In the second of our series of holiday destinations that are easily accessible from Tenerife, we turn our camera lens onto the island’s closest African neighbour, Morocco. Just 300km (186 miles) off the coast of Tenerife, rarely has a destination been so near and yet so many worlds apart as Marrakech.
Don’t let fears about the political unrest and violence in North Africa put you off a trip to Marrakech. Morocco has a stable government and a King for whom the people have a great deal of respect. Unfortunately, the country has suffered in tourism terms as a result of the conflict in its less fortunate neighbours, the up side of which is there are many bargains to be picked up. So if you’ve ever thought about going to Marrakech ““ now’s the time to seize the day.
Tenerife Magazine’s Guide to Marrakech
Jump on a bus in Playa de Las Américas, take a flight from Tenerife North airport to Marrakech and you’re about to swallow the red pill and take the rabbit hole all the way down.
From the moment you take to the road that links the airport to the city, amidst the clapped out motors, entire families precariously balanced on small motorbikes without a helmet between them, buses and cycles, the TF motorway will be a distant, tranquil dream.
Head for the famous Jemaa El Fna square where a glass of freshly squeezed orange juice will refresh you for just a few pence and let you take in your surroundings while you sip it. Spend any time in the square and you’ll quickly realise that time revolves around frequent fresh mint tea breaks, tajines for lunch and a nightly transformation of its spaces into the largest open air restaurant and street theatre this side of Beijing.
The best advice is not to try to find logic or familiarity with Marrakech, instead let yourself be taken with its foibles, sights and sounds from the five times daily call to prayer whose volume would wake the dead, to the banter of the nightly food stall holders trying to entice you onto their benches.
Shoppers, garden lovers and culture seekers will all find something to enthral and amuse them in Marrakech. Shoppers will find the Medina swallowing them up to haggle for bargains; culture seekers will love wandering its dusty palatial museums, and garden lovers have acres of scented oases to soak up.
The Museums and Medina of Marrakech
Nothing adequately prepares you for the sensory onslaught of the Marrakech medina. Through its warren of tiny alleys which all look disconcertingly alike and in which you’re pretty much guaranteed to get lost, continuously, your senses will be constantly assailed by the exotic. Everywhere you wander your eyes will be drawn by intricately crafted lamps; silver teapots with coloured glasses and ceramic spoons; soft leather bags; beautiful jewellery and wall upon wall of richly embroidered carpets and dazzling reams of cloth. Don’t be afraid to dive in there and begin to barter.
The best of the museums are the Medersa Ben Youssef and the Marrakech Museum. The Ben Youssef is a 14th century former school where students were taught the Koran. Its endless corridors, exquisite tiles and carved sandalwood decoration are a photographer’s dream. The Marrakech Museum is a former palace which houses contemporary art exhibitions as well as historic Islamic artefacts while its tiled courtyards and domed ceilings are spectacularly splendid. Another “Must” on the cultural agenda are the Saadian Tombs which house the ornate tombs of over 200 members of the Saadian dynasty from the 16th century.
After all that dust and death, a breath of fresh air is called for and Marrakech has a surprising number of beautiful parks and gardens, the best of them being the Jardin Majorelle. This is a stunning exotic garden dating from the early 1920s and restored by Yves Saint Laurent and Pierre Bergé.
Where to Stay in Marrakech
If you want to enjoy your Marrakech experience to the full, opt to stay in a riad in the medina. Authentic Moroccan houses with garden courtyards, excellent home cooking and top class service, the riads are like individual boutique hotels. I recommend the rather lovely Riad Merstane in the heart of the medina but there are lots to choose from.
Food and Drink in Marrakech
Around Jemaa El Fnaa you’ll find no shortage of restaurants whose menus all feature the ubiquitous tajine, couscous, kebabs and lamb cutlets so why not go for the full Monty experience and grab a seat at one of the benches of the food stalls in the square. Your choices may be limited and you’ll find the chef adding extra dishes for you, but the food is tasty, your wallet will love the place and as long as your stomach isn’t too delicate a flower, you shouldn’t suffer any ill effects. Just don’t watch them doing the washing up ““ nuff said.
Venture into the medina and you’ll discover some more bohemian settings such as Café Bougainvillea where you’ll find Italian, Moroccan and French items on the menu and a romantic courtyard setting. In the “new” city of Guéliz you’ll find more International menus and generally classier establishments such as Chez Pascal and Al Fassia.
If you stay in a hotel in Guéliz you may not even be aware that alcohol is a rare commodity in Marrakech or that few restaurants in the medina have wine, beer or spirits available. For a tipple with your culture shot, head to the stylish rooftop bar of Café Arabe in the medina where ex-pats and visitors sip cocktails amongst the traditional Moroccan décor, or opt for an aerial view of the night madness of Jemaa El Fna from the rooftop terrace of Café de France.
How to get to Marrakech from Tenerife
Binter Canarias fly twice a week on Thursdays and Sundays from Tenerife North airport to Marrakech via Gran Canaria. The flight to Gran Canaria is just half an hour and then there’s a short wait before onward connection to Marrakech two and a half flying hours away. Residents” discounts apply only on the Tenerife to Gran Canaria leg of the flight. Keep an eye on billboards and TV advertising for special offers ““ in summer 2011 it cost just €99 one way from Tenerife to Marrakech.