I planned a winter trip to Morocco last year, to grab some much needed sunshine and get away from the New Year’s Eve madness in London. The weather was beautifully bright during the day, but it got very cold at night, especially in the mountains, so make sure to bring layers!
We spent a few nights in Marrakesh, one night in Essaouira and hiked to a Berber village where we spent New Year’s Eve. That was a very different experience, and a unique insight into life in the Atlas Mountains.
Marrakesh is a crazy, bustling, colourful city, and a total assault on the senses. Most people stay in the medina, which can be a bit unsettling at first, with narrow alleys that twist and turn into dead ends. The locals wear traditional hooded kaftans, called djellabas, and they look like Jedi knights, adding to the surreal feeling. Once you get your bearings though, there are discoveries to be made around every corner, and it seems like the sights, smells and sounds have been the same for centuries. Apart from the motorbikes – watch out!
Djemaa el-Fna Square is one of the main attractions – a feast for the senses, it’s wonderfully chaotic and packed with street performers, storytellers, snake charmers, hustlers and tourists. It really gets going in late afternoon. Soak up the atmosphere, eat some street food and enjoy! Avoid the stalls with touts and head to where the locals eat – the snail soup is excellent, and if you’re feeling even more adventurous there’s always a sheep’s head.
There are plenty of places to eat and drink inside the medina, ranging from traditional to contemporary – your riad should be able to give you recommendations. Not all places serve alcohol, but there are plenty of options if you want to have a glass of wine with dinner or a sundowner. Kosybar and Le Salama are two good places with terraces and a nice view of the city.
Where to stay
Most visitors to Marrakesh stay in the medina to be in the heart of the action. Traditional riads are surprisingly peaceful and there is something to suit every budget. I would recommend booking a transfer to your hotel, as a taxis usually can’t drop you to the door, and it can be nearly impossible to find your riad by yourself.
After much research I settled on Riad Casa Sophia for our first night – it gets consistently good reviews, and it’s in a great location close to Djemaa el-Fna Square. It’s cheap and cheerful, but comfortable and good value for money. The staff are really friendly, speak good English and can help with travel plans.
When we returned from our hike in the Atlas mountains, I chose Riad Poupré Medina, for a bit more luxury. This is a beautifully designed medina, with a couple of resident cats. It’s a bit hard to find, but it was nice for us to stay in a different part of the medina and have a longer walk to Djemaa el-Fna. More places to discover and get lost!