The souks (covered markets) of Marrakech form the teeming, bewildering sub-conscious of the city, a vast network of alleyways pierced periodically by shafts of sunlight. Each souk has a different specialty, be it rugs, leather goods, spices, metalwork or clothing. Haggling is compulsory; the first price the merchant mentions is usually a fanciful multiple of what they actually expect. French is handy but money talks and the traders know it often speaks English.
Sales gambits range from simple shouts to elaborate showcase routines served up with steaming tea. If you want to explore your luggage allowance you’ll find one of the largest assortments of carpets in the world, while more portable gift suggestions include filigreed tea glasses, distinctive pointed leather “slippers”, brass lanterns, serving platters, chess sets and baskets.
Marrakech’s foremost museum is housed in a 19th century palace which draws on earlier architectural glories for inspiration, all centered on an Andalusian-style courtyard. The current form of the museum is largely due to patron Omar Benjelloun, who did much to reanimate interest in Morocco’s cultural heritage.
Exhibits include ceramics, jewels, arms, costumes, calligraphy and a collection of Judaica, reflecting the diverse cultural history of the city. Also on display is a fascinating selection of etchings which show Morocco as it has been viewed by foreign artists over the centuries.
Works by contemporary Moroccan artists round out the permanent collection, while a program of temporary exhibitions makes use of the old hammam and other spaces of the palace.
Morocco’s bathhouses, or Hammams, are both an important cultural tradition and a right of passage for travelers to the country, and Marrakech’s hugely popular Bains de Marrakech (Marrakech Hammams) is one of the most famous, located at the gateway to the Medina. The luxury private spa was the first of its kind in the city, opening in 2001 and now even featuring its own range of cosmetics, sourced from natural Moroccan-sourced ingredients.
The creative mastermind behind the spa is Frenchman Kader Boufraine, whose vision was to marry western facilities and spa innovations with the steam rooms, plunge pools and cleansing scrubs found at a traditional bath house. The Bains de Marrakech’s modern flair has served it well, making it a popular choice for first-timers looking to experience the time-honored Moroccan hammam within lavish surroundings and without doing away with their modesty.