It's not the sights or sounds of Marrakech that I remember, but the smell. That warm, heavily perfumed, smell. It's an aroma that had followed me home after my last visit to the city; a wholly Moroccan scent that had settled over my house for months after. Unpacking my suitcase - bags filled with golden saffron falling out - it had smelt like rose oil and cumin, and had clung to my clothes and skin. It was a smell that I'd almost forgotten about - until last week, that is.
A Food Tour of Marrakech
Tariq now leading the way, our mini bus arrived and promptly whisked us into the heart of Marrakech: the Medina or 'old town'. The beating heart of the city, the Medina - also known as the 'red city' - often poses as Morocco's caricature: an irresistibly busy, perfumed, vibrant and overwhelming place. It's a place that had dazzled and enchanted me on my last visit, and an experience that I couldn't wait to share with our group.
Founded in 1062 by the Almoravids, Marrakech's history is as long as it is vibrant. Now a heritage site, the city's Medina is a labyrinth of serpentine lanes, ochre coloured walls and dappled light; hanging rugs and scarves filtering the sunshine. Filled with centuries old buildings and artifacts, including the city's original walls (or ramparts), the Badiâ Palace, the Ben Youssef Merdersa and Les Saâdians Tombs, Marrakech is an open air museum like no other.Yet, our introduction to the city would not come via its intricately mosaic mosques or pretty palaces, but by something else entirely: its food. Joined by a second guide, we began what we think is one of the best things to do in Marrakech: a food tour.
Leaving the bustle of the Medina behind, it felt as though somehow had turned down a dial - the noise of Marrakech suddenly falling away. Replacing the busy alleyways were instead large orchards of silvery olive trees and flashes of orange groves. Winding down the windows and letting the warm air blow in, we could hear the sound of bells as herds of goats and sheep passed by; their owners lagging behind them in wide-brimmed hats.Now 30km outside of Marrakech, we eventually turned down a dirt track near Douar Dchiera, eventually arriving in front of a lush, green archway. In front of it stood a beautiful, smiling woman: waving as we climbed out. It felt a little bit like arriving at the Gardens of Babylon - flowers and butterflies surrounding her.
Settling down in our complimentary aprons and hats, our morning began with a traditional Moroccan tea ceremony. Carefully explaining to us the many herbs and flowers that go into the 'Royal Blend' of mint tea, Ruqayya compared the Moroccan tea ceremony with British proceedings. "In England, you just boil a kettle, dunk a tea bag in and then you're done", Ruqayya said, visibly disturbed. "You drink it standing up and sometimes completely on your own". We nodded solemnly, feeling a bit guilty about our lack lustre approach to tea making.In Morocco, however, the tea ceremony demands patience, time and socialisation: a chance for the entire family to catch up whilst the kettle slowly boils over burning charcoals. Making the tea takes time, as traditional green tea leaves are blended with herbs such as spearmint, sage, wild geranium, wild thyme and lemon verbena.
Take a Souk Tour in Marrakech
Leaving the quiet of the countryside behind, we returned to Marrakech and the chaos of the Medina. As the afternoon sun shone overhead - our shadows growing longer - we were led around the hidden spots of the city's many souks on yet another tour.Leaving the 'new town' for the 'old town', visitors will immediately notice just how much cooler the Medina feels: up to ten degrees cooler, in fact. This isn't a coincidence. The Medina's winding streets are not just the result of haphazard planning, but are in fact deliberate. In causing the air to constantly bend and flow through these meandering alleyways, the air within the Medina has no choice but to keep moving; creating an ancient air conditioning system. It's surprisingly effective. Walking past ancient mosques and through small squares filled with trailing jasmine plants and sleeping cats, the souk tour was a brilliant insight into the history and diversity of Marrakech's crowning jewel - its old town.