The Marrakech Express

Marrakech. First of all, let’s talk about these awesome Shutterfly luggage tags I made for our Away Bags! We can discuss these later, but it was such a fun way to surprise everyone and get them excited about our upcoming trip!

Now, onto the vacation. Here are some of the places we visited, tips and tricks when visiting Marrakech, and reviews. Feel free to message me with any questions/comments you have.

Travel:

We flew United direct to Amsterdam, then we flew onward via Iberia Airlines to Marrakech, connecting through Madrid. On the return, we chose TAP Portugal back to Amsterdam and connected through Lisbon. Based on the airlines and ease of airports, I would definitely suggest the TAP Portugal route. If you’re interested, there are a few direct flights from places like Frankfurt, Amsterdam via KLM, and other European Cities. The only downside I found while planning our flights was the direct flights into Marrakech (RAK) were typically only once a week, or on certain days. Because we were looking for a very specific time frame, we chose to book 2 separate one-way flights in order to maximize our time.

Arriving into the Marrakech airport was quite busy. Our hotel stay came with a VIP Meet and Greet/Fast Track service, which visitors can also purchase online. This is worth every. penny! When we arrived, there were three other aircrafts unloading passengers all simultaneously. The red-coated staff members met us just inside the building, and ushered us through customs, immigration, and luggage collection. They helped minimize the chaos and get us on the right foot from the get-go.

Hotel: Amanjena

We chose the Amanjena hotel in Marrakech for a few reasons. To start, during my research phase I read a lot of articles that suggested staying outside of the Medina area. This is because the Medina is so busy and chaotic, it is nice to have a peaceful oasis after your activities. The Amanjena was exactly that– a beautiful, luxurious, desert oasis that catered to your every need.

We stayed in room number 6, a 2-bedroom, 2.5 bathroom Maison with a pool. The jaw-dropping suite featured vaulted ceilings, traditional Berber elements, a fireplace, fresh flowers and fruit replenished daily, and a sparkling pool/pavilion. The room and hotel in general were so calm and serene that we felt sad to not have planned more time to spend around the property.

If you are interested in a video tour of the Maison, follow along on my stories on Instagram, @jbrochu.

The staff at the Amanjena are downright exceptional. I commented to Dan that I felt like we never saw more than 10 staff members the whole stay. Apparently they were lurking in the shadows waiting to cater to our every need before we even knew those needs existed. The bespoke nature of Amanjena didn’t stop Dan, as he obviously saved some time to act-a-fool…

ahhhh, what will I ever do with him?

Location.

The resort was about 30-ish minutes from the airport, and about 20-ish minutes from the Medina area. Of course that depends on traffic and on where exactly you’re wanting to be dropped off, but that’s a safe estimate. We never felt too far away, and we were always able to easily get anywhere in the city with the help of the hotel’s drivers. The only downside to the Amanjena was that they only had 2 restaurants on site– you guessed it, a Moroccan restaurant, and a Japanese restaurant. Our group only tried the Moroccan restaurant and said it was excellent. I was unfortunately fighting some kind of travel related bug when we arrived, so I excused myself to bed while Dan, Chelsea, and Sergio went to dinner.

The only other hotel fairly close is the Mandarin Oriental Marrakech, which is just down the street. If we had more time, I would look into venturing over there for a dinner or cocktails, at least if we didn’t want to battle the Medina for a more authentic experience.

Let’s Talk Shopping.

My most favorite sensory overload: Shopping in a souk with gorgeous things! Dan’s most hated chore: Shopping in a souk with crap he’ll have to Sherpa back to the hotel. Hey, it’s all about perspective, right?

Alas, I won (as I typically do) and bought all. of. the. things. Well, maybe not everything, but a good amount. In all honestly, it was all so beautiful and exciting, I feel like I purchased way less than I anticipated. The souk had everything– baskets, and beach bags, and glassware, and pompoms and shoes– oh my!

The hotel arranged for us to have a tour guide (I’ll get to him later), and the guide turned out to be incredibly helpful to us learning how to navigate the maze that is the Medina and souk. If you’re planning a trip to Marrakech, I highly recommend finding a private tour guide, or make the request with your hotel/riad, as they will find the best folks to help you through the city.

While you’re in the souk, remember EVERYTHING is negotiable, and likely the sell price will be less than half of where the vendor starts their pricing. I must say, my incredible bestie, Chelsea, was one of the best hagglers I have ever seen in action. In fact, we were referred to as “berber bargainers” more than a few times. I’m not sure that’s a compliment, but I’m ok with that. I do promise, however, that Dan’s stories of grown men crying are absolutely untrue.

Pro tip: Pack a duffel bag, or extra suitcase, because you’re going to want to have space to bring home all your finds. We ended up with 4 extra bags (for 5 people, ok?!) and one shipment home from the hotel. Sure it’s quite a bit of luggage, but not nearly as bad as our trip home from Peru. Again, it’s all about perspective.

The hotel shipped quite a few of our items, including a lantern, a few tagines, some beach bags, etc. for us via a local shipper and DHL. The cost was a few hundred dollars, and it arrived within a couple weeks. Although it’s not the most cost effective option, it allowed us the piece of mind to not have to lug all those items home while worrying about damage to our goods. Also, if you think about the checked bag fees you may incur for items like these, the cost basically comes out as a wash.

Overall, I found that shopping in the Medina was less unnerving than I expected. We’ve been to many markets around the world where the vendors are incredibly pushy, and sometimes downright rude. Of course, there were those folks in Marrakech, but all-in-all they were friendly and fair.

Food.

Ohhh my favorite topic.

Wow. The food in Marrakech was incredible. It was everything I hoped it would be and more. From the cocktails, to the couscous, to the tagines, and beyond, every morsel was delicious. While we had 4 nights in the city, it was really only 3 thanks to our late arrival, and my illness. So those 3 nights were filled with all local experiences, and they did not disappoint.

First off: Terrasse de Espices

Definitely one of my favorite restaurants in Marrakech. A little hidden gem right under your nose in the souk. Make a reservation before you arrive, or have your hotel call once you’re in Marrakech. We dined both times during lunch, and loved sitting outside under the Moroccan sun. We were concerned a bit about the heat, since we were there at the end of August, but the restaurant did a great job keeping us cool. The tables are surrounded by misters and fans, and the restaurant provides fun straw hats to help keep the sun off your neck. Even though we were completely cool and content, we couldn’t miss the photo op.

We loved our lunch so much the first day, that we knew we had to go back a second time. Both lunches were excellent, and the staff was top-notch. We ate everything from appetizers of local olives with harissa, to buratta and field peas, to traditional Moroccan spiced lamb in a tagine. It was all beautifully presented, and reasonably priced.

One unexpected part of dining here, was the full-blown security checkpoint going into the restaurant. While it was mildly unnerving to be fully screened with a metal detector, it’s a cautious reminder of the time we live in.

El Fenn.

The boutique Riad situated inside the Medina walls, but a good walk from the souks. This small, but well-known hotel and restaurants is down an alleyway and hidden behind a massive set of carved wooden doors. The unassuming entrance quickly takes your breath away, when you’re suddenly thrust from the bustling street directly into the hotel lobby and patio.

Plan to take quite a few flights of stairs all the way to the rooftop restaurant. But not to worry, there are so many corners and sites to be seen along the way, the climb isn’t laborious, but instead helps build the anticipation with ever step. Of course I spotted some Knoll along the way and had to stop for a picture.

We finally made our way to the rooftop and we were not disappointed!

The rooftop restaurant at El Fenn has one of the most scenic views in all of Marrakech. You will definitely need a reservation, so plan ahead and prepare to choose one of 2 dining times– 7:30pm or 9pm. Our group chose the earlier, as we planned to go for cocktails after dinner at some nearby locales.

The restaurant is filled with textiles and decor from the markets and purveyors surrounding the hotel. You immediately feel like you’re somewhere special, somewhere that perfectly melds all the beauty of the country.

Dinner is a set menu, and although the service was rather slow, the scenic nature certainly made up for it. Some of the tables are a bit isolated in terms of airflow, so plan accordingly and dress in lightweight clothing.

What to wear?

This one was hard. I mean really difficult. What do you wear to a predominately Muslim country, but in the heat of the summer? Particularly when you’re a woman? And then find a way to pack it all into a carry on suitcase. Sue, Chelsea and I agonized over this. We planned, and talked, commiserated. Here’s what we learned.

The city of Marrakech (and particularly the women), wasn’t as conservative as we anticipated. We wore long(er) dresses during the days, and had our shoulders covered. In the evenings, we would wear maxi dresses or cute rompers with a small wrap, just in case. I never once felt uncomfortable in my clothing, and often times wished I hadn’t been as worried about covering-up. There were Europeans dressed a bit more scantily, but I always try to be as respectful of the culture as possible when I’m traveling. I’m happy I wore what I did, but if/when we go back, I won’t be quite as concerned about covering all my parts. I think in terms of the prime three in these environments: Shoulders, Knees and Cleavage. As long as 2 of the 3 are covered, you’re usually more than fine. No matter what, I always have a wrap of some kind at my disposal, just in case.

Of course, the boys have it easy and wore shorts and short sleeved shirts during the day, and long pants in the evening. Lucky.

Keep in mind that whenever you’re in your hotel/resort, feel free to wear almost anything you want!

I usually run the gamut in clothing options, so you’ll see items from Target, to Hermes, and everything in between. Here are some of our looks from the trip:

This post is getting long-winded, so I’ll find some time to do a review of our tour guide/services, as well as some of the experiences/locations we visited beyond the souk. Until then, happy travels!

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