We stepped off of the train in Marrakech, carried our luggage through the station and out the front doors where a kind man named Abul Qadir, who knew every stretch of road in the city, greeted us with a smile and said “mrehba” (welcome). My husband’s brother had asked him to chauffeur us around during our stay.
In his minivan, which I think came off the assembly line the same year I was born, we flew through the narrow streets of the medina (the old part of the city). The realization that a 1985 minivan was speeding down brick roads built nearly 1000 years ago didn’t really hit me at the time. We were just trying to get to our riad (traditional Moroccan house).
Marrakech is special. They call it the Red City because it is just that. The medina is built out of red clay and looks something like the streets of Agrabah. We go back every time we’re in Morocco, and I think you’ll see why…
Jemaa el-Fnaa and the Medina
If you’ve considered traveling to Marrakech, Jemaa el-Fnaa is probably the reason. In essence, it is a marketplace, but in reality, it’s so much more.
Snake charmers, live percussionists, friendly monkeys in red vests (think Abu from Aladdin), handmade leather bags, traditional kaftans and shoes, ornate lamps, and so much more. You can catch a horse and buggy ride around the square and stop to buy jewelry made by local women.
There’s food and fresh juice and candy and spices….anything you could imagine. The sights and smells of the square are magical.
The market square is on the edge of the medina, where the streets are narrow and made of brick. That’s where you find most of the shops. They’re lined up, one after another, along the windy streets, branching out for miles like tributaries, all leading to the square.
You’ve likely seen the photos from influencers on social media: a beautiful woman in a flowing dress and a large hat stands in the middle of a small shop, surrounded by glowing Moroccan lamps. That’s Marrakech.
Fun fact: The vendors hate it. Many of them have posted signs prohibiting cameras in their shops. It makes for a fantastic photo op, though.
If You Don’t Stay in a Riad, You Don’t Experience Marrakech
In Marrakech, where you stay should be just as important as your sightseeing plans. There are hotels, but absolutely nothing beats the riad experience. Each time that I’ve booked a stay in Marrakech, I’ve stayed in the medina, but there are benefits to staying in the seclusion outside the city as well.
Airbnb has everything you need. Whether your group is big or small, there is not only a riad for you but a chance to chose from options.
What makes riads so special is the architectural design. They all have an open patio in the center of the space, typically with an open roof and a water feature. The bedrooms are on the second floor, where a 360° terrace overlooks the patio. Natural light fills the entire space, and weather is not a concern because Marrakech is beautiful year round.
Don’t worry, every room has air conditioning, and everything is made of traditional tile and clay to keep cool in the warmer months. Here a couple of my favorite riads in the old medina (click the links to see the posts on Airbnb):
In 2018, my husband and I stayed in Riad Moor with a group of nine people. It’s perfectly located in the traditional streets of the medina and just a short walk to the Jemaa el-Fnaa square. Every bedroom, and there were five, had an en-suite bathroom. One bedroom was even located on the beautiful rooftop.
Stepping out the front door put you directly on the streets of medina. We walked around the corner to get snacks at the shops and bakeries. We had pizza and sandwiches at a small restaurant around the corner. It was a perfect stay.
I laid my head in Giuliano’s riad the first time I went to Marrakech in 2017. This time we were in a small group of three, and this was the perfect place to stay. We were there in June, and the dark clay room was the perfect temperature.
At night, by the light of the lanterns, we sat on the patio, listened to the water moving through the fountain, had kefta made in a tajine and listened to the sounds of the streets outside. Located in the medina, it has all the benefits of being in the heart of Marrakech.
The Atlas Mountains
Roughly 30-45 minutes outside of the city, you can visit the Atlas Mountains. You can ride camels along paths in the lower hills (not my thing…I’m afraid of heights). Clear streams flow through low valleys where you can stop to eat at tables set up in the water. That’s where we spent one afternoon in 2017.
The stream passed over our feet as we ate beef and potatoes cooked in a tajine over fire. Truthfully, it was the best meal I had there. Later we sipped coffee under a bedouin-style tent next to the water and even napped there for a moment.
That’s Marrakech…beauty everywhere you look and a warmth coming from the people that you won’t experience anywhere else. Everyday was just a one brand new adventure after another. It’s another spot that should be on every bucket list…
Join Me for Part 4: Casablanca…
Yes, it’s that Casablanca…like the movie. One of the greatest experiences in my life was the night I stepped into the Masjid Hassan II, the largest mosque in Africa. Subscribe to follow along with this series and learn more about Morocco…