Says one of Indagare’s preferred Morocco specialists: “Marrakech is not one of those destinations where you check monuments off a list. It is about a wonderful immersion in a world very different to our own. The trick to getting the most out of a visit is not to dash into the confines of a museum; rather you should explore the city by wandering through the medina, looking about you and absorbing its exotic sights, sounds and smells. A first-rate guide is crucial.
Most of the historical sights to relish are located within the confines of the Medina. A good place to start is the towering Koutoubia Mosque with its signature minaret tower (the inside can only be visited by Muslims). Westerners can (and should) tour Ben Youssef Medersa, a Koranic school founded in the 14th-century. There are also many palaces in the medina, including El Badi, which has remnants of a palace commissioned in the late 16th century; La Bahia, a striking example of 19th-century architecture, which is surrounded by a two-acre garden; and El Makhzen.
The Medina's absolute must-see is Place Djemaa el-Fna. It’s the heartbeat of the city, and astonishing at night when it’s filled with the scent of food—spicy sausages, mounds of snails, and boiled sheep’s heads—from the stalls, all illuminated by gaslights strung up overhead. Drums roll. Gnaoua musicians from the country’s south sing in African and Arabic tones, dervish whirls accompanying their hypnotic cymbals. Snake charmers, witch doctors and fortune-tellers convene and evoke a world of medieval magic.
The oldest museum in the city, this art destination houses the Museum of Moroccan Arts, which is worth a visit if you have several days in Marrakech. The Berber artifacts on display are striking, as is the collection of adorned door and window frames shown outside in the courtyard. Riad Ez-Zaitoun El Jadid; (212) 4-44-24-64.
This gorgeous botanic garden was designed by French expat artist Jacques Majorelle in the 1920s. The estate was bought in the 1980s by Yves Saint Laurent and his partner, Pierre Bergé, and today is open to the public. A museum exhibits the private art collection of the late French fashion designer. Don’t miss the well-edited Jardin Majorelle Boutique at the beautiful botanic garden, and photographers should visit in the late afternoon for the best light.
There are really two types of families who visit Marrakech. Europeans looking for a vacation in the sun will often choose a resort hotel in the medina or the Palmeraie, so the kids can bask in the sun and play in the pool. The other type of family traveler to Morocco tends to be someone who is doing a cultural exploration of the whole country with a multi-stop itinerary, so Marrakech is just a few days. The best activities will be orchestrated by a plugged-in guide or a concierge at one of the hotels used to welcoming families. Among the options to consider, depending on the age of the children a visit out to the desert for a day or overnight; a visit up to the Atlas mountains to one of the Berber villages and markets (but you may want to ask your guide to steer clear of the butcher section); a cooking class with insights into spices, breads etc.; a camel ride in the desert; a tour of the souk with a family-friendly guide who can navigate the workshops but also the auctions, so it has an educational aspect; a visit to one of the school or community projects.
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