Monday, 19 November 2012

Marrakech, Mountains, tagines and table tennis

This blog was supposed to be a joint endeavour, a way for my boyfriend and I to have some kind of outlet outside of work. As you can probably tell that hasn't happened!

Even though I enjoy writing, having a blog is harder than I expected. It's a commitment and can weigh heavily on you at times. I also don't really take photos, and so getting in to the mindset of taking them all the time is a bit of a drag. I hate being one of those people who photographs their food before they eat it or spends time composing photos to look like they're having fun, when actually they're not - they are posing for a photograph. Unless you have paparazzi stalking you and catching those 'natural' moments that so many bloggers love to share, you have to continually interrupt your day to capture those pictures. Without photos, blog posts are dull and people tend to skip them (at least, I do), so luckily, although Harry may be a lousy blogger, he loves photography, and enabled me to do a great post on our latest trip..

Last weekend, we went to Marrakech for four days for some sun and relaxation. My first tip would be: do not go to Marrakech for sun in November. The weather forecasts may look inviting, but we actually had a mixture of rain and cloud, with a sprinkling of sun thrown in. At night it was actually really cold too. However, I can thoroughly recommend going for some relaxation and adventure.

Quick PR - we stayed at Kasbah Igoudar which was fabulous. It's about 45km outside of Marrakech, so more suitable if you plan on visiting the Atlas Mountains (or, if the weather is nice, for total relaxation as their pool area is lovely), but the people are really friendly, the rooms are comfortable and food, cooked by a local Berber is really tasty. We travelled with Voyage Prive, which gave us a great deal on accommodation and easyjet flights.

Here's a few snapshots of our visit.

Much colder than it looks - see the snow in the background

Final day, after becoming table tennis champions
The hotel and grounds were beautiful. The Kasbah, although new, has been built in the traditional style and has rooms coming off a central courtyard, like a Riad. In Summer. the roof can be opened. We spent a lot of our time in the snug, where the kind hotel employees built us a fire and served us dinner. Dinner was mostly tagines, but also a delicious pastilla, which is a sweet-savoury pigeon pie. Delicious. Word of warning - alcohol is comparatively expensive to food and everything else in Morocco, at around £16 a bottle. It's also not widely available due to Muslim law, so stock up in duty free if you plan on having wine with dinner. 
We also played a lot of table tennis, winning some Moroccan tea (very sweet mint tea) after beating the other couples. A very proud moment!

Marrakech, and indeed any where you visit, is a shoppers delight. Not only will the locals do their best to persuade you to buy anything and everything, you'll probably want a fair bit of it too. Generally aim  to pay about 60% of the price in the souks. While we were there, we bought a shisha pipe, a small trinket box made from coral, a bracelet, a reflexology session (inadvertent purchase), some nuts and some fruit. If I'd had more money and luggage allowance, I'd have loved a tagine and a traditional rug.

At the Royal Palace

Lunch at Tangier
There's plenty to do in the centre of Marrakech; we only visited for one day but would have liked longer. The Royal Palace is definitely worth a visit, and at 10 Dhs (less than £1) for entry, it's definitely worth it. I would also recommend visiting a local hammam (only for the brave!) and la Jardin Majorelle, a beautiful garden designed by Yves St Laurent and full of some unusual plants. We had lunch at Tangier, a traditional restaurant specialising in.. tagines! The honey and almond chicken was sweet and moist, and the couscous with caramelised onions and chicken was also delicious. If it's warmer, it's worth eating in the main square, the Djemaa el fna, which has lots of food stalls where you can eat with locals. Be warned though, sheep's head is highly regarded here!

Cycling on the road to nowhere

Abandoned village
The Kasbah had bikes available to use for free, so we spent a morning cycling around. We had no idea where we were heading, and followed a pretty remote road for an hour or so, passing plenty of donkeys, shepherds and sheep. We ended up at an abandoned village which was pretty cool. By this time, the sun had also decided to come out and play so it was a pleasant morning that resulted in sunburnt faces.

Finally, I cannot recommend a trip to the Atlas Mountains enough. I would love to go back and spend a few days there hiking and exploring, and you can even ski there. The highest mountain, Mount Toubkal, is over 4,000m.

Climbing up a waterfall

Berber village in the Mountains
We had a day trip to the Mountains, and a local guide took us on a two hour walk which involved scrambling up a waterfall and visiting a few Berber villages. We then had a traditional meal of tagine (of course) in a Berber house, followed by the requisite Moroccan tea. The place we visited was called Imlil, and was about 90 minutes drive from Kasbah Igoudar (~ 2 hours from Marrakech). The drive itself was spectacular, with views for miles. Imlil is a relatively big village and had a thriving back-packing scene, with plenty of walkers. Ironically, there were more restaurants / bars / shops in the 'remote' mountains than near our hotel!

So all in all it was a great trip. The culture is really like no other, and although you will inevitably get fleeced by the locals, that's all part of the fun. It was my second visit, and I'm so glad I made it to the Mountains this time, it was my favourite part of the trip and one I am keen to repeat. So if you need a walking partner Dad, let me know!

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