I can safely say that Marrakesh in Morocco is the craziest place I have ever visited (and I’ve been to Seoul in South Korea!). It’s intense in a number of different ways – the sights, the smells, the culture, the fact that it was 24 degrees celsius in December….! And you know what? I absolutely loved it.
We stayed in the gorgeous Riad Zayane in the Bab Doukkala part of the city, which I can highly recommend (it’s about a 15 minute walk from the main Jemaa El Fna Square – through winding streets, food markets, bread-sellers, and the general hustle and bustle of Marrakesh life).
I highly recommend staying in a Riad – they provide a lovely, personalised service (you can usually book cooking lessons, eat traditionally prepared meals, and organise trips outside the city – we went on a day trip beyond the Atlas mountains which I will write up shortly). Riads also put you in the heart of the city, but give you a welcoming and calming break from the hectic nature of life in the medina.
Top tip: While Riads can offer a haven from the madness of the city, they can lack privacy and noise can travel due to the central courtyard. Bring a set of ear plugs in case fellow guests decide to have a late night gossip over mint tea…!
Now, the medina itself – that is something else entirely. From the moment you step outside, you immediately enter into a maze of markets, alleyways (some of which are dead-ends), people going about their daily business, and seemingly never-ending scooters driving at breakneck speed with no regard for pedestrians! It’s a heady mix of petrol fumes, smoke from street barbecues, fresh vegetables and fruit and the widest variety of spices that I ever seen, piled high into pyramids of every hue.
The souks in particular are pretty difficult to navigate – stall after stall of every item an interiors addict can dream of (from babouches (traditional leather slippers), to lanterns, leather goods, ceramics, as well as throws and carpets). But contrary to lots of the guides I’ve read, it is absolutely possible to re-find stalls if you spot your dream item but want to check out the competition before you commit to buying (which I highly recommend given the choice of items in terms of both quality and price).
In fact, one of the highlights of our visit was meeting Abdelsalam who runs a fabulous stall selling a great variety of throws and cushions. His shop can be found right by the Mouassine Fountain on the edge of the souks and I highly recommend dropping by if you get the chance.
I ended up buying two pom-pom blankets from him (the cotton blanket on the left with the grey pom-poms is now on the end of the bed) at less than half the price than I’ve seen in a number of shops here in the UK. And though I didn’t tell him at the time, that first blanket was my first overseas haggling experience! We sat and drank mint tea together and it was great getting to know a little more about life in Morocco.
I was terrified of haggling before going to Morocco, so you can imagine my surprise when I found myself actually enjoying bartering over prices with the stallholders! Seriously – it ended up being one of the highlights of the trip for me. So much so, I’ve written a how-to guide for unwilling hagglers (like I was) with all the information you need to help you survive shopping in overseas markets where haggling is expected.
In addition to the lovely pom pom blankets, I also bought a traditional brass lantern with the most beautiful filigree pattern detail. It’s going to look truly spectacular once I get round to buying a bulb for it! I’ll make sure I put a photo up on Instagram as soon as I do, but in the meantime, it’s going to look a little something like this (from pinterest)…
My last souk-based purchase was this quirky brass cat figurine. I have no idea at all why I was drawn to it, but I’ve been looking for a while for something that could sit on my nightstand or sideboard and this fit the bill perfectly, once I’d negotiated it down to a decent price.
Now, before you think that the only shopping in the medina is in the souks, I also picked up a couple of beautiful ceramic bowls from a contemporary homewares shop in the heart of the old town, called Chabi Chic. No haggling here – its a haven of fixed priced, clearly marked items with a modern style. I was torn between bowls (I always buy bowls for some reason), ceramic trays and adorable mini tagines, but there were also table mats, mugs and cute postcards celebrating cous-cous! The website is still under construction, but you can see more of the gorgeous goodies on their Instagram page – check them out!
As you can see, I did a reasonable amount of interiors shopping in Marrakesh. With more time (and more funds) I definitely would have indulged in more. I toyed very seriously with buying a Beni Ourain rug (you know the ones that are ALL. OVER. PINTEREST at the moment), but it was difficult to get a sense of the genuine, traditionally made Berber ones, compared to the cheaper versions designed for tourists and sold at appropriately inflated prices. I also had my heart set on a traditional Berber wedding blanket (or handira), like the one below (image from Apartment Therapy), but I just couldn’t find one I really liked for what I was prepared to pay. There’s always next time though, right!?
What have you bought in Morocco? And how have you styled it on return? My plan is to incorporate my Marrakesh finds into my existing decorating schemes to add a bit more global flair. I’ll be sure to let you know how I get on!
Happy travels, and shopping