Tag Archives: shopping

Marrakech: a place like no other.

The first time I visited Marrakech was in 2013, on a 2 weeks trip to Morocco and that was my second time in Northern Africa (the first one being Egypt in 2009). I have visited the city again a few days ago and I had the same exact feelings of 3 years ago: Marrakech is a place like no other and Morocco has been – up to now – the country that has surpassed by far any of my expectations: extremely diverse from North to South (at least the part I visited), you will definitely be captivated by the colourful local markets (including of course the Marrakech souks!), the beautiful imperial cities (Fez, above all), some of the most stunning landscapes I have ever seen (desert, gorges, mountains etc), delicious food, impressive riads or dar to sleep in and a buzzing atmosphere in all the medinas.

Whilst in order to properly visit Morocco you will definitely need at least a couple of weeks (and that would allow you to visit some of the major sites), Marrakech makes the perfect city break for a long weekend.

If you are planning a short trip there, worth considering a few things:

SLEEPING

Though offer is extremely vast and you will never be short of accomodation in Marrakech, if you have got something specific on your mind (and particularly in high season – October to March I would say) make sure you book well ahead since the best addresses fill up quickly. Where to sleep is totally down to you, even though a couple of nights in a restored riad (a typical Moroccan house with a courtyard or a garden in the centre) is definitely a great experience to switch off from the madness of the city and soak yourself in a oasis of relax.  

There are options for all budgets but just keep in mind that:

1) Unless you book a room with a terrace or at an upper floor, riad or dar rooms are generally quite dark since none of the windows (except the top floors – if there is any) opens on the outside (they generally overlook the internal courtyard). On the positive side, riads generally have a roof top terrace to enjoy breakfasts/meals or simply chill out, if the weather allows it. That itself is magical, particularly during sunrise and sunset.

Want a room with a balcony? I struggled to find one not overpriced but in the end I was truly satisfied with the one I booked at Riad Le Berbere: they offer a stunning and sun kissed room with a private little balcony overlooking the gorgeous internal garden. This time of the year (November) the room is blessed with sunshine from the early morning hours.

dsc_2137
Balcony room at Riad Le Berbere

They have a great roof top terrace too, where they serve breakfast and dinner – upon reservation.

dsc_2558
Rooftop terrace at Riad Le Berbere

2) Location in Marrakech is everything and which riad/hotel you choose depends a lot on what you plan to do during your stay. If you are on a girls weekend away and you plan to spend a long time wandering around the souks, I would definitely stay as close as possible to the Jemaa el-Fnna (the main square) and the souks to allow you to get in and out easily. Riad Le Berbere is a 10 min walk from the square but is very well located in respect with the Ben Youssef Madrasa (the Islamic college) and the Photography Museum.

I found Marrakech to be a safe city, both in 2013 when I visited with a girl friend of mine and on this last occasion with my boyfriend: no hassle (except from the sellers!) or problem at all. Despite this, keep in mind that some of the side alleys are very poorly lit, even just off the main square and the souks at night (after 10 PM, when they close) are deserted. Getting lost in the Medina is definitely part of the game but better doing it during daytime!

EATING AND DRINKING (mainly tea!)

The first time I visited Marrakech in 2013 I was truly impressed by the amount of cool and modern cafes and restaurants owned and managed by Europeans (mainly French). That has definitely increased in recent years and has resulted in a huge offer of mid to high level European-Moroccan product (both food and style), definitely interesting and delicious but sometimes overpriced, at least for Moroccan standards (sometimes even for European standards!). No wander why these cafes and restaurants are packed with Europeans only. Though they sometimes offer a good alternative to the local cuisine, eating in one of these cool and chic places (just to name a few: Cafe’ des Epices and Nomad etc), takes away a lot of the charme of Marrakech since you could be anywhere else in the world. Usually, next door there is always a Moroccan restaurant or cafe’ and generally with a great terrace offering the same stunning view of their overpriced neighbours.

That is the case of a couple of cafes/restaurant in Rue de la Kasbah, close to the Mosque Moulay El Yazid and the Saadian Tombs. Kasbah Cafe’ is definitely a cool and chill out restaurant with a great terrace but its prices can be compared to European ones. Try a few metres down on the same side of the road and you will find Casa Saada, a local restaurant with very good tagines, sandwiches, freshly squeezed juices and exactly the same views over the mosque. For a fraction of the price! 🙂

dsc_2324
View from the terrace of Casa Saada, in Rue de la Kasbah.

On Jemaa el-Fnna, Cafe’ de France is loved by locals and tourists alike and it’s definitely one of the best spot to catch the sunset over the main square, enjoying people watching and a mint tea! If you want to get a good spot with a good view over the square just make sure to arrive well before the sunset.

dsc_2470
View of Jemaa el-Fnna from the 2nd floor of Cafe’ de France.

