all, it was a nice and successful shopping experience, but our poor feet were tired from all the walking by the end of the day 🙂

While walking around the Jamma-el-Fna during the daytime, we even got to see some real, live snake charmers. Unfortunately, once you try to take a photo of them, they come up to you demanding money (and try to put snakes around your neck so that you could give them even more money to take photos). But, we did take a photo (see left) and paid the charmers a few dirham…heck, it was the first time we’d ever seen snake charmers 🙂

That night we had the best meal that we ate in Marrakesh, at a restaurant in the new city called Al Fassia. It is a traditional Moroccan restaurant that is completely run by women (heck, we’re better cooks anyway, aren’t we?). I ate a traditional Moroccon salad (which came out as small tapas plates of different types of vegetables and sauces), pigeon pastilla (cinnamon and sugar topped puff pastry with pigeon inside), and a fall-off-the-bone chicken tagine with sweet pumpkin. Yum! We loved our dinner there so much that we went to Al Fassia again for lunch on our last day in Marrakesh. Just going to that restaurant is well worth a trip to Marrakesh!

Then, on our last full day in Marrakesh, while the guys went golfing, us women took the plunge and visited a local hammam. Our guidebook recommended it, and the manager of our riad said we should go, so we decided to try it out. What we encountered, though, is still a bit hard to explain, and it wasn’t a place I’d ever (in my life) go to alone, or go to if I were a germophobe!

As soon as we entered the hammam and paid, we were ordered to put on our bathing suits and follow an old, slouched-over woman into a dark, dank, and steamy room filled with other women sitting on the ground bathing themselves. We were bruskly given some soap and were instructed to bathe ourselves while we waited for the woman to come back to give each of us a massage. To us, the whole experience seemed like prison: all of these gloomy-looking people standing around in a narrow, tiled room, with barely any light, instructed to sit on the floor in an inch deep of dank water while we waited (sitting in the fetal position so as to have the least amount of contact with the dirty floor) for our massage and gomage. In the end, we all laughed through the experience and all really enjoyed our massages and scrub downs (which consisted of a woman literally scrubbing you so hard that your skin fell off in chunks!), and we couldn’t beat the prices (only 7 euros total!), but I’m not sure I would recommend going to a local hammam to anyone. Instead, if you really want to get the hammam experience, try a hotel chain or go for a pricer place….it’s definitely worth it.

After our scary hammam experience, we all spent most of our time relaxing in our riad (in the living room and in the berber tent on the roof in the photo to the left). We did venture out into the new city one afternoon to go shopping and to have a nice, but not memorable lunch at a place called Cafe de la Poste.

So, while it was great to spend so much time with our friends before we all scatter across the globe again, I’m not sure Marrakesh was the perfect place to have our graduation trip….but it did provide for a lot of interesting, and fun memories 🙂

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Responses

  1. I’ve been following your blog since the post about Berlin, I think this is my first comment 🙂
    I live in the US with my husband but I am french and we will move to France in January! 🙂
    Anyway if you still have some time in Paris you could try the hammam at the mosk (close to Jussieu, gare d’Austerlitz) it’s really beautiful, a little run down for sure, but an experience, and they have a restaurant with fantastic pastries 🙂 Great to go with friends.

    • Dear Tiphaine,

      Thanks so much for following my blog. When you’re moving back to Paris in January, I’ll, unfortunately, be leaving France 😦

      I have been to the Mosquee in Paris for lunch, but never for the hammam. I’ll have to try it out. Thanks for the suggestions!


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