Eat like a local – Marrakesh

Eating out is one of Marrakesh’s big pleasures, but it pays to be both selective and organised when choosing somewhere to eat. Compared to the huge number of tourists, there are relatively few really good restaurants – about a handful in each district – so don’t expect to stumble across a good one by chance. With Marco Polo’s insider tips you will be eating like a local:

Marrakech Marco Polo Guide

GETTING A TABLE

Considering it is such a popular destination, Marrakesh dining takes some planning. The best restaurants must be booked in advance (ask your hotel receptionist, who can normally get a better table than you will if you just phone up yourself).

A HOME-COOKED MEAL

Try to eat at least once in a riad – they generally offer family-style cooking that is much better than restaurant food. Many are open to non-guests, but in all cases reservations should be made a day in advance. Many riads also offer small, casual cookery classes that are highly recommended.

KIF KIF (SAME SAME)

Set meals – usually salads, pigeon pastilla (pie), tagine, couscous and Moroccan pastries – are the only option in many Moroccan tourist restaurants. While a few of the best can be an approximation of an authentic Moroccan feast, visitors frequently find these set meals a drawn-out, heavy and expensive experience and few would want to eat more than one on a single trip to Marrakesh.

VEGETARIANS

Moroccan salads are a varied and vegetarian delight of super-fresh ingredients and jewel-like colours, usually served as a starter and often translated as “small plates”. As a rule though, non meat-eaters don’t have an easy time of it in the city, and even couscous au sept legumes (with seven vegetables) is often cooked with meat stock. It’s best to check with the chef rather than the waiter. As a back-up option, omelettes and pizzas can be found in many cafés and restaurants.

Photo credit: “IMG_0769” (CC BY 2.0) by Ninara via Flickr

JEMAA EL FNA: TOURIST TRAP?

Rather like London’s Leicester Square, or Times Square in New York, the main square of Jemaa El Fna is something of a tourist honeypot and tourists are fleeced every day. But eating out – particularly at the evening food stalls  where prices are very reasonable – is a quintessential Marrakesh experience. At the restaurants and cafés situated around the edge of the square, however, it is all too easy to end up with a really bad meal at a high price. Stick to the food stalls in the square or follow the recommendations in this guide, some of which, as described, should be visited for their views as much as the food.

TIME FOR A TIPPLE

As there are very few places in the Medina to enjoy an alcoholic drink, make the most of your riad (if it has a drinks licence) with a pre-dinner cocktail on the rooftop, or a nightcap afterwards. Alternatively, many of the restaurants (but none of the pavement cafés around Jemaa El Fna) have a drinks licence – so relax with a drink there rather than trying to find one of the few bars.

DINNER AND SHOW

In Marrakesh, eating and entertainment are closely entwined. Locals stepping out to sample the delights of the food stalls on Jemaa El Fna also enjoy the spectacle of street entertainers at the same time. Similarly, in many of the traditional tourist restaurants, a show is put on for the diners’ delectation. You can expect such acts as local Gnawa musicians and belly dancers giving performances with varying degrees of eroticism. Though apparently free, you are, of course, paying for the show in the price of your meal. Tips are also welcome.

MONEY MATTERS

  • Eating out in Marrakesh restaurants can easily be as expensive as back home, especially if you drink wine, beer or spirits with your meal.
  • The food stalls in Jemaa El Fna provide real atmosphere. Not only is the food here some of the best you’ll find in the city, it is also, quite literally, as cheap as chips. Nevertheless, ask for the price in advance.
  • Leave a tip of 10 to 15 per cent in bars and cafés. Waiters rely on tips.

A COURSE IN MOROCCAN COOKERY

Get a real taste of local culture and cuisine on a one-day cookery course. They usually include a visit to the spice market and you get to eat your creation afterwards.

  • Jnane Tamsna: One-day courses are tailored to individual needs.
  • Enjoy a private cooking lesson in the riad kitchen, and eat what you have prepared in the beautiful garden, filled with herbs, flowers and vegetables.
  • La Maison Arabe: One-day cooking workshops are held in the gardens of a villa just outside the city. Small groups and lots of inspiration.
  • Souk Cuisine: One-day courses are provided for a reasonable price including lunch and wine. Week-long culinary courses are also available.

THE CREDIT CRUNCH

Just because a restaurant displays the symbols of international credit cards on its door doesn’t mean you can actually pay with them. It is a good idea to carry some cash just in case the presentation of your card is met with a slow shaking of the head. Morocco has a large cash economy and most businesses try to put as little through their books as possible. Many establishments – even upmarket ones (and this applies to hotels too) will often claim that their credit card machine is not working. If you are prepared to hold your ground and wait patiently, you may find that eventually the “problem” is solved.

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That Marrakesh Feeling

Marrakesh, with its brilliant riads and bustling souks, is a truly enchanting place. Find out what makes this Moroccan city tick and experience its unique flair – just like the Marrakchis themselves with Marco Polo’s insider tips.

