Exploring Marrakech – Travel and Video Diary in Morocco

Our Stay at Savoy Le Grand Hotel

In April of this year we travelled to Morocco for four incredible days of photography, fun and exploring Marrakech. It was my first visit to Marrakech but from the moment my feet hit Moroccan soil I was immediately swept off them again by the intoxicating charm of this enchanting city. Having left a grey and cold day behind in England, we departed Gatwick airport on easyJet and arrived some four hours later to the much needed respite of blue skies and warm North African sunshine on our faces. We were welcomed at the airport by my old friend Yasmina and her newly-wed husband Darrin who had arrived ahead of us a few days before. After saying our hellos, we headed in a hire car to our hotel – the 5 star Savoy Le Grand Hotel which officially opened its doors in 2015 and is situated next door to Menara Mall.

We were greeted at the hotel by staff who took our luggage and guided us to the main reception desk. The lobby itself was impressive. A vast, light, air conditioned space with marble floors, grand pillars and comfortable contemporary furniture.  Beautiful Moroccan lamps hung from the ceiling and large vases of white lillies were displayed on glass topped tables throughout.

Once we were handed the keys to our room, we walked through the stunning hotel grounds, complete with large pool, palm trees, sunbeds, parasols and pool bar and headed to our room.

The room was much bigger than I had anticipated with wooden floorboards and modern dark wood furniture. The separate lounge area led into a large spacious bedroom with a large balcony,  walk-in wardrobe and a big en-suite bathroom.  Apart from lacking a small kitchen, it had all the hallmarks of a mini apartment!

Once we’d dropped our bags, we joined Yasmina and Darrin who were waiting for us by the pool and headed to a cafe somewhere in the city for lunch and of course to try out some traditional Moroccan mint tea.

Our plan to come to Marrakech was hatched some five months before in a restaurant in Covent Garden, London. Yasmina and I had worked together years ago but after she left the UK to work and live in the Bahamas and I left work to start a family and set up my photography business, our only means of keeping in touch had been via social media. However, now back in the UK and having recently married it was a good opportunity for us to reunite over a glass of wine…

As Yasmina is half Moroccan, she has spent much of life between the UK and Marrakech and so it made perfect sense that she would marry there. Despite having an amazing wedding, she was disappointed that she hadn’t had more time for photos of her and Darrin on their own.

It was then, that I suggested we go back to Marrakech and I would do a post wedding shoot for the two of them. Fast forward five months and here we were, sipping mint tea in the warm sunshine excitedly planning the locations we would use the following day.

After a filling lunch and drive around the city, Yasmina and Darrin left us to relax for the rest of the day.  We headed straight to the pool and relaxed for a few hours with a couple of mojitos from the bar whilst taking in the beautiful red sandstone walls of the hotel, so synonymous with the ‘red city’ of Marrakech.

Visiting Jemaa el Fna Market Square

After a few hours baking in late afternoon Moroccan sun, we got changed and headed for the famous Jemaa el Fna market square which is situated in the centre of the Medina (the old part of the city). The journey to the square was, in itself, an experience! We took one of the many old beige taxis that pulled up outside the hotel and headed into the throng of busy traffic that got heavier and more chaotic the further into the city we headed. Driving in Marrakech city centre is not for the fainthearted. On the upside, the pace of traffic is relatively slow, but the volume of cars and the seeming lack of rules, aside from beeping your horns and breaking hard as regularly as possible, had me reaching for the imaginary seat belt that was missing in the back of the cab!

Driving through the busy streets of the Medina, I was fascinated and slightly alarmed to see whole families aboard individual scooters! One such family consisted of a mother, father and two young children. The mother held her young baby confidently in her arms while a toddler snuggled onto the knee of his father peacefully sleeping with his head rested on the handle bars! I couldn’t decide whether I was horrified or impressed by this incredible show of confidence. I settled back into my seat and tried to relax into the madness and realised that for them, it was simply a way of life.

