1. Cover up.
Stating the obvious? Possibly, but many people still seem to think this doesn’t apply to them. It isn’t compulsory; you won’t get turned away at the steel gates of Marrakech airport by a pen-wielding, bureaucratic, pious monkey on a chain. But still, have a little respect. Women travelling with men appear to believe they are exempt from all tradition. Do they think that because they are with a man they won’t be heckled? The point is actually that this is beyond the point. Regardless of your safety as a Western woman, the whole covering your body concept is simply to respect their culture, not for your own selfish reasons.
2. La Terrasse des épices
As an avid blogger/social network junkie, I’d read in great detail approximately 37 times every review, article and guide on Marrakech prior to my visit. Whilst most tourists head in their drones to the Jemaa el-Fnaa square in search of authentic cuisine, many don’t realise that for half the price, half the noise, and double the luxury you can escape to a Western haven, just a staircase above the mayhem of the souks. La Terrasse de épicesis favoured by the choicest of Marrakech’s visitors, including the recently spotted Hamish Bowles, Editor in Chief at Large of Vogue, and lifestyle blogger and brand consultant Sasha Wilkins (LLG). The restaurant is bursting with idiosyncratic touches, which really do give the place that certain je ne sais quoito have you running back (within one hour if you happen to be me). From complementary sombreros which scream the epitome of sartorial elegance; to menus written on free-standing chalk boards so you’re hands free to continue sipping your Arabic tea. Terrasse de épicesis signposted in the souks (by signposted I mean scrawled on a wall in chalk). Failing that ask for directions to Souk Cherifia and the terrace is three floors above.
3. Learn how to say no
You don’t need to know any Arabic, or any French for that matter, to ward off unwanted help or attention in the old city. All you need is strong courage of conviction to say no when you have all manner of snakes, leather goods and marriage proposals shoved under your nose.
4. Don’t expect a tourist metropolis
Marrakech isn’t your typical tourist destination. The magic that Marrakech exudes is in the labyrinth of alley ways, the preservation of customs and culture, and the extant array of warring animals in the streets. If you go looking for one of the Seven Wonders of the World, chances are you’ll be bitterly disappointed. El Badi Palace and Bahia Palace red circled on tourist maps as a “must see” really are far from musts. Empty, unkempt shells with little information or focal points; take my advice and just buy a few more pashminas.
5. Jardin Majorelle
A botanical garden famed for once being the sanctuary of world renowned French fashion designer Yves Saint Laurent, the 12 acre plot of heaven has now become a memorial in his name. One of the few tourist hives in the city; this is what gives the city its understated panache. After gaining ownership of the mini tropical paradise and spending many a visit to Marrakech looking for design inspiration within the walls, Yves Saint Laurent’s ashes were scattered in the gardens following his death in 2008. As one of the fashion flock myself, I, of course, sprinted there. The garden really is a treasure that wouldn’t look out of place in a Parisian suburb and this is what’s enchanting about the city - expect the unexpected. The most striking thing for me is the iconic, cobalt blue covering every surface which has become synonymous with the brand. If you’re looking for a languid few hours amongst the mayhem for a €3 price tag then thank me later
6. Learn to read a map
It may come as a surprise, or not, when I tell you that 3G connection is as accessible as a Playboy club in Marrakech. So think again if you were planning to go blindfolded and rely on your smart phone to be your personal tour guide. One wrong turn can lead you into the hoods. Not the hoods from 50 Cent videos. No, these hoods are something else. These hoods are made up of hoards of octogenarians, chilling on doorsteps, waiting to fleece you for 100dhm in exchange for showing you the way, or possibly just for a flash of leg. If it’s too narrow for a donkey then turn back.
7. Souk Cherifia
The Western woman’s paradise. Angelically hovering above the dirt and dust of the souks, Souk Cherifia provides a welcome break. The first thing you’ll notice is the distinct lack of males, in fact the complete absence of males. What you will find is an array of female-owned boutiques selling a variety of luxury goods; from fine gold jewellery, to handmade kaftans and leather galore. Bartering is not the name of the game in Souk Cherifia, this is Marrakech’s Bond Street
If you’re going to Marrakech for a booze binge holiday, well quite simply, don’t. The old town inside the Medina walls is strictly Muslim. If you’re really desperate for a tipple, the new town sells alcohol but then you’re missing the point of going to Marrakech, as there you could be in any breeze block, Western city. There are a handful of licensed restaurants selling your poison of choice in the old town but as these are aimed at us tourists you’ll pay a substantial premium.
9. Don’t get fobbed off
Know the money conversions. Stall holders in Marrakech work on a rough translation to Euros (not the official conversion) to make trading easier and in turn make you buy more. So,
€10 = 100 Moroccan Dirham (£7.50 = 100 Moroccan Dirham)
€20 = 200 Moroccan Dirham (£15 = 200 Moroccan Dirham)
A taxi from Marrakech-Menara Airport to the Medina shouldn’t cost more than 100 dirham. I encourage you to argue this until your death.
I’ve saved the best until last (and it’s definitely not a case of I have nothing left to write or that I promised the most adorable old man in Morocco I’d drum him up some business). Aziz makes hand-crafted jewellery and boy do his crooked, oil stained hands ooze experience. Ultimately this guy is to the Marrakesh jewellery trade, what Rosie Huntington-Whiteley is to flocks of 20-something-girls around the world. A legend. Bartering several hours a day over silk scarves, which in hindsight were all exactly the same, is tiresome for you and terrifying for your purse. Aziz is a refreshing change in the cycle of souking; he has a smile on his face, stories to tell and a fair pricing system. Whilst showing you pictures of him with the cast of Sex and the City 2 (when the film was shot in Marrakech back in 2010), he will weigh your choices so you know you’re paying for the value of the metal and not being duped. I would tell you where to find him, except he refuses to give his address or contact number out; instead he says people remember him in their heart. Quirky, but not so great for business.