Trip Report ~ Marrakech

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Feb 24th, 2004, 04:24 AM
  #1
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Trip Report ~ Marrakech

We got back yesterday from our Marrakech trip; here is part one of my report.

We flew with GB Air under a code share with British Airways. Flights outward and return each left on time and arrived 15/20 minutes early. Seats were the now fashionable ?leather? style, comfortable, and with better than average legroom. Food served in flight was GRIM, but there was a complementary bar service.

Thanks to advice on this site we had booked at La Maison Arabe, http://www.lamaisonarabe.com/ it was a very good choice. We were met at the airport as arranged, and from that moment everything was perfect. Our room was their smallest, the next size up were all booked and the suites were out of my price range, but by European standards it was still spacious, measuring 24? by 10? with very high ceilings. There was a large display of beautifully arranged flowers and a bowl of fruit to greet us. And the marble lined bathroom was well stocked with fluffy towels and bathrobes. The room opened on to our own private courtyard, which soon became a favourite place to enjoy sundowners. We could have had breakfast served there as well, but preferred to socialise with other guests in the breakfast room, which had inside and outside areas. All of the public rooms in the hotel were exceptional; tastefully and interestingly decorated, immaculately clean, above all enticingly relaxing. There is a private Hammam (Moroccan version of a Turkish Bath) two helpful attendants offer massages and beauty treatments. The pool is located in a private walled garden, a little way off site. We are not really ?pool people? so we didn?t go, but others spoke well of it.
All the staff were wonderful, cheerful and helpful. The desk staff spoke good English and were full of local knowledge, and helpful suggestions. The overall atmosphere was like staying with a particularly sophisticated and charming friend as a houseguest.
We dined in the hotel restaurant on the night of our arrival and again later in the week. Food was above average, but not spectacular. The restaurant ambience was particularly good, and discrete live music was provided by a pleasant duo. Service was impeccable, although those used to American ideals of service might find it a little slow at times.

We went into the La Mamounia for drinks while we were in the Old Town and I had a nose round. Some of the public areas are stunning, but what I saw of the bedrooms were tired and in need of remodelling. Prices for everything were astronomical and the staff had that ?If you want to speak to us use French? attitude. For centrally located accommodation in Marrakech it?s a no brainer, save yourself $$$?s and stay in one of the lovely Riads.

Part two to follow.
greybeard is offline  
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Feb 24th, 2004, 05:15 AM
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I visited Morocco when I was 19 - I was on my own (in the sense of not travelling with anyone I knew from home) but booked on a package coach tour that included a number of nights in Morocco as well as Andalucia and parts of Portugal.

I have long wanted to return with my husband and explore the souks and other attractions together.

I received a brochure from La Maison Arabe early last year but wasn't able to squeeze in a trip, this year won't be possible either. But the hotel does look just wonderful.

It's great to get your feedback and especially to know that, whichever room is chosen, it will be spacious, attractive and well maintained.

Looking forward to the next installment, thanks greybeard.
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Feb 25th, 2004, 03:30 AM
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Here is the second part of my report. As suggested by Kavey I am reposting it below part one to keep it all together.

Next morning we got a petit taxi out to the airport to pick up our hire car. I had pre-booked a deal with Europcar through an Internet broker/consolidator http://www.onairportcarhire.com/
I have used these guys a couple of time now, including hiring in the United States, and they are VERY good on price, plus efficient service. I don?t know whether they will deal with clients from outside the UK, can?t see why not, but insurance issues become very complex with car rental. Anyway I wanted something mid to large size to command a little respect on the mad Moroccan roads; they got me a Mercedes C class which fitted the bill nicely, and I only paid £238 for the week with all the insurance top ups included. Believe me, when I saw the car I was glad I had the insurance! It was a beautiful Mercedes and only 9 months old, but boy did it have some cosmetic damage! Take a tip, go round the car VERY carefully with the guy from the hire company and make him write down an inventory of the dinks. It will save a lot of haggling when you return it!
The Mercedes proved a great investment; even in central Marrakech traffic we seemed to get cut a little extra slack. On many occasions the traffic cops stopped the traffic for us at junction, and twice we were waved through roadside checks with a salute no less! Plus the parking attendants ALWAYS found us a spot, yes they expected a tip, but 5 Dirhams ($0:50c) goes a long way in Morocco.
In at the deep end, we set off back to Marrakech. I have driven many many thousands of miles on the wrong (right hand) side of the road so its not usually an issue, but this was different! The rhythm is totally different, slower but more intense, plus ZERO lane discipline. It just doesn?t exist! Add a six speed stick shift (again, wrong hand) and you can see it was stimulating! Gradually I got the feel as we circuited the city and got our bearings, eventually I started to enjoy it. Now the big moment, into the Medina and back to Maison Arabe. Made it at the second try and the old gardien gives me a toothless grin as he ushers me into a parking spot. Every day after that it got easier.

