48 Hours of Marrakesh Magic

Traveling in the company of those we love is home in motion.

Leigh Hunt, English Romantic poet and critic

I adore Europe, but it turns out after living two years in Morocco,  that Africa is my second home.  I found more beauty, adventure, and relationship (especially in Marrakesh)–the three things I seek most in life–than I ever imagined.  Sharing this place with my children, my friend, Moni, and former students (more on their trips later) was a privilege I’ll never forget.  Likewise,  I was thrilled when my niece, Emily, and Andres stopped by for a couple of days after Emily’s work trip to Turkey and some time in Italy.

For $45- $100 roundtrip on RyanAir, you can fly to Marrakesh from Milan, Rome, Paris, Madrid, Barcelona, London, and many other European cities.  (Arriving on a one-way ticket from one European city, then departing to another is a way to see more,  but note that you will pay for all baggage above the size of the smaller-that-standard carryon allowed for free.) If you have the time, in Marrakesh you can relax by pools at regal resorts and riads (many featured on this blog), take cooking classes, or volunteer.  You can also do excursions to  Essaouira, the Atlas Mountains, the Sahara Desert, Chefchouen, Agadir, or Casablanca.  But even if you have only two days, the trip is worth it because you will definitely experience some Marrakesh magic.

Here’s what these two did in 48 hours…

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Arrival Day

After dropping off bags at my apartment, we were joined by my artist friend, Jon, who walked with us to the medina where we had lunch at my favorite daytime restaurant with a rooftop view of the Koutoubia Mosque.

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Emily is a textile designer, so our first mission was checking out intricate tile patterns and woodwork  and shopping.

The Ensemble Artisanal (see gorgeous entrance below) sets the standard for the highest authentic, quality goods made by the superior local artisans selected to work there.  Here you can see them working and teaching apprentices, and it’s a great place to check out fair pricing before bargaining in the souks.

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Entrance is a popular photo opp

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El Badi Palace

Giant storks greeted us as we entered the remains of El Badi Palace.  Began in 1578 by Arab Saadian Sultan Ahmad al-Mansur, the complex, built with ransom money from the Portuguese after the Battle of the Three Kings, exhibits architecture of the Saadian Period. For tour times and more information, go here.

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Bahia Palace

My first official outing in Marrakesh was a tour organized by my school of the Jewish Quarter and Bahia Palace.  I never tire of its quiet, cool grandeur.

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Taken by Jon Wommack
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We bargained later with Jon’s friend in the souks and then he served mint tea, two rites of passage.

Jemma el Fna Square

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Andres got a deal on a Fez for his dad, and we had sodas and more mint tea while watching the snake charming below.

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Too tired to go out, we ordered in the first night.  Seeing these two smiling on my couch made me happy.

Full Day

They got up early for two must-sees, Jardin Marjorelle

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and Ben Youseff Madrasa,  visual feasts,  did some more souk shopping, and had  massages and hammams, Marrakesh’s signature pleasure.   We celebrated our last night together at Pepe Nero, former palace of the “Lord of the Atlas.”

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Departure

No trip to Marrakesh is complete without hanging out with local friends at a riad, the traditional style of home in which all doors and windows open to an inner courtyard with a fountain and/or pool.   My friend, Kate, arranged a riad rooftop breakfast for us at the location she managed,  Riad Mur AKush.  The November weather was perfect for a panoramic view of the medina and Mustafa’s morning music.

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Palmeraie Camel Ride

Though Emily and Andres had a 3 PM flight to catch, Ismail, my driver, hooked us up for an hour-long camel ride after breakfast in the palmeraie on the way to the airport.   It was Andres’ first time on a camel, and he had a big time.  They felt the Marrakesh Magic, and having them there, was a double dose of magic for me, too.

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Worldwide Photo Walk

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Last Saturday over 21k people were involved in a worldwide shooting.  From my home in Nashville to my residence in Marrakech, participants grabbed cameras and celebrated life on photo walks in 1000 locations.  To learn more about Scott Kelby’s Photo Walks go here.

Ours was scheduled in the medina to begin at 9:30 at the Café de FRANCE on Jemma El Fna square.  Jon–a friend, pro artist and skilled photographer– and I met Kate, a friend from Australia who told me about the event because she had previously done a walk in Melbourne. Synnove, a Norwegian friend I met on a hike last spring, surprised me when she appeared as we were meeting Mustapha, a Moroccan tour consultant of Intrepid Travel, signed up for the walk. After mint tea and juice, we wondered where our photographer/organizer was.   Kate checked online and discovered he had changed the time to 3 PM.  Unable to wait or return later, we made Jon our fearless leader and were off.

After winding through wares of silver, sequins, and Sahara green pottery, we went into Ben Youssef Madrasa, a visual feast.  A special treat was a place I’d been wanting to check out–  The Marrakech Museum of Photography— where we saw Jean Manuel’s Portrait of Touareg, the first “photoshopped portrait,” Landrock’s Young Arab, about which I learned Tunisian boys wore jasmine behind their left ears to signify to girls they were available, and Jean Manuel’s Portrait du Tourareg, a personal favorite for a couple of years now.  Our session ended at the rooftop cafe of the museum–one of the best panoramic views from within city walls. Shooting in Marrakech manually–bringing its kalidescope shapes and colors into focus– was magic.  Especially because it made me feel like a kid again.

Choosing settings for the study of light and dark the souks provide. Photo by Kate Woods
Choosing settings for the study of light and dark the souks provide. Photo by Kate Woods
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Photo by Kate
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Kate

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Kate’s photo

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by Kate of me
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Said to be first “photoshopped” photo (head placed on different body)–details below

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