Mysteries of Morocco
Marrakech is a chaotic yet mesmerising vortex, which entices and captivates its many visitors. This vibrant hub of energy is the perfect starting point for any North African journey, but there’s more to Morocco than just this one magnetic city.Marrakech
The Daughter of the Desert
Marrakech is a city in perpetual performance, where the world rushes and laughs with an acrobatic nonchalance. Fragrances curl down narrow streets, catching on corners and fading almost before they’re detected, leaving you with a lingering sense of thwarted curiosity.
Marrakech makes you earn its secrets, guarding its jewels and pleasures behind imposing petal-pink walls. Be prepared for a dim alleyway to evolve into an exquisite courtyard full of ancient mosaics and sixteenth century tombs. Expect to be surprised by lush gardens with cool shaded walkways and tinkling fountains.
If the world has a meeting place, it’s Djma el Fnaa. The city revolves around the main square, the gateway to the famous souks. Step inside into a web of shaded canvas alleyways, every nook and cranny stuffed to the rafters with goods and wares: leather belts coiled like sleeping snakes, glinting rainbow lanterns and swathes of many coloured scarves adorn the shelves in their thousands.
Staying in a Riad lets you slip into a little pocket of history in one of these old town houses. Riads are tall rectangles, shaped around a central courtyard tiled with mosaics and a fountain filled with flowers, a pleasantly cool oasis in which to absorb the atmospheric life inside the medina.Atlas Mountains
Coral slopes and cobalt skies
The High Atlas Mountains gave birth to the pink sandstone that makes Marrakech instantly recognisable. The mountain rocks are a shimmering rainbow of colours rarely caught in photographs; predominantly pink, they are punctuated with lilac, smoky grey and marbled pumice stones. Craggy outcrops of black basalt rock are flanked by stubby green trees, offering dappled shade.
The days here start early, with the call to prayer echoing across the valleys, reverberating into the squat houses and accompanied by the braying of donkeys. Berber men and women emerge whilst it’s still cool, dressed in long robes. Mothers scrub their doorsteps clean whilst their children peek shyly from behind the doorways. As the sun rises, it sets fire to the highest tips of the mountain triangles, creating a golden crown. It’s worth waking up early for.
Breakfast begins with a steaming cup of sweet mint tea and a rghayif – a mountain speciality, a cross between a flatbread and a pancake, fresh, hot and decadently smothered in jam. They’re delicious. For those without a sweet tooth, natural yoghurt and oven-fresh bread are on offer; either way, it’s a substantial meal characteristic of the immense Berber hospitality. It sets you up for a day wandering amidst the serenity of the mountains, overlooked by Mount Toubkal, the highest peak in North Africa.Coastal Essaouira
A breath of fresh air
Swaying palm fronds cast a shadow on the windswept walls of Essaouira. The picturesque port feels clean and open, with wider streets than Marrakech and white washed walls trimmed with tidy, vivid blue. The freshness of the sea air fills the streets and imbues the city with an open, relaxed feel. It’s a place to wander with wonder, whether you head for the long sandy beach to watch the kite surfers or follow the impressive ramparts overlooking the vastness of the Atlantic Ocean, as gulls squawk and freewheel overhead.
These souks have another scent; that of thuya, an indigenous tree whose wood is made beautiful by the dark whorls tempestuously stirring in it. Sawdust collects in corners as you pass workshops with their doors flung open and carpenters at work inside, inlaying their creations with citron lemon wood or shimmering mother of pearl. The freshly carved aroma wafts into the streets as the artisans polish the finished keepsakes with lemon juice and lay them out for sale in the sunshine: a set of dominoes, a tea tray, a magic box…
Returning through the parallel streets, a young man emblematic of Essaouira’s musical heritage looks up from his guitar. His friend is rocking on the balls of his feet, crooning softly, an image in homage to the legend of Jimi Hendrix, who once found inspiration on these very streets. Still playing his guitar and without missing a note, the guitarist calls out to us, “Hello, neighbour!” His is the shop next to our Riad, and he’s recognised us from that morning. Across the street another seller pauses, rearranging leather cushions. “Hello, neighbour!” he waves as we retreat behind whitewashed walls.
Exodus Marketing Executive, Georgina Lawrence, made her first visit to North Africa in 2012 on Marrakech, Mountains and Coast