If there is one thing that Marrakech is famous for, it is its souks – and for good reason, as they are among the most vibrant and colourful in the world. But if you are yearning for an afternoon away from the chaos and noise, you’ll be pleased to know there is plenty more to the city than its markets. Here are five suggestions to get you started, along with tips from Steph Millington, Intrepid Travel’s Europe & Morocco regional product manager.
1. Take a breather at Bahia Palace
If the noise and theatre of Djemaa El Fna (the city’s main square) and the souks prove overwhelming, Bahia Palace makes for a relaxing haven. The name Bahia means ‘brilliance’ and the name fits – the palace, built at the end of the 19th century, is easily one of Marrakech’s most imposing and beautiful buildings. A fine example of Islamic and Moroccan design, you could while away an entire morning studying the opulent painted ceilings, ornate woodwork and classic columns. Or, just kick back in the palace’s tranquil walled gardens, crisscrossed with shaded paths lined with orange, banana and lemon trees.
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2. See the city on two wheels
Once upon a time, locals zipped all over the city on bicycles – then cars and scooters became the preferred mode of transport, and bikes went out of fashion. Well, that is all set to change, thanks to Medina Bike, Marrakech’s bicycle-sharing scheme – the first of its kind in Africa. Ideal for visitors, 300 bikes are available for hire 24/7 from 10 hiring stations, all of which are conveniently located near popular sites, such as the Koutoubia Mosque, the largest mosque in Marrakech (near Djemaa El Fna), and the Jardin Majorelle botanical gardens. The city has some designated cycle lanes, but if you’re keen to clock up some miles it’s worth hiring a qualified guide to show you around. There are many cycle tours you can book locally.
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3. Roam around El Badi Palace
Built in 1593, the El Badi Palace was once the largest and most splendid palace complex in the city, and although only ruins remain today, it is easy to see the scale of the palace and imagine the grandeur that went with it. Make sure you check out the exhibits on show at the museum; among the highlights is a restored 12th-century minbar (prayer pulpit). An added bonus: climb up onto the ramparts to get panoramic views of the snow-capped Atlas Mountains beyond.
4. Travel back in time at Ali Ben Youssef Medersa
Be transported back to the 14th century with a visit to Ali Ben Youssef Medersa. This former Islamic school was once the largest of its kind in North Africa; it’s amazing to imagine that at one time over 900 students lived here on-site, to study law and theology, sleeping in the small dormitories arranged around the central courtyard. Admire its intricate stucco work and mosaics – excellent samples of the art of Islamic architecture.
5. Have a spot of supper and storytelling at Cafe Clock
Hot on the heels of its little sister up in Fez – the original Cafe Clock – this Marrakech cross-cultural institution is housed in an old school with views over the Kasbah. It is worth a visit to sample its signature camel burger, along with its impressive line-up of entertainment. On Mondays and Thursdays, the venue hosts traditional hikayat (storytelling) performances in English. Meanwhile, on Sundays there’s live Gnaoua and Amazigh (Berber) music, with language and cooking classes also taking place throughout the week. You may just have to extend your trip.
– TEXT BY NICOLA ISEARD
PHOTOS: MEDINABIKE FACEBOOK, 123RF.COM, CAFE CLOCK FACEBOOK
This article was originally published by Singapore Press Holdings.