Text Lin Zixin Photo L.H. Lim
Coming into Marrakech, Morocco on a train from Casablanca, get ready to be put into a laidback and relaxed mood. Imagine this: in the train carriage you are surrounded by local Moroccans, but they do not pay you any undue attention, just as if you were one of them. Looking at the sandy landscape that is occasionally interspersed with colour by small wild flowers pass you by, you are lulled into a comfortable slumber, that is, until the old man beside you lightly gives your shoulder a shove to inform you that your stop is here.
You get off the train and you are in the rose-hued city, with only the scorching desert sun to remind you that the edges of the formidable Sahara are near. Welcome to Marrakech.
Must Do – Half-Day Visit to Nearby Mountain Village
The demands of the modern tourist have changed, and the people at Amanjena know that. Not content with just offering luxury, Amanjena offers guided excursions that would give you an authentic local experience without its usual grit and grime, just the way you like it.
Coming highly recommended would be a leisurely morning of browsing the fresh produce market before heading to a Moroccan family for lunch. The way to the family is up a steep, winding road into the hills and takes a good 30 minutes before reaching the modest but tidy home. Once inside, be delightfully surprised to notice that your guide from Amanjena has thoughtfully set the table beforehand and the food is served piping hot shortly after you settle down; and just in time, since the hike up would likely have whetted your appetite for some scrumptious local fare.
The menu for the day was tajine, a popular local dish of stewed meats and vegetables. First smothered with spices, the meats are left to simmer in a special clay pot till they are tender and juicy, infusing them with an earthy fragrance on top of the thick aroma of the spices. The vegetables serve as the perfect complement for the meats, having taken in the goodness of the sweet stew. The result, though nothing fancy, is nonetheless delicious, and the flavour is as you wished, totally local.
After the meal, feel free to relax in your host’s house over a pot of mint tea and admire the natural wilderness of your surroundings. While your host may appear shy in the beginning, this naturally fades away as the conversation goes on. Be sure to take the chance to find out more about the country’s history and local customs right from the local’s mouth.
Must See – Djemaa el Fna
The main square of Marrakech is another spot you should never miss simply because it is where the people of Marrakech, local or tourist, converge. Declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO, this square exudes a carnival-like atmosphere with its endless comings and goings throughout the day.
Spend a slow afternoon here just soaking up the festive air. For the more lion-hearted, you can approach one of those snake charmers and take a memorial photograph with the man and his unrestrained snakes (Well, I didn’t). If that is not your cup of tea, while away the hours by drifting from one stall to another or just people-watching.
As night falls, watch the square come to life as mysterious street performers start to gather. Be enthralled by their art forms, from dancers dressed in tinkling costumes to story-tellers who will stop and perform to any appreciative audience to magicians and their tricks. Spend a night here flitting from one performance to another, taking in all of them in their traditional Moroccan glory. We guarantee it will definitely be a night unlike others you have known.
If you get hungry halfway through the night, be comforted to know that ready stalls selling grilled meat line the square to fulfil your gastronomic demands.
Must Also Do - Exploring the Souks
The Marrakech souks, or traditional North African markets, located in the atmospheric old city and off the north and east sides of Djemaa el Fna, are the place to truly go with the flow and enjoy the ride. Made up of countless snaking streets and alleyways, these souks are organised such that each street specialises in one type of good; we managed to spot carpets, leather shoes, lamps and more.
Be ready to be bewildered by the sheer amount of action packed in each alleyway you enter. As you roam the souks, getting your bearings is a futile attempt as the alleyways link to each other in seeming maze-like complexity. The best thing you could do here is to throw caution to the wind and explore the souks with lots of curiosity. To find the slightly concealed popular local hangouts, be bold and throw open that intimidating door or dodge into that dark tunnel-like passageway. At the end of your adventure, reward yourself with some well-deserved footrest at one of the many mini palace-like complexes that litter the souks. Carefully preserved to maintain their opulence, these buildings now operate as bustling restaurants and guesthouses for travellers.
Detour – Majorelle Garden
Walking into the luxurious Majorelle Garden is like walking into a Renaissance painting – all lush colours and hopelessly romantic. Take your time to explore this intimately designed space with your loved one and spend a contemplative morning together in the tranquil of the garden.
Upon entering the small but quaint garden, the striking cobalt blue used extensively around the grounds will be sure to catch your eye. This bold shade of blue, bleu Majorelle, was specially concocted for the garden and takes the name of its creator, French artist Jacques Majorelle. Skilfully sprinkled amongst the landscape, this colour leaps out from the vegetation and creates contrast to enhance the entire visual experience.
Apart from its unparalleled beauty, the garden is also home to bountiful bougainvillea bushes and cactuses collected from over the world. Also within the grounds is the Islamic Art Museum of Marrakech, which displays a cache of pieces owned by Pierre Bergé and Yves Saint Lauren. Safe to say, your time here will be nothing short of discovery at every turn of the corner.
From Singapore to Morocco (Casablanca)
You can choose from several carriers to get to Casablanca, Morocco from Singapore. Emirates flies from Singapore and transits in Dubai before arriving at Casablanca, with the total flight time being approximately 14 hours (minus the transit time). Fares start from S$1167. Otherwise, you may also consider flights by Turkish Airlines, Qatar Airways and Air France.
From Casablanca to Marrakech
Transport is plentiful and convenient between these two cities and you can travel by air or by land via a car, coach or train. The train journey takes around 3 hours with few stopovers and costs about S$20 for a one-way ticket on the first-class carriage and about S$13 on second-class. One train runs every two hours, making scheduling your trip a breeze. Once at the train station, you may also inform the ticketing staff if you need help with your heavy baggage. Just remember to tip your porters generously for their help.
Best Time to Go
Late spring or early summer is the best time to go, since temperatures are tropical and only slightly lower than that of Singapore’s. While Marrakech is hot and humid during the day, temperatures may dip drastically at night so be sure to keep this in mind when packing.