CAFE DE FRANCE
While locals at this famous cafe prefer to relax in the shade of the ground floor, you definitely want to head upstairs. Keep on climbing to the roof terrace, get yourself a mint tea and enjoy the vista of the city in front of you. And on a clear day you can see the Atlas Mountains behind you (at first glance they look like low-lying clouds. Be sure to look again.)
Djemaa Al Fna
Another institution on the main square, this is the place to go for excellent, inexpensive tajines and couscous, as well as an oft-photographed view over Djemaa el Fna. Grab a seat and scribble your order on a sheet of paper. It’s hard to get a window seat but if you can’t, just ask the waiter and he will sometimes move you when one becomes available. Best time to go is just before sunset, but get there early for a good spot.
Djemaa Al Fna
This rather plain-looking restaurant on Rue Zitoune, just off the square, doesn’t look too alluring at first glance. But ignore the plastic tablecloths and pesky flies – this is an excellent spot for cheap eats and I’ve dined here many times. The staff work hard and the food is cooked with care. The tagines are good but I can’t resist their bastilla: a chicken and almond filo pie with cinnamon and icing sugar on top.
206 Riad Zidoune
LA MAISON ARABE
If there was an Agatha Christie novel set in Marrakech, this old hotel would be the central location. This grand dame venue dates back to 1946 (the likes of Churchill stayed here) and features two restaurants: one international/Moroccan, around a swimming pool, and an old-school Moroccan one in a colonial-style dining room. The piano bar is wonderfully old-fashioned and the service is warm and welcoming. They also have a popular cooking school where you can learn a few culinary skills.
Derb Assehbi; lamaisonarabe.com
THE NIGHT MARKET
Definitely eat at Djemaa el Fna after dusk. If anyone tells you not to go, or insists you’ll get sick, ignore them! The food is cooked right there, so if anything is going to do you in (and it’s unlikely), my theory is that the cutlery would be the most likely perpetrator. So I always eat with my hands (as if I need an excuse – everything tastes better that way). Prepare to be hounded be keen traders as soon as you hit the market; all the guys there know lingo from every country and will be pulling you by the arm to go to their stall. Just laugh, say no thanks, be persistent and when you see a place you like, grab a pew. These days it’s all much the same fare, so just decide whether you fancy seafood, meat skewers (brochettes), or – if you’re braver – sheep’s head or snails. Whatever you order, it’ll be the cheapest and one of the most memorable meals of your visit.
Small but perfectly formed, these gardens were created by the French painter Jacques Majorelle and later bought and restored by Yves Saint Laurent. Take time to walk through them, sit on a bench and absorb the sense of calm, and don’t forget to have tea (or date and orange blossom milk) in the cafe. The entry fee is 50MAD and it’s worth getting a taxi from the medina (about 50MAD). Getting a cab back is trickier: they will hike up the prices but if you are persistent you can haggle them down. Regardless, it’s worth the journey.
Rue Yves Saint Laurent; jardinmajorelle.com
First of all, you are going to get lost. But that’s OK – all roads lead to Djemaa el Fna. Second, if you do only one thing in Marrakech, haggle in the souks. Every trader will try to lure you in but don’t be overwhelmed, it’s good-natured banter. Go in with a plan: decide what you are going to shop for and how much you are willing to spend on it. When you find what you want, make a show of not being sure, say you’ll think about it and come back, and the stallholder will ask what price you want to pay. Go in low – at least a quarter of what they first said. They’ll be disgusted, but the haggling will begin – do not give in too soon! Eventually you’ll reach a price somewhere in the middle. Once you agree, shake hands, and then you’re obligated to buy. It’s fun, so don’t rush the process.
As exciting as souk shopping is, trying to buy all your coveted trinkets this way can be exhausting. Thank goodness for Ensemble Artisanal. This elaborate and slightly bizarre department store is worth going to for most of your shopping. It’s pretty much the same stuff you get in the souks, but tax-free and fixed-price. Go here first to get most of your shopping, get an idea of how much things are worth, then save a couple of items to pick up in the souks.
Avenue Mohamed V (across the road from the Saadian Tombs); ensembleartisanalmarrakech.com
You can’t really go wrong with a riad in Marrakech, but if you can afford to splash out, the place to go is El Fenn. This beautiful place is owned by Vanessa Branson (sister of Richard), who has an incredible eye for detail. The place is packed with fantastic art and every room has its own special style. The roof terrace is one of the biggest in the city and their food and cocktails are very well put together. Not to mention there are pet tortoises wandering about, and free tea and cake in the courtyard every afternoon… This might be a little slice of paradise but the warm staff and laid-back vibe makes you feel instantly at home. You won’t want to leave. A bit like Marrakech, really.
Derb Moulay Abdullah Ben Hezzian, 2; elfenn.com