When people travel to Morocco, and in particular the larger cities, they have an idea in mind of what to expect. Narrow alleyways full to the brim with tiny little stalls that make up the prominent souks: a hive of activity both night and day. Locals exploring the fresh, brightly coloured market produce each day getting whatever is available for their supper: after all there are no supermarkets with a freezer section to buy a month’s worth of food in one trip. In short, it’s a completely different way of life.
Within the Medina walls you feel like you have stepped back in time; the dusty streets are crammed with donkeys and mopeds whizzing around not afraid to knock you over or leave you stunned by the close proximity of their passing. Lively clucking chickens running around the legs of a nearby stall owner waiting to be the picking of some passer-by. Youngsters happily playing in the side streets unaware that they are missing their favourite programme on TV and wishing they had pressed the record button on their sky-plus sets. This all sounds like a description of a time long ago, not the present. This is however, reality for those living within the Medina walls.
But what goes on outside these walls?
The orange-red clay of the ramparts conceals a world that very few can imagine unless they have experienced it for themselves and is where most people spend the majority of their time, but if visiting this vibrant city no trip would be complete without a walk outside the old city boundaries.
Marrakech is quickly becoming a principle tourist destination with new buildings and hotels emerging daily. As soon as you step outside of the Medina walls this becomes evident everywhere you turn. Some of the most exclusive restaurants and hotels can be found in this part of the city and as long as money is not in question you will quickly be able to immerse yourself into luxury here. The crowning glory for many is The Royal Mansour Hotel. A true masterpiece, a work of art, that has seen Prime Ministers and Presidents, Royalty and Pop Stars grace its hallways. The security on the gates is testament alone to the exclusive, ‘membership only’ style hotel. Open to non-residents you will feel right at home here if you can order from a restaurant menu without having to worry about the cost.
Many younger Moroccans choose to live outside the Medina walls, opting for jobs in finance and business, enjoying the lifestyle of high rise apartments and lazy evenings socially with friends. Some of the trendiest bars and restaurants grace the streets here – bars have outside heaters for the chilly evenings and restaurants are enclosed in beautiful kept gardens with red carpet runways leading up to the front door. Whilst staying in Marrakech we opted, one evening, to take a walk around this area stopping in at Le Comptoir Darna for an evening of delicate dining. Be warned, here you will face a bill that in comparison to the old city, will make your eyes water. Visiting with friends, we stopped at the bar before dinner; the gents went to order drinks and it soon became evident that they were either going to pass out at the prices or be sarcastic about them. Up until this point in our trip an evening’s meal would have cost us between 50 – 100 Dhs per couple we were now looking at that for drinks!!! To put this into perspective 100 Dhs is about £7.50. It was nonetheless a shock to the senses that all should be prepared for if you intend to visit. The food was outstanding, well worth the cost, and we will definitely return on our next trip to Marrakech.
If these prices seem a bit steep have no fear. If you are after something different, don’t want yet another tagine with wonderful flavours combining with each mouthful, not a problem – even Marrakech has the coveted Golden Arches (which I would like to highlight we never ventured into!).
The streets are a complete contrast to the Medina alleyways; wide and spacious. I could wander along them without fear of hitting anyone or anything. Traffic flies by and you feel like you are back in any European city. Designer shops emerge in courtyards, cafes utilise the wide outside seating areas that entice people to sit and people watch for hours and modern hotels are on every corner. If you want a modern twist on a historic city this is definitely the place to stay.
For somewhere quiet to relax away from the hubbub of city traffic try one of the many bars that grace the skyline on top of the hotels. From this vantage point you can see both the exciting chaos that is new Marrakech and the Altas Mountains tranquilly floating on the horizon.
Whilst the old Medina will always been the main reason to visit Marrakech don’t forget about this exciting new side of the city and explore it; even if it is only for an afternoon.