Morocco is the place of my technicolour dreams. It is such an incredible country. I had high hopes for Marrakech, but didn’t really know what to expect, and I was blown away. Let me first say that if you love vibrant colours, incredible architecture, hot temperatures, and not constantly being within spitting distance of a Starbucks, you have to go to Morocco.
I completely understand the people who pack up all their worldly possessions and move, seemingly on a whim, to this amazing country in North Africa. I’m tempted to do the same myself!
Here, then, is my love letter to Morocco, in the form of a travel diary…
Fresh off the plane from London, we arrived in Marrakech in the afternoon. Even the immigration area of the airport — typically the world’s most unglamorous place, as those of you who travel a lot are well aware — was decorated with hand-carved tiles. Helloooooo! Once we’d handed our passports to a crew of extremely handsome Moroccan immigration officers (again, a stark contrast to what you experience everywhere else in the world), we were pretty sure this was going to be a trip in every sense of the word! We picked up our suitcases and met the driver who transported us to our hotel, El Fenn. (We organised this through the hotel and it made everything much less stressful.)
The airport is awe-inspiring, and looks like it is covered in elaborate ribbons of lace. It’s funny, as soon as I walked out of the airport, I felt the same feeling I had when I first got to NYC. Unless you’ve experienced it, it’s hard to describe: it feels like your energy and the energy of the city are one and the same. I was practically jumping out of my skin with excitement as we wheeled our suitcases to the van, and greedily drank everything in with my eyes as we drove towards the hotel.
I had never been somewhere like this before. The sun was just starting to set, and the whole sky was pale blue and flecked with pink and orange streaks. The streets are lined with palm and orange trees, and the road is almost entirely lawless. The paradox of the beautiful, calm sky, set against the chaos around us made my brain light up like a pinball machine. There seem to be no lanes, and the road is shared with people on bicycles, scooters, donkeys, and people pulling enormous trailer-loads of everything imaginable. I loved seeing women in hijab and sunglasses, whizzing past on motorcycles. They looked so cool.
As we drove through the streets which were teeming with people, cars, and everything else you can imagine, we were in awe. I don’t really know what Kat and Shauna were thinking, but I was overwhelmed with thoughts, excitement, and nervousness. I was loving it and I felt so alive.
All of a sudden, we came to an abrupt stop in the middle of a crowded area. The driver got out and started unloading our suitcases. We were a little anxious: where was our hotel?! But as we followed him through a few twists and turns, we realised that our hotel was tucked off a little alleyway, hidden away in the Medina.
Talk about an oasis of calm amidst the chaos. El Fenn is a staggering hotel. Owned by Richard Branson’s sister Vanessa, she and her partner purchased the property when it was an old, crumbling private home, and have transformed it into a luxurious, colour-soaked, truly unique hotel. It was the perfect place for us to stay.
Since there were four of us, we spent our first night in two Courtyard Rooms, and then moved into a Family Suite for the remainder of our time.
The room Shauna and I stayed in was vibrant red, with beautiful lanterns illuminating the roof and a creepy but wonderful portrait over the fireplace. A turquoise pool glowed in one of the (many) courtyards, floor lamps cascaded down stairs, and the floor flickered with candlelight on green tiles.
El Fenn is absolutely loaded with lanterns which shine fragments of light all around the walls. They are insanely gorgeous. I want to hang a hundred all over my apartment!
If you’re heading to Morocco, get ready to drink a lot of peppermint tea. Traditionally, you’ll drink three glasses, and the flavour changes as the tea deepens and transforms. There’s even an old Maghrebi proverb about it, which goes “Le premier verre est aussi doux que la vie, le deuxième est aussi fort que l’amour, le troisième est aussi amer que la mort.” Translation: The first glass is as gentle as life, the second glass is as strong as love, the third glass is as bitter as death. (Thanks, Wikipedia!)
On the first morning, I woke up so excited. I slithered into a truly psychedelic Mara Hoffman kaftan and enormous Prada sunglasses. Always understated! I was READY for a day of shopping!
But first, we needed to have breakfast. We headed to the rooftop terrace for a delicious buffet: Moroccan eggs (cooked in tomato sauce), teeny-tiny sausages, foamy lattes, and big glasses of unbelievably fresh orange juice. I mean, I could have sat there all day, gorging myself… But there was a whole city to explore!
Then we sat on an amethyst daybed accented by red, pink and yellow roses as we waited for our guide to show up. His name was Abdel and he lead us all over the medina, showing us to the best slipper shops, into a traditional Moroccan apothecary, and through the winding alleyways.
If you’re heading to Marrakech, I’d recommend having a guide (at least for the first day). The medina is intense, with no logical layout, and the odds of getting lost are extremely high! It’s also not expensive at all to have someone show you around. We paid 300 dirham which was $30 US for the entire day. (By the way, this conversion rate made shopping dangerously convenient and easy. Just take a zero off the price? Well, don’t mind if I do!)
The entire medina is made from a salmon-coloured clay and chalk. Apparently the reason everything is this colour is because it reflects the heat! (But don’t be fooled, it is still HOT HOT HOT.) Walking through these crooked little streets was such a life highlight. You absolutely never knew what you’d see next.
Partners in crime since 2008. I’m convinced we were sisters in another life. There is way too much synergy between us.
Gorgeous. By the way, haggling is still a major part of shopping in the souks. There are no prices on anything. You always have to ask… And then the fun begins!
My first purchase was a hot pink Moroccan wedding blanket from this gentleman… And that set the tone for the rest of the day. I initially intended on holding out for a while before going crazy on textiles, but I just took the plunge and I’m so glad I did! (The blanket is currently draped over my couch, bringing a whole lot of colour and sparkle to Darling HQ!)
We weaved in and out of stalls and stores, buying scarves, rugs, blankets, cosmetics, amber perfume, leather slippers with gold hamsa embroidery, and kaftans… Drool.
Oh, don’t mind us. We’ll just be over here, ogling your fabric!
Doesn’t David look dashing? I wish he’d bought this. Such a wasted opportunity! Regal as fuck!
Another day, another donkey.
My favourite people to travel with. So much ridiculousness, so little time.
The medina winds and weaves, and is absolutely loaded with things to delight the hell out of anyone who walks past. There are tiled pillars and bright walls, stray cats, vendors selling everything you could possibly imagine, and dilapidated but beautiful doors which conceal the homes behind them.
One thing I always find slightly disappointing about travel is that, a lot of the time, the shops are full of the same stuff. It’s all a bit homogeneous. I am extremely happy to tell you: Marrakech is not like this. There are 18 souks in Marrakech alone, employing over 40,000 people! So much of what you can find there is handcrafted and totally unique. It was like being in heaven.
Abdel took us to this shop where the man above learnt metalwork from his father, and now makes these enormous padlocks, chests, keys, and other amazing things. So fantastic! But a little too heavy for my suitcase…
After a few hours, we were exhausted from all the heat and excitement. It was time to go back to the hotel and relax…
After a couple of hours spent relaxing by the pool, eating french fries and chicken kebabs, and drinking cocktails, we headed out to a restaurant for dinner.
I don’t know what the restaurant was called, but that’s okay, because I wouldn’t recommend it anyway. We still enjoyed ourselves, ate tagine, and Shauna and I joined a Moroccan band. Pretty sweet!
Our first day in Morocco was so big, and our second day was wonderful too. Stay tuned!
Love and peppermint tea,
Photos by David McNeil (with the exception of the lantern and our red bedroom).
P.S. If you haven’t picked up your copy of Radical Self Love yet, you only have until Sunday! xo