Magical secrets of Marrakech

Ilse de Roo - Marrakech - Best-kept travel secrets

Marrakech is a city that is full of life, where the blue skies sings against the peach colored buildings. It’s no wonder this is the most popular travel destination in Morocco, because when you arrive, it truly feels like you have stepped in a 1001 night fairytale.

You will probably visit the ancient Medina and the modern Gueliz, but there are many other surprises to discover in this mysterious, magical city.

Hidden cultural hub

One of the many secrets of Medina’s labyrinth is Dar Bellarj. If you didn’t know, you’d walk past it, tucked away as it is beside Ali Ben Youssef Medersa. Enter the doorway, and you’re in a riad, a traditional house centred on a gracious, shady courtyard. This is an arts centre celebrating living culture, with changing exhibitions on everything from Berber tattoos, photographic portraits and local weaving. Besides the always-worth-a-look exhibits, it’s an ideal hidden escape from the frenetic souqs and a serene place for a cup of Berber whiskey (mint tea).

City within a city

Wandering through Marrakech’s Jewish quarter, called the mellah, feels like you’ve stumbled onto a secret. Even though it’s nearby the centre, the mellah has an atmosphere all of its own, with Stars of David etched above doorways and shaded balconies overlooking the narrow lanes. You can visit the Lazama Synagogue, which is still in use for its 400-strong congregation, explore the Mellah Market, renowned for its fabric, and visit the Jewish Cemetery.

A Berber escape

It only takes a short trip outside Marrakech to reach another world, a Berber village in the foothills of Atlas Mountains. Amizmiz is a small settlement, only 55km south of the city. Time your visit for a Tuesday and you’ll get to experience the town’s traditional weekly market, when Berber villagers descend from miles around to sell their crafts, produce and spices. 

Out-of-the-ordinary dishes

The medina harbours many restaurants, but Riad Farnatchi’s Le Trou Au Mur has a menu that is different from all the regular offerings of tajine and couscous. In the labyrinth of medina streets you’ll find the restaurants doorway in a narrow lane. The owners and chefs have set out to revive ancient cooking techniques and ingredients, with out-of-the-ordinary dishes such as tihane, stuffed offal with spiced kefta, olives and preserved lemon; velvety mechoui from the restaurant’s oven; and fish baked with vermicelli and preserved lemons.

Secret shopping

The shiny brassware and traditional Berber rugs of the souqs may be calling you, but the serious savvy shoppers in Marrakesh go to the industrial area of Sidi Ghanem. It’s around 4km from the centre, and you can take a round-trip taxi trip here to check out the workshops, outlets and showrooms that specialise in the art of life. 

Spend a night in the desert

A two-night stay at Scarabeo Camp is the perfect little getaway combined with a trip to Marrakech. Scarabeo Camp is just 35km outside Marrakech and it’s located in Agafay, a stone desert with a gorgeous view to the Atlas mountains. When you arrive at the camp it’s hard not to be blown away. For miles and miles all you can see is the golden plains until they disappear into the burning horizon and lots of white tents casually dotted around.

Wander through a sea of cacti

On the outskirts of Marrakech is a 17-acre cactus nursery surrounded by a fence with a handwritten sign that simply reads: ‘‘Cacti.’’ The humble sign is something of an understatement. The Cactus Thiemann farm is the largest of it’s kind in all Africa, with more than 150 varieties of cacti, all displayed in tidy rows against the otherwise empty landscape of the Moroccan desert.


Hi there, my name is Ilse and I’m a travel enthusiast. When I travel to a destination, I like to explore the non-tourists areas and stumble upon hidden places and unknown gems. Follow my personal Instagram for more about me: @ilse.roo

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