Once out of the taxi (in one piece!) we took the short stroll to Jemaa el Fna where we were immediately absorbed into the hustle and vibrance of the market square. The sound of African drums and pungi snake charmer flutes filled the air loudly as we approached.

The square was alive with activity while the heavenly scent of exotic spices and perfumes such as jasmine oil and orange blossom, along with the smell of charcoal fires and cooking meats from one of the many food stalls added to the hypnotic atmosphere.

When you’re a tourist in Jemaa el Fna, expect to be hassled a lot by the market traders the minute you step foot in the square. It probably didn’t help that I looked very much like a tourist, with a look of awe and wonderment plastered on my face from the moment I arrived…

So, before we had chance to arm ourselves mentally with the assertive ‘no thank you’s’ followed by confident strides in the opposite direction, we were engaged with the friendly smile of a snake charmer who with great warmth quickly ushered us over to his collection of rather formidable snakes.

I was reluctant at first as knew he likely wanted to be paid for his time but after uttering ‘no charge’ several times I was duped into wearing a snake like it was my latest fashion accessory (snakes are so this season don’t you know!) and no sooner had the camera finished clicking, the hands were inevitably out for payment and we walked away £20 lighter in the pocket despite him wanting double that!

Okay, maybe not the savviest of exchanges but on the plus side, we did get some amusing and fun images out of it and it was an experience (albeit an expensive one considering the few minutes we spent with the snakes) and I did make it out unscathed so that alone was worth the price of our freedom.

No sooner had we escaped one entertainer, we were descended upon by three traditionally dressed ‘performers’ who danced around me singing and clashing their symbols loudly, whilst trying to balance hats on my head and make me pose for photos. We obliged momentarily before gathering some confidence and politely but assertively walking away and heading to the relative sanctuary of the souks.  We were soon lost in a labyrinth of alleyways filled with everything from clothing to handbags, trinkets, ornaments, leather goods, footwear, gorgeous Moroccan lights, fresh produce and more.

We spent several hours perusing the many shops and did our best at bartering over a little brown leather handbag, which left the shop owner looking grumpy and me with the handbag, making us think we’d probably got a good deal…or maybe that was just his poker face. Either way, I got the bag and the smell of it’s leather every time I pick it up reminds me of Marrakech so I still feel like a winner!

Having exhausted ourselves hunting for trinkets, we made our way out and back to the hotel in preparation for the day of photography ahead…

Royal Mansour Hotel – Our Photoshoot Location

Before we headed to Marrakech, I wanted to find a suitable location where we could spend some time taking photos not only for the post-wedding shoot but also for my blog as well. After searching online I found the stunning Royal Mansour, a luxury 5 star hotel with beautiful riads, glorious grounds and the most beautiful spa I had ever seen. After some correspondence with the marketing team, the stage was set for a magnificent couple of days at this breathtaking resort.

Although our photoshoot with Yasmina and Darrin wasn’t until the afternoon, we arrived earlier in the day to make the most of the beautiful grounds of the hotel and used it as an opportunity to take some photos for the blog.  From the moment we drove down the private road to the hotel we knew we were in for something magical. We were greeted by a security guard wearing a smart black suit who helped us out of the taxi and opened the impressive imperial looking gates that revealed the private oasis beyond.

The traditionally dressed luggage porter helped me with my bag across the open courtyard and over the threshold into the most magnificent main reception building I have ever experienced.  Light flooded into the incredible open air lobby, that was just a visual feast for the eyes wherever you looked. From the intricate mosaic tiles, the beautifully carved woodwork, grand sweeping curtains and fabulous hanging lanterns, to the traditional Moroccan furniture and impressive central water feature, there was nothing short of perfection, wherever you turned.  We sat quietly in the tranquility as we waited to meet the hotel manager on duty, while enjoying the smell of jasmine in the air and the gentle chirp of love birds coming from the large traditional birdcage.

