The Ourika Valley
Marrakesh is a fascinating city, but it can be quite an intensive experience. One way to unwind is to take a trip to the nearby Atlas Mountains or their foothills. We opted for a drive in the Ourika Valley by grand taxi – an undemanding way of spending the day under the circumstances. At just 60 km from Marrakesh the valley is a popular day-trip destination for locals as well as tourists, so don’t expect to have it all to yourself, but its greenness, and the views of the Atlas Mountains beyond, make a welcome contrast to the frantic pace of life in the city, and if you can spare the time this is an outing I’m sure you’ll enjoy.
I’ve written a separate page about the various things we did and saw in the Ourika Valley, but the main attractions apart from simply admiring the scenery are: the opportunity to visit a typical Berber home; a women’s co-operative producing the local speciality of argan oil; camel rides; hiking to a series of cascades (you can imagine that we didn’t do that!); craft shops and cafés along the riverbank.
You can get there as we did by taxi with a driver (we paid 700 dirhams for the day, about £56), join an organised tour, hire a car (the roads were pretty good once we were out of the city) or use local buses although I believe the latter involves changing en route and may be too time-consuming if you’re just going for the day.
The most excellent buffet
This buffet was in our (LP) guide book; they said "it was twice as expensive and more than twice as good" (as Hotel Ali buffet) and they were right!
Giant layout of local foods, including; the omnipresent tajine's, cous cous, other foods who's names I've forgotten (or never knew) and the absolutely brilliant pastilla - this one was chicken, unfortunately, not pigeon (or so I was told).
The atmosphere was very nice (they sat us in the back) and so was the staff. Pastilla!!!!!
impressive ’landmark’ of Marrakech
After his victory over the Almovarids the Almohad Sultan Abd el- Moumen started building this largest mosque of Marrakech. The minaret has a height of about 70 metres and can be seen from miles in and around the city, especially during the evening when it is floodlighted.
The tower has six rooms and a ramp, which allowed donkeys to ride up to the top. The minaret has a remarkable green tiled decoration just beneath the balcony and its top is adorned by four copper globes.
The main prayer hall with its arches can accommodate about 20.000 people.
For us ass non-Muslim it was not possible to visit the interior of the mosque or the top of the minaret. So we just walked around and enjoyed the architecture of its pink stone walls and gateways. Especially the entrance to the Koutoubia Courtyard is very beautiful. Koutoubia Mosque is built next to the original mosque from 1147 (demolished because its ‘qibla’ wall was not correctly oriented towards Mecca) and the foundations can be seen through a gate.
Koutoubia is surrounded by rather nice gardens with palm and orange trees; just nice to have a rest enjoying the impressive minaret of the mosque, while Moroccan boys are playing soccer, perhaps dreaming of a career somewhere in Europe.
Palais de la Bahia - The Harem Courtyard
This 19th century Palace is well worth a visit (I ended up making 2 visits, once independently, once (unintended) as part of a guided tour)
Its name translates as 'The Brilliant'
The attractive, well preserved, Harem Courtyard has featured in many Big Budget Movies.
Part of the palace is closed to visitors as it is still used by the Royal family and their staff.
The Bahia Palace was home to the Grand Vizier of Sultan Moulay al - Hassan, Si' Ahmed ben Musa or Bou Ahmed. It was built towards the end of the 19th century, taking nearly 15 years to complete. Following the death of Bou Ahmed, the Palace was Ransacked Restoration work is still ongoing !
The rooms (nearly 150!), housed Ba Ahmed, his 4 wives and 24 concubines plus servants and guards.
The Palace follows the patterns of typical Islamic architecture, with central courtyards, having rooms leading off, with doorways that are placed so that you can't see beyond (providing privacy) Fountains and gardens are also typical features, along with the decorative stucco panels, tiled floors and zellij work (see my next tip for more details)
To view the palace, there are arrows guiding you through the various rooms.
Open 08.30 - 11.15 and 14.30 -17.45 Sat - Thur
08.30 - 11.30 and 15.00 - 17.45 Fri.
The sounds, the smells, the sights...ah...Marrakesh...
As my friend and traveling cohort, Abby, and I stumbled off the plane in Casablanca after a cramped overnight flight, we took our bleary-eyed selves right to the train station at the airport and tripped over our broken French to get tickets to Marrakesh.
Despite all the warnings intended to scare us out of going, we knew that things would not be so bad as we struggled to handle our bags and figure out the pay phone at the same time at the Casa-Voyageurs station. Noticing our ineptitude and taking pity on us, a very nice guy helped us use the phone and then directed us to our platform for the connecting train to Marrakesh. Already, things were looking good...
Fighting sleep and the children who shared the compartment with us, we sat fixated on the scenes passing us in the window as we took our first real look at Morocco. And then we were in Marrakesh.
Okay, we were bombarded at the train station b ytaxi drivers and, yeah, we paid a little more than a Moroccan would have for the cab ride to the hotel that ended up being booked and having no rooms, BUT who would have expected some random person to show us the way to the hotel? And who would have expected him to then lead us to another one (that was REALLY wonderful) for nothing? And who would have expected that we would run into him several times afterward and receive a warm and friendly greeting each time? So far, we were not met with the neverending barrage of hustlers.
I have to say that we were incredibly lucky because we had the two best guides in Marrakesh--Mohamed and Said. Friends of a friend back in NYC, these two charming fellows took a bus from Casablanca to Marrakesh for six hours to show us around (and protect us, it seems) for the next two days. It was our crash course in culture, politics, Islam, the status of women, neighboring countries, views on Europeans, and French. Mohamed and Said did all this without a thought of getting paid...in fact, they wouldn't even let us buy them lunch!! I can't express enough how nice these two were and how hospitable and generous the Moroccans are in general.