Alcohol is widely served in restaurants and bars that cater mainly for tourists (at European prices) but generally not in Moroccan ones (and definitely not if there is a mosque nearby). I have to say that it makes a good change to sit down for a late afternoon mint tea, enjoying the buzz of Marrakech from either a terrace or escaping it by choosing a secluded riad.

If you need a break, try Dar Cherifa, one of the oldest mansions in Marrakech, wonderfully restored and converted into a literary cafe’, restaurant and guest rooms. Service is excellent and friendly and the amazing architecture is worth a visit by itself (just a few minutes walk from Jemaa el-Fnna).

dsc_2280
Aromatic tea ritual in Dar Cherifa, a stunning literary cafe’ and restaurant with rooms.

SHOPPING

First rule: if you are planning on doing some serious shopping and you are flying to Marrakech with a low cost airlines, it’s definitely worth putting a foldable bag in your hand luggage and pay for hold luggage for your inbound flight only. Trying to squeeze a massive straw bag (or carpet!) in your hand luggage can be a mission impossible!

dsc_2615
Straw bags in Place des Epices.
dsc_2611
Poufs, pillows and rugs for sale in Place des Epices.
dsc_2410
Spices and dried flowers in Place des Ferblantiers, near the Mellah.

Shopping in Marrakech is easier said than done and – even for me that I do love shopping – it can be a quite exhausting experience. Not only the offer in the souks and the outdoor markets is vast (I would say ENDLESS) but let’s face it: Moroccan selling techniques can be quite overwhelming for us Europeans 😉 For men shopping in Marrakech can be a daunting and definitely nerve-wracking experience so keep that in mind and make sure your other half is prepared. In this sense a girls-only weekend can be a great option! 🙂

If you are looking to buy some specific items and carpets in particular, I would definitely recommend reading the post of Maroc Mama (an American-Moroccan family living in Marrakech), with the 7 tips for buying a rug in Marrakech. Very useful, especially for first buyers.

What to buy is totally down to you but there is definitely a bit for everyone: Argan oil, spices, rugs, fabrics, throws, pillow cases, blankets, clothing, straw bags etc.

I only bought what I really wanted to get, that being:

  1. A couple of 250 ml bottles of Argan Oil, from Mishkat-Arom, a pharmacy next to Place des Epices: no bartering in here but if you buy a couple of bottles they give you a free small bottle of 100 ml Argan Oil. They have natural Argan Oil or mixed with natural essence (Orange Flower, Verveine, Jasmine, Grapefruit).
  2. A plain straw bag from a sweet Moroccan old man, working in an little alley behind Place des Epices; he didn’t speak a single word of English nor French and the 60 MAD for a handmade straw bag (just less than Eur 6) felt like the best money spent on the whole trip.

 

Coming next…..

What to do and visit in Marrakech in 3 days

 

Advertisements

Corazón Madrileño

If I could have chosen where to be born, I would have definitely picked Madrid.

I have lived there on 2 separate occasions, the last one being from 2007 until 2010 and I have to say I still deeply miss it. If you have already been there, it’s not difficult to see why: amazing architecture, beautiful wide and tree-lined boulevards, stunning parks, great shopping, delicious (and cheap!) food and a great night life. The latino charme apparently adds something more to this wonderful city 😉

My rule since I moved out is that, at least once a year, I have to go back and I think I have accomplished that so far.

Here are some tips for a great long weekend in Madrid!

  1. Hotel: I am not going to suggest any in particular but the location will depend a lot on what you are planning to do and what your budget is. I lived in Almagro, near the embassies area in a “spacious” 27 sqm flat. It is undoubtedly one of the wealthiest parts of Madrid and it’s perfectly located for going out, shopping, visiting and anything else you could possibly be looking to do in Madrid. Almagro, Recoletos and Goya barrios generally offer a more upmarket accomodation. La Latina and Malasaña are closer to the action (plenty of bars, restaurants, shops etc). For party-goers, Chueca is the best bet (gay oriented but open to absolutely everyone up to great fun!). Wherever you decide to stay and whatever your budget is, I would avoid anywhere near Puerta del Sol and Gran Vía (areas well renowned for pickpockets and petty crimes). You want to be near the action, not necessarily in it!
  2. Food: Since I left Madrid in 2010, many new posh and stylish markets have opened (or being restored) giving a more international feel to a city that up to a few years ago was profoundly Spanish. Nothing wrong with them but be prepared to pay a bit more for anything you would order in there and be surrounded by a lot of fellow tourists (Mercado San Antón, Mercado San Miguel, Mercado San Ildefonso etc).

