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Two things in Marrakech you absolutely cannot miss: the Medina and Yves Saint Laurent’s garden residence – Jardin Majorelle.
If you’ve been to North Africa before you may have noticed that each city has a “Medina”. Medina means “town” in Arabic, it is where town centre used to be and then was preserved as part of the attraction, in modern days people refer to Medina as the old town in that particular city. Medina in Marrakech nowadays is actually an outdoor market. Walked through the entrance you’ll find yourself in a gigantic square. Stroll amongst numerous booths with a foreign face, you find yourself buried in noises from owners who are trying to drag you to their booth and have food. It is overwhelming to say the least, but we were kind of expecting it coz this is part of the experience, consider it fun!
And not sure if it has something to do with my Asian appetite, I found Moroccan food cooked in a tagine really tasty. Most tagine are a mixture of slow cooked protein (chicken, pork or beef) and eggplants, carrots and egg. The way they are prepared are quite similar to traditional Cantonese dish and that could be why I favoured it.
When the night falls the square turned into a circus. There are people who play cobras where you would need to pay to get in a frame with them, locals playing drums and singing where you can appreciate for free or feel free to donate, it is the Moroccan version of Carnival.
To me Marrakech has another meaning attached to it – Yves Saint Laurent. As someone who is a fashion fanatic it is hard for me to ignore the fact that this city is where YSL spent as his second home to Paris. Those days in the gardens they are glorious and decadent. He created great fashion artwork here, and it is also behind these garden walls he surrendered himself to drugs and self-indulgence and the inevitable depression that follows a lot of artists in the world. There is a very good read about this legendary figure who witnessed the collapse of the prestigious couture world and created the first ready to wear luxurious womenswear collection – The Beautiful Fall by Alicia Drake.
Yves in Marrakech:
Vibrant blue, bright yellow, sharp white.
In some sense Yves is returning to his roots in Algeria. YSL spent his childhood and adolescence in French Algeria, his works are deeply influenced by the vibrance and harmony of those colours when he grew up. He fell in love with this garden at this first visit, the brainchild of French artist Jacques Majorelle, it was love at first sight by him and his partner Pierre Berge. They bought it over before it was sold to a hotel, brought life back to it. We can only be thankful for their decision, or there won’t be Jardin Majorelle today. Each year in June and December he spent 2 weeks in Marrakech as a getaway from Paris. This is the place he recharged and reflected.
In 2017 the Musee of Yves Saint Laurent was built next to the garden, displaying his works and drafts throughout his entire life, with collections designed by him. Such a shame it was built after my visit, well I guess that is another reason I can convince myself to re-visit this amazing city.
A few tips if you are a female solo traveller in Morocco:
Try to avoid Ramadan. It was Ramadan when I went and luckily I was with a tour group, so we didn’t need to worry about meals, food, etc. Otherwise it might be challenging during the day as no restaurant or café is open under broad day light! And no alcohol is served either.
- Cover your body with sleeve tops and long pants. You don’t have to wear long sleeves but short ones are ideal. Stay away from revealing singlets or tank tops, the locals understand you are just a tourist, but you will get lots of unwanted attention when strolling in the city, probably not the best thing you can hope for. Pick light and breathing material that even in hot summer time you will survive ok in Morocco.
- Put a pack of tissue in your everyday bag. There are a lot of public toilets that do not provide any sanitary paper towels or toilet papers, and they are not the cleaniest washrooms in the world. You will thank yourself for being ready in situations like this.
- Do not wear shiny Jewries if you can, again, unwanted attention that might freak you out if people keep staring at your wrist or neck.
- Buy combined tickets to the YSL garden and museum so you can skip the queue when entering the garden.
Next adventure is the Atlas Mountains