Hidden Marrakech: where to stay, shop, eat, drink and party

John Gregory-Smith
Alan Keohane

Like many large cities, Marrakech can be hard to navigate, and at times the sprawling maze-like medina can seem endless.

But get it right and it’s enchanting. The city is full of hidden gems; contemporary cafes, sensational souks and quiet corners, where you can soak up the atmosphere in your own time.

The Place to Stay

Tucked away in the north of the medina, Riad Les Yeux Bleu is the ultimate place to kick back and chill after a morning in the madness. This stunning hotel is built around a quite courtyard, slickly designed, with soft arabesque touches, bright art deco furniture and in the centre, a beautifully tiled pool. Chose from one of their eight stylish rooms, complete with comfy beds, opulent bathrooms and fluffy robes.

Rooms start from €170; marrakech-boutique-riad.com

Culture

There is, of course, a tick list of things to see, including Koutoubia Mosque, Jemaa el-Fnaa and the Majorelle Gardens. But for me it’s the quiet calm of the Mellah first thing in the morning that I love. This old Jewish market has been restored to its former glory, and you can stroll round the scented spice shops and busy bakers, utterly hassle free.

Walk across to the Saadian Tombs, and enjoy the tranquil gardens and ornately carved mausoleum that dates back to the 16th century. And if you’re in need of refreshment, head to the Clock Café, a modern caff decorated in street art that does fantastic Arabic coffees and energising juices.

If you want to pull out all the stops, take a caleche - horse drawn carriage – around the ramparts of the city for sunset. Soak up the atmosphere as the warm air fills with the scent of spices and charcoal, and the sounds of the Muezzin call the faithful to prayer from a thousand towering minarets.

Clock Café

Shopping in the Souks

No trip to Marrakech is complete without haggling your way to the best bargains in the souk. You can pick up anything from Berber rugs, to beautiful pottery and intricately carved metal lamps. Get your GPS ready to find Souk Fondouk Ouarazi, where a small collection of shops offers a treasure trove of rustic homeware and antique furniture, and the famous shop, Bel Hadi (21-23 Souk Founouk Ouaraz, Bab Ftouh), sells stunning pieces of handmade Bedouin jewellery.

Street Food and Markets

Forget the street food of Jemaa el-Fnaa, for me the real action is around the back at Chez Lamine. Located in Souk Ablouh, this unassuming restaurant serves lamb - either the steamed head, roasted shoulder (called mechoui, which is cooked in a huge oven deep below the streets) or, my favourite, a tangia. Tangia is in reference to the conical shaped pot the lamb is cooked in, along with butter, spices and preserved lemon. Served with fresh mint tea, fluffy bread and spicy harissa olives, it’s a Marrakech must have for your dinner.

For a fabulous food market, I love Bab Doukkala. This quiet corner of the medina is packed with vibrant stalls selling fruits, vegetables, olives and freshly baked breads. Pick up a plate of perfectly charred lamb brochettes or a bowl of thick bissara soup to keep you going as you stroll though the stalls.

To help you navigate around the food scene, Tasting Marrakech offer bespoke tours around the city, or tag onto one of their lively night trips, where founder, Mandy Sinclair, will help you eat your way around the sizzling stalls of Jemaa el-Fnaa and finish off at Chez Lamine.

Eat, Drink and Party

Couscous is the national dish of Morocco, and typically enjoyed on Friday, the holy day, in homes across the country. To get stuck in, visit The Amal Women’s Training Centre. Take a seat in the shady courtyard and enjoy a feast of couscous piled high with your choice of veggies, chicken or beef, and served with a traditional buttermilk drink. The restaurant is a charity that helps disadvantaged women get careers in the hospitality industry. It’s a fabulous concept and well worth supporting.

For a taste of modern Moroccan cuisine, take a seat high on the balcony, high above the souks, at Nomad. Feast on calamari with anchovy and harissa sauce, lamb and egg stuffed brik and lamb shank and prune tagine.

After a long day exploring the city, put your feet up on the rooftop of Kechmara, a slick bar in Gueliz, the new town. Try the Moroccan rosé, or a few ice-cold bottles of Flag Spéciale beer, and then get ready for a long night at Comptoir. This late-night club is the perfect place to sip chilled cocktails until the early hours of the morning with the city's jet set crew.

Kechmara

John Gregory-Smith is a chef, food and travel writer. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram

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