Marrakech: Moroccan magic snaked up in Club Med
John Masterson swamps the Marrakech Express for a new Ryanair flight into one of Morocco's most exotic and enchanting cities.
Want to go to Marrakech?
My head tripped back in the sixties with Crosby, Stills and Nash "travelling the train through clear Moroccan skies..... on the Marrakech express."
Except that now it is the Ryanair express. Less romantic, but it does leave Dublin twice weekly and deposit you in the city with the magical square in the time it would have taken to roll a few joints back in the CS & N (even before Young) days. The song began "Looking at the world through the sunset in your eyes....." The very word, Marrakech, fills me with warm feelings.
I had been in Marrakech once before, when staying in Agadir. It was all too brief. A long day on the bus had allowed just two hours to explore. I needed to go back. So last December I headed for a short Club Med break in this most exotic of North African cities. There is no better direction to fly from Dublin and in three hours land in a very different world.
The landmark in Marrakech is Djemma-al-Fnaa, the giant central square where all human life is to be found. It is surrounded by bars and restaurants with people eating and drinking on balconies taking in the sights. And adjoins the souk where hours of bargain hunting and haggling will disappear in a flash.
It is a place full of entertainment, noise, bikes, donkeys and whole families on one motorbike. You can ride on a horse drawn carriage, have your picture taken with a monkey or try a three card trick. During the film festival this is the venue for outdoor screenings.
For me it was an opportunity to renew my love hate relationship with snakes. I am quite happy to handle reptiles so long as I am with someone who knows what they are doing. I suspect these locals are custodians of the safest cobras on planet earth. But they look very impressive.
I wasn't offered drugs on the square but many people are. Truthfully I was a bit put out. The simple rule is say 'NO'. One, you do not know what you are buying. It is known locally as Kif, not named after the Rolling Stones guitarist or vice versa. And two, Morocco is a beautiful place to visit but not for ten years in confined quarters.
Book the best value packages to Marrakech on Independent Travel here.
The souks are winding and wonderful. Foodies can stock up on their spices. There are argan oils everywhere, soaps, lotions, and potions for everything. You can clothe yourself in Arabic splendour without breaking the bank.
Unlike at one of the suburban tourist shops where I picked out a beautiful white exotically tailored shirt for thirty euro. This would impress them back home. I handed over my card. Something didn't look quite right and I suddenly twigged that I had almost parted with three hundred. I explained to the bemused shopkeeper that I was not Charlie Haughey!
You can buy youself fake shades, fake watches, fake Beats or you may prefer the wonderful displays of silver, wooden boxes, local pottery and metal work. And carpets of course. I looked at leather jackets and Tom Waits entered my head ... "I hope that I don't fall in love with you." And we all know how that song ends. It was a steal!
Morocco... now available with Ryanair.
Moroccans like to sell, but did not seem to me to be over pushy. It is a bit of a game and they want to make a living. Some do not want to have their photo taken. Always ask. And then pay. Traditional dress is common and many women had their faces covered.
For people like me who would be very averse to ever being caught wearing slippers Marrakech provides the perfect solution. Those slip-into sandals are great around the house and you can even answer the door without feeling geriatric. They make a good present if you know some-one fighting off middle age.
Marrakech is very walkable and one of the hidden gems is the Jardin Majorelle which was originally built by a French painter and plant collector, Jacques Majorelle, who acquired the land in 1924 and after twenty years of work opened the gardens to the public.
The striking blue throughout the site is today known world wide as Majorelle blue. I loved the beautiful walks between small ponds. It is famous today for its association with Yves Saint-Laurent who lived in Marrakech and, who, with Pierre Bergé (YSL's business partner, sometime lover, and husband for the end of his life), acquired and restored this magnificent twelve acre garden. There is a memorial to YSL in the garden and when he died in 2008, his ashes were scattered here.
Luxury in Marrakech
I stayed at the Club Med Palmeraie where we were greeted by a smiling man in flowing white traditional dress. It is about fifteen minutes by bus from the square.
Club Med is happy land and there is not a lot wrong with that. I soon realised I had been Club Medified. This thought occurred to me as I considered line dancing. Sober. On this occasion sanity prevailed. On my second night apparently I went to a night club. This is most unlike me and I doubt if it is true. I have too much sense to listen to loud music and drink sticky green drinks.
We were asked our name and presented with a badge in Arabic. Mine was apparently spelt 'June' which our guide was delighted to tell me means something like 'cutie pie' in Persian. Next morning there was a green stain on my T shirt. And a Solpo was missing.
