Spring Break (1): Marrakech, Morocco
For the majority of our spring break, Rebecca, Sam, and I booked a 7-day tour with Dunes Line, which included private guides to show us around Marrakech and Fes, as well as a local driver to drive us to the Sahara desert. This trip was nothing short of incredible, and I've never imagined I'd experience such visual stimulation everywhere we went. We stayed in Marrakech for the first two days, took a road trip out to the Sahara Desert for the next three days, and ended our adventure with two days in Fes. I will be dividing the Morocco trip into three posts, with this one highlighting my experience in Marrakech.
When checking into our riad, we had our first taste of Moroccan mint tea, and we ended up drinking this multiple times a day, every day, for the rest of our trip. It was delicious, so I didn't mind! The riad itself was beautiful with intricate carvings, and little did I know, this detailing would be common everywhere we went (as you'll see later on in the photos).
Moroccan mint tea: green tea with soaked mint leaves + optional sugar cubes.
Entrance of the riad.
Roof and balcony of our riad.
After settling in, we explored the souks and this is when we realized that we needed to get good at bargaining. One of the managers at our riad gave us a tip to cut the price that they bring up in half, and then go from there.
Both Rebecca and I bought babouche slippers so it would be more comfortable to walk around for the rest of the day. As a rule of thumb, they should range from 80dh-120dh ($8-12).
The souks included a variety of nuts and fruits, as well as lamps, pashminas, wooden camel sculptures, jewelry, leather bags, etc.
I was also amazed by the amount of colorful doors while we were exploring.
Can you spot the cat in this photo?
I was absolutely obsessed with all the doors we walked by. There are also a lot of stray cats in the streets -- more than I've ever seen in one city.
We ended up getting lunch in Jemaa el-Fnaa, the main plaza in Marrakech.
Cumin and paprika soup (bottom), Mediterranean salad (middle), mint tea (left), tagine and khobz traditional flat bread (top), spices (right).
KNOW-BEFORE-YOU-GO: In the main plaza, people will try to sell aggressively and if you end up taking photos, they will expect money in return (we learned this through the monkeys):
Two locals unexpectedly put monkeys on us while we were trying to find our way back to our riad, then asked for 300dh afterwards.
With no cell-service and the confusing never-ending souks, it felt impossible to find our way back. Luckily, all three of us took french in high-school, so with combined effort of asking around multiple times to multiple people, we eventually found our way back an hour later.
Instead of trying to get to the Royal Mansour on our own, we pulled up the address on google maps using the wifi in our riad, and put one of our phones on airplane mode to follow instead.
Once we got here, it was so amazing that I felt like I was in a dream, and the architecture made me feel immediately at piece. Not only that, but the staff was so friendly in helping us find where we needed to go; I would say that their customer service is the best I've ever experienced.
For even more relaxation, there are spa treatments that can be booked in this room.
We got afternoon tea here after marveling at the architecture, and Rebecca and Sam ordered the British, whereas I ordered the Moroccan selection.
The Moroccan afternoon tea included mint tea, a plate of sweet Moroccan pastries (almond biscuits, dried dates stuff with almond paste, etc.), as well as a selection of Moroccan pancakes (thousand holes, msemen, harcha) with flavoured thyme honey and almond butter.
Rebecca with the Moroccan afternoon tea on the left, and the British afternoon tea on the right.
For our return on the way back to the riad, a local saw us looking lost and after we asked him where Derb Habib Allah (the street our riad was near) was, he insisted taking us all the way there. We thought he was being nice, but be warned that when a stranger goes out of their way to help, they will expect money in return, so if you actually don't need help, just kindly say "no thank you" or "non merci"! Eventually, we tipped him a few dh, got back to our riad, and prepared for another day.
