Friday, 21 February 2020

Visiting Marrakech - A Short Guide


Hello angels, welcome to another travel post. I wanted to write an in depth recap of my trip to Marrakech, as really there's just so much to say, even for only a three day trip. The truth is, I had my reservations about visiting, based on various warnings and horror stories that really put me on edge; and whilst I believe the warnings are totally valid and indeed important, with the right research and safety precautions, you can have a truly magical experience in a truly unique city. 
I have travelled to many places around the world, and Marrakech was one of the first places in a long, long time, where I truly felt like a fish out of water. The world seems so small nowadays, culture can be so merged. But this place was so different for me, completely out of my comfort zone, scary yet exciting. 




Where you stay in Marrakech will have a huge part to play in your trip. We were so incredible lucky to be staying in the Fairmont Royal Palm hotel. It honestly couldn't have been more perfect. A stunning, tranquil sanctuary, completely removed from the madness and hustle and bustle of the city, yet only a short twenty minute ride away. It is one of the most peaceful places I've ever stayed in, which is amazing as it's the opposite of what one would expect from Marrakech. Our suite was just incredible, three huge rooms and a vast patio area with a break taking view of the famous Atlas Mountains. We spent the first day roaming the beautiful green grounds of the hotel and relaxing by the pool. In the afternoon we were booked into the fabulous spa for a traditional Moroccon 'Hamam'- which is basically a very luxurious and indulgent... bath! It's how I would imagine royalty bathes, however for Moroccan and Middle Eastern people, it is a ritual that is part of weekly, even sometimes daily life. We lay in a steaming hot room and were washed, scrubbed, and exfoliated. We had a face and body mask applied, rinsed off and finally massaged in body oil. It was so relaxing- I was only slightly sad that I'd spent 9 hours in a spray tan the day before only to have it all scrubbed off, but my body has never felt so soft so I couldn't complain! We finished the evening in the hotel's traditional Moroccan restaurant, a delicious tagine followed by a selection of Moroccan pastries, accompanied by a live performance of two traditional musicians. It was such a wonderful, relaxing day and the perfect way to get us in the Marrakech spirit! 
To me, it was also important to stay in a hotel like the Fairmont, which was removed and independent from some of the Moroccan culture. In many other hotels and riads in the city, unmarried couples are not permitted to sleep in the same room, and your body should be mostly covered, so no bikini sunbathing by the pool. In a city that can feel sometimes intimidating and daunting, the Fairmont was the perfect safe haven. Whilst in the city centre it's a good idea for personal comfort and safety to cover up most of your body, at the Fairmont you are free to wear what you choose, so my new Zimmerman dress and shorts didn't go to waste! All the staff in the hotel were incredibly sweet, and honestly it was so beautiful in fact that I had to force myself to actually leave the hotel and see some of Marrakech!



On our second day, the concierge organised the hotel car to take us an hour deep into the 
Agafay Desert, to a luxury camp to relax, have lunch and... ride camels! I wanted to make this very clear, I was very sceptical of the interaction with the camels, as I am so aware of the cruelty that can be involved in such activities involving animals, all across the world but especially in Marrakech where there are little laws protecting animal welfare. I was reassured by my research, which I would like to share with you now, so you can make an informed decision.
 I looked up whether camel riding is ethical or not, and according to different animal welfare organisations the answer is not black and white, it is based on circumstances. There is no categorical evidence that the mere act of riding is damaging to a cameI- it is the conditions they are kept in and how they are handled that affects their welfare. If an animal has been brought out of it’s natural habitat (for example, if you see camel rides being offered in the town centre/medina) than that of course is a red flag, similarly if the camel is being ridden continuously tourist after tourist on a gruelling schedule, also carrying more than one person or indeed, a particularly heavy person, these would also be red flags, and of course how you can visibly see they are being physically treated by their handlers. The place we travelled to was a secluded camp in the middle of the Agafay desert; the camels natural home. The hotel reassured me that as a hotel group that has been a trailblazer in the industry of sustainability and conservation of the environment and ecosystem, the company offering the camel rides had been carefully chosen among many similar companies in the area as an excursion because of the ethical way the animals are kept and cared for, to be kept in line with the hotels pledge for long term environmental care. This made me feel okay about going, and I was even more reassured when we arrived. The camp (Inara Camp) was pretty much deserted, we didn't see another soul except staff the entire morning we were there, so I know the camels were not spending the whole day carrying people back to back. The staff were all Berbers and Sahrawis- these are names of ethnic groups of people who are born in and native to the desert. Camels are a huge part of their history and culture, and therefore are considered precious and treated with care and respect.
Another element to the discussion, is that there is a high population of camels in countries like Morocco, and without the income from this trade, the camels would have to be abandoned, unfed and uncared for. There are next to no wild Dromedary camels in Morocco. It is actually a form of conservation and supports the local nomadic communities in a time where climate change is limiting their crop productivity.
So whilst I do not believe that riding camels is inherently cruel, I strongly urge you to take the time to think about the circumstances of the animal before you climb on top of it, and do not take part in activities that show any red flags of cruelty. 
We had the most magical morning riding the camels through the Agafay desert, I will never forget it!