There is a lot about the Club Med concept to like. Foremost is that you pay your money and that is the end of cash. Money does not change hands unless you are in one of the on-site shops or want to hit the special wine list. All meals, drinks, activities, coffees by the pool are included. Mid morning I asked for an Americano and was brought the liquor rather than the coffee. I coped.
Club Med Marrakech La Palmeraie covers twenty seven hectares set in palm trees. Staff smile, say hello, and many remember your name. They are not intrusive. My room was simple and comfortable with a double door out to a garden. My towels were presented as swans and hearts among scattered rose petals. That even melted my stony heart.
I had a look around one of the '5 Trident' suites and I could feel very comfortable there. Out on the roof was a huge sunbed and shower where you could be safely in flagrante unless someone sent up an eagle with a head cam.
I began each day with coffee and my personally made omelette. For lunch and dinner I walked along the paths lined with hibiscus and bouganvilla to tables heaving with food. I am not that keen on buffets as you have to stand up and get your own food. But the food is very good. You stand up a second time to sample the things you missed first time around. People have been spotted going up a third time! Sometimes other guests join you at the table. I caused consternation when a woman asked to join us and I ordered a bottle of wine from her!
Thankfully there is plenty of opportunity to burn off the calories in Palmeraie. I enjoyed a set of table tennis with our very fit guide, Komeil. My old boarding school days stood me in good stead as I put him to the sword 21 - 17. He may have been required to let me win but he was convincing. I appreciated that.
There is a pleasant Par 3 golf course among citrus trees. I hit a few buckets of balls on the driving range. And was delighted to find the Zen heated pool where you could chill and contemplate the NO CHILDREN sign. Incidentally, there are excellent care and entertainment facilities for children on site. I saw people try out the archery and sweaty people playing basketball.
Making the most of Marrakech
For the adventurous there is the trapese where over a few days, people learned to fly through the air with the greatest of ease and be caught mid air by a professional. The scream of delight from one guy who finally mastered it will stay with me a long time. There is, of course, a spa.
Club Med celebrated forty five years in business some years back. But the '45' has stuck. You see it on everything from towels to track suits. Our final night was declared to be '45' night so I had a good excuse to spend some money in the gift shop before paying a visit to the nightly show with acrobats, Berber Riverdancers and a belly dancer that kept her distance.
Club Med Marrakech - just like the leather jacket - "I think that I just fell in love with you." Thank you Mr Waits.
Marrakech is very accessible with Ryanair flights out and back twice weekly so you can stay for a week or three days. Ryanair fly Sundays and Wednesday or Thursday depending on the time of year. Sunway have arranged packages to tie in with this so you can stay a week or a short three day break. For a week, all inclusive, with flights from Dublin and staying in Marrakech La Palmeraie from 31st May. The adult rate is €1159 pp and children under 12 years are €799 pp. For a mini 3-night break from 28th May for 3 nights. The adult rate is € 799 pp and children under 12yrs are €449 pp. All prices include flights from Dublin. All inclusive includes activities, meals, wine, beer, cocktails, entertainment and infinite soft drinks.
See www.sunway.ie or email firstname.lastname@example.org Tel 01 2366800.
I have a niece who made me a poster that reads "Champion Snake Handler" in memory of previous bravery. I WhatsApped her this photo. I did not send her the panic stricken one. My photographing friend was going in for a close up and nearly stood on a fat slob of a puff adder. Bad idea. Then the haggle as the handlers demanded about €30. It is not easy to argue with a man holding a cobra but I got him down to ten for the photo opp.
Every year from 1970 to 2000 Yves Saint-Laurent painted a poster on the theme of Love which he sent to friends and clients as New Year cards. Reproductions of these are all on display in a little room at the end of the site and it's a great place to sit and think loving thoughts. They are available as postcards. The garden also houses an Islamic Art Museum where much of YSL's personal collection of textiles is housed.
The Moroccan Dirham is not far from 10 cent. So if you divide the price in Dinar by 10 you won't be too far out in Euro. I kept €5 and €10 and US dollars handy and they were good to bargain with. The ideal outcome seems to be the buyer feels they got a bargain while the seller knows the buyer was fleeced! Shop around. My sandals that I cannot bring myself to call slippers were about €5 in the souk and €15 at the airport.
Book the best value packages to Morocco at travel.independent.ie.
Sunday Indo Living