On our walk to La Mamounia:
The entrance to La Mamounia was already amazing. If coming here for a visit, I would recommend booking the Detox Day Pass, as it includes a 60-minute massage, access to all the facilities, and a 3-course-meal in one of their restaurants. Just make sure to book in advance! For those who wouldn't mind going without a lunch and massage, they have a Day Pass for one third of the price.
Entrance to La Mamounia.
SPA ROOM - LA MAMOUNIA
Entrance to the jacuzzi.
PC: Rebecca Kim
Rebecca lounging on the sofa overlooking the pool.
After enjoying the beauty of this room, I got my first message (ever!). As a first timer, I found out that the back massage wasn't the best idea since I tensed up every time, but the feet and head massage were much needed. We got lunch at their french restaurant, and the Detox pre-planned meal included a salmon and tuna tartar for the starter, a selection of seafood and fresh vegetables from their garden for the main, and a plate of fresh fruit for dessert. It was a very delicious meal that I felt really cleansed my body, but in case seafood is not in accordance to your taste, they let you swap for other dishes on their menu!
We took one last look around at this amazing place before heading back for our local tour.
LOCAL TOUR GUIDE
After the relaxing morning, we met up with our tour guide where he showed us Medersa Ben Youssef, as well as the the best local places to buy herbs and oils, hand-made carpets and rugs, and pashminas.
Used by placing this spice inside a fabric bag or tissue, rubbing Haba Sauda against your hand and then sniffing through the fabric will clear up sinuses. Along with this, they soak it in hot milk and drink it at night to combat insomnia. In English is it known as Nigella seed:
Argan trees are only grown in Morocco, and the oil derived from the seeds have many uses including treating the skin (scars, eczema), hair, and nails. In order to tell if it's pure argan oil, it should not feel greasy when put on the skin, and should melt in right away.
100% Argan oil.
Mix of lotions, perfumes, and spices including saffron and sandalwood.
Our tour guide gave us a tip when it comes to buying a rug or carpet for the home. It's best to take your time to decide which one best fits your personality and style, so this decision should not be taken lightly. We were presented a wide variety of rugs, and as Rebecca was deciding which rug she'd like to bring home, we were served mint tea.
Traditional Moroccan wedding blanket.
MEDERSA BEN YOUSSEF
The Medersa Ben Youssef was an Islamic college in Marrakesh that shut down in 1960, and it is the largest Medrasain Morocco. This school was for the children of the elite society, consisting of 130 student dorms upstairs, and classrooms downstairs surrounding a courtyard.
The carvings contain no representation of humans or animals as required by Islam, but consist entirely of calligraphy inspired by the Quran, and floral geometric patterns instead.
The left photo below is where the teacher would sit in the classroom. When it was prayer time, the teacher would become the prayer leader, and would no longer be facing the students but instead be facing the wall (east) towards the Mecca.
If you look closely, the door is seen to resemble a key hole, symbolizing the opening of truth when studying.
The buildings are covered in a decoration including carved cedarwood, exquisite stucco-work, and colorful zellij tiles. The floor is marble from Italy, and back then, they would trade one pound of sugar or salt (to preserve meat), for one pound of marble.
The student dorms upstairs:
Looking over the courtyard through one of the dorms, if not inspired by the readings, I would definitely be inspired by the designs in this school.
The last part of the tour included a visit to the dyers factory, where they showed us how to tie a pashmina, and how to differentiate between a high quality versus poor quality one.
Noodles of wool dyed and hung to dry.
TIP: Low quality pashminas (that sell for about 50 dh) tend to have their dye come off when washed. Pashminas selling around 200dh+ are more trustworthy.
A step-by-step process on how to tie a pashmina:
My first time in Morocco, I felt there was such a huge juxtaposition between the crowded souks, and the beautiful interiors that seemed to provide an oasis from the rest of the city.
As our tour came to a close, we ate dinner consisting of more mediterranean salad, couscous, and tagine, and prepared for our road trip to the Sahara desert where we got to ride camels during sunset and sunrise. Stay tuned!