This was my fifth trip to Morocco and, ever since I was a child seeing it on TV, this country seems to have captured my soul. Only a hop across the water from Europe, it feels a million miles from home with an exotic mix of culture, food, color and vibrancy. Morocco has long been a passion of mine, so much so that I’ve started learning Arabic in night classes to hopefully be able to spend more time in the remote regions. I stay at Riad Chouia Chouia every time I’m visiting Marrakech and use it as a base to explore the region.
We soaked up the atmosphere in Marrakech, walking through the souks, drinking copious amounts of mint tea and fresh orange juice from the market stalls, and watching the hustle and bustle of local life. We also visited a traditional neighborhood hammam, which is always sure to be full of locals. These local bathhouses are restricted to single sex and therefore alternate between male and female entry at certain times of the day. Couples’ hammams are available in hotels, however this isn’t the authentic way of experiencing them. A hammam is essentially a sauna incorporating gommage (exfoliation) by a local hammam worker, followed by a steam room. It’s a great opportunity to meet and chat with local women who are often able to speak a bit of English.
Each evening we dinned at the pop-up night market in Jemaa el Fna Square where one can sample lots of different Moroccan tajines and couscous dishes. Always look for the stalls popular with locals rather than tourists. There is one sausage stand in particular that I frequent because locals are usually queuing for a seat! Cafe de France is also great for people watching and seeing the sunset over the square.
While staying in Marrakech we took a day to drive into the mountains, winding around narrow roads and hilltop villages with snow peaked mountaintops as a backdrop. We came across a market where locals came in from all around on their donkeys (the market even incorporated a donkey parking lot!). We then drove to the coastal town of Essaouira, with its weather-beaten shutters and narrow alleys. It seemed to be full of cats, likely attracted by the excellent seafood being served up in the restaurants!
Riad Chouia Chouia
40, rue Fahl Zefriti
El Ksour, Médina – Marrakesh
Every neighborhood has its own local hammam. Ask your riad where the nearest one is and don’t be persuaded by the tourist versions, which are very expensive in comparison with the local, authentic ones. The hammams aren’t marked with a sign on the building, but you can usually identify them by the two entrances for men and women. You might also see the local men fueling wood into the fire, which fires the hot water and steam.
I cannot say enough about the fantastic Riad Chouia Chouia, Marrakech. I’ve been staying there for ten years and Messaoud, the manager of the riad, couldn’t be more helpful. His English is brilliant too!
International photographer Catherine Mead travels the world on editorial assignments and destination weddings. U.K. based and previously a top photojournalist for British newspapers, she now concentrates on Fine Art travel & documentary photography, and beautiful destination weddings worldwide.