Luckily, like so many great cities, Marrakech does have places to escape the madness. Just 10 minutes walk outside of the walls, the Gueliz district has a particularly European feel about it. The Gueliz Plaza has an array of familiar shops and, even if you loathe shopping like I do, the fountains in front of the plaza are great and it’s a good spot to sit and people watch. Across the road from the Plaza, Parc El Harti is also a pretty calm place to wander. It’s filled with loads of weird and wonderful cacti which make for great photos. It never ceases to amaze me how easy it is to feel a million miles away from the bustle of the city, even if you’re just a few metres away.
The ultimate tranquil retreat though is Majorelle Gardens about 15 minute walk away from the city walls down Avenue Yacoub El Mansour. It’s 70dh (£5) to get into the gardens and an extra 30dh if you also want to go in the museum inside too. I’m not really a museum person but I have heard it’s supposed to be pretty good. The website says that foreign students can get into the gardens for half price, though I didn’t know that at the time. It’s worth a shot anyway.
The gardens are in brilliant condition and, whilst not massive, are laid out really well. Again, Marjorelle is right next to a busy main road but you’re completely oblivious to that as you wander round it. The vivid colours are a dream for photographers and Instagram lovers alike and it certainly restored a sense of calm after a hectic week in the city. At first I wasn’t sure if it would be worth the money just to wander round some gardens but it’s the perfect tonic to the madness of Marrakech and is really well put together.
The other thing I’ve not mentioned about Marrakech is the food. Little Mother was running the half marathon (and is a wee bit fussy) so we weren’t quite as adventurous as I’d have been by myself, but I still had plenty of opportunity to try the fantastic Moroccan cuisine. A group of us all visited Riad Dar Najat for some pricy but absolutely delicious food. We pretty much had to be rolled home at the end of it. It included some of the best lamb I’d ever had, served in an array of tagines. My stomach’s rumbling just typing this.
However, Chez Yassine, about a 10 minute walk from Koutoubia Mosque, was proof that we could eat like kings on a budget. It’s a tiny restaurant with a small menu but it pays off. I was daring and tried the rabbit tagine which was incredibly flavoursome. It was just an explosion of everything in my mouth. Little Mother stuck to pizza, but the combination of these, plus drinks and bread came to little more than £6 in total. Unfortunately we only discovered it on our last night!
I’m not sure I could have asked for a better January break really – a little bit of crazy, fantastic food and weather that topped even that of Hong Kong’s this time last year. If you’re up for a large helping of madness, Marrakech is a great winter break. I’ll be back…