21 October 2016

Take a stroll through the sights and smells of a souk in Marrakech
Heavenly for honeymooners
From the souks to the spas, a newlywed Thomas Hodgkinson finds a city of romance
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f course, the real question is whether you’re a tourist or a traveller,’ said the man next to me on the plane to Marrakech. The answer, as far as I was concerned, was humiliatingly revealed at breakfast the next morning, when my phone got stuck on Arabic phrasebook mode and a voice from the pocket of my trousers repeatedly proclaimed: ‘I am a tourist.’ I arrived in Morocco knowing almost nothing about my destination so, if I gush, forgive me – it’s because I was on my honeymoon. (The phrase for ‘I can’t live without you’, if you’re interested, is ‘ma nqdarsh naiish bla biik’).

The days passed like a dream. While England was battered by rains, my new wife and I basked by the pool – and in her case, soaked in the spa at the Hotel Les Deux Tours in the secluded Palmeraie region, a few miles outside the city.
A calèche waiting outside the Mamounia Hotel
This is meant to induce a useful trance-like state, but I was worried he might topple off his stool. Or take off. I am a tourist and, yes, we did the touristy things. In Marrakech’s walled Arab quarter, we explored the tangle of souks: narrow stall-lined streets, each devoted to a craft. One highlight was the metalwork souk, where the clash of hammers and the flash of welding torches convince you these ‘objects’ really are made by hand.

Another was Spice Square, offering reme-dies and potions to help women keep their men in line. Deodorants, herbal Viagra and some edgy-looking live chameleons for use in spells. Apparently, if you throw a chameleon on a fire and it explodes, this means your husband is having an affair – although, presumably, he might plead, in his defence, that his wife was a detonator of reptiles.

You don’t have to have a special interest in Islamic architecture to appreciate the beauty of the Ben Youssef Madrasa, a 14th-century school decorated with intricate carvings. In the French colonial part of town called Guéliz, take in the Jardin Majorelle, a fantasia of fronds and cacti. And swing west for a drink at the Mamounia hotel. Winston Churchill used to patronise the Churchill Bar – the clue’s in the name. Heading home? Hop on a calèche (horse-drawn carriage).

There’s always the faint suspicion in Morocco you’re being taken for a ride, so you may as well embrace it. I had been worrying about my honeymoon a little. How could it possibly live up to expectations? But, with the warmth of the sunshine, and the people, it did. There’s no need to incinerate any chameleons on my account.

Original article published in Nov 2014. All info and prices correct at time of publication.
In the evening, we ate in the high, vaulted chamber of the Deux Tours restaurant, feasting on savoury fish tagines, spiced with saffron and laced with argan oil. Nearby, a musician serenaded us, strumming seductively on his guembri (a threestringed instrument made from a log), while keeping the tassel of his hat whirling like a helicopter blade.
"You don’t have to have a specfial interest in Islamic architecture to appreciate the beauty."
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