Should you drive yourself in Morocco? Close call. The cities are not really as bad as they first appear. The very fact that there is no traffic discipline is actually in your favour; everyone EXPECTS everyone else to do bad things. In a week I accidentally ran three red lights and two stop signs in heavy traffic. (Not as dumb as it seems, there is only ever one light or sign per junction and they are set at head height, if there is a truck or bus on the inside lane you just don?t see the sign!) Never did this come even close to causing an accident; so many people run the lights everyone is looking out for it! I would honestly say that the average Joe from USA would have less trouble driving in Morocco than in Central London. You are used to driving on the right and you will get a lot more tolerance when you do something dumb than you will from London cabbies!
Price wise there is not much in it. You can hire a Grand Taxi for exclusive use for between 6oo and 1,000 dirhams per day according to destination, plus a tip to the driver. A hire car is only a little less, plus gas is $1 per LITRE (i.e. cheap to us Brits!!) You may get a great driver who speaks English as well; you may get a silent maniac. If you like to be taken round the sights, have a driver. If you like to be self-guided, rent a car.

From Marrakech we took the following day trips, except for the first one they are all quite full days;

South, through Tameslought to the Cavagnac Dam and Lalla Takerkoust. An easy drive through pretty countryside, more of a half day really, there is a restaurant called La Relais du Lac with a terrace overlooking the lake, which would make a great lunch spot. (We are not lunch people)

Due West to Essaouira. Again a fairly easy drive through gently undulating countryside. This is a major road and carries a bit of traffic until the Agadir turnoff, then it is a lot quieter. The drive itself is not that attractive, but the road is good and you can easily maintain 120Kph.
Essaouira is gorgeous, originally a walled city and fishing port it is a great place to stroll around. There is a thriving ex-pat art scene with lots of interesting galleries to view. The ancient Souk is also worth a visit, and for those who find the Souk in Marrakech a bit daunting the traders are a lot more laid back.
The high spot is LUNCH. The only time we ate that meal during our trip, and also the finest meal of our trip. Eat at one of the stalls on the quay. Pick out your fish or shellfish live; have it cooked over charcoal in front of you; eat it with a fabulous simple salad of super ripe plum tomatoes and onions and chunks of fresh baguette from the local boulangerie; wash it down with water, or take your own wine. My wife and I were greedy, we had a platter of crab and shrimp followed by the finest grilled sardines I have ever eaten. Total, including tip to the grill cook 100 dirham each. ($10)

South, via Asni to the Tin Mal Mosque and on to the pass over the Tizi?n?Test pass. Despite being a well-travelled route this road becomes single lane with dirt passing lanes not far out of Marrakech. You are now skirting round, and gradually up, Jebel Toubkal, at 13,664 feet the highest mountain in North Africa. The scenery is stunning and you pass through several interesting Berber villages, enquire before setting off if you want to catch their market days. Ourigane has a lunch stop at La Roseraie Hotel.
The Tin Mal mosque is one of the oldest in the World and one of only two in Morocco open to non-Moslems. It was partly derelict, and is now being sympathetically restored. Despite being little more than a shell it has a powerful atmosphere. Drive on to the pass for more mountain scenery, or turn back if it is getting late, you dont want to be driving the mountain in the dark! Don?t be misled by the maps, it is impossible to come back via Oukaimeden without a four-wheel drive. I know, we tried it!

South east, to Oukaimeden and the valley of Setti Fatma. The road is excellent as far as Dar-Caid-Ouriki, then its back to single track plus passing lane. Near the top the hairpins and sheer drops are not for those with fear of heights! Oukaimeden is a ski resort, nearly at the top of Jebel Toubkal. There isn?t much there except a pretty picnic spot by the side of a lake. Back to the crossroads at Dar-Caid-Ouriki and take the other fork to Setti Fatma; there is a restaurant for lunch a few Km up this road called Auberge de Ramuntcho. Carry on to the little hamlet of Setti Fatma, there are seven waterfalls above the village, the first is a stroll, the rest are a hike! Again return the way you came.

