Explore the exotic beauty of Marrakech.
The pace of life in Marrakech with its crowded souks and congested narrow streets can be overwhelming at the best of times, making it all the more important for visitors to find accommodation that is quiet, relaxing and comfortable.
Myriad perfumes emanate from stalls selling everything from herbs and spices to tanned leather and fish.
Considered the jewel of Morocco and painted in an alluring salmon pink, Marrakech is often referred to as the Red City.
The so-called medina, the fortified old city packed with vendors and their stalls, has been an epicentre of culture and trade for centuries.
But perhaps what makes Marrakech so exotic is the confluence of Arabian, African and European influences in its narrow streets, among its inhabitants and in the styling of its ancient buildings.
It is evening. Tour guide Mustapha Benfaraji leads his group through the medina along the cobbled streets and lanes before finally arriving at a low wooden door which opens to reveal one of Marrakech’s many hidden secrets.
Visitors to Dar Cherifa, an artists’ meeting place and literary cafe, are welcomed like old friends.
Complimentary mint tea and biscuits are served as a matter of course and conversation is subdued.
The walls and pillars are bedecked with paintings by local artists while a private showing before the opening of an art exhibition is scheduled for later that night.
Although situated in the very heart of the bustling souks, Dar Cherifa is an oasis of calm and tranquility.
Built some time in the 16th century, it is the oldest residential townhouse still standing in the medina and one of the first riads, or traditional Moroccan homes, to be restored.
“In the 1990s, the buildings in our medina were run down. There was also virtually no sewage system in place either,” explains Abdellatif Ait Ben Abdallah, considered by many the saviour of the medina.
“There was what can be best described as a flight from the medina after Morocco gained independence in 1956. Nobody wanted to live in the riads anymore. The population moved to the new city.”
Abdallah has worked on the restoration of around 100 riads since teaming up with Belgian architect Quentin Wilbaux around two decades ago and is acutely aware of their cultural and historical importance.
Wilbaux took photographs of 6,000 houses as part of his masters thesis.
“There was no tourism in the medina at that time,” remembers Abdallah, who was considered crazy when he decided to convert a crumbling riad into a guesthouse.
Two decades on and there are now around 700 restored riads in the medina, offering visitors an incredible array of places to stay.
One negative side effect, however, is that this has caused a run on old houses and with it an explosion in property prices.