Issue / Traveling the Spice Route

Traveling the Spice Route

Aug 10, 2013

After a three and a half hour plane ride from London, I finally reach the exotic city of Marrakech in northern Africa. Arriving at my fabulous riad in the heart of the medina (old city), I’m immediately welcomed with refreshing mint tea and then whisked off to a beautiful suite furnished completely in traditional Moroccan decor befitting any stylish mansion. The riad reminds me of an old Indian haveli converted into a posh guesthouse with its five rooms situated around a central courtyard. A smile crosses my face, as I mentally pat myself on the back for choosing this spot instead of a predictable fivestar hotel with 24-hour room service. I feel like a Moroccan princess here.

My luggage arrives at the riad from a nearby taxi stand via an oxcart, a typical sight here as many of the narrow streets make them inaccessible by car. After I unpack, I slip into the warmth and comfort of the king-size bed and fall into a deep slumber. Tomorrow, I will escape the serene comfort of my riad, past the high walls to a city bustling with activity.

Upon waking, I venture into the labyrinth of narrow winding streets extending from the Big Square famously known as the Djemaa el- Fna, which is the heart and soul of the medina. While seeking shelter from the pouring rain that afternoon, I stop to grab lunch. For a moment, it feels as though I have been transported to Paris, which is no surprise since Marrakech is a beautiful blend of the Arabic and French cultures. People-watching is just as good as in any Parisien café, but I wish I had brushed up on my français.

The next day, I visit a few of the famous monuments of this imperial city including the Koutoubia Mosque, Palais de la Bahia, Saadian Tombs and the jardin Majorelle. I also take a 20-minute carriage ride from the medina to the ville nouvelle, an area heavily populated with cafes, restaurants and luxury hotels, to indulge in some boutique shopping. I return to the riad with some fabulous finds.

The various souqs (markets) in the medina are like a never-ending maze, and the opportunities abound to brush up on the art of haggling, which is the culture of these souqs. There are plenty of little teahouses along the way to provide that perfect jolt of caffeine to keep shopping. The streets are filled with babouche slippers, kaftans, lighting, wood artifacts, carpets, jewellery, furniture and even imported knock-off designer handbags. Louis Vuitton and Burberry seemed to fit right into the bazaars of Marrakech, not to mention the caged baby turtles and iguanas that sit alongside the faux haute couture.

After I have almost literally shopped till I dropped, I escape the souqs and manage to find my way back to the Djemaa el-Fna where it has already gotten dark, and the Square has transformed itself into something out of an Arabian fairytale. It is a grand spectacle filled with musicians, dancers, snake-charmers and hundreds of vendors selling freshly-cooked food made right in front of you. There are also rows of huge copper urns containing cinnamon tea heavily spiked with ginger. It is the perfect accompaniment to a chilly evening as I walk around relishing the live music and dance. The vision of the Djemaa el-Fna at night leaves an indelible imprint in my mind as the evening captures the essence of Marrakech with a mystery reminiscent of ancient folklore. Arabian nights don't get better than this!

Some evenings I splurge and dine at the palace restaurants like Dar el-Baroud, Yacout and Le Toblis. They provide a royal welcome with their rose petal strewn entrances guarded by doormen. The lavish interiors are heavenly with live folk music, and the extravagant meals of chicken and lamb tagines are purely divine.

My last day is spent visiting a traditional village far removed from the hectic city life, where local Berber houses sit scattered along the hills. On the way, my driver points out Mick Jagger’s palatial home nestled against the dramatic backdrop of the high Atlas Mountains. I depart the Pink City longing one day to see more of Morocco. Marrakech has enchanted me with the warmth of its people and all its intoxicating energy.


  • The best time to visit Marrakech is spring or autumn.
  • Don’t be surprised if locals mistake you for a Bollywood star as Indian films are quite popular here! Shah Rukh Khan seems to be the all-time favourite.
  • Haggling is the norm in the souqs. It is a slow and entertaining game of negotiation where deals are sometimes made over mint tea that is quickly brought out to soften you up. It’s best not to begin the process if you are indifferent about purchasing the item. Check out some of the government-run shops beforehand to get an idea of pricing and quality of goods.
  • One U.S. Dollar is equal to approximately 9 Moroccan Dirhams.
  • There is accommodation to suit every style and budget. Some useful websites include:
  • The capital of Morocco is Rabat and the largest city is Casablanca. The population of Marrakech is about one million.
  • Morocco is a constitutional monarchy led by the young and progressive King Mohammed VI.
  • Morocco contains some of the greatest biodiversity in Africa with its snowcapped mountains, desert lands, fertile plains and sun-kissed beaches.
  • Morocco's Arabic name, 'al-Maghreb al-Aqsa', means the furthest land of the setting sun.
  • The heart and life of Marrakech is ironically named Djemaa el- Fna (Place of the Dead).
  • The medina of Marrakech was listed as one of UNESCO’s world heritage sites in 1985 saving it from turning into a car park area.
  • Moroccan dining etiquette includes washing hands with rose water prior to eating. Eat only with your right hand using the thumb and first two fingers. Use the left hand for passing dishes to others.



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