The Koutoubia mosque was constructed in the 12th century and is one of Marrakech's most famous landmarks. It is located in the Medina (old town) and flanked on two sides by rose gardens which are a popular meeting place for locals at the end of day. An order prohibits any construction in the surrounding area from being higher than palm tree level, and the tall minaret tower from where the muezzin calls for prayers five times a day is visible from eighteen miles away. So whenever you feel you've slightly lost your way, a sighting of the Koutoubia minaret gives you a sense of direction and relief.
From the mosque it is just a short walk to the central market square (Jeema El-Fnaa), which is filled with indescribable activity... fortune tellers, snake charmers, magicians, fruit vendors and musicians all compete for attention, and if you pause for as much as a second, you find someone attempts to place a monkey on your shoulder or a python around your neck. The square is lined with cafés, and if you go to the roof terrace of the Café de France, you'll have a fabulous view over the square, and you can take in the atmosphere and prepare to merge yourself into it while enjoying a traditional fresh mint tea. At dusk the square is at its busiest... in addition to the already bustling daytime activity, hundreds of food vendors install their stands to entice large crowds with traditional Moroccan street food. To get an impression of the sounds and bustle at dusk click on the Café de la France website here
The square is an ideal place to start exploring the souk (Arab market place). The Marrakech souk is the largest in Morocco, a huge labyrinth of intricately connected alleyways, streets and squares. Vendors are grouped according to what they sell. There are leather, carpet and silver districts, with other areas dedicated to earthenware, spices and fruit. The small alleyways are protected from the bright sunlight by slatted shades overhead, and you wander the lines of stalls, some of them the size of doll's houses and others as big (and enticing) as Aladdin's caves, in soft dappled light from above. Some spaces are small, so always be prepared to step aside for vendors with wheelbarrows, or donkey carts busily transporting merchandise and supplies back and forth.
Dried Khella flowers, a fabulous natural antiseptic tooth pick
The Café Arabe, a calm oasis in the middle of the souk and a lovely place to eat in the courtyard or have a drink on the rooftop terrace
no shortage of the essential ingredient for mint tea
The spice market (Derb Rahba Lakdima)
After a couple of hours strolling the souk, the chic and serene Nomad Café is a perfect place to catch your breath and calm your senses. You can find it by the spice market, tucked away in a quiet side street. The roof terrace has an amazing view and is a fabulous place to have lunch, offering a selection of Moroccan dishes and fresh salads made from locally grown produce which you can enjoy with a glass of local wine.
another lovely place for a drink or lunch is the 'café des épices' (dark red building on the left)
Birds eye view of the souk from Nomad's terrace
Not far from the Nomad you'll find the tiny 'Souk cherifia' shopping mall, where small labels and independent designers show their collections in the boutiques on the first floor (under the Terrace des épices restaurant, which is another great place in the souk).
La Maison Bahira was my favorite. They have some really lovely cotton and linen homeware and small jewellery items
Marrakech undoubtedly has the cutest street cats
Koutoubia mosque, Avenue Mohammed V, Marrakech
Café de France: Place Jemaa El Fna, Marrakech 2034, Tel: +212 524 442 319
Spice market: Derb Rahba Lakdima, Médina Marrakech
Nomad: 1, Derb Aarjan, Marrakech Médina, Tel: +212 5 24 38 16 09
Café des Epices: 75 Derb Rahba Lakdima, Médina Marrakech, Tel : +212 524 391 770 www.cafedesepices.net
Café Arabe: 184, rue Mouassine - Médina Marrakech 40 000 +212 524 42 97 28 www.cafearabe.com
Souk Cherifia: D.S.Abdelaziz, Marrakesh, Tel: +212 678-382254
Maison Bahira: www.maisonbahira.com
Terrace des Epices: 15, souk Cherifia. Sidi Abdelaziz. Marrakech Médina
Tel.: + 212 (0) 5 24 37 59 04 www.terrassedesepices.com