It was time for a break earned after a full-throttle beginning of the year, and so we took a nightly flight with Royal Air Maroc to Casablanca, followed by a two and a half hour limo ride to Marrakech. There is a train from Casa to Marrakech (soon to be a high-speed one), and a flight connection as well, but when you arrive as a zombie in Casa, the limo was the comfiest and fastest option.
We woke up on the outskirts of sunny Marrakech, with the Atlas mountain range filling the horizon – a perfect welcome to our 9 days of relaxation and discovery. Friends had recommended a hotel very close to the famous Koutoubia mosque, the central Square and the souks, a real oasis in this bustling Medina.
Marrakech caters for many tastes and different types of crowds go about their activities and mingle on occasion in bars, restaurants – or in the souks of course. We saw many aspiring influencers in action: mostly young ladies, fashionably dressed and made up, shooting selfies or posing to feed their voracious social network timelines. We attracted some severe and impatient looks when we didn’t move out of the picture quickly enough… But at least the network algorithms seem to favour well-dressed and smiling influencers, reversing a tendency towards baggy t-shirts and derelict pants with disinterested facial expressions.
There is a lot of history on display in Marrakech, starting with the 12th century Koutoubia mosque and its 70m-tall minaret, the stone city wall, palaces dating from several of the reigning dynasties, and even the souks, the labyrinthine network of covered market stalls where goods from North and West Africa were exchanged during the times of the camel trains crossing the Sahara.
Today they sell local art & craft products to tourists willingly lost in this maze, overwhelmed by the quantity of items, the smells, the sounds while trying to avoid the small motorbikes racing through the crowds without ever stopping.
A few particularly nice hotels and resorts function as refuges from this organised madness, and it is a real relief to spend some time in the shades of their lush gardes sipping an afternoon tea and indulging in some of the delicious local pastries.
And then there are traces of the French Protectorate and French influence generally, like the Jardin Majorelle, refuge and workplace for painter Jacques Majorelle from the 1920s, later bought by partners Yves Saint Laurent and Pierre Bergé. The nearby YSL museum houses some of his haute couture designs.
Alternatively, one can head for the nearby snow-covered mountains, climb up to a little waterfall, or enjoy some Berber food specialities while breathing very fresh air and dangling your feet in a cold stream. It was fun to observe mostly Moroccan families (it was a school holiday week) hurrying up the valley – imagine a joyous chaos at the end – to enjoy a fun day away from the city.
On our way back to Dakar, we stopped over in Casablanca to get a glimpse of the white city of Hollywood fame. One probably needs more than a few hours to make an informed judgment about the city. The visit to the enormous Hassan II mosque (built 1993) was spectacular, especially after recognising many design elements from the Marrakech palaces. Some neighbourhoods are clearly gentrified, others a bit derelict, “Casa” seems to be mostly a port city and business hub, and less of a tourist attraction as such.
Next time we’ll drive up there, after all we did want to drive down to Dakar from Brussels when we took up the posting in Senegal – COVID and very strict Moroccan authorities – didn’t let us do that. Stay tuned!