Marrakech: Souks, spice & everything nice

PEOPLE - Joanne Rae M. Ramirez - The Philippine Star
Marrakech: Souks, spice & everything nice
The 12th-century Koutoubia Mosque.
Joanne Rae M. Ramirez

MARRAKECH, Morocco— Marrakech is like an exotic dish in a tagine it’s a sight to behold, with more than a hint of spice and bursts of color, presented in a plate that is a conversation piece in itself.

Marrakech is spices and surprises — a feast for the senses.

My first ever trip to exotic Marrakech made the guide books seem tepid — for what I saw was far more than what I had read.

First, we chose a charming riad — whose focal point was a courtyard with a fountain — in the Medina, yet far from the noise of the souks. Our riad, traditionally Moroccan in architecture but with modern amenities, was an oasis at the end of the day — or night.

The Medina is the 12th-century walled city of Marrakech, a pedestrian-only enclave of narrow winding cobblestone alleys lined by souks with thousands of stalls selling everything from nuts, spices, my adored lanterns and textiles. Jemaa el-Fna square in the Medina teems with snake charmers, folk dancers, and street-food vendors serving all manner of food. I used to think Marrakech was the Medina — only to be surprised that beyond its walls were many places to be combed as well.

On our first night, Oualid, the manager of our private riad, recommended a rooftop bar for us called “Dardar” in the old Jewish quarter. Under a canopy of Moroccan lanterns, I sipped a “Dardarita” with a mesmerizing view of the city — which had no skyscrapers as far as my eyes could see, only terra cotta-red buildings. The tallest structure was the giralda (tower) of the Koutoubia Mosque, the largest mosque in Marrakesh. The tower is said to be a twin of the giralda in the cathedral in Seville.

The Jardin Majorelle.

The Dardar experience was loud (there was a DJ spinning Moroccan tunes and a quartet of dancers in traditional costumes), exhilarating, musical and magical — a precursor to the Moroccan experience that would unravel like a colorful carpet before my family and me during our brief stay.

Corporate International Travel and Tours designed a day tour for us during our next day (our only full day) in Marrakech that began outside the Medina in the swanky YSL Museum, threaded on to the Majorelle Gardens, then on to the Bahia Palace, a mini-version of the Alhambra in Granada.

So that’s what I mean by the spice and surprise of Marrakech — you’re ogling YSL’s haute couture creations in an air-conditioned museum in the morning and a snake charmer in a busy, bustling square at night.

A snake charmer.

(You may e-mail me at [email protected]. Follow me on Instagram @joanneraeramirez.)


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