Marrakech, Morocco | An afternoon at the Quran school of Ben Youssef

Exploring one of the oldest Quran schools in the world

We had spent our morning at the Saadian tombs and the Bahiaa palace and planned to visit the Medrasa Ben Youssef later that day. However, first it was time for a relaxing lunch. We had found a beautiful roof top restaurant, A Dejeuner, where we got a table in the sun. The food was Moroccan with a modern twist, the portions on the small side but delicious. Even better, as we could squeeze in a yummy dessert and Jerome’s favourite, a mint tea. The sun was pleasantly warm and kept us there for longer than we had intended. Back downstairs we found ourselves in the buzz of the souks. By now we had grown wary of all the goods for sale and just headed straight through the stalls, ignoring any attempts of the vendors to sell us anything.

We headed straight past Jemaa El-Fna towards the Medrasa Ben Youseff. We had to go back deep into the northern part of souk, which we had explored on our first morning in Marrakech. We did not see any signposts for the Medrasa and were glad to have stored the map of the souk on google maps. In case you have trouble finding it, ask the stallholders for directions.

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travel with children kids morocco marrakech souk meat

We passed restaurant Nomad, a trendy café and restaurant with a beautiful roof terrace, and a square out front with an open air market that sold mainly straw baskets and tarboosh (Moroccan hats).

travel with children kids morocco marrakech souk baskets

travel with children kids morocco marrakech souk baskets

We headed north from here, past the Musee de Marrakesh until we finally reached the entrance to the old Quran School, Ben Youssef. The school’s history dates back to the 14th century when it was founded by the Merenids, under the head of Ali Ben Youssef. The Medrasa building we visited that day was not built but Ali Ben Youssef but over a hundred years later by one of his successors. It used to house around 900 students, who lived in the 132 dorm cells throughout the building. It was once the largest Quran School in North Africa and still remains among the most splendid. We entered the school through a narrow hallway into the amazing courtyard, the main feature of the building. At the centre of the courtyard we could see a large empty pool, it is filled with water at times and must make the courtyard even more spectacular, especially on a sunny day. The surrounding walls and arcades are covered in the five-colour zellij (Moroccan tiles) for up to a meter on the walls, with ornate stucco archways above. The most impressive features of the building are the walls above, covered in intricate stucco and carved cedar wood. Above every arch we noticed windows with people looking into the courtyard from above.

travel with kids children marrakech morocco medusa ben youssef

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Jerome was desperate to go and find the stairs to the first floor, to look out of one of the windows himself. I stayed downstairs admiring the details of the stucco and wood as he went off to explore the maze of rooms. At the far end, opposite the entrance to the courtyard I found a tiny room, entirely covered in marble, with a stunning domed ceiling. This room is called a mihrab, a traditional niche usually found in a mosque that indicates the direction of Mecca. Back outside in the courtyard I found Jerome peeping out of one of the windows to the dormitories that surround the courtyard, a great opportunity to take a photo of him.

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travel with kids children marrakech morocco medusa ben youssef

I then walked back into the building to find Jerome and Chris and to have a look at the cells myself. Once upstairs I walked along another narrow hallway. To one side I found the cells overlooking the courtyard, to the other side were little light wells, with wooden balconies surrounding tiny courtyards on the ground floor. There were three dark cells off each of these courtyards, without any windows and bare floors. It must have been a hard life for the pupils of the school, to live in these bare small rooms squeezed in with many other pupils, it almost must have felt like a prison. Unfortunately I could not find any information about the life of these students that once lived and studied here, as most signs were only in Arabic and French.

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Jerome found me in one of the rooms, he was rather exited to walk through the maze of the rooms and we decided to wave across the courtyard at each other. I looked down into the courtyard and it was interesting to see the entire building from this angle. The sun was just setting above the rooftop, which gave it a dreamy atmosphere.

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The Medrasa was definitely worth our detour to the northern side of the souk and Medina. We went into the Musee de Marrakech afterwards as it was literally next door, but it was a huge disappointment and overpriced in our opinion. The only thing worth seeing was the architecture and the rooms of the old hammam. These were spoilt by pictures of artists that in our opinion did not deserve to be on display in a museum of this calibre, the whole museum felt more like a bazaar for cheap artworks.

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travel with children kids morocco marrakech souk cats

We made our way back through the souk to Jemaa El-Fna and walked on to the Koutoubia Mosque, near where we would later be collected by the complimentary hotel shuttle bus. We had some spare time and walked around the famous mosque to see if we could get a peek inside. The Koutoubia Mosque is the largest and most sacred mosque in Marrakech. Its highlight and most famous feature is the beautiful minaret (tower) and with a height of 70 metres it is visible from most of the city. In fact no other buildings are allowed to be higher than the tower. The design of the tower was highly influential for the design of later minarets. Most notably the band of ceramic tiles, the alternative pattern on each side and other decorative motives. The minaret is topped with three golden balls of decreasing size, depicting the holy places of Islam, the largest for Mecca, then Medina and Jerusalem. We also noticed a structure on the roof that looked like a wooden gallows but in fact it shows the direction of Mecca. We could see the doors open on the side of the mosque and people going in for the evening prayer. I tried to get a glimpse of the inside but could only see red carpet and a white ceiling.