    If you are looking for something more local and the sun is shining, go for any restaurant with terrace on Plaza de Olavide or Plaza Dos de Mayo: patatas bravas, berenjenas con miel, pulpo a la gallega, ración de tortilla, plato de jamón y queso should be on your list. You may have to wait a while to get a table but the buzzing atmosphere is well worth the wait. No matter where you choose to have your meal, please do not eat in Plaza Mayor: over priced and over touristy. Food may be decent but that’s not where locals would eat. Don’t leave Madrid without trying a chocolate con churros (long fried donuts to dip in thick hot chocolate) at Casa Ginés near to Plaza Mayor (it’s open 365 days a year, 24h/24h so you have no excuse not to go!) nor a croquetas de bacalao (cod croquettes, but they have got plenty of other options) at Casa Labra next to Puerta del Sol. La Mallorquina in Puerta del Sol is the place where to get your morning pastry (or an afternoon one). Don’t be put off by the queues: they move fast.

  3. Shopping: One for the ladies. Madrid is shopping land. I would suggest to try to keep your boyfriend/husband at home (if you have one!) and go there for a girls-only getaway (try to arrange it on a sport event if your partner is hooked on one). If your other half still decides to follow you to the Spanish capital, make sure you have at least one full day of shopping on your own. Assuming you may like what I like (individual and unique shops, local designers etc) Calle Fuencarral, Calle Malasaña, Calle Hortaleza, Calle Corredera Baja de San Pablo are a good starting point.

    You can’t leave Spain without a pair (or more) of shoes. No matter what your taste is, Calle Figueroa in Chueca should be the first place to go. It’s the so-called shoe-outlet street and you’ll know what I mean once you get there. Go for the local brands: Pura Lopez, Paco Gil, UNISA and Malababa (amazing leather boots). Again, a boyfriend or husband, would be completely unnecessary, don’t you think?  Are you a fan of fans 🙂 (abanicos)? Get one at Casa Diego in Puerta del Sol on the corner with Calle Montera. For trendy outfits that require a bit more investment, Calle Barquillo is a safe option: nice and unique shops are lined along both sides of the street and the surrounding side streets. For more upmarket shopping, Calle Serrano and in general Salamanca barrio is the place to go if you are prepared to spend some serious money (Amaya Arzuaga, Angela Schlesser, Pedro del Hierro, Purificación García would be my choices if I had that sort of money to spend). For something more casual and boho, that requires a lot less €€€, head to El Rastro; it’s the Spanish version of Portobello Market in London and it takes place every Sunday in La Latina district. I think, as many things, it used to be a good market for good finds and bargains…now it has probably lost a bit of its soul.

  4. Keep safe: I lived on my own and used to walk back home many times at night (or early morning) and Madrid is a overall a safe city (it was probably safer before the big 2008 crisis, though). As with any big city, you have to pay more attention in certain areas at certain times as petty crimes are not uncommon. Pickpockets are magicians, avoid railway stations areas in the evening and pay particular attention when on undergrounds and trains (keeping your belongings next to you). Public transport is generally packed all day long so special care should be exercised. As (white) taxis are way lot cheaper than anywhere else I have been in Europe, I suggest you use them if you plan to get back very late. All the times I have been there (both living and lately for business and pleasure), they have always used the meter and never had any issue but make sure they use it.
  5. Going out: Malasaña, La Latina, Chueca, Salamanca…you can’t go wrong. Don’t forget that generally madrileños do not eat before 10 PM and some clubs will be absolutely empty before 1 AM (some locals might still be eating at that time!) so you may need to factor in a siesta to keep you going all night long. I used to get a nap before going out dancing at 2 AM!!

Madrileños are lovely people. They genuinely love their city and they are generally helpful with tourists. The city is exceptionally quiet on Sunday morning (they party hard!) so don’t expect to see many people walking around in residential-only areas. Try to visit the city with the frame of mind of a local: don’t wake up unnecessarily early, have lunch not earlier than 2 PM and dinner not earlier than 9.30 PM. Shops/galleries/museums stay open until late and you don’t want to sit at a restaurant on your own. Be prepared to walk long distances and don’t forget to pay a visit to the most stunning museums (Reina Sofia, El Prado, Thyssen Bornemisza) and check any other temporary collections or exhibition. If you are planning to stay more than a weekend, get yourself a Guia del Ocio from a local kiosk (kind of “What’s On Guide”), to see what’s on during your stay.

And don’t forget: flamenco is not Madrid so please save it for when you will visit Andalucía (which you should do!).

IMG_3697.JPG
Mini sandwiches and claras at Cien Montaditos, Plaza Santa Barbara
IMG_3932.JPG
Palacio Real
IMG_3919.JPG
Plaza de Oriente, Teatro Real
IMG_2041
Almudena Cathedral
IMG_3967
Sunset from the Almudena Cathedral
IMG_3873
Palacio de Cristal, Parque del Retiro
IMG_3795
Palacio de Comunicaciones (also called Palacio Cibeles or Correos)
IMG_2073
Metropolis Building by night
CIMG7471.JPG
Parque del Retiro on a Sunday afternoon
CIMG7512.JPG
Gran Via
CIMG7499
Sunrise in Plaza Santa Ana (Hotel ME)