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The Mysteries of Marrakesh

Marrakesh is a magical location in central Morocco, the most north westerly country on the African continent. It is an increasingly popular tourist destination for tourists from all over the globe. Originally one of the four imperial cities of Morocco together with Fez, Rabat and Meknes, Marrakesh boasts dynasties that date back a thousand years.

Although it has none of the delights of a coastal resort, a stay in Marrakesh will leave the visitor with myriad memories of an awe-inspiring place. If you feel your vacation would be incomplete without a trip to the beach, a stay in Marrakesh can easily be combined with a few days on the Atlantic coast which is 240 km away at Agadir. Getting round the city is cheap by petit taxi and the airport is only twenty minutes away. The city also has good rail and road links with Tangier in the north which will allow visitors to Morocco to experience the Mediterranean coastline at some of the newly established resorts such as Tamuda Bay on the Costa Vista.

Direct flights to Marrakesh from the UK and many European airports are cheap and readily available from many tour operators providing a wide selection of packages.

Marrakesh is a city of many moods; on first approach it unveils itself like a mysterious mirage appearing through the mists of the barren landscape that is Morocco’s hinterland.

The red city walls are amazingly intact for a structure that has stood since the 12th century and extend for some 19km around the city providing a striking contrast to the blue and white of the snowy Atlas Mountain backdrop. Sheltered by swaying palms the walled city with its many ornate gates has every appearance of a mirage when viewed from a distance. But oasis of calm it is not; the city is buzzing with tourists, traders and street entertainers from dawn to dusk. You may find a peaceful Riad to stay with its own quiet and pleasant courtyard gardens but the city itself rarely rests.

The year-round snows of the Atlas Mountains provide the tourist a taste of hedonism away from the bustling city and provide the residents with water. There are ski, golf and spa resorts which have been given a stamp of approval by several famous names. John Paul Gautier, Kate Moss Yves Saint-Laurent, and The Rolling Stones have all been lured by the magic of Marrakesh. For those who wish to admire areas of outstanding natural beauty, the region offers pony trekking, climbing and even balloon flights so that the dramatic landscape can be seen from the finest vantage point.

Inside the city itself, is the ancient Medina, where you can easily get lost in the labyrinthine alleyways that provide almost cave-like shelter from the heat of the midday sun. The souks and the incredible market square of Djemaa el Fna will never fail to impress. Larger than any other square in Africa and lined with trendy coffee shops, it is a popular meeting place which never sleeps day or night.

Here you can experience the rich variety and diversity that Marrakesh offers. A crazy clash of cultures, ancient and modern, will amaze the visitor. Snake charmers, henna tattooists, agile acrobats, and all manner of artists and food traders come here to sell their wares and display their talents and to contribute to this hive of activity that preoccupies the city’s interior. Dominated by the minaret of The Koutoubia Mosque, the main square is thought to be the part of the city where public executions were once carried out – hence the name which means ‘Assembly of the dead.’ Nowadays the square is all about parting with your money rather than your life and as one trader arrives, another departs so visiting at different times of the day will ensure you experience everything. Enjoy your bartering but beware of pickpockets who will always take advantage of crowds. Food in the square is prepared before your eyes and the freshly squeezed juice from Moroccan oranges will not only revive you on a hot day but will be a tangy contrast to spicy snacks. When you are tired of haggling for bargains, locate a rooftop cafe and you will get the best view of this exhilarating place.

Marrakesh boasts an abundance of Arabic architecture some of which has been preserved in pristine condition and some that has been carefully restored. Not to be missed places are The Museum of Moroccan Arts, The Bahia Palace, the prominent Koutoubia Mosque mentioned earlier, The Saadian Tombs and the delightful gardens, such as those at Menara. A visit to the amazing cactus displays at Majorelle set against opulent blue buildings and surrounded by lily ponds will be an unforgettable part of holiday.

Many of the above highlights of the city can be visited on an afternoon’s escorted tour which will ensure that nothing is left out and you will learn a great deal from your expert guide who will likely take you to those rare highlights that can so easily be missed when relying on your own judgement in an unfamiliar place. Starting at the main square at lunchtime a typical tour will end at twilight. Why not take a camel ride to enjoy the last rays of the sun as it sets over the city walls? This too can easily be incorporated into an excursion and will make a pleasant end to a perfect day.

The city can be discovered by taking a bus tour but much can also be seen on foot by walking round the ancient city walls. The shade from the palms will ensure that you are kept cool and the flat walkways and lush gardens are a refreshing change to the heat and dust of the market area. It is possible for the energetic tourist to circumnavigate the whole city in the space of a day and discover many of its beautiful and unique gates and towers en route. The crenulated walls of red mud take on a different hue according to the changing light and the shadows of palm trees dancing on the walls make interesting subjects for photos.

Allow at least two days for a round trip to The Sahara Desert from Marrakesh. Organised tours are available for those who wish to see real sand dunes.

A visit to Marrakesh is incomplete without a look at a typical Moroccan riad. These are traditional abodes with rooms leading off from a central courtyard. Many have been painstakingly restored and transformed into sumptuous private residences and hotels. Here you will find remarkable inlaid ceilings and colourful mosaics of the most intricate designs. Impressive houses and expansive gardens complete with ornate fountains will take you by surprise after you have walked through a quite unpretentious doorway leading from the narrow alleyways of the Medina.

A visit to the tanneries of the city is not for everyone; vats of odorous and obnoxious substances containing the pigments used for dyeing pelts and wool cover an extensive area. The stench can turn even the strongest of stomachs but it may well appeal to photographers due to the rich kaleidoscope of colours. The tanneries are a fine example of a way of life unaltered by the passage of time.

Marrakesh will appeal to the tourist who expects and appreciates the exotic and those who desire a holiday with a difference. If you are happy to immerse yourself in a place that is quite unique in the world and discover the delights of a spectacular setting then Marrakesh is waiting to unveil its mysteries to you.