When you step onto the tarmac at Marrakech’s Menara Airport, the rustling sound of languid palm trees and the snow-capped High Atlas mountains visible on the horizon give the impression of serenity. But this is merely the calm before the storm.
It’s only a 10-minute ride to the Medina, hidden behind majestic city walls, where the explosion of life begins. Fragrant odours might be overwhelming for the first-time visitor: sun-scorched mud, leathers drying on terraces, dung surrounded by flies compete with the more enticing smells of rosewater soaps, freshly squeezed orange juice and spices. The pace of life here fluctuates between moving as slowly as the animal-drawn carriages and as fast as the frantic crowds, reckless motorcyclists and the sounds of Gnawa drums.
The Red City — the colour is meant to repel the evil eye — was founded in the 11th century as a trading crossroads. All the cliches about it are true. The souks are labyrinthine, streets are populated with toothy street urchins, its colours look more vibrant than anywhere else and haggling is a way of life.
It’s a city where backpackers feel as comfortable as rock stars and models on a luxurious break. It appeals to all because it has options for everyone: honeymooners secluded in a romantic riad, families enjoying large resorts, girlfriends on a spa weekend, foodies on a cooking tour, businessmen and golfers, and adventurous travellers on their way to the nearby mountains.
Like a skilful courtesan, Marrakech certainly knows how to satisfy every whim and desire, which may explain why tour operators are reporting strong year-on- year sales. New luxury hotels, riads and renovated properties are appearing at a steadily increasing pace and repeat visitors are legion. Anyone who experiences Marrakechi pleasures will want to come back for more.
The original article appeared in ABTA Magazine (March 2012). Full version can be seen here.
[Photo credit: Visit Morocco]