MARRAKECH AND SURROUNDINGS: A COLOURFUL EXPLOSION

Beatrice leads us to discover a more colourful, more fragrant and more authentic Marrakech. Let us be carried away by her words and the poetry of Morocco.

IMPRESSIONS: THE SEARCH FOR THE MOROCCAN FEELING

There is an idea that each of us has in mind and often in our hearts, when we think of the destination of a trip. It is an idea based on our own experiences, memories and images printed in our mind, a general understanding, usually learned in school or learned thanks to communication (today often social, yesterday face to face).

I always attributed to Morocco the definition of “gateway of intercultural dialogue between the West and the Arab Muslim world.” But I could not give it a true identity.

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I had my idea of ​​Morocco. It was made of colour. I knew I would but at the same time I hoped that I would find colour in Morocco, in all its forms and elegance. I was excited at the idea of diving into the jar of ochre, yellow, red, green and blue and also to get exit it coloured with happiness. Because where there is colour there is happiness and where there is happiness there is a desire to return. Today my feeling is this: I come home and I pass useful days trying to revive Morocco and to convey my fascination with this place to others.

Because the word “fascinating” best of all reflects the sentiment that the Moroccan land leaves imprinted in my heart. If you want to enjoy an implosion of colours, smells, sensations and magic you must visit Marrakech. It is a city as disorganized as it is strictly geometrically stable and valuable, with its wonderful world of markets and souks surrounded by vegetation, villages, riad and ornamental palaces. 

GUIDE: RIAD AND AROUND

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Marrakech is famous for its magnificent Riad, some are truly luxurious, others simpler, but all are magical. Magical because from the outside one cannot realize what lies behind the structures of these buildings constructed entirely of ochre sandstone but once you cross the threshold you discover poetry and refinement of an Andalusian flavour, it literally takes your breath away. Riad means garden, a space made up of three main elements: water, plants and air. They are nothing but old residences used for private use, refurbished and made public precisely to become today a hotel or Spa that have not abandoned the taste of traditional Moroccan architecture. Almost all the gardens are made up of a small central fountain resting on stone or marble, accompanied and decorated with flower petals of pink, orange and jasmine. Right in the middle of the house, helping to become intoxicated with light and beautiful reflections on the day, the sun’s rays filtering through the branches of trees. Equally important to their function during the warm summer evenings, where the living room is made even more pleasant by the cool wind that slips through the leaves of jasmine until arriving to intoxicate rooms and bedrooms overlooking a courtyard around perimeter. From the balconies of the rooms rediscover a mild and comfortable temperature and at any time of the year. Everything is quiet and the music light, it would seem almost coming from heaven, accompanied by moments of relaxation.

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I stayed in Riad Ayadina (http://www.riadayadinamarrakech.com/), located in Bouibat Layadi, n ° 35, a stylish and comfortable, but also typical place. The Riad is very comfortable for those who want to relax for a weekend of wellness and beauty. It has a wonderful underground Spa where professional masseuse lull guests with gentle massages, targeted specifically to your needs. Special attention should be paid to the magnificent terrace of this Riad, surrounded by pastel pots of cactus it is the perfect refreshment for breakfast. The warm temperatures of the early morning in April offer guests a perfect combination of taste and pleasure. Start your day bathed in sunshine, enjoying fresh orange juice and savouring the delicacy of bread baked with fennel seeds, which gave me the right energy and put me in the perfect mood to finally feel at ease and enthusiastic about Morocco.

UNUSUAL AND EFFECTIVE TRANSPORT

Given the fact that, if you have time and are not in a hurry, my advice is always to travel on foot (with your backpack). It is when you walk that you discover alleys, terraces and hidden magical shots that remain warmly in your memory. However I also want to emphasize the variety of means by which move in the city. Marrakech is a good meeting point of contact between the almost modern (I say almost because the cars are reminiscent of the eighties) and traditions of the past. To take a taxi across the city is very cheap. Taxis are typically old vintage Mercedes’ all in good condition. And then there is the charm of horse-drawn carriages. And ‘quite a tourist tour of the city with the coach, but to try the experience of being transported, negotiating brisk walking, for a ride in the alleys of the Medina where not all machines have free access. To cross the Medina on board these old fashioned modes of transport helps one to feel part of a different culture. “You have to get your trousers dirty with dust…” – my grandmother said, “… if you want to be gracious guest. Only then the smells and tactile sensations of a foreign perception become real. “If you want to get out of the city and immerse yourself in the Berber villages or to discover the picturesque valley of Asni Ouirgane you can rent a 4×4 and cross the mountains with breathtaking views and dizzying drops!

3_VALLE_ASNI_OUIRGANE_4_ROSE_GARDENThere are two ways to travel the valley and the one I preferred was surely the most uncomfortable, but I highly recommend it because the meetings are magical and are surrounded by a completely different nature from my expectations, it is intoxicating and curious. You knew that Africa could also be green? Green and even sometimes with snow. Along the dirt road that runs along the mountains of the valley, the view is one that reminds us of our Valtellina. Green trees and bushes growing unexpectedly from a bright red ground streaked ocher, mingle in the expanse until you get to get lost near the highest peak of Mount Toubkal – which with its 4,165 meters boasts the reputation of being the most impressive peak in this part of Africa

COOKING: COLOUR, TASTE AND REFINEMENT

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Moroccan cuisine is born from the fusion of different culinary traditions from which arrive very tasty, special and especially colourful dishes. All recipes come from the past, but with a modern twist. On the table are always provided basic elements like Arabic bread (always fresh and often seasoned with fennel seeds), fruits, vegetables, but also spices, herbs and olives. All is accompanied by traditional Moroccan green tea, whose preparation is considered an art. It is a very refreshing drink, often served warm and accompanied by fresh mint leaves. Served with or without sugar cane in a teapot with a curved beak in small, decorated, colourful glass cups, it is considered a key element of conviviality and hospitality for the Moroccan tradition towards its guests.

I tasted it and liked it. I’m not a big meat eater, but I could not miss the chance to try the dish of Marrakech: the tagine. The name indicates the container in which the food is cooked; it is a terracotta bowl covered by a sort of conical cap. Meat  (usually lamb) and vegetables, is often served and accompanied by sweet spices and perfumes. Powdered sugar, caramelized onions and raisins are touches of tradition that provide a particular aftertaste. Even the Cous Cous is one of the most common dishes in North Africa, prepared with durum wheat, is soaked in hot water and then seasoned with spices. It is always accompanied by vegetables, meat or fish.

The typical breakfast consists of Moroccan Arabic bread with sesame and fennel seeds, dried fruit (dates, figs, raisins, apricots) and fresh, homemade yogurt and a dish called Meloui. A kind of flat bread stuffed with strips of meat, very delicately cooked. It may be accompanied by honey or jam. I found it exciting to eat it with your hands because it is not greasy, not being dressed up with oil or butter. It ‘a good, energetic way to start your day.

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For lovers of vegetables there are the Moroccan salads, which are usually served as an appetizer. Made with many ingredients from light flavours and intense aromas such as orange blossom, they are often garnished with jasmine petals or primroses. And this is a curious element of the cuisine of Dar Moha (http://www.darmoha.ma/), a beautiful restaurant located in Rue Dar el Bacha 81, in an alley of the Medina, it welcomes it’s guests in a rich garden surrounded by plants and flowers, whose centre is decorated with a swimming pool inlaid with mosaics and colored stones.

Dar Moha is known as one of the finest restaurants of the old city centre. I savoured the magic kitchen of Chef Moha and met someone bright and sunny. As energetic as the dishes he prepares, all rigorously colored. The appetizers of Moha are as intoxicating as the smell of the earth and light as the leaves and flowers surrounding the pleasant stay in the Riad. I savoured a great chicken dish garnished with spices and olives, accompanied by a huge pan of cous cous and damped by the delicacy of vanilla ice cream served on a plate of fresh fruit cut into small pieces

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TIPS: EXPLOSION OF MARKETS AND THE MAJORELLE GARDENS 

When the sun is warm and temperatures mild, walking around the new city one cannot miss a visit to the magical Majorelle Garden ( http://www.jardinmajorelle.com/) .

In the chaos of the city it is probably considered the happy oasis where you can get a feeling of peace and relaxation before plunging into the lively Medina of Marrakech. Fruit of a love for plants of French collector Jacques Majorelle and later restored and opened to the public admirers by Yves Saint – Laurent and Pierre Bergé, the gardens are a show of cleanliness and precision . Enchanted by the landscapes and fabulous play of reflections, the visit is a walk of about an hour that runs along the Art Nouveau villa located in the middle of the park. Well- paved paths decorated with pastel-colored vases, give a poetic touch to the passage.

The result is like crossing a magical world, the cool shade of the leaves and pergolas covered in climbing ivy. Expanses of botanical plants like cactus, banana trees, palms, olive trees, cypress, lemon, laurels, jasmine and bougainvillea make this collection one of the most famous in the world by creating an area lush and perfect. A stretch of water, in the middle of the garden, decorated with water lilies, frogs and small turtles are the focus of the reflection on the world. The blue majorelle the villa is reflected in it, helping to create a wonderful marriage of heaven and earth and imposing itself as a painting, where the Islamic art and delicacy of nature live in perfect harmony.

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After so much peace and poetic atmosphere, the time is ideal for diving into the heart of Marrakech with a walk to the Medina. If you have the opportunity to choose leave the visit of the souk and the squares for the hours of the late afternoon. And in fact during sunset the city begins to transform. The colours are warmer, people are preparing for the arrival of the animated night and the culinary arts is the first step of large-scale preparations and initiatives to enliven the solar and charismatic personality of Moroccans and also those of the tourists. The core of businesses, of cultures and religions, the old city is the melting pot of North Africa.

The nice thing about the Medina is the possibility of getting lost. It ‘s like walking through a maze of streets animated and full of life, whose centre (the square Jamaâ El FNAM), is worth spending time in.

And it is here that begins the journey of the mind.

The atmosphere is that of a film, one seems to feel part of a film set, surrounded by the chaotic rumour of the square, at the same time seems to be muffled and ordered. It is as if my ears have the ability to understand sounds and noises, and my sense of smell is more acute, managing to separate scents into different types. Every corner of this afternoon is marked by something different. A seller of fresh mint, smiling while distributing his goods on his cart. Children running with their mothers, women with veils that casually choose their products to buy. Spices, leather, blacksmiths and marquetry. Snake charmers, musicians and so many looks. Millions of looks whizzing fast and slow, curious and sometimes careful, precise and lost, mingle with the crowd and are released between the carpets hung on the stalls and the silverware of the west side of the souks. The feeling is that of being surrounded. But no one is following you. The first impact is that of chaos. Apparently it all seems a confused and badly organised mess. Millions of words and languages mingle together to ​​make the air of sunset relaxed and curious, a real story to tell.

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The centre Rosa Huile (http://www.rosahuile.com/it/), is the palace of beauty. Four floors of natural products derived from the processing of argan oil, where tourists can try and buy. You are surrounded by the scent of jasmine and orange oils enriched and you can see with your eyes and feel with your hands the quality of the products. Impossible not to go. There are at the entrance four women who work with the argan kernals, obtaining pulp. I stopped to photograph the hands of these women who were smiling at each click of the camera and were uttering words difficult to understand in Arabic. I asked the guide what they were saying: “The earth is richer than any object made of man” – I think they were referring to my camera. I left them some money and I thanked them complimenting the consistency and accuracy of their work. I left the centre with hair that smelled of jasmine and my hands of Roses.

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It is instead in the heart of the souks that I rediscovered the pleasure of the market. A maze of narrow streets covered with wooden planks and bamboo to protect one from the hot summer temperatures, which filter the rays of the sun that results in a kind of rain of ethereal light, which reflects onto the sidewalks. The passage is striking, beautiful and picturesque. Evocative is the perfect word to sum up this place. Souk means “big mess”, but once you set foot in these markets that line the winding square of Jamaâ El FNAM, the first impact would seem exactly the opposite. There is a kind of chain, organized and well distributed throughout the territory adjacent to the large space of the town square. Leather, iron, wood, jewellery, food and gifts, all rigorously exposed to light and stacked as if never ending. Probably our Western eyes are not as attentive, but to understand the essence and the grand strategy of the souk one must pause for a moment to observe. The souks were places of verbal exchanges before they become commercial. Here one came to talk of economics, politics and history. One can sip mint tea and chew on dates and nuts of all kinds

Today there are more than forty thousand Moroccan craftsmen from the knowledge and tradition. The first thing one does is to observe. A careful observation of every detail around me makes me rich and satisfied. I leave the square walking backwards and notice a few more characters that transmit colour and energy. Everything around me has a story, a wonderful story, with the sensation of the perfumes that remain on your hair and clothes. A movie set ready for use when the lights are never off.

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An absolute must is to take a walk to Bahia Palace, a magnificent building of the seventeenth century located in the heart of the old city. Spread over an area of ​​about eight hectares, it consists of several rooms and houses all carefully decorated with mosaics, marble and wood. To the north of the palace is the Museum Dar Si Said, which has meticulously decorated ceilings and ancient wooden doors and is entirely devoted to Moroccan crafts. A ten-minute walk leads you to the Saadian Tombs. Mausoleum of the Sadiana dynasty of Marrakech. The tombs are covered with arabesques and Koranic inscriptions and almost entirely constructed in marble, which comes from of Carrara. There is a sort of aura of respect in the air, although visitors are numerous, all the guides speak in silence and you can imagine how these spaces are magical from a religious and ethical point of view. The space is made up of shadows and lights that cut geometrically, the sunlight creating spaces of open and closed spaces between the exterior and interior of the tombs.

MEETINGS: CHILDREN

It is difficult to photograph people. The Moroccans, like almost all Africans, consider their soul sacred. If you take a picture of them they believe you will steal the soul. Only children are less protective of their spirituality, or not yet fully realized. We travel in a 4×4 to the valley Asni Ouirgane and we stopped to get some water in a small kiosk next to the dirt road that follows the mountains and along the Berber villages.

There we see a wonderful little girl who evokes smiles and colour. She gives some curious look towards the lens of my camera and gives me a lollipop. She is called Rabiaa. I had to write down the name in my diary because it is hard to remember something so simple when the wonder of a meeting of looks is able to bring an ethereal tone the context in which you are. When I got back in the car she continued to salute us, sitting next to her mother, as if to wish us goodbye, but not farewell.

  The young mother of the girl was beautiful she had the colours in her eyes of her land, made of nature and an energy that she is fortunate enough to walk in. I wave goodbye and receive many smiles and I return to the road looking for more magic. We met other children along the way, they all run towards us, showering us with carefree smiles they ask us sometimes for water and sometimes for candy. They are fascinated by the camera and not intimidated by my enthusiasm.

PEOPLE_14 copiaPEOPLE_15 copia  The young mother of the girl was beautiful she had the colours in her eyes of her land, made of nature and an energy that she is fortunate enough to walk in. I wave goodbye and receive many smiles and I return to the road looking for more magic. We met other children along the way, they all run towards us, showering us with carefree smiles they ask us sometimes for water and sometimes for candy. They are fascinated by the camera and not intimidated by my enthusiasm.

IN MY SUITCASE: CAMERA AND SCARF

As always a camera and a scarf. A scarf, because every evening there is a light breeze. And a camera because in one way or another I have to be able to go home with a memory anchored to a picture, a picture which you can share and use to recommend a trip to the magical and colourful Marrakech. And because when you’re in a crowd everything seems unreal by taking a photo it enables you to capture an emotion, which is more fulfilling than a shopping tour in the crowded Jamaâ El Fna .

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MOROCCAN MUSIC

Have you ever listened to Moroccan music? I never had before this trip. It seems trivial, of course, but it’s true. My dad is a collector of ethnic and world music. Lover of music, he has always suggested it to be the best form of communication even better than words. I think he was right. I thought before going there that the music of Morocco was acutely boring and simply repetitive. However I have returned humming notes (Arabic) Andalusian, relaxing and evocative, as if something in my heart tripped and received the answer to my questions. Why all these musicians in the squares? Why music in every riad? Why musical entertainment during dinners in restaurants? Because music brings happiness. Why does one feel part of a tradition and somehow closer to different skin colours. Because you learn so much, sometimes everything, also from a song. One in particular that I cannot forget: Inas Inas (by Mohamed Rouicha) it makes you want to dance. And everything seems more beautiful. In Morocco it really is.

To Travel, to return and to tell. For sure your story gains more value when shared and appreciated. Because if nobody tells their stories we would not be able to re-evaluate stereotypes. And above all we would not be able to remember.

Beatrice Quadri for #thetravelover e IlTurista.info.

 

8 Comments

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