Couscous, colour and Jewish culture in Marrakech!
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Couscous, colour and Jewish culture in Marrakech!

Jodie Goldfinger travelled to Morocco for her birthday to sample its bustling markets and amazing history!

It’s lovely to mark a significant birthday with a celebration in a new place and I chose Marrakech for my 30th. 

Magical whirlwind is the best way to describe a trip which was earmarked with depths of vivid colour and the chaos of the medina market, behind which stands the beautiful hideaway gem: La Sultana, Marrakech, our home for the duration.

Gold doors tend to suggest luxury and that’s exactly what you get at this ultra-luxe hotel, which has 28 bedrooms and suites in a riad (traditional Moroccan house) setting with all windows overlooking the courtyard.

Each room is uniquely designed in the traditional Moroccan style, with sculpted painted ceilings that mirror the overall look of the hotel and has a  four-poster king–side beds, lounging areas and enormous bathrooms with tub and shower.

I must make mention of the room service provided by staff who pay real attention to detail, and this was the case wherever I went in La Sultana, as making guests feel welcome and comfortable is a priority. This started from the moment we arrived and were served delicious Moroccan mint tea and sweet pastries at the Odette Rooftop Bar of the hotel. The spacious outdoor terrace overlooks the busy streets of the medina, which is exactly what visitors want – a prime spot to watch the action. You can sit there all day if you like, and at night the bar is open for cocktails and mezze plates.

Jodie in the souk in Marrakech!

The delicious breakfast is served over looking the heated pool and its a buffet selection reminiscent of an Israeli food fest to start the day with fresh fruit, home-made jams, warm baked bread, pastries and eggs cooked as you like. Once again, the staff were accommodating and happy to incorporate any dietary requests.

We enjoyed relaxing in the Sultana well-being spa, which has a Jacuzzi, sauna and the famed hammam, aka Moroccan bathhouse. We were keen to experience the hammam, as it’s a unique Moroccan cultural ritual, but after our bodies were soaped and scrubbed with the same vigour as  a car wash, I’m not sure it’s the kind of  exfoliation I’d  repeat in a hurry.

Beyond La Sultana, one can wander the streets of Marrakech and this is a photographer’s dream. Jemaa el-Fna Square is walking distance and, as you’d expect, Moroccan fare is on sale in all directions. From elaborate couscous terrines to spices and slippers, the aromas and colours of the different stalls in the market are exquisite and a feast for the senses.

La Sultana Marrakech

Luckily, my husband speaks French, which comes in handy with the haggling and bargaining over every item in the souk.

French and Arabic are the two main languages, but debating the cost of a rug sounds so much more appealing in the former.

Crossing the road in Marrakech is interesting, as motorbikes packed with three or more people and children perched on shoulders and handles navigate around you while you attempt to traverse.

Spa!

Just don’t expect any cars or donkeys to stop for you and you’ll be fine.

One of the birthday highlights was watching the sunset over the square with tea in hand at Café de France, one of the many rooftop cafés in a city alive with street spectacles that include snake charmers, musicians and colourfully-dressed citizens going about their daily lives.

Marrakech at dusk

Le Jardin Majorelle, also known as the Yves Saint Laurent garden after the fashion designer purchased it in 1980, offers a calming escape from the hustle and bustle of the market and the vivid blue Cubist villa within it houses the Islamic Art Museum, the Berber Museum and the Yves Saint Laurent Museum, which opened in 2017.

Slat El-Azama Synagogue

Morocco also has a vast Jewish heritage and we visited the Slat El-Azama Synagogue in the mellah, or Jewish quarter. The synagogue has many photographs and artifacts that reflect Jewish Moroccan life from the 19th and 20th centuries and the quarter itself borders the largest Moroccan Jewish cemetery. It was lovely to meet the watchman who has been taking care of the Jewish cemetery for more than 30 years and could tell us about Jewish life in Morocco today.

For kosher Israeli/ Moroccan style cuisine, Dar Ima has a dish for everyone. The delicious couscous with vegetables, pastilla and tender beef tangine with prunes left us wanting more so we returned for dinner the next evening!  A warm atmosphere and welcoming staff makes this charming restaurant a perfect night out in Marrakech.

Too many mint teas, a suitcase packed with souvenirs and the colours of the medina committed to memory was a perfect way to reach my milestone birthday.

 

 

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