We spent the rest of the day shooting content in the hotel, in the gorgeous spots pictured above. The pink room is the ladies changing room in the golf club, and had the interior design of my absolute dreams! And the second photo is from the spa, which is honestly one of my favourite hotel spas in terms of design I've ever seen. The ceiling was so high and everything was white and airy, it was just so glamorous and calming at the same time. It was JJ's first time "properly" shooting my content, and we got probably some of my favourite photos I've ever shot; a combination of stunning surroundings and backdrops, and the love and willing of a sweet, wonderful boyfriend behind the camera. And maybe an ever so slightly bossy subject. 
In the evening, we took a car to the New Town of Marrakech, and had dinner in an amazing restaurant called Palias Jad Mahal. The food was incredible, and at eleven pm the show started; belly dancers, traditional Moroccan dancers, and a singing/music extravaganza with everyone on their feet dancing. I haven't had that much fun in a restaurant, well ever!


The next day, it was time to venture into the Old Town/Medina. I had received a LOT of warnings, some from friends and mainly from followers, and I was expecting to have a really uncomfortable time, but I wanted to see and experience it anyway. But honestly, I had a really good time! It was absolutely crazy, that's the only word to describe it! Think of Aladdin in 'One Jump Ahead'. It was just like that. And I later found out that Guy Ritchie based that number in his remake on the Marrakech souks! I was warned that I may receive a lot of male harassment, especially for being Western and a blonde. But not a single thing was said that I didn't like. Yes, the men were much more vocal than we would consider appropriate in the UK, but they were actually just being cheeky in a pleasant way, it wasn't scary or intimidating at all. I do think it had a lot to do with the fact I was with my boyfriend, and also I was dressed extremely conservatively. I have heard horror stories from girls who dressed as "usual" in shorts and short dresses, and they had a completely different experience. So although it does feel frustrating (I had serious conflicting thoughts on how I felt about adhering to dressing standards that ONLY apply to women), and it isn't the law like in other Middle Eastern countries, I decided in the end that I really wanted to visit and so to make the experience as safe and comfortable for me as possible, it made sense to cover up my body. And I actually really loved my outfit! 
We spent the day wandering and exploring the Souks, which really have to be experienced first hand to understand! It is completely overwhelming, from the sheer abundance of goods for sale to the number of people (and motorbikes!) bustling through these tiny, narrow alleys. There is the usual terrible selection of fake designer goods (and crocs), but also hundreds of beautiful shops selling traditional Moroccan goods, from tea sets to herbs and spices, and their signature Argan Oil. It can be intimidating, as the moment you make any eye contact with something for sale, the vendor pretty much pounces on you, but as long as you are comfortable to give a polite but firm "no thank you", you get used to it really quickly and it's perfectly fine. The only incident I had that I didn't like, happened in the main square where a woman paid me a compliment, and when I thanked her she forcefully grabbed my hand and went to start applying henna to my hand. Luckily I had already read about this advance so I very quickly snatched my hand back! But be aware that just because you didn't ask for it, doesn't mean you don't have to pay. I strongly feel that if you do a lot of reading and prepare yourself, you will be absolutely fine and have no problems. I had read that haggling and negotiating is essential when shopping in the Souks, and just before we left I felt a bit sad that we hadn't had the bartering experience, so we popped into a little shop and haggled over the price of a silver... no, a silver PLATED (as was revealed mid barter!) tea set, that we got down from 900 Dirum to 300! And it really was a hysterical and dramatic scene! We were probably still ripped off but hey, we walked away with a pretty little tea set and a brilliant story we can laugh about forever. Twenty five pounds well spent I'd say. 


When the trip came to an end, I didn't expect to feel as sad to leave as I did. I felt so, so relaxed and at home in our Fairmont suite, everyone we spoke to were just the sweetest people, and I felt like there was just so much more to explore and discover. But it really was the perfect first time, and hopefully we will go back again. I hope my post was helpful if you are considering/planning a trip to Marrakech, feel free to leave me any questions in the comments below!

Love,
Freds x 

This post is a paid partnership with Fairmont Hotels.

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