West, to the UNESCO listed site at Ait-Ben-Haddou. The Ksar at Ait-Ben-Haddou is a long drive for a day trip, but the scenery is stunning all the way, you get to experience the beginning of the dessert proper, and your destination is one of those unique spots you will always remember. Fill up with gas when you leave Marrakech, and take drinking water. There are several little cafes at the entrance to the Ksar, we had coffee at one, but I wouldn?t be tempted to eat there.
If your plans include a trip into the dessert with one of the outfitters in Ourzazate go on to overnight there instead of returning to Marrakech.

There is also a popular trip Northeast from Marrakech, to the cascades at d?Ouzoud, but we didn?t get there.

greybeard is offline  
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Feb 25th, 2004, 05:28 AM
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Greybeard, did you take any photos? Any chance of getting them online (on a site like ofoto or webshots) so we can take a peek?

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Feb 25th, 2004, 05:35 AM
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Here is the final part of my report.

Marrakech itself was a great town with a real sense of aliveness about it. We loved the architecture, the mosques and gardens, and the labyrinthine streets of the Medina. My only regret was not being able to see inside the mosques. The people were friendly and seemed genuinely welcoming; sure they were looking to do some business, but aren?t we all. Certainly we never felt threatened or unsafe, nor did we feel the need for a guide. People offering to act as guide approached us, but a smile and a firm refusal was all that was needed.

Wandering the Souks, getting lost, haggling with the merchants, sitting sipping coffee or mint tea, we loved all of it. Add the Place Djemaa el-Fna, with throbbing gnaouan music, the smell of food cooking on charcoal braziers, the snake charmers, and the cries of the street vendors. This is where the Arab world meets Africa head on.

Finally a subject dear to my heart, food and drink. Marrakech has many good restaurants and it is possible to eat well without spending a fortune. While there are virtually no bars except those within hotels most restaurants are licensed. However the price of drinks in restaurants is quite high and those who enjoy alcohol with their evening meal will see the check going quickly up.
We tried the following restaurants;
Le Pavillion serves impeccably executed French cuisine, which would stand comparison in any capital city of the world. We were so impressed on our first visit that we returned for dinner on our last night. On midweek evenings chef selects a three course set menu from that night?s a la carte, which they offer for 350 dirhams. This is staggeringly good value.

Villa Rosa is the city?s oldest established Italian restaurant. We ate good Italian standards in a pleasant cosy room. Service was good and I enjoyed the cheapest and best bottle of wine that I found in Morocco. Price was fair.

Le Yacout and Dar Marjana are both so called Palace Restaurants; there are several others around the city. They are as much about the theatrical side of an evening at a restaurant as about the food, though the food is by no means poor. The aim is to provide a sort of 1001 Nights experience. The diner is met by a cloaked and turbaned figure carrying a lantern and led through a maze of dark alleyways to a massive brass bound portal in a blank wall. One is admitted to a series of courtyards and vaulted rooms decorated in the most opulent style. Floors are marble mosaics, with fountains and potted palm trees. Berber rugs and brocade cushions are scattered everywhere. Costumed musicians playing quietly set the scene, and all is lit by chandeliers and gleaming brass candle lamps. There is a fixed menu of several courses, served as a sumptuous Moroccan feast, which is an opportunity to taste a variety of Moroccan dishes. All alcoholic drinks are included in the price. Overall I would recommend a visit to one of these restaurants to anyone visiting Marrakech, though the deal is far less attractive price-wise if you don?t drink alcohol.

Le Yacout is more formal, the setting is tastefully ultra opulent and tables are spread wide apart. The service is super impeccable and the elegant waiters take pleasure from the showmanship of their art. The food is good, but not outstanding. The music is discrete and restrained.

Dar Marjana has a slightly more authentic feel, bowls and towels are produced for hand washing, hot towels at the end for face washing. The setting is chaotically busy opulence and tables are set close together. The service is excellent, but economical in execution. The food is actually significantly better. Later in the evening the music becomes a floorshow, with a belly dancer and impromptu musical acts from the waiters.
greybeard is offline  
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Feb 25th, 2004, 11:22 AM
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Thank you so much (and especially for the restaurant reviews - food is an integral part of most holidays for us).

: o )

Where to next?
Kavey is offline  
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Feb 26th, 2004, 04:48 AM
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Glad you liked it.

Oregon in August.
greybeard is offline  
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Mar 6th, 2004, 11:08 AM
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Greybeard -
just wanted to say thanks for the great report - am giving serious thought/ research to Marrakech in October for b-day (tired of going to Europe at that time and having it rain most of the time).
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