This city is the most extraordinary assault on my senses.
It’s not so hot here in the spring, but the sun is bright on my face and makes me blink. There’s a cacophony of traffic noise, people shouting excitedly to one another, and, periodically, the sound of the muezzin calling from the minaret of the mosque mixed into the soundscape, too. My eyes are constantly darting about me in case I miss something, be it a carved medieval doorway or a donkey plodding along before a cart. The flavours of Marrakech are the sweet, sweet honey of the pastries, the fresh mint tea served in tiny painted glasses, and the slow cooked mutton of a traditional tagine. And the smell? One minute it is the pungent spice market, the next fragrant rose oil, and then dusty smell of the past which lingers on piles of handwoven carpets in the bazaar.
In honesty, I’m a little overwhelmed. Few places in the world still feel truly exotic, but it seems as though Marrakech’s Medina (Old City) has been plucked straight out of the pages of a fairytale. If I saw a man levitating in the square, a couple flying along the streets on a magic carpet, or a genie rising from a lamp, they would not look out of place. I’m exhausted with the stimulation, and that’s motivated me to seek out some of Marrakech’s quieter oases.
I took a walk one day around part of Marrakech’s ramparts, the imposing city walls built to keep attackers out. Their stones are a slightly pinkish colour, just like the desert sands.
The walls mark the point where two worlds — old and new — collide. The most ancient parts date from the 12th century. I followed the walls to the Menara Gardens, a peaceful spot in the edge of the city where you can sit looking out towards the Atlas Mountains. The Sultan used the garden as a summertime retreat, and the pools, pathways, and pavilions he built have been sensitively restored. I dipped my toes into the water, watching the ripples across the surface, and thought what a treat it’d be to come here in summer, escaping the heat by lying in the shade of the trees.
There’s no chance to swim in the gardens; for that, I came back to the Mövenpick Hotel Mansour Eddahbi Marrakech. The spa smells faintly of fresh jasmine petals, and the outdoor swimming pool is a turquoise jewel. I swam, powerfully but not at any great speed, for a few dozen lengths, then lounged a while longer in the gently warm afternoon sun. A few guests were stretching in the Om Yoga Studio, and I was tempted to enter the hammam, but in the end I simply relaxed with a glass of tea.
The sun set faster than I had expected, and at nightfall the hotel’s ambience changed. There was romance in the air. Couples cosied up to one another at the sophisticated rooftop cocktail bar, Manso Bar & Lounge, then descended to dine at Marcelona. Olive trees shade the terrace and grant diners a little privacy: who knows what’s being whispered? From the smiles and occasional giggles, it’s bound to be something good.
I am tired now, and it is time for me to retreat to my room and sleep soundly on feather pillows, between crisp, white sheets. I will bid you “lla yemsek ‘la khir”, as they say in Morocco. Goodbye. I hope you soon will have the opportunity to explore Marrakech for yourself.