Marrakech – a victim of its own success

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A long weekend trip to Marrakech – a place I’ve always wanted to visit with its promise of souks, friendly people and culture in abundance.

The highlights of our trip included our riad – riad al badia, an absolute gem of a place near the Jewish quarter in the southern medina.

A hot air balloon ride at dawn with Marrakech by Air was breathtaking and a great experience.

I really enjoyed the architecture of the Saadian tombs

And of course a good tagine – harder to find than you may think, but Le Tanjia restaurant in the southern medina claimed the prize by my taste buds.

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I was less enthusiastic about the souks themselves having seen more authentic, less touristy and less aggressive shop keepers in Syria (obviously before the atrocities and bombing started). The number of tourists in the souks and main squares was an eye-opener for me having visited other parts of Morocco and the Middle East where usually foreigners are viewed with intrigue. In Marrakech, you are just another tourist.

There was some fantastic food to be had but a lot of places were sadly disappointing with little meat or lacking in flavour. Tourists would flock to the night food markets in the main square, we were less than impressed. We found that if you wanted good tasting food, you had to pay for it which is not always the case in some countries where the best food can be found in the street stalls.

Another cultural annoyance was the overarching atmosphere of trying to earn a quick buck of the foreigner. Ask for directions or take a photo and you are in trouble – an offered hand is thrust in front of you and you are made to feel like a selfish, overprivileged toff. You end up preferring to get lost and avoid interacting with the locals for fear of having to pay for the interaction. Compare this with Jordan, a country with an established tourist scene where locals are friendly and go out of their way to make you feel at home. Accepting money there is seen as an insult.

Overall though, despite not a 100% living up to our expectations, it was worth a visit to escape a cold December in London for the smells, colours, noises and warmth of the North African sun.

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