High 5: Hen dos (and don’ts) in Marrakech
On a rather cold and miserable Thursday in February, a clutch of hens flew off to Marrakech for a long weekend, in search of pre-wedding hedonism in an exotic location. As you can imagine, a group of rowdy 20-something ladies roaming a Muslim city was bound to cause a stir, so we all approached it with a bit of caution.
The verdict? Marrakech is the perfect venue for free range hens – it’s an enchanting, intoxicating city. At times it can be overwhelming and a little intimidating. Here’s some advice on staying smart and making the most of Morocco’s most fashionable city:
Rent your own riad
There are hundreds of lovely hotels and shared riads dotted around Marrakech but, if you’re in a big group, I highly recommend renting your own riad as some are very reasonably priced. We stayed at Dar Jaguar and spread ourselves between the six extremely spacious en suite bedrooms. The master bedroom was particularly divine with the most amazing four-poster bed.
The riad has a stunning rooftop terrace overlooking the city, a beautiful courtyard with palm trees wrapped in lush bougainvillea, and every room has luxurious Moroccan furniture. We had four staff looking after us, plus a cook who made us a delicious breakfast and Moroccan dinner each day, plus a night watchman and a yoga instructor who visited every morning.
Experience a hammam (if you’re not prudish)
Be warned: if you’re not a fan of public nudity, this kind of experience isn’t for you. When we arrived at the rather unfortunately named ISIS spa, we were split into two groups and told to strip down to our bikini bottoms and wait to be called. We were then herded into a little room whilst we all sat there half-naked.
The next minute, we all had buckets of water chucked over us and we were then scrubbed down by ladies using grainy black soap. Half an hour of scrubbing was followed by a steam room and then a massage with local argan oil. The experience was different, to say the least, but well worth it! I felt incredibly smooth and relaxed afterwards and would recommend it to anyone looking for something a bit different to a normal spa experience.
Haggle in the souks
Now this requires some true skill. You can get great bargains but you can also get tremendously ripped off. Remember that the Moroccans have a lot more experience than you when it comes to haggling. I was told by our Moroccan guide that, as a rule of thumb, offer at the most a third of the suggested price as your opening bid. Don’t be afraid to walk away if you feel you’ve reached your limit. This is, in fact, a great tactic as the seller will usually run after you and drop his price.
I managed to get some lovely patterned bowls, traditional boxes, scarves and a rug, all at very reasonable prices, although this did mean I had to wear most of my clothes during the journey home in order to fit everything into my suitcase.
Try the traditional Moroccan food but do your research first…
I absolutely love Moroccan food but I was cautious when it came to which restaurant and stalls I went to…no matter how tasty the food looked. In fact, we were advised not to try any of the street food (especially not the meat or fish).
One restaurant particularly stood out: NOMAD. The food was absolutely delicious, especially the appetizers and small plates, and the service was very impressive. The restaurant overlooks the whole of Marrakech, so it was a perfect place to spend our last afternoon in this vibrant city.
Final advice for your trip to Marrakech
I thought I’d end with a few top tips, especially for the ladies:
- Gauzy, chic clothing that reaches your knees
- A scarf to cover your shoulders
- A hat
- An extra suitcase
- To stay alert…not only are there cars to watch out for on the streets of Marrakech, but there are also bicycles, motorcycles, donkeys, horses, donkeys with trailers, horses with carriages, stray cats and plenty of other pedestrians to contend with
Leave at Home…
- High, high heels (there are very few perfectly paved surfaces)
- Exfoliants…get yourself to a hammam instead
- Your prejudice. This is a 21st century Islamic country. There is wine, there is fun, and there are rules. Get to know all aspects
And lastly, whilst there, don’t…
- Take photos of the snake charmers and monkey handlers in the main square. The handlers will force you to pay them for the privilege
- Drink in the streets – it’s against the law (and uncouth anyway)
- Leave your bag wide open when walking around…like any big city, there are many thieves on the hunt for tourists
- Walk around the streets on your own at night if you’re female
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