Things to Do in Marrakech Morocco on Your Anniversary
Celebrating her wedding anniversary Maria Boyle discovers the amazing things to do in Marrakech Morocco, and why the city has cultivated a reputation for being a world-class tourist destination.
With the number of visitors averaging 12 million every year, Morocco is the second most visited country on the African continent behind Egypt. Situated in western Morocco, Marrakech is earning a reputation for being a world-class tourist destination with its cultural and historical heritage, offering visitors a chance to enjoy authentic experiences from the very simple to the most luxurious.
So to celebrate our 20th wedding anniversary, Marrakech was the ideal choice.
Villa des Orangers
Marrakech hotel options vary from the simple to the luxurious. Given it was a special weekend away, we chose to stay in Villa des Orangers in the Medina, or old town. Most sights are within easy walking distance, the souks are on the doorstep and we could explore pretty much everywhere by foot.
Villa des Orangers is a Marrakech riad; a traditional Moroccan house with an interior courtyard. Built in the 1930s, it was owned by one of the city’s most prominent judges who lived in the home until 1998. After his death, it took the city’s finest craft workers nine months to complete the renovation work, fully respecting local traditions, before it opened as a luxury hotel.
After settling in to our room we decided to explore as we were excited to experience a completely different culture. We decided to hire a local Marrakech travel guide, Hicham Behlidaoui, recommended by the hotel.
Things To Do in Marrakech : Visit the Medina
Hicham explained the history of the ancient city of Marrakech and its important buildings found within the high red walls of the Medina. We soon realised what a good call it was to have a guide as we walked further into the old city – it is very easy to get lost in the narrow alleys and squares of the old town.
Our first stop was Djemaa El Fan, the large square at the entry to the Medina. Declared a ‘Masterpiece of World Heritage’ by UNESCO, and dating back to the 11th century, it is one of the main cultural spaces in Marrakech and a symbol of the city. vibrant hub of market with sellers galore, snake charmers and even local dentists offering a tooth pulling service.
As we walked the streets, we became accustomed to sounds and smells of the city and soon became captivated.
Medersa Ben Youssef and Bahia Palace
Medersa Ben Youssef is one of Morocco’s most beautiful buildings. A former theological college, completed in 1565, it once homed 900 students given it was the largest centre for Quranic study in the country. The main internal courtyard features fine zellige tiling, stalactite ceilings, cedar wood detailing, and the warrens of rooms where students once slept clustered around some internal courtyards in typical Islamic architecture style.
After a busy morning exploring the Medina, Hicham took us to Riad Dar Tim Tam, which was the perfect lunch spot in the Souk, serving Moroccan food but specialising in tagines and Moroccan-style salads, served with refreshing mint tea.
Reinvigorated after a wonderful lunch, we visited Bahia Palace, one of Marrakech’s most eye-popping sights, spread over 8,000 square metres with floor-to-ceiling extravagance of intricate marquetry, plasterwork and zouak (painted wood). It was built in the late 19th century as the residence of the Grand Vizier Bou Ahmed, who served Sultan Moulay al-Hassan I and was intended to be the greatest palace of its time.
Shopping in Marrakech Souk
The markets offer a real variety of items for sale: ceramics, glassware, ornate teapots, rugs, clothes, bags, slippers, food, cosmetics, antiques, you name it, they have it. I quickly realised it would have been advisable to pack a spare bag. Hicham explained that only two per cent of the shops have fixed prices so you have to be prepared to haggle.
We wanted to buy spices. Hicham told us about Herboristerie Lamlih, a family run business where he buys Moroccan tea for his mother as a treat. On offer are the freshest spices and teas, medical herbs, fresh soaps and argan oil. Everything was a fixed price so it was a great introduction to shopping. We had lots of fun choosing spices and seeing them being freshly ground in front of us, buying oils, beauty grooming products and potions.
We then headed to the souks and to see local artisans at work, including the tanners making leather goods, blacksmiths creating lights and furniture, and wood carvers making backgammon boards and jewellery boxes, and so on. It was fascinating and brilliant to see. The tour concluded in a market where we were able to haggle and buy jewellery, hand carved barbeque skewers and a few necessary bags, with Hicham helping us get the best price. It was the perfect day and a wonderful introduction to the magical city.
