Visiting Morocco, specifically Marrakech, will immediately transport you to a different era the moment you step off the plane. One feels like they’re in the throws of a magical dream, full of traveler ancient traditions, sweeping deserts, majestic architecture and seductive corners alongside vibrant colors and exotic cuisine. As the gateway to Africa, Morocco can be dizzying with diversity, culture and overwhelm your senses in ways you have never felt before. Be it through the thrill of exploring a hidden alley, a successful haggle at the Jemaa el Fna medina or a refreshingly relaxing hammam treatment, Morocco will satisfy every desire and be one of the most exhilarating (and Instagrammable) places you will ever step foot. While the country is at its best in the springtime and the fall (when the temperatures are pleasant and the landscape is at its most lush) a recent visit to Marrakech in December proved that there are countless reasons to visit at any time of year. Here, 8 reasons to visit Morocco in the off-seasons–magic carpet and genie not included.
Treasure Hunting in the Jemaa el Fna Medina
Timid and shy travelers need not apply; a shopping trip to the Jemaa el Fna medina (or any medina for that matter) means being ready to haggle for any and everything. Imagine if the world’s finest crafts and local markets were plopped i into the center of Times Square during rush hour for a rough idea of what shoppers should brace themselves for. The main square along with the souk shopping is a dream for gold medal shopaholics. With every turn, your senses will be on high alert with vendors’ continual chattering and grand stall displays. I suggest coming here for a few hours a day (if you have the time) to absorb the ambiance of the souk and get a feel for your surroundings and what you plan to purchase. At the start, you will feel like a mouse in a maze, turning down alleyways filled with vibrant tassel purses, pungent leather slippers, barrels of exotic spices, beautiful silver lanterns and extravagant, jeweled caftans. The price negotiations can get aggressive at times; stand your ground. Bartering is part of the country’s culture, and once you get accustomed to it, it’s fun! When haggling, keep in mind that the price a seller initially quotes can typically be negotiated to a 50% discount (or more) if you come to the medina with street smarts, a smile and an easygoing attitude.
A Desert Oasis in Ouarzazate
Are you a fan Homeland or Game of Thrones? Ouarzazate, the gateway to the desert, houses large scale international film studios that have been home to the sets of Oscar winning films and critically acclaimed television series. Being able to physically be on the sets of some of the most talked about films and shows is quite an extraordinary feeling, especially when the natural beauty of the Sahara desert can be mistaken for a movie set itself. Stop for a lunch in the Oasis du Fint; you’ll feel like Indiana Jones riding a 4×4 across the rocky desert landscape, soaking in the vast palm tree paradise. Remember, this isn’t an oasis in the metaphorical sense; it’s an actual water source surrounded by lush greenery in the middle of the rocky desert. Here, a traditional Moroccan lunch of tagine and couscous can be had in luxurious tents with a camel on call–what more can one ask for?
Royal Mansour Le Spa
You might possibly mistake this spa for heaven–and with good reason; the Royal Mansour was originally commissioned by His Majesty as sanctuary for traveling dignitaries. Le Spa at the Royal Mansour is not only fit for royalty, but a feast for the senses. From the etheral white birdcage-like entrance to the faint orange blossom scent that lingers around every corner, the purity of the white decor and the faint sound of songbirds is the perfect embodiment of tranquility. A spa treatment here has effects that last far beyond the treatment room; each guest can’t help but leave with an overwhelming sense of calm. A must do: the hammam treatment, a popular ritual in Moroccan culture, followed by a ceremonial massage. The two hours of intoxicating bliss begins in a low- lit, heated rose color marble cave in which a therapist covers you in black soap followed by a deep scrub with a kese (scrubbing mitt) which removes lingering dead skin follicles. Continual warm water is poured all over your body along with your hair, something that leaves you feeling comforted and transformed. While its a hugely intimate treatment, follow the hammam with a Moroccan style deep relaxation massage. You will leave feeling like you have been on a spiritual journey–and it’s the ultimate jet lag cure.
Fashion Inspiration at the Jardin Majorelle
The enchanting Jardin Majorelle is one of the most visited places in Marrakech, and for good reason. It took the French painter Jacques Majorelle 40 years to bring this beautiful garden to life. One walk around and it’s easy to see why Yves Saint Laurent and Pierre Berge bought the Jardin Majorelle in 1980 and saved it from falling victim to a real estate project which would turn it into a hotel complex. After passing away in 2008, Yves Saint Laurent’s ashes were scattered in the rose garden and a memorial was built. The garden is full of shady trees, exotic plants, cacti and palm trees, and one doesn’t need to be a floriculture enthusiast to enjoy it. The Jardin Majorelle isn’t just a garden, it is an art installation of vividly painted buildings and gazebos boasting an excellent spot for reflection and inspiration. There is no doubt that the exotic people and colors of Marrakech inspired the restoration of the Jardin and directly translated into many of Saint Laurent’s designs. Be sure to check out 33 Rue Majorelle right outside of the Jardin Majorelle, a beautiful concept store featuring unique and one of a kind items by Moroccan designers that you will not find anywhere else…not even in the souks.
Palm Tree Paradise at Les Palmeraie
A sea of palm trees are a visual feast, especially at sundown. And by sea, think hundreds of thousands of palm trees of all sizes covering 54 square miles right outside the city of Marrakech. Legend has it that this Palmeraie was formed centuries ago when Arab warriors would dispose of their palm date seeds onto the ground and, in turn, an oasis of palm trees emerged. If you don’t wish to walk among the thousands of palms, you can opt for a camel ride that is bound to take twice as long, but be twice as fun.