Time Out Marrakech city guide

Guesthouse owner Anna Mzwena finds delight in the everyday in her home city Discuss this article

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Marrakech is, even more than most cities, changing all the time. One old man remembers when there was nothing but an empty stretch of road between the old Post Office in Guéliz and the Koutoubia mosque; now the road, Ave Mohammed V, is the main artery of the new town, lined with buildings and parks. Another woman speaks of how, when she arrived 23 years ago, the roads of the Medina were unpaved; there were no tourists, just a few straggling travellers.

Since the end of French colonial rule in 1956, but accelerating since the accession of King Mohammed VI in 1999, Marrakech has seen dramatic change. Gated communities are springing up in the outskirts of the city; golf courses are appearing in areas where there were once shanty towns; the shanty towns, in turn, have been pushed even further out. Moroccans who lived for generations in the Medina, the medieval walled city, have moved. With them, some older Moroccans say, has gone the life and soul of the city, making the new neighbourhoods busy and bustling, while the smartened-up Medina caters to tourists and European incomers buying up the bigger houses.

A so-called refinement of Moroccan life also seems to have taken place. Hammams, the traditional public bath houses, were once something of an institution in a city where private houses have little, if any, running hot water; now many are being converted to spas. Riads, townhouses built around a courtyard and inhabited by extended families, are becoming boutique hotels; travel outside the Medina is by air-conditioned SUV, though the narrow roads of the Medina itself are still crowded with bicycles, scooters and even donkeys.

Yet it is still possible to discover the everyday pleasures of living in this vibrant city. It may be taking your tanjia (a deep clay pot used for cooking lamb and chicken) to the basement shop where there are glowing embers; baking your first bread in the public ovens or farram; watching traditional tiles being made; buying cow’s milk fresh from the pail. Eating out in the over-priced restaurants is far less satisfying than getting to know the local stalls and vendors you like best, stopping and having the best panache (similar to a smoothie, but better) at Souk Khemis, or eating great food at some unobtrusive café without all the distracting frills.
Driving around the city on a scooter is also strangely thrilling. Though the traffic at first appears wild and disorderly, you soon learn to work with its ebb and flow, filtering off from main roads, tearing through souks at high speed, taking shortcuts along pavements and across public squares… the anarchy is just part of the excitement.

Still, the most quintessential Marrakech experience is visiting the local hammam in winter. After a week at home without hot water, the sensation when it hits your cold body is a joy: the warm, humid air rising up to suffuse you; the vaulted rooms carrying the soft, dull echo of other bathers. It is a traditional ritual of calm and spiritual wellbeing, one of Marrakech’s genuine old-fashioned pleasures.

Getting there
Emirates flies via Casablanca to Marrakech from Dhs4,375 return (including tax)

Where to stay
Dar Malak, a charming riad in Marrakech (+33 1 42 08 18 33)

By Anna Mzwena
Time Out Dubai,

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