Having met the manger, we were then guided through the spectacular grounds filled with flowers, palm trees and red sandstone riads contrasted with giant pale green wooden doors to our very own private riad. Upon entering, we stepped into a small but beautifully formed courtyard entrance before entering the riad through smaller intricately carved wooden doors. Each room was, in itself, exquisitely decorated and filled with tasteful Moroccan furniture and the gentle scent of orange blossom. This was to be our home for the day and we felt every bit the VIP’s.

Having spent a few enjoyable hours taking photos for the blog, it was time for the guests of honour to arrive.  Yasmina looked incredible in her wedding gown and Darrin made a fitting beau to his beautiful maiden, along with Yasmina’s equally gorgeous sister who was also to be part of the shoot that day.

As there had been some delays in hair and makeup, we were running about an hour behind schedule. We had to work quickly to capture some stunning images of the couple as wanted to capture them at sunset in the breathtaking Atlas Mountains, so time was of the essence.

There were so many fabulous photographic opportunities around the grounds of the Royal Mansour that I almost didn’t know where to start, but the amazingly beautiful spa acted as the perfect ending.

Like something out of a fairytale, it created the perfect backdrop for me to capture Yasmina and Darrin’s final images at the resort before we headed out to the foothills of the Atlas Mountains. You can view the images from their wonderful post wedding shoot on my photography website here: Yasmina & Darrin

Royal Mansour Spa Day

After an amazing but fairly exhausting Friday spent photographing the post-wedding shoot, it was time for a much needed day of relaxation, so after breakfast at our hotel the Savoy Le Grand, we returned to the Royal Mansour for another day of photography for the blog and a fabulous à la carte lunch followed by a spa treatment for me.

The level of service at Royal Mansour is simply world class. From the moment you arrive you are treated like royalty. The staff are incredibly courteous and nothing is ever too much trouble. Throughout our whole two days with them, they were always extremely accommodating. High expectations obviously come with such a high class resort but I can honestly say they delivered on every level. Upon arrival, we were given the use of yet another beautiful riad for the day, which although we didn’t spend much time in, was the perfect base for me to change into my various outfits for the photoshoot.

After some time spent relaxing by the pool, we enjoyed a magnificent three course lunch that tasted divine. After the main course and when I thought I could eat no more, we were presented with a mouthwatering array of sweet treats to sample.  I managed to squeeze in a couple of bites and let me tell you, they tasted as good as they looked!

Following a brief interlude after lunch, it was time for me to experience a traditional Moroccan spa treatment – the hammam. I had never heard of a hammam, but recommended as their signature treatment at the spa I thought I would give it a try.

The bathing ritual combines heat, fragranced steam, warm water, ‘marocMaroc’ hammam products and a cold plunge pool to revitalise your body and soul.  The Moroccan purification ritual involves using a Kessa mitt and black soap scrub, to exfoliate the body while you lay on hot marble (on a towel).

I was led to a room and asked to change into a paper thong and bra top and then entered a warm and steamy marble room where I was asked to lay down on the bench. I was then ceremoniously washed with very warm water and scrubbed from my shoulders to my feet (the hammam is too harsh for the face and neck) with various further washes in between.

I was also left to relax in the room for a few minutes in between washing and scrubbing, such is the ritual and then once this part of the treatment was over, I was led to a cold plunge pool to awaken the senses – which it most certainly did!

I left the room with baby soft skin and as white as the day I was born… Note to self – do not have a hammam two days after a spray tan (fail), or indeed, one hour after a heavy three course lunch!  Aside from these two misdemeanors, the treatment was a great experience and I would definitely consider having it again. 

Eating out in Marrakech – Comptoir Darna

Before we arrived in Marrakech I had been recommended Comptoir Darna as a place to eat, so I got in touch and made a reservation with plenty of notice, considering its popularity. Considered one of the most legendary haunts for world travellers and Marrakech’s in-crowd alike, this stylish restaurant with a cool, cosmopolitan vibe, did not disappoint.

