MARRAKECH - The “Pearl of the Desert” has so many things to discover, it’s impossible to see it all in just 48 hours. But that’s all I’ve got, so here goes — the adventure begins with a sunrise hot air balloon ride for a bird’s-eye view of the surrounding desert and the ancient imperial city. It’s a breathtaking sight.
Back on the ground is a world of ancient monuments and incredible art in the palaces and tombs of the medina, such as the el-Badi Palace, the creation of Sultan Ahmed el-Mansour, whose mass of crumbled stones still reflect its past glory of vast courtyards, gardens filled with orange trees, hammam and colonnades.
The beautiful Bahia Palace captures the essence of Moroccan and Islamic style with gardens, patios, fountains and elegant ornamentation. The dark, elegant marble rooms are framed by doors decorated with delicate arabesques of enthralling detail.
Left: Spices perfume Marrakech's markets. Right: The ancient city are a contrast of old and new.
The streets of Marrakech are rich with shops displaying beautifully carved doors, refined chiselled mirrors and intricately woven carpets.
But I also witness merciless poverty and horrible working conditions.
Being the former trading hub of North Africa, many merchants and nomads came to the city to sell their goods, show their art and make money. The city’s trading epicentre was, and still is, the Jemâa el-Fna plaza. When the sun drops into the desert sand, splashing the city streets and the walls with an amber and crimson light, people gather in the plaza to meet friends and family, sip tea and shop, and be entertained by street musicians.
Snake charmers play wooden flutes in front of puffing cobras, young acrobats perform unbelievable gymastic stunts for the crowds of laughing children and tattoo artists try to lure passersby into their shops.
As night falls, fires are lit and wonderful cooking aromas float over the plaza. The call to prayer echoes from the minaret and soon the square empties as the faithful attend to their religious devotions.
Marrakech is a city of many temptations, and shopping in the souks (marketplaces) is foremost among them. Spices, fresh vegetables and fruits shine on tables and shelves throughout the old souk. Other shops that line the small alleys are filled with local crafts.
Left: Shopkeeper proudly displays his wares. Right: Snake charmers and their pets will charm you.
Navigating the maze of streets and shops in the blistering heat can be an exhausting business, so a rest under the shade of some palm trees in the beautiful Gardens of Marjorelle is a welcome respite.
So is a visit to a traditional hammam, a steambath where Moroccans go to relax and socialize. One of the most luxurious is a resort outside the city called Palmeraie which features unique treatments, a championship golf course and awesome views of the Atlas Mountains.
It all makes for a perfectly peaceful end to a whirlwind adventure.
How to get there: Most airlines offer flights to Morocco from Toronto and Montreal. / Where to stay: Riad Flam - www.riadflam.com
or Palmeraie Resort - www.palmeraiemarrakech.com
/ - A good place to eat in Jemâa el-Fna plaza at sunset: Café Glacier or Café de France / For information on a sunrise air balloon adventure go to www.marocmontgolfiere.com
/ Shopping ideas: The Khimani brothers (2-4, souk El Haddadine) offers some beautiful wrought iron objects; Visit Abdelmoumen, 3 souk El Haddadine, if you want to purchase a mirror. / Go to the Dune Galerie, 16 rue la Bahia, to enter Aladdin’s cave. / Make sure you stop by the spice markets in the souks for a beautiful experience of the senses.