Written March 25, 2013
Arriving in Marrakesh late Sunday night from Marseille was about as easy as it gets. After a short two and half hour flight that departed 15 minutes early and then landed 30 minutes early we were in the car we had arranged with the riad (type of Moroccan guest house) before our flight was even supposed to have landed – short lines at passport control (make sure to fill out a landing card), baggage claim was a breeze, and no lines at the ATM machines. Certainly not the chaotic experience described in the guide books for flights arriving at busier times.
At that hour the street were calm and looked like most any big city in a warm climate with wide avenues and palm trees. We run along the medina wall, or rampart, that encloses the old city before turning through a gate onto a narrow street that looks like it should be pedestrians only. At nearly 11PM the streets are still busy. Someone from our hotel meets our car and walks us the rest of way down even narrower alleys to the riad.
A large unmarked wooden door off a narrow nondescript alley leads to an inner courtyard with a lit pool and guestrooms off the second floor balcony. The Al Massarah Riad is owned by a French/Anglo pair and is decorated with style and elegance with enough local color in the details to remind you where you are.
After good night sleep, the riad is quiet and dark until about 7AM when roosters and rustling about the riad wake us, we wander upstairs. Breakfast is served on the sun filled terrace covered with an awning that gives a choice of sun or shade seating.
The last week in March it’s a gorgeous morning, mid 60s and blue sky. The breakfast itself is a simple but well executed including – orange juice, a fragrant fruit salad and yogurt, a selection of bread products and jams.
After a short tutorial by the owner Michel on where to go and what to see in Marrakesh we are given a great map of the area and set free to wander the streets. Although this is our first experience in North Africa we have spent enough time in Indian and Asian cities that the bustling streets of vendors, pedestrians, donkey-pulled carts and motorbikes whizzing past cause us little concern. In fact it feels rather sedate. What few venders or touts approach us are satisfied with a simple, “non merci”.
We wander down to Djemaa el Fna, a huge square that is mostly empty at this hour with only a few dried fruit and juice vendors along the northern edge.
Past here we continue south to Kosybar for lunch which was OK but uninspiring. Its pleasant terrace, however, is a great place to have a drink and watch the storks on the wall of the nearby Badi Palace.
After lunch visits to a few of the areas local palaces. Badi, a 16th century ruin, is probably better earlier in the morning or later in the day when the sun is not so harsh.
Bahia, built in the 19th century and the most popular of the three, has intricate carved ceiling and doorways with pretty courtyards.
For the most spectacular ceilings, however, go to the second floor of the 19th century Dar Si Said Museum, more than worth the 10 dirham ($1.20) admission price.
We had a quiet dinner, just the two of us, in the riad dinner room. An elegant yet unpretentious affair. No menus or fussy service just a nice home-cooked three course dinner starting with a vegetable plate of cabbage with apricots, a small zucchini stuffed with an olive and breadcrumb mixture and lightly cooked seasoned red peppers. The main course was a monkfish tagine (we had requested fish) with sweet peppers, olives and potatoes. And for dessert a fragrant citrus fruit salad.