Visiting Marrakech with Kids
Admittedly, I have waited 13 years before going back to the ‘Ochre’ city of Marrakech. I was spellbound by its light, colors, sounds and magical atmosphere fifteen years ago and returned a year later, before becoming parents.
Although the city was filled with European babies and toddlers, I wanted to wait till my kids were old enough to remember this experience and most importantly to understand my health and safety instructions. During my second visit to Marrakech, I got food poisoned, luckily on my last night. Moreover, we got quite hassled in the Souks, despite the undercover tourist police, and that was enough for me to decide to postpone a trip to Morocco till the teenage years of my two daughters.
Before departing I drew up a list of things we should do and not do, eat and not eat, touch and not touch. Our Pharmacist recommended as well to start a cure of probiotics 7 days before leaving and for the whole duration of the trip. I left with my own pharmacy in the luggage to cover for any eventuality, including antibiotics.
I am pleased to announce that two hours after landing, we sat down at the fine dining French restaurant of our wonderful hotel and we broke every possible rule at the first bite. We dug into fresh cheeses, ice creams and organic vegetables from the garden, all of which were clearly marked on our ‘ do not do’ list.
We stayed at the elegant and moorish Relais & Chateaux Ksar Char-Bagh hotel located in the posh and quiet neighborhood of the Palmerais, 20 minutes drive from the main square of Jemaa El Fna. We usually book a villa from my own Passepartout Homes rental agency. This time, however, we booked this trip really at the eleventh hour and all of my villas and Riads were booked, being Half-Term for many European countries.
The hotel was booked through Mr and Mrs Smith, with which Passepartout Homes shares the same philosophy of hand-picked boutique and stylish luxury stays.
The hotel, built to resemble the Alhambra in Granada, is stunning and offers many unique corners for a photo opportunity. We booked into a room with private garden and heated plunge pool, the closest you can get to a private villa.
We all thoroughly enjoyed our stay in the friendly and welcoming hotel. It is not strictly a hotel for families. If you are looking for kids amenities such as playgrounds or kids clubs, you won’t find them here, however my daughters enjoyed the silence and peacefulness of the 13 bedroom hotel, their private little pool, the excellent food and the privacy and attentive service that the hotels offers to its guests, not to mention the best croissants one can possibly eat south of Paris. Honestly, croissants to die for.
My teenage daughter was also allowed to access the spa and enjoy treatments by the very capable therapists. It is very, very rare that kids are allowed into Spas but not at this hotel. Once you book a treatment, the spa is entirely reserved just for you, so while my husband and I were enjoying a traditional hammer ritual, my other daughter was being properly pampered. A real treat for all.
The restaurant of Ksar Char-Bagh is also worth mentioning. If you lodge elsewhere, it is worth checking if the restaurant allows you to book a table. It offers the best of French fine dining, the freshest of the ingredients locally sourced or hand-picked directly from the garden in a romantic, candle light atmosphere.
We ventured twice into Marrakech during our 5 nights stay.
There are two ticket offices, one by the entrance of the gardens and one right at the YSL Museum, a few meters down the road along rue Yves Saint Laurent. The ticket office at the YSL Museum has usually shorter queues. Queues are also much shorter after lunch and after 4.00pm; it is not advisable to arrive bright and early, like anyone else.
The new YSL Museum offers inside a fabulous café with a small outdoor courtyard. It serves an interesting list of freshly pressed juices and ice-creams, Apulian ‘burrata salads’ and the best ravioli south of Rome (I am Italian, so I know what I am talking about).
Just behind the museum on rue Hodhod you will find an art dealer selling carpets and paintings. Worth a quick visit if you are into contemporary art. They also have a much larger antiques store in the Medina. Right next door is a shop called Le Grand Bazar Majorelle, which sells ethnic ornaments, souvenirs, artisanal objects and garments.
Nothing could prepare the girls for a tour around Jemâa El Fna. Snakes, dancing monkeys, henna tattoo parlors and occasional merchants can be fascinating and intimidating at the same time. My teenage daughter found a trip to the Souks wildly stimulating: the crowds, the shops, the colors, the smells, the bargaining. A glimpse into the life of ordinary Moroccan people going about their daily chores.
It was too much however for my ten years old one who was intimated by passers-by wanted to ‘show’ us the way back to the square (possibly for a fee) or those getting too close for comfort whispering to follow them into their ‘amazing` shop; the donkeys and chickens roaming freely on the street, and those terrible teenagers on loud mopeds (honestly, scooters should be banned from the Souks). We learned quickly how to say ‘shukran ‘, or thank you, which seems to deter overly enthusiastic locals.
Thanks to the advice of one of my clients, Riad Camilia, we were directed to some very interesting shops, those with prices clearly exposed. No bargaining required!
Max and Jan is an interesting concept store located in bohemian chic garments inspired by resort wear from St Tropez or Ibiza, kaftans, ethnic jewellery, books, perfumes, accessories, home decor and more. Pricey but cool.
For Moroccan art, antiques, furniture, tapestry, carpets and ornaments head to Mustafa Blaoui. He is located in the Medina at 144, Arset Aouzal – Bab Doukkala. His products are shipped to Europe and beyond, this is an address to pencil in your little black book.
International acclaimed Belgian interior designer Valérie Barkowski, and owners of Riad Dar Kawa, has now opened a shop in the Medina. V.Barkowski store, Arset Aouzel, 170 in the Medina of Marrakech is located between Dar Bacha and Bab Doukkala, next to Mustapha Blaoui and in front of Henna Café. The store is open every day from 10 am until 1 pm and from 3 pm until 7pm. She sells sumptuous bedlinen, blankets and embroidered towels as well as a few accessories such as leather bags or bracelets.
It is worth spending a bit more to eat well. Marrakech, in my opinion, is not one of those places where you can just stop at the first brasserie you see. Research well your places to eat.
In the Medina, lunches can be enjoyed at Terrace des Epices where traditional Moroccan dishes as well as international ones are served. The building also is home to a traditionalMoroccan patisserie and even a barber shop.
If you need to stop for a drink or light lunch during your visit to the Souks, it is highly recommended to stop at Le Jardin Secret, whose names reveals it all: essentially a secret garden, an oasis of peace and quiet inside the bustling Medina. You will need to pay an entrance to visit the garden but inside you will find a bar and restaurant, ideal for a quick pit stop.
For dinner we booked two great restaurants, Al Fassia and La Maison Arabe, as we had already experienced Le Comptoir and Dar Moha on our previous visits. There are so many great places to eat in Marrakech and a week stay is not enough to try them all.
Al Fassia, a restaurant solely run by women, offers traditional Moroccan dishes. Although it came highly recommended we were slightly disappointed by the experience. The place was too touristy for our own taste although the food was definitely delicious .
We were impressed however by La Maison Arabe, where you can enjoy a romanic candle light dinner accompanied by soft live Arab-Andalusian music in the patio, where tables are placed around a small swimming pool. The restaurant has been a culinary destination since the 1940s and has attracted the likes of Sir Churchill and Jackie O. It is located inside the eponymous hotel although the entrance is through a narrow and dark alleyway which at first can be intimidating. The menu offers traditional Mortoccan dishes as well as an interesting list of international dishes influenced by Asia and the Mediterranean. Excellent and attentive service compensates for the fact that this fine address, as well, risks of becoming too touristy. Perhaps guests should leave their snickers and backpacks in the hotel room and dress up for the occasion?
After dinner you could continue into the Jazz Bar for a step back in time inside this historic hotel.
Before dinner, try and go to the ultra-chic and obscenely expensive Royal Mansour our for afternoon-tea or aperitif. The hotel was anecdotally built by the King after he was disappointed with the renovation works of his other world famous hotel, La Mamounia. Become to American for his taste, he decided to built another hotel nearby. Royal Mansour is well worth a visit for a glimpse into contemporary Moroccan architecture and superlative service.
Other places your kids will enjoy are the Bahia Palace, the Koutoubia Mosque – the largest Mosque in the city – and the Ben Youssef Medusa – once the largest islamic school in the country. Once 900 students in the 132 dorms arranged around the courtyard studied religious and legal texts here. Here kids can learn about moresque architecture as well as how tiny the bedrooms of the scholars were!
You can definitely tell the city is accustomed to welcome over 8 million tourists a year and as an ex French colony, there is a certain progressive European flair in the air.
We all immensely enjoyed our trip to Marrakech, one of the best and most relaxing family trips we have had. No one got ill, sick or sun burnt. My portable pharmacy returned back home unscathed.
We know we are going back for more.