Relaxing by the Pools
Retreating to the hotel we were desperate to enjoy some pool time. The hotel has three beautiful pools – a rooftop one with views of the Atlas mountains, a smaller pool off the garden, and a third, which is surrounded by olive trees. Its resident tortoise, Ryan, was a star attraction and greeted guests each afternoon.
We decided to enjoy dinner at the hotel al fresco. White cloth dinner tables surrounded the floodlit pool and, as night fell, it became even more beautiful with twinkling lights, and the night sky and stars above. The hotel restaurant offers East to West cuisine and every dish was a taste sensation. Think subtle flavours with the right notes of spice and sweetness matched by a carefully curated wine list.
A Day Trip in the Desert
For our second day, we ventured in to the Agafay desert which is located at the foot of the Atlas mountain range. Trips vary from half-day early mornings, afternoons wrapping in a sunset, or a more indulgent overnight stay.
Hicham and the hotel staff helped us organise a day trip to Inara camp. Only 45 minutes from the hotel by car, we arrived to soak in the amazing views of the desert and were just in time for a traditional Moroccan lunch of salads, meats and fruit at the camp’s Le Soukoune restaurant, which overlooked the pool and boasted breathtaking views of the desert and mountains.
It was hot, so post lunch, we cooled down by the pool in to the late afternoon. Just ahead of sunset, we enjoyed a thrilling guided quad biking experience, crossing the desert’s soft rocky terrain. For those who prefer something a little slower, Inara also offers camel or horse rides, mountain biking and trekking.
After such a fabulous experience, we headed to Marrakech El Fenn, a great spot to enjoy some fabulous music while indulging in one of their great cocktails followed by an amazing dinner on its 1,300 square metre rooftop terrace.
Escape to a Fashionable Garden
For our last day, we headed to Jardin Marjorelle, which offer a wonderful opportunity to escape the heat of the city. These lush tropical gardens are the creation of French painter Jacques Majorelle who started them in 1922 with exotic botanical specimens from the far corners of the world.
The gardens are exceptional, beautifully designed and full of eclectic plants such as cacti and palms, as well as ornate ponds. They are also home to Jacques Majorelle artist studio, art deco in its design and painted in vibrant blue – the colour now known as Majorelle blue –, and now home to the admirable Berber museum.
After Jacques Majorelle’s death in 1962, fashion designer Yves Saint Laurent bought the property, and lived in a private house adjoining the gardens. Next door to the gardens is the entrance to the Yves Saint Laurent Museum dedicated to the life and legacy of the designer as well as temporary exhibitions – also worth a visit.
A Local Dinner
On our last night we asked some locals where they would choose to eat. Al Fassia came up time and time again as the place to go. Located in the heart of Gueliz, to the west of the old town, it is owned by two sisters who run it as an all-female restaurant. It serves the most impressive selection of Moroccan salads, the most incredible chicken pastille, and a wide variety of tagines.
We celebrated our wedding anniversary in style and felt we had only just started to discover the city. There is a saying that you do not visit Marrakech, you experience it. Whatever type of break you want – be it relaxed or adrenalin-fuelled – Marrakech can easily deliver it in the most vibrant and colourful of ways. We will be back.
Marrakech Tip: Riad Dar Tim Tam
Ask nearby shop owners for directions as it is one of the best-kept secret spots which lies behind its front door and eat in the outside courtyard which is bright and full of beautiful plants and traditional décor.
We stayed at the wonderful Villa des Orangers. Up to 4 September : £285 per night for a deluxe double room including: airport transfers, breakfast, lunch. From 5 September, nightly rate will be £410.
Marrakech Travel Guide
Marrakech Holiday Tours start from £40 per couple per half day. Do book in advance. To contact Hisham visit his Instagram page.
Marrakech flight time is around three-and-a-half hours from London. With a speedy 20 minutes transfer from Marrakech airport to the city.
The weather for Marrakech is variable with wet and mild winters with temperatures averaging 12°C and hot dry summers averaging 26 to 30°C. For the current Marrakech weather click here.
For More About Marrakech Holidays
For inspiration on your Morocco holidays and further ideas on things to do in Marrakech, click here.