Marrakesh Travel Guide
The pearl of the south: that is Marrakech, the number one destination for tourists who come by the millions to enjoy the weather and experience Morocco. Some 6.5 millions tourists visited Morocco in 2007, a nearly 50 percent increase since 2002. The magic of Marrakech starts in the landscape, which is dotted with red houses and palm trees. Wandering the city’s narrow pathways is like taking a trip in a time machine.
The city’s biggest attractions are the riads, Morocco's mansions. They were built to house wealthy local families, and many riads have been restored and equipped with modern conveniences to suit tourists. Riads are often booked six months in advance and mainly by European tourists, though recent statistics show a significant increase in the number of visitors from North America. There are nearly 500 riads to choose fromin Marrakech: Riad Kniza is run by a friendly Moroccan family and costs from $300 to $470 a night. With its 17 rooms, La Maison Arabe is larger than most and stunningly decorated; prices range from $230 to $720.
The magic of Marrakesh doesn't stop at the accommodations; the local food is simply out of this world. Couscous is a classic dish that combines exotic spices, several kinds of vegetables and lamb, beef or chicken to create a masterpiece. Even when the combinations are strange, the result is usually to die for.
On a traditional plate, the couscous is arranged like a volcano with a pit in the middle: the meat goes in first, then the vegetables, and last but not least, the mighty and incredible sauce. There are no precooked or frozen ingredients here, and no microwaves to cook it in – the whole process is as old as the dish itself.
The second famous dish that is native of Marrakech is tanjia. The recipe does not include couscous as a bedding. It is a two-gallon clay jar filled with the meat of choice (most of the time, lamb), plus vegetables and occasionally a combination of nuts and spices. The seasonings are kept secret, because every family in Marrakech prides itself of making the most delicious tanjia in town. (You could sort of compare it to pizza in New York, where everyone swears the best pizza is made in their neighborhood). Marrakech offers upscale French and Italian dinning as well, in addition to fine wines and spirits for those who like to enjoy the present in the retro atmosphere of the mystic city.
Marrakech has a city within it, Djemaa el Fna, a huge plaza in the heart of the city. Protected by the UNESCO as a historical site, it offers street performers like Gnawa: athletic performers that dance to the rhythm of a tribal African beat. Complete with percussion, Gnawa dancing takes on the form of a religious ritual. For those of you fans of Led Zeppelin and familiar with Jimmy Page and Robert Plant, the CD No Quarters features songs performed by the rockers in duets with Gnawa musicians and recorded live in Djemaa el Fna.
Marrakech has push carts, snack stands, very casual dining that costs almost nothing but is amazingly delicious, snake charmers, glass eaters, boiling-water drinkers, fortune tellers... and the list goes on. Also, the location of Morocco itself is very convenient: flights are daily from all major cities in Europe and Royal Air Maroc flies twice a week nonstop from JFK to Casablanca. The staff of riads can also arrange a car and a driver for their clients.
Finally, safety is why Morocco is a favored destination in North Africa. Crimes committed against tourists are severely punished by the Moroccan law. The government respects the right of every citizen to worship and practice Islam but fights extremists and has been successful in doing so, keeping the country safe and stable for the locals and the foreigners.
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