Getting to grips with what to see, what to do, where to eat, where to drink etc. when you arrive in a city can be overwhelming, even when armed with a guidebook which sometimes can offer too much choice.
When the city also happens to be Marrakech in Morocco with its famous maze of a Medina, the task is even more head-scratchingly complicated. That’s where some insightful local knowledge becomes an invaluable tool to not missing that ‘secret’ jewel that every local knows, but transient travellers rarely hear about.
Alan and Kate Elliott (above) have spent much of the last 10 years experiencing the ins and outs of living and working in Marrakech whilst restoring the beautiful and tranquil Riad Merstane to its current desirable status as the perfect location for temporarily laying your hat, suitcase, backpack or whatever as you explore the exotic riches of Marrakech.
In that time Alan and Kate have gotten to know the people, culture and the city in a way that no temporary visitor ever could.
Here are their essential tips for getting the best out of a trip to Marrakech.
Where to Eat and Drink in Marrakech
Favourite Place in Marrakech for a Coffee or Mint Tea
Alan’s favourite spot for a caffeine hit is at Café de France (Jemaa el Fna) whilst Kate opts for the ‘ladies who lunch’ favourite of Le Patisserie des Princes (Rue Bab Agnaou) which is cheap and has the added bonus of selling great cakes and pastries.
Best Place for Lunch in Marrakech
Both agree that stylish Chez Pascal (96 rue Mohamed El Beqal, Guéliz) is the number one lunch spot thanks to a charismatic owner who uses seasonal ingredients to create delicious dishes.
Best Restaurants for a Special Occasion in Marrakech
Kate recommends Le Comptoir (Avenue Echouhada, Hivernage) partly because of its eclectic food and kitsch belly dancer troupe and partly because ‘It has a great bar too and is always good fun’. Alan’s top choice is the ultra stylish La Fondouk (55 Souk Hal Fassi) which serves contemporary Moroccan fare and is located in the heart of the Medina near the museum.
Best Traditional Moroccan Restaurant in Marrakech
The hugely popular Al Fassia (55 Boulevard Zerktouni, Guéliz) is run and staffed by women from Fez and is probably the best place to sample the best of Moroccan cuisine according to Alan and Kate.
Best Bars Serving Alcohol in Marrakech
For a tipple in cosy and un-touristy surroundings Kate likes the Chesterfield Bar in the Hotel Nassim (115, Mohammed V) and for a bar with a WOW factor, sip cocktails at Le Hotel Renaissance’s elegant Sky Bar (Mohammed VI, Guelíz) with its sweeping panoramic views of the city or Alan’s choice of the swanky Piano Bar at Hotel Les Jardins De La Koutoubia (26 rue de la Koutoubia).
Tips for Top Things to See in Marrakech
Alan’s top three must-sees in Marrakech are Jemaa el Fna square at night; the new town from the top of the Sky Bar and the stunningly beautiful literary café and art gallery of Dar Cherifa (8 Derb Cherfa Lakbir) which, dating from the 15th century, is also the oldest riad in Marrakech.
Kate’s must-see recommendations are slightly different and include visits to the city’s many tranquil gardens, the charming courtyard and corridors of the Ben Youssef Madrasa (Kaat Benahid) and the Medina’s chaotic souks.
Top Things to do in Marrakech
Both Alan and Kate agree that eating at one of the stalls in Jemaa el Fna at night is a must.
Alan also recommends a ride in a caléche (horse drawn carriage) around the city and a visit to a hammam (public bathhouse) whilst Kate suggests staying in a riad for an authentic Marrakech experience as well as surrendering yourself to the Medina (i.e. getting lost – which is pretty much guaranteed).
What to Avoid in Marrakech
Alan warns against giving money to any men or young boys as doing so will more than likely lead to trouble. Kate strongly advises against paying for official guides because she believes they aren’t necessary and what’s more will prevent you from connecting with local people.
Kate and Alan’s Top Tips for Anyone Visiting Marrakech
“Never lose your temper even if pestered unbearably,” advises Alan, adding. “Stay polite and firm; grit your teeth and keep smiling.”
Kate’s top tip is along the same lines: “Remember that a sense of humour goes a long way in this very different culture.”
We really appreciate Kate and Alan taking the time to answer our questions and in doing so providing a highly interesting and original range of insiders’ suggestions of places to visit and things to do that should prove invaluable for anyone visiting Marrakech.