Tag Archives: where to sleep

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.

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Balcony room at Riad Le Berbere

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

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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! 🙂

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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.

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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).

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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!

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Straw bags in Place des Epices.
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Poufs, pillows and rugs for sale in Place des Epices.
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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

 

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The long and winding road to buy a property in Italy….

If a year ago someone had told me that it would have taken us (my boyfriend and I) a full year to buy a property in Italy, I think we would have probably walked away – and choose another country. A year. In the same period of time I had plenty of friends that got engaged and married, others planning children and actually giving birth to them.

But I suppose that – at the end of the day – buying a property in Italy is probably something like having a baby: painful and rewarding at the same time.

Now that we have finally completed, we don’t even have time to stop and think about the whole process itself but I am pretty sure we won’t never forget the experience: extremely slow, stressful and – for most of it – terribly frustrating. So, if you are thinking about buying down here, make sure you have plenty of patience and you are truly committed to get to the end. And in the not too distant future if you need a place to stay while looking around for the right property (which it can take a while!)…you can stay with us – keep reading! 🙂

Every single person that we met throughout the process (agents, consultants, builders etc) promptly reminded us “This is Italy!”, which basically means:

  • Bureaucracy is a nightmare. Sadly Italy lives up to its name and it doesn’t seem it will make procedures easier any time soon. From the very first moment you land in Italy you will soon realize that literally everything needs a stamp and someone’s signature in order to go ahead…Plenty more to be said on this topic!
  • If you don’t speak Italian, language is clearly an obstacle because you  will necessarily have to rely on someone else for the whole buying process. To find someone you can rely on it’s a whole different story (and that will deserve a separate post too!). Being an Italian speaker, I still had my difficulties throughout the whole process.
  • We have bought a property made up of an old farmhouse and a former hay-barn dated XVI century. Pretty old eh? Well, if you are looking to buy something similar just bear in mind that there is a huge number of countryside properties (at least in Tuscany, but I am pretty sure that the further south you go in Italy and the worse it will be) that to some extent does not comply with the current building/landscape regulations. I can easily say that out of the over 30 properties that we viewed in Tuscany before falling for this one, NONE was actually 100% compliant at the time of visiting. Again, plenty more to be said on this point but generally the bigger the house and the more likely it is there might something not fully legal or that needs to be fixed in order to be fully compliant. It can takes days or it can take months or – worst case scenario – it can’t be fixed. As long as you are prepared, no problem.
  • Plenty should be said on the quality of real estate agents – and we met quite a few in the last couple of year. Sorry to say that – and I am pretty sure it does not apply to everyone of course – but I don’t need a realtor to enter a kitchen and tell me “this is the kitchen” or to enter a bathroom and tell me “this is the bathroom” (YES, I am still frustrated about this). What about giving away some more basic but constructive information that can truly help the purchase? With the commissions they get (from both sides!), they should definitely provide a far better service.

Other than that, it has been definitely a fun ride with plenty of ups and downs, a lot of people that have crossed our path (some of them truly amazing that made and still make our days) and a whole bunch of new experiences that will definitely help us in the upcoming challenges – there will be plenty!

For us, completing on this property is just a step closer to the final goal that is not only converting it into our “home” but also into a bed and breakfast. Definitely a big challenge that will take a few more months of hard work but we are so looking forward to literally open our doors to our future guests and sharing with them our love for Tuscany, Italy, travels and plenty more that all the efforts will be absolutely worth it.

And the bottom line is: if you are planning a trip to Tuscany in the upcoming year(s), we would definitely love to host you! We expect to be up and running for the next season so, if you wish, follow us along this path: we will launch a webpage and an Instagram account so you can follow our progress (and give some advice too, why not?).

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In the meantime, before we disclose our location here are some of the most beautiful places in Tuscany that would deserve a visit and that are very close to where we live:

CERTALDO (10 minutes)

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Often overlooked but definitely worth a stop as one of the prettiest hill-top towns in the area. Every summer it hosts Mercantia, an amazing street-art festival that shouldn’t be missed. Another very well organized event is the Boccaccesca, a truly Italian food fair (with plenty of very good wine too!) in a lovely setting!

SAN GIMIGNANO (15 minutes)

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Possibly the most famous hill-top town in Tuscany, boasting gorgeous views of the surrounding countryside, stunning architecture and plenty of excellent restaurants. Get there early in the morning or late afternoon to beat the crowds and enjoy the town at its best.

MONTERIGGIONI (20 minutes)

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On route to Siena, this tiny little castle-town is definitely worth a stop – far less crowded than San Gimignano. It can make a great stop for a couple of hours to enjoy an aperitivo in its lovely square or a walk around its walls.

CHIANTI (from 20 minutes)

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We are literally on the doorstep to Chianti, the land of olives and vineyards. Take a full day to drive around the charming towns of Radda, Greve and Gaiole in Chianti, tasting some of the best wines in a stunning setting.

SIENA (30 minutes)

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Home to the most famous horse races in Italy (the Palio, held twice a year), there is plenty to visit and explore in Siena to keep you busy for a couple of days. Despite the number of tourists visiting (particularly during the summer months), it still retains a truly Italian atmosphere.  

FLORENCE (45 minutes)

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Does it really need an introduction? Florence is a “wow” for the eyes and the soul and every single corner, church, square, alley etc is worth a stop. If you are planning to visit, make sure to plan ahead what to do and see so you don’t miss anything: even  only 24 hours can be an absolute blast!

SAN MINIATO (45 minutes)

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Another one of those pretty hill-top towns that can make a perfect stop on the way to Pisa Airport (if that’s the airport you will use), particularly if you come here during November/December, when it hosts the Truffle Market Fair (check dates), definitely the best place to eat and buy white truffle!

CRETE SENESI (50 minutes)

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Rolling hills and some of the most stunning lunar landscape in Tuscany. Plus, home to a couple of stunning Abbeys (including Abbazia di Monte Oliveto Maggiore). Great for scenery and sunsets.

PISA (1,15 h minutes)

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Though it is definitely the Leaning Tower that made Pisa famous, the whole city deserves a visit. Crossed by the Arno river, there is plenty to discover on both banks. If you don’t plan to sleep in, it’s definitely worth spending a few hours in the city before flying back….wherever you are flying back to! 🙂

 

Plenty more to discover so keep following!