Non-Muslims are not allowed to enter the mosque at all time in fact this applies to all mosques in Morocco, with the exception of Hassan II Mosque in Casablanca, which can be entered on a guided tour and the Tin Mal Mosque in the Atlas Mountains. It might be hard for non-Muslims to understand and accept this restriction, especially when anybody can visit churches worldwide or Buddhist shrines and other religious sites. I feel we have to accept and understand this as part of their religion.

Travel with children kids Marrakesh morocco medina jemmy el fna koutoubia mosque

Travel with children kids Marrakesh morocco medina koutoubia mosque

We walked through an archway into the public garden of the Koutoubia Mosque, which was still busy with visitors, despite the chilly evening air. We then turned round and made our way to the agreed spot for our shuttle bus, tired and glad to get back to our hotel for a relaxing evening by the warm fireplace and the cats.

 

 

Marrakech, Morocco | Saadian Tombs and the Stunning Bahia Palace

Islamic art at the Saadian tombs and Le Palais de Bahiaa

A visit to the Saadian tombs should be on everyone’s must visit list for Marrakech. We had originally wanted to visit the tombs the day before but we ran out of time, after spending the morning exploring the souk and a trip to El Badia palace.

travel with children kids morocco marrakech mosque tower

travel with children kids morocco marrakech saadian tombs kings tomb

travel with children kids morocco marrakech saadian tombs ceiling

travel with children kids morocco marrakech saadian tombs queue

The Saadian tombs date back to 1603, but lay forgotten and hidden behind walls next to the Moulay El Yazid Mosque. They were only rediscovered by accident in 1917 when they were exposed by an aerial photograph. They have since been restored and are accessed only through a very narrow passage way as the orginal entrance through the Mosque is blocked and not accessible to tourists. When we got there, just after opening time, we could already see a queue in front of the king’s chamber. Chris and Jerome joined the queue while I walked around the courtyard to look at the other graves and tombs.

travel with children kids morocco marrakech saadian tombs

travel with children kids morocco marrakech saadian tombs graves

travel with children kids morocco marrakech saadian tombs door

travel with children kids morocco marrakech saadian tombs children grave

Next to his tomb, right to the entrance passage way we could see the princes graves, in a room adjacent to the king’s tomb. His wives, advisors and daughters were buried in the many garden plots. These graves were very minimal and basic, covered in the signature Moroccan tiles or plain plaster, in comparison to the luxurious grave the king and his princes received. One woman got lucky though, his mother! She received a mausoleum of her own, in the middle of the courtyard, which overshadows the other tombs and graves. Beautifully carved wooden beams and ceilings make up the mother’s mausoleum, not as glorious in decoration as the king’s tomb, but comparable in size. We could see cats sitting or lying on the graves in the morning sun and the rose bushes were in full bloom.

travel with children kids morocco marrakech saadian tombs

travel with children kids morocco marrakech saadian tombs wooden ceiling

travel with children kids morocco marrakech saadian tombs tiles

travel with children kids morocco marrakech saadian tombs walls

I re-joined Chris and Jerome at the front of the queue, which had doubled in size by then, due to tour groups that had arrived. The guard next to the Sultan’s tomb was very strict and only gave each person/group a few seconds to look at the tomb and take photos of it. The Saadian Sultan had spared no expenses for his tomb. Italian marble and gilded honeycomb muqarnas (decorative plasterwork that can be seen in many historical buildings throughout Marrakech) with real gold made up his mausoleum, which is also called the Chamber of 12 Pillars. I cannot describe the sheer beauty of the tomb, you have to see it for yourself, but it truly is a work of splendour and luxury. Some people might say what a waste of money, but then again he was a king and will be remembered for a long time to come, thanks to his grave, probably exactly the purpose he wanted to achieve. A hint of advice for visiting the tombs, go early at opening or perhaps better later in the day, as most tour groups visit the sights in the mid-morning.

travel with children kids morocco marrakech saadian tombs king grave

travel with children kids morocco marrakech saadian tombs king

After our visit to the Saadian tombs we strolled on to Dar Si Said, another noteworthy building and museum in Marrakech. When we got there we discovered that it was closed on Tuesdays, therefore we then made our way through the alleys to the Palais de Bahiaa, not to be mixed up with El Badia palace. We wanted to visit this palace after lunch to avoid most of the groups, but had to change to our plans.

The Palais de Bahiaa is a complex of 19th century pavilions, riads and courtyards. Chris and I could remember visiting the palace on our first visit twelve years ago but we were surprised to find out that it was much larger than the building we had seen on our previous visit. We assume that this was because they only recently finished the restoration and renovation of the huge complex. A wealthy father and then later on his son truly built one of the greatest palaces of its time. It took over 19 years to finish all the buildings and gardens that make up the brilliant (translation for bahiaa) palace.

travel with children kids morocco marrakech bahia palace entrance

travel with children kids morocco marrakech bahia palace windows

travel with children kids morocco marrakech bahia palace

travel with children kids morocco marrakech bahia palace fountain

We stepped into the first courtyard which, was quite simple, but the further we moved into the heart of the palace the more complex and beautiful it turned out to be. The rooms had intricately carved cedar wood ceilings, some of them were colourful and exquisitely painted; the window shutