14 January 2018

The Secret Garden and lessons learned

Our final day, we slowed down and took on the role of the flaneur. Which is just a fancier way of saying wandering aimlessly, i.e. being a tourist. After a lie-in and a leisurely breakfast, we headed towards another recommendation: The Secret Garden.

This garden is relatively new, having opened in 2016. It dates back 400 years, and has been brought back to life with incredible attention to detail. Tiles have been laid one by one, waterways have been restored, and slowly it's been pieced back to its former glory.

The centre of the ceiling isn't complete, but the entire thing has been painted by hand
The architectural model of the gardens

We paid extra to visit the tower - 30 dirhams for a view.

Not sure I'd be tempted to do the tower again, but the gardens were stunning. As with Le Jardin Majorelle, there's an immediate calm when you go in, which seems eons away from the hectic medina.

Oh, and a random aside: go to the toilets. They're really nice.


Afterwards, we made our way to La Place (Jamaa el Fna) to meet my Mum's friend through work, and the reason we came to Marrakech in the first place (he loves it and visits twice a year) for lunch.

To our crazy-cat-family delight, cats are everywhere in the Medina. And they seem particularly comfortable snoozing in the shade on motorbikes.

He took us to the oldest riad in the city, Dar Charifa - as with many restaurants in Marrakech, unless you know about it, you'd never be able to find it.

There were beautiful roses on the table, and a member of staff was sprinkling petals into the shallow fountain in the middle.

It was the kind of place you could sit with a drink and a slice of cake and while away the afternoon reading one of the many books on offer.

My seat of choice if I could...?

A cosy corner, obviously!

I had - what else? - a chicken tagine with couscous. It was tasty, but not as delicious as what we'd had with the Berber family the day before. That's going to be hard to beat. I did, however, make a good go of it.

I don't know what they do to their veg in Morocco, but it is seriously supersized. Very much my jam.

After lunch, we decided to get some henna so that Marrakech stayed with us long after we'd left. My Mum's friend guided us to the Henna Art Cafe, run by the most lovely lady called Laura.

We were given a book with more designs than I could count, priced according to the size and detail, and told they could be adapted and placed wherever we wanted.

The menu - most was veggie or vegan

I adored my design. But the drying process involves putting your hand/arm/whatever in front of an electric heater, which is quite unpleasant (read: painful). And once it had dried, they spritzed on a lemon and sugar mixture which was meant to stick the henna to your hand so you could forget about it until you washed it off before bed... but I just found that the henna stuck to everything!

In the evening, we set out to Le Foundouk.

Now, hindsight is a wonderful thing. When I looked online before visiting, the restaurant came highly recommended, and according to Maps, was only a 19 minute walk from our riad.

However, as mentioned previously, Maps is useless in the Medina as you lose signal constantly.

In the end, I had to ask someone for directions. Even though I said 'No money' - as in, we didn't have money to pay him for directions - once we arrived at Le Foundouk ten minutes later (we never ever would have found it ourselves), he rinsed us of our spare change.

The restaurant itself, however, is lovely. I just wouldn't recommend it unless your riad is literally a hop, skip and a jump away.

The food was good - not the cheapest; everyone in there was a tourist and looked very well off - but nothing worth documenting in photos.

The dessert, however, was another story.

Apple tart...


And a decadent chocolate sponge...

Complete with oozing middle.

The walk back was, for want of a better word, a nightmare. The souk we walked through to get there had closed, and we ended up walking down some terrifyingly quiet streets, with no tourists in sight, and men calling out that the streets up ahead were closed, trying to point us in opposing directions. Again, we got conned out of money, although this time one man became two, and since we only had small notes left, when we gave them one they said "That's not enough."

Despite being a Londoner and possibly a little more accustomed to 'city life' than the rest of my family, this was the one and only time in Marrakech I felt genuinely scared for our safety. It was a walk that never seemed to end, and I was worried we'd put ourselves in a stupidly vulnerable situation.

 The view from the rooftop of our riad

My lasting impression of Marrakech is it's a wonderful place; vibrant, bustling, and full of beautiful spaces and secret corners waiting to be discovered and admired.

Saying that, it's also the first place I've felt unsafe whilst being on holiday. I was advised by more than one person to wear my rucksack on my front (yes, I felt as stupid as I looked). I was weary of having my camera and phone out. I didn't want to meet anyone's eye.

By day, Marrakech is desperate to be explored. By night, I'd stay as close to home as you can. Pick restaurants based on your riad, or vice versa. If the doorman offers to get you a taxi, don't insist that you'll find your own way (taxis can't go through the Medina, but they can take you around it). Have change as a last resort should you need to rely on people who know where they're going (and don't be surprised if they point you wrong). If you can avoid it, try not to say where you're from (as soon as you say you're from England, they know you have money) and don't admit it's your first time to Marrakech (they'll take advantage).

And if you need convincing, my Mum, who was most affected by the trip, has already booked to return later this year... so we'll be back!

Catch up on part 1 and part 2.

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