Situated in the affluent Hivernage area, the two-level art deco villa is renowned for being the place to see and be seen in. With it’s dark walls, low ambient lighting, soft furnishings and large sweeping staircase, you’re hooked from the moment you arrive. However, it’s not just the cuisine that people come for at Comptoir Darna.  The choice of either Moroccan or international dishes are amazing right down to the presentation (mine was served in a traditional Moroccan tagine), but it’s the entertainment that gives Comptoir Darna its legendary title.

When we arrived, we were led through the packed main restaurant by our hostess and up the staircase into the quieter upstairs dining and bar area.  Initially, I felt a pang of disappointment as downstairs seemed to have all the atmosphere, but as the area quickly filled with diners and people enjoying a drink at the bar, the upstairs started to buzz, along with the ambient tunes pumped out melodically over the speakers.

Skilled musicians lined the staircase throughout the evening but at 9.30 p.m. the place erupted with energy as the resident belly dancers made their way up the stairs and began gyrating and twirling around the tables much to the wonderment of the diners. The whole spectacle was an experience in itself and made for some great entertainment.

If you’re visiting Marrakech, Comptoir Darna really is worth putting on your list of places to go but book ahead to avoid disappointment. Dress code is smart. I wore a boho lace dress (seen below) by Zara on the night we visited.

Image credit: Comptoir Darna

Our Final Day in Marrakech

On our final day in Marrakech we headed out on a little adventure with Yasmina back to the foothills of the awe-inspiring Atlas Mountains.  Yasmina is a yoga instructor and wanted some dramatic photos, practicing her yoga poses. Our first stop was to a gorgeous oasis called Lac Lalla Takerkoust, just outside of Marrakech and home to watersports and activities company Jet Atlas. With a stunning infinity pool overlooking a lake and dramatic landscape, it was the perfect starting point to get some images of Yasmina and also a few for the blog.

If you are heading to Marrakech and fancy the short trip outside the city, then Jet Atlas is a fantastic day out. Providing a range of activities from jet skiing, hoverboarding, wake boarding, water skiing and just about every water sport imaginable, to quad biking and riding off road buggies, you are sure not to get bored! If I do return to Marrakech, I will definitely be going along for some fun.

Once we’d finished at the location, we headed further out towards the Atlas Mountains and stumbled across an amazing hotel that was in the process of being renovated. You can read more about this part of our adventure on another recent blog post and I will also be following up with a yoga post soon but for now here is a sneak peak of Yasmina rocking some impressive yoga poses that rival the beautiful backdrops we put her against!

Following our afternoon photographing Yasmina and taking yet more images for the blog(!), we had just enough time to head back to Jemaa el Fna to buy some presents for home before heading to the airport and returning home.  Our time in Marrakech was truly magical and I would definitely go back given the opportunity, only next time I would look to visit Jardin Majorelle (our schedule didn’t allow us this time) and I would also love to head out to the desert for a camel ride as well as getting to know the modern city a little more. The good news is that there is so much to do in Marrakech, no one trip would ever be the same!

For more information on Marrakech you can read my other travel blog post: 14 Facts You Should Know About Marrakech or view our video diary below!

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5 Comments

  1. Darrin des Vignes
    August 5, 2016 / 5:03 pm

    Amazing! I want to go again after reading this! X

    • admin
      August 19, 2016 / 3:44 pm

      We had an amazing time didn’t we! Let’s hope we can do it again one day 🙂 xx

  2. August 8, 2016 / 6:37 am

    Oh wow Sharron, such a lovely post. I’ve always wanted to go to Marrakech and your photos are awesome.
    Thanks for sharing. I just posted about the Waldorf Astoria in Dubai also lovely place to visit but this post of yours has truly inspired me for my next vacation.

    Have a fab day,
    xx Yvonne

    • admin
      August 19, 2016 / 3:43 pm

      Thanks Yvonne! Had a look at your post. It’s fabulous. Definitely putting Dubai on my bucket list! x

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