Our guests often ask us what is there to do in Marrakech, besides the obvious choices: visit Jemaa El Fna square, Saadian tombs, the souks or Bahia palace. Or perhaps you are on a private Morocco tour and you are short on ideas on what to do with your free time when in the 'Red City'.
If there is one place in Morocco where you are spoiled for choice, than that surely is Marrakech. A bustling city with a ground breaking scene for international restaurants, some of the best shopping this side of Mumbai, 10 centuries of history, palaces and gardens reminding those of Alhambra and, in the last few years, an exploding modern art scene. But you don't need us to tell you about Medersa Ben Yousef or Majorelle Gardens - you can find them on Trip Advisor or inside Fodor's. Below we have compiled three choices for the intrepid traveler. They strike a balance between simplicity and grandeur, between order and spontaneity.
DAY PASS AT LA MAMOUNIA- 5 to 8 hours
Did you just end a 4x4 Morocco tour and are looking for somewhere romantic to pamper yourself and shed off the sand of the Sahara? Or perhaps you just want to see what luxury stands for in Morocco. Sun Trails is proud to exclusively offer a day pass to the most iconic hotel in Morocco. Holders of the pass will be able to enjoy the stunning facilities of the hotel, whether that means taking a dip into the indoor or outdoor swimming pool, playing a game of tennis, working out in the fitness pavilion or simply fall in love again in one of Morocco’s most romantic gardens.
The pass also includes the difficult choice between a luxurious ‘Hammam Evasion’ steam bath and body scrub treatment or the signature ‘Massage Mamounia’, each comprising one hour of unadulterated relaxation. Inside the spa that was voted by Conde Nast Traveler’s readers to be 'the best spa in the world in 2011'. To conclude, the pass also includes a a la carte lunch at either ‘Le Francais par Jean Pierre Vigato’ or ‘L’Italien par Don Alfonso’, both Michelin- star restaurants.
If you are booking this as part of a private tour with us, our driver will make sure to drop you off in front of the main entrance in the morning and collect you in the afternoon at the desired time. Otherwise, you will have to make your own way to the hotel. Whichever the case, please make sure to wear formal attire ( no flip- flops, shorts or similar) - the entrance staff are quite strict regarding the etiquette. Once in, you are best headed for the reception where the most welcoming Guest Relations manager will confirm the details of your booking and show you the way to the Spa. There, one of the spa attendees will deliver you a bathrobe, swimming shorts and sandals and show you to the changing room before pointing you in the direction of the pool. That is if you do not want to first try your hand at a game of tennis or try the gym. You can also reverse the order of activities and first have a walk through the gardens, leaving the pool(s) for after lunch.
More likely than not, it’s a gorgeous day outside. If it isn’t, the outdoors pool is maintained at 28 degrees. Just in case. And the indoors heated pool looks like some scene on the set of 1001 nights, revisited circa 21st century, the multicolored marble walls so opulently swirled that they remind me of a French dessert. Or perhaps that’s just me, anticipating the lunch at the French restaurant... After a few strokes and lounging on the pool side deck chairs, it’s time for the spa treatment. Back at the spa, you will fall into the expert hands that will deliver you either the luxurious ‘Hammam Evasion’ steam bath and body scrub treatment or the signature ‘Massage Mamounia’, each transporting you a world away from where you are right now. Back to the changing room and into your clothes, you have the choice between the Italian and French restaurant, depending on the day and season. The ingredients are sourced from Mamounia’s own gardens and lunch is a la carte, that is, you are not restricted to a fixed menu. After lunch, you are invited to tour around what are most likely the most romantic gardens in Marrakech. If you shouldn’t feel like rounding off your tan by the pool.