Marrakech Marco Polo Guide

Thé à la menthe

No trip to Marrakesh would be complete without tasting some of the legendary Moroccan thé à la menthe (mint tea). If you want to try this sweet treat in the fairy-tale atmosphere of a palace filled with exquisite stucco, wood and zellij work, then you should definitely head to Dar Cherifa. It’s an extraordinary literary café where you can not only sit like royalty, but also admire temporary exhibitions and enjoy listening to concerts as you drink.

An evening meal at Jemaa el Fna

The food stands that are set up here every evening under the stars are the epitome of Marrakesh’s vibrant soul. Surrounded by acrobats, snake charmers and storytellers, you can either enjoy such simple dishes as fried fish and chips or try out something more exotic, like sheep’s head and snail soup. This is one experience you definitely won’t want to miss!

Storks chattering at the Palais El Badii

The El Badii palace is large, impressive, and almost completely empty. Nevertheless, a visit here is one of the absolute highlights of Marrakesh. Find a place to sit in the shade or at a café on one of the surrounding roof terraces and admire the palace walls while listening to the chatter of hundreds of storks. It’s a unique experience that gets even better just before sunset!

Haggle away!

At any respectable souk, you stroll around, haggle a little, and buy anything that takes your fancy. Things are a little more intense at the Bab el Khemis flea market, however. If you can’t find something here, you won’t find it anywhere! Sellers come from all directions in the morning to set up their stalls and try to earn some money with repairs or second-hand goods. The shoppers here – mostly Europeans – are on the lookout for the antiquities that pop up from time to time amidst all the other wares.

Hip Morocco

While you’ll come across the city’s poorest at the Souk el Khemis, you’ll mainly mingle with the upper crust when you visit the Hivernage, a quarter boasting rows and rows of hip hangouts, bars and rooftop lounges. If you feel like eating Thai food while you’re in Africa, this is the place to be – head to such restaurants as the beautiful Jad Mahal. The Hivernage is a melting pot of Moroccan and European influences, and money here is King.

Sweat in style

The spa at the La Mamounia Hotel is the pinnacle of Moroccan pampering. Entering the Hammam is like stepping into a dream from the Arabian Nights. The turquoise pool in its own little palace is surrounded by oriental lanterns and alcoves everywhere you look. It’s also furnished with big, comfy recliners with views of the world outside. There are few experiences that are more stylish and relaxing than a luxury steam bath – so take your time and enjoy!

Cyber-cuddling at the park

The Cyber Park, located between the New and Old Town, is special for a number of reasons. Firstly, it’s a beautiful swathe of green right by Marrakesh’s city walls. Secondly, there’s free WiFi everywhere – and we mean everywhere! – in the park, so you can surf the web on laptops and tablets while you sit under the trees. Above all, however, it’s where the youth of Marrakesh come to have dates and hold hands – a sweet and entirely innocent sight!

Live like a pasha

If you’ve ever wanted to live like an Arabian nobleman (and who hasn’t?), Marrakesh is the place for you. More than 1000 riads (city palaces) have been renovated and turned into small guest houses that whisk you far away from the noise and stress of everyday life. Treat yourself to a magical stay in such palaces as the exclusive Riad Enija or the more simple Riad Bamaga.

 

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Marrakesh Marco Polo Spiral Guide

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Only in Cape Town

From the sea to the top of the Table Mountain, Cape Town is a vibrant city that will capture your heart. With its gorgeous beaches and lush winelands, Cape Town is full of contrasts. Its troubled past has given way to a more harmonious co-existence of religions, cultures and nationalities. A true melting-pot – you can feel this unique multicultural vibe in every corner of the city.

Let Marco Polo show you what unique experiences Cape Town has to offer!

Marco Polo Cape Town Guide

Go up Table Mountain

Postcard perfect and towering majestically above Cape Town is the much-photographed Table Mountain which draws its visitors like a magnet. The fit can hike up but the more obvious choice is to take the cable car. Either way the view from the top, over the city and the sea, is quite breathtaking.

Wine estates

The Constantia Wine Route includes a number of famous wine estates. The oldest, Groot Constantia, goes back to the 17th century. The owners are doing an excellent job in retaining its historic feel while introducing a modern atmosphere with wine tastings, good restaurants and concerts.

Nelson Mandela’s prison

Former president Nelson Mandela spent 18 of the 27 years of his incarceration on the former prison island of Robben Island. Today the ‘Sikhululekile’ ferry takes visitors across from the Waterfront – and the tours are conducted by ex-convicts.

Harbour entertainment hub

You will be spoilt for choice at the Victoria Alfred Waterfront shopping and entertainment precinct. Give yourself plenty of time to take in the harbour life with its variety of buskers, dance groups, restaurants, cinemas and so much more.

Sundowners by the sea

Cape Town is known for having some of the world’s most captivating sunsets. Capetonians celebrate this time of day with sundowners. Join in with a classic cocktail, a well chilled local beer or a Savanna cider. A good spot is at Café Caprice right by the beach in trendy Camps
Bay.

Street party

During the World Cup Soccer in 2010 tens of thousands of fans regularly came out to celebrate on the fan mile. No other street in Cape Town boasts as many restaurants, shops, street vendors and clubs as Long Street. The place rocks on a hot summer’s night.

 

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Cape Town Marco Polo Guide

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Only on Cape Verde

Cape Verde is all about colour: the turquoise ocean, lush tropical valleys, beaches of black and white sand, the bright yellow of the bananas, the orange-coloured papayas, green heads of cabbage and red peppers. The village square and the narrow cobbled streets seem to be deserted; only a few children can be seen playing with toys they have made themselves. However, there is a lot of hustle and bustle at the vegetable market – the centre and heart of every village – loud shouting and laughter, friendly faces and mountains of fresh fruit. Women squat on the roadside with baskets full of silvery fish, a group of men sit in the shade of a tree playing cards. Life here is leisurely and relaxed, people have time and they also have patience.

Cape Verde Marco Polo Guide

Let Marco Polo show you some unique experiences to be had on Cape Verde:

Travel with the locals
The aluguer is the most common means of transportation on Cape Verde. You should travel at least once with the locals in one of these pickups, such as the trip from São Filipe to Chã das Caldeiras.

Swing those hips
You won’t know what has hit you when the dancers start swinging their hips at a dizzy speed dancing the batuco in the 5al da Música in Praia.

A hearty pleasure
The Cape Verde national dish, catchupa, is a hearty affair. Every cook prepares their
own different version of this stew made of sweet corn and beans – in the Churrasqueira Africana on Fogo they add pumpkin.

New braids
Men, women and children wear their hair woven into small braids. If you want to do the same, you can have your holiday hairstyle done in the shop next to the Mariama Restaurant in Vila do Maio.

Pure firewater
No matter whether it is freshly distilled or aged, the Cape Verde sugar cane liquor packs a punch! The freshly brewed firewater (grogue novo) that is served in the Pavilhão on the Praça Nova in Mindelo and elsewhere will really take your breath away!

Strategic moves
A typical scene: two men sitting in the shade with a wooden board between them pondering over how they can get as many small pieces as possible away from their opponent. The game is called oril and it attracts many players to the row of shops near the sport stadium in Sal Rei and numerous other places on the islands.

Glittering catch
At midday everybody runs to see if the fishermen have made a good catch when their colourful boats return to port or are pulled up on to the beach – as they do in Tarrafal on Santiago.

 

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Cape Verde Marco Polo Guide

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Top 10 Things To Do In Marrakesh

Marco Polo’s list of the top 10 things not to be missed in Marrakesh! Our best recommendations – from the top down – help you to plan your tour of Marrakesh’s most important sights. 

Marrakesh Marco Polo Guide

1. JEMAA EL FNA 
Complete with snake charmers, fire eaters and storytellers, this fascinating marketplace never fails to astonish visitors.

2. MEDERSA BEN YOUSSEF
The most beautiful Koran school in Morocco! Step inside and delve deep into the magnificent world of Islamic Maghreb architecture.

3. JARDIN MAJORELLE & MUSÉE D’ART ISLAMIQUE
The blue hue that fills the Jardin Majorelle is magical: it glows even when it’s pouring with rain. The small Islamic museum contains Yves Saint Laurent’s private collection.

4. PALAIS DE LA BAHIA
This large, well preserved 19th century palace has all the key elements of Islamic architecture: ornamentation, fountains, shafts of light and tree-filled courtyards.

5. SOUKS
All of the stalls in the bazaar’s covered shopping streets are miniature treasure troves that look as if they were set up by Aladdin himself.

6. TOMBEAUX SAADIENS
The Saadian Tombs, a magnificent tour de force of 17th century architecture, are the absolute highlight of the original (and fantastically beautiful) Kasbah quarter.

7. MOSQUÉE DE LA KOUTOUBIA
Impressive and famous: the minaret on the first mosque in Marrakesh is both the religious and architectural centre of the city.

8. LA MAMOUNIA
Stars and royalty come to stay at this legendary Art Deco hotel. Even a short visit to one of its restaurants or the spa will make you feel just like one of them.

9. MUSÉE DE MARRAKESH
This 19th century palace is a textbook example of Moorish architecture that enchants each and every visitor. It also holds some great exhibitions.

10. GUÉLIZ
The New Town is a smorgasbord of hip spots, galleries and chic boutiques. Don’t miss visiting the area if you want to discover the new face of Marrakesh!

 

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Marrakesh Marco Polo Spiral Guide

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