souks : medina : marrakech : morocco

souks : medina : marrakech : morocco

We made a bit of an unexpected purchase when we visited Morocco and to be honest, we were on pins when we returned home. The purchase was being sent to us, as it wasn’t going to be easy to bring it back ourselves, and after the euphoria had worn off – it was something we’d been searching for, for ages – we did worry that we might have been scammed or that said delivery would not arrive. When we made the purchase, we also negotiated/haggled/asked very nicely for a chocolate brown leather pouffe to be thrown in too.

This particularly appealed once the very obvious storage solution had been pointed out. In Morocco (and probably elsewhere, where people are just more practical), these pieces of storage furniture aren’t artificially stuffed. They’re filled with blankets, clothes, newspapers etc – a brilliant way to store summer clothes in the winter and vice versa. It’s also deceptively large – it’s now packed full of clothes and very heavy so it makes a very solid piece of seating. And, the bonus is, I could also start to get rid of some bulky cupboards which only served to house clothes which hardly ever saw the light of day. A proper exercise in de-cluttering.

It’s beautifully well made and has that really aromatic smell of leather. We’ve now had it for over five years and it’s survived two house renovations, a long period in storage and being shifted from Didsbury to Istria. We still use it as storage – and it’s now coming up to that lovely time of year when we can think out about taking out the summer clothes and packing away the winter stuff. It also still doubles as a seat and now has a new home in our downstairs Snug.

We liked it so much that when our friend went to Morocco, we asked her to bring us another back – this one is much smaller and is one of the very traditional rounded, hand stitched leather pouffes that you see all over the Souks. They are really inexpensive and as they are purchased flat, are so easy to bring back. Ours is a gorgeous sunshine yellow, which just brightens the room up…

Although I currently can’t imagine being comfortable in a Souk – the whole point being that they are crammed with people and sellers, noisy, exciting, vibrant – everything we’re currently keeping ourselves away from, I’m sure one day, we’ll return. During they day, especially in Marrakech, they seem a lot calmer and easiest to get around. At night, they take on a completely different feel. They can be quite disorentating and it’s so easy to feel lost and bit overwhelmed. But, we’ve always found them to feel safe – I’m not sure if I’d be totally happy wandering around solo, in the same way that I probably woudn’t wandering around somewhere like Piazza Navona in Rome, on my own, at night, but with someone else, they don’t feel initimidating. And, with someone else, it means that there is always someone to rein me, purchase wise 😉 We’ve always been fairly limited in what we can bring back as we don’t tend to travel with hold luggage, but looking back, it would seem that airlines did exert a little bit more flexibility in terms of cabin luggage weight and size, as looking around our home, we have obviously managed to get a few Souk purchases home…

We were very taken by the Moroccan Rose Tea – both in taste and appearance and aroma – and so brought some back with us, especially when its properties were explained to us. Being caffeine free, it’s supposed to aid digestion and blood circulation, as well as nourishing the skin. I can’t say whether these claims did actually work, but it’s super pretty and smells gorgeous.

We also couldn’t resist a big Moroccan bowl – due to size restrictions, we couldn’t go for the full set, but on our next visit, I do hope that we can start to add to a collection and have the smaller plates and bowls to match this beauty. It currently hangs on the wall, but one day, I do see it as centre-piece on outside table, full of a vibrant summer salad.

The Souks of Marrakech and Essaouira

And yes, the purchase we mentioned initially, did arrive. Our beautiful handmade Berber rug…

 

 

riad mimouna : essaouira : morocco

riad mimouna : essaouira : morocco

This is riad is quite simply, stunning. Located right on the sea walls, and converted from a very grand 19th century residence, you just could not have a better place to stay in Essaouira. The entrance to the riad is breath-taking – hand carved thuya wooden ceilings, stained glass windows, mosaic tiled walls and floors, a central fountain, winding stone stairs, an open fireplace. Just jaw-dropping!

We stayed in January so the hotel was probably much quieter than in spring/summer months, and we were actually upgraded from the booking we made – and were thrilled to be allocated a suite on the third floor, which had real wow factor. It was huge, with the biggest bed we have ever slept in, an amazing bathroom – and then the highlight. Floor to ceiling (sound-proofed) windows which overlooked the Atlantic, and the waves crashing against the medina walls directly below. Everything in the room was spec’d to the highest standard – you could not find fault with anything. (Wi-fi is not available in the rooms, but is great in the entrance/reception, which is a huge space, full of comfortable sofas, so not having it in the room was not an issue).

The hotel is atmospherically lit – no top, overhead lights here, so the quality of the photos is a little bit grainy, as it didn’t feel right to be snapping away and using the flash.

A suite with a view. The crashing waves of the Atlantic...

A suite with a view. The crashing waves of the Atlantic…

Entrance to our suite...

Entrance to our suite…

Temporary office...

Temporary office…

Breakfast is served in the roof-top restaurant, which has views on all sides across Essaouira and the Atlantic coast. What a way to start the day, as the sun rises! It was very windy when we were there, and the glass windows were closed – which made it even better to watch the seagulls swooping & circling outside, knowing that they weren’t going to snatch your breakfast!

There’s also a sun terrace with loungers, and up a little flight of steps, the highest point of the riad, with a few more loungers – perfect. But, it’s the interiors which do steal the show. The whole riad has a sense of history – it is large and imposing and feels very, very grand. Many of the original features have been retained and where accessories have been added, they are totally in keeping and help to produce an overall feeling of quiet opulence.

We had six nights at Riad Mimouna, and spending a little extra than we would normally have done, was the best decision we could have made – our flights from the UK were booked in advance, so were very affordable & Essaouira is not an expensive place for eating out/shopping so we felt we could justify a little more luxury. And, we cannot recommend doing the same, highly enough. You will NOT regret it!

(A word of warning – don’t be alarmed by the route to the riad. Essaouira is an ancient town, full of narrow, dark, cobbled alleyways, and this is how you get to Mimouna. However, it is also a very safe town, and once we got our bearings, and realised that as long we were just aware, there is really nothing to be alarmed about. It’s all part of the magic of Essaouira).

We flew, return, to Marrakech from Manchester by Easyjet for just under £300 (for two of us). After staying two nights in Marrakech, we travelled by coach to Essaouira, with Supratours, a four hour journey west (plus a 30 min comfort stop). Riad Mimouna was booked online (via Booking.com) and for a seven night stay (we booked a superior room but were upgraded, at no additional cost, to a suite) we paid 763 euros. This was definitely one of the pricier riads in Essaouira – we checked out a number of others which were less expensive, but just as beautiful – and we return in Jan 2015, now that we know the quality of accommodation generally in the town, we’ll be looking into one of the others, simply so that we have a different experience. On our return to Marrakech, to fly home, we actually took a taxi – this worked out at approx £40, but the plus side of this, was door to door, in less than three hours.