Twice the size of Majorelle Gardens and with no tourist in site, the gardens of La Mamounia bring to mind the Alcazar in Seville. Once given as a wedding present by a vizir to his son Mamoun a few centuries ago, they were long used for nezha ( sort of local garden parties). There is hardly anywhere more romantic in Marrakech whilst the afternoon turns to dusk, here, among the hundreds of well- manicured olive, lemon and orange trees. These gardens have beguiled articulate travelers for almost a century now. They were walked by numerous celebrities from Winston Churchill who used to come here every year to paint, to the Stones or the Reagans. In here, even the nearby Jemaa El Fna and its permanent tumult seem to be in a different country altogether. Such a contrast between the two worlds. As the evening sets in, the square is bustling with acrobats, story tellers, witch doctors, musicians, food stalls, henna tattoo artists and the occasional charlatan. Before the night falls, you still have a few hours to do some last minute shopping or lose yourself into one of many palaces within the Medina.
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HOT AIR BALLOON FLIGHT - 6 hours ( 1 hour flight duration).
Probably the best way to romantically surprise your partner AND get some adrenaline rush while in Marrakech. More than all that, something unique worth doing here in Morocco, high above the red city having the breath- taking Atlas Mountains peaks in the background.
Today, our journey starts quite early as you are being collected by a 4x4 from your Riad/ hotel in Marrakech between 5H00 and 6H30. Once arrived at the flight area , the take-off point is chosen by dropping a helium- filled balloon to determine the direction of wind. Then, the equipment is unloaded: surprise! What is lighter than air proves to be quite heavy… Once the gas bottles and burners are set up inside the basket, we check to see if there is no gas escape – all looks fine. We now place the basket on the side and attach the envelope – at 35 meters high, one of the highest in the world.
Once the parachute panel is closed and the checks are made, inflation can begin. A powerful fan draws cold air inside the envelope. The pilot turns on the burners which heat up the air inside. Meanwhile the assistants help keeping the hot air balloon down. The more heat goes into the balloon the more it tries to lift up in the air . The last tests are being performed: the panel opening parachute, on board panels, radio tests , then passengers can come on board : the preparations are finished. The pilot continues to heat the balloon – it must reach a temperature close to 100 ° C at the top of the envelope. The hot air balloon is now swinging as if it had grown a personality of its own.
Finally, the order is given by the pilot: " RELEASE ALL ! " All aids release the cords at the same time. Everyone is holding their breath. The moment is magical as the journey begins. For those who remained on the ground, the show is fabulous. For those on board, it is both fascinating beauty and adrenaline. This delightful sensation of floating in the Moroccan sky, suspended inside a hot air balloon quickly replaces the initial surprise of the vertical takeoff. The tension that gripped the hearts before takeoff disappears. The hands are not gripping the edge of the basket anymore and one can’t help but say : " How incredible, we did not even feel the take-off…”. During the trip, many questions are asked while we rave about the beauty of Morocco below and this pleasant feeling of having left all our problems on the ground. Seen from here, everything becomes more beautiful and the everyday worries seem all but important. The red adobe villages below contrast with the lush green of the palm groves and other olive farms, while in the distance the Atlas Mountains show off their majestic peaks covered in snow.
During the first hot air balloon journey on December 1, 1783, the physicist Jacques Charles resumed quite well this feeling by saying : “It’s not just fun, it is pure joy”.
Soon enough it is time to think about the landing. The pilot chooses a flat area and starts the approach after having explained to the passengers what to do upon making contact with the ground. With a bit of luck, there is no wind and we have what we call a ‘kiss landing’. If the wind picks up, we may get dragged along a few meters. What better after the flight, then to enjoy a mint tea and talk about the sensations we just experienced? The 4x4 tour takes us to one of the small Berber villages we just flew over and discover the enticing Moroccan hospitality by having a mint tea with Moroccan pastries or freshly- baked bread dipped in olive oil.
Before being dropped back at our Riad, you are given each a diploma attesting your Marrakech hot air balloon flight.
The hot air balloon flight is available starting from 200 euros per person for a shared flight. Different options are available including the exclusive and private use of the balloon. For booking the journey please contact us at +212 638 636 719/ + 212 666 915 384 or email us here .
MOROCCAN COOKING CLASS - 5 hours (cooking time: 2 hours).
An experience recommended not only to those that are fond of cooking or exotic cuisine but also as one of the best introductions to Marrakech's historical center way of life. You will interact with the locals on one hand and get your bearings and learn to navigate old city’s streets on the other. The experience is personal as groups rarely exceed 10- 12 persons and everyone gets personal attention. Gemma, the Dutch organizer, has lived in Marrakech for 8 years, speaks Moroccan, English and French and is a well of information on such disparate topics as how to get rid of the djinns ( spirits) in your kitchen, the social importance of couscous or ecological agriculture in Morocco.
After meeting in the morning on Jemaa El Fna square, the participants are organized into groups, explained the menu of the day and given a shopping bag and shopping money. Before starting the actual cooking, you will spend a few hours being introduced to Moroccan cuisine by visiting the lamb ovens, the preserved vegetables area, the smmen shop, witness how bread is cooked in the local farnatchi, get familiar with a few spices and shop yourself for vegetables and fruits, among other things.
First stop, the underground oven where the mechoui ( lamb shoulder) is stewed- it appears up to 40 of them can be fitted inside the tiny stove (probably the best place to sample the mechoui in Marrakech is Al Fasia restaurant in Gueliz). Shortly after, we pass by the olives and preserved vegetables section, where we'll get the lemons and olives, ingredients used in almost any tagine. A few shops away, we get to see the different types of smmen (sort of local butter used mostly with preparing couscous but also preserving chicken). A few narrow alleys and turns later, the tour reaches the spice market and venture into a herbalist shop. A very patient young man explains the virtues, names and colors of most spices and herbs around the shop. No one can remember the names of all the spices but everyone can smell and even taste them. Ask for the difference between real and fake saffron – it is worth your time. Saffron is not grown in or around Marrakech but largely cultivated in Taliouine, in the south of Morocco. After getting our necessary of cumin, ginger, curcuma, paprika and cinnamon we are headed for the local fruit and vegetable market, so typical of the medina. Getting lost in translation and mostly making use of sign language, your mission now is to buy the ingredients: carrots, potatoes, tomatoes, beans, celery, cauliflower and alike, depending on the season. You are free to touch and smell – what you buy now is what you will cook and ultimately have over lunch.
Our journey takes us next to the local bread oven, where the bread loafs are patiently waiting their turn as the man in charge is placing them in the oven with his bread paddle. From time to time a vase of tangia is brought in to be placed next to the burning coal. This typical dish of Marrakech, is mostly eaten by students as it takes very little time to put together. Back in the streets of the souks again and a few derbs later, we are standing in front of the Riad’s main entrance.
Watch your head as you go through the doorstep, then through a passage way and out into the bright courtyard where all the necessary tools and boards are waiting. You will be assisted by the two expert dadas of the house, which even get around in English. Gemma will also be on hand throughout the cooking process to help with whatever you may need. Each team is given a station and a mission. Some will cook the starters, some the main course or the desert. Some can cook two or more dishes depending on their interest and skills. Starters may include zaalouk, bstilla or various Moroccan salads. The main course will most likely be a tagine. For the dessert, dough is turned into different shapes before being sprinkled with almonds and taken into the district oven, then baked into the most mouth watering Moroccan pastry. Water and wine accompany the lunch while everyone is happy to see how what they have just bought in the markets a few hours ago was turned into a delicious lunch. The mint tea is there to conclude the festivities. You will be done by latest 4 PM which still leaves you with still plenty of time to discover some of the other gems of Marrakech, shop or just roam around the souks. Now that you got a few bearings.
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The cookery lesson is available at 50 euros per person. For booking the cookery lesson please contact us at +212 638 636 719/ + 212 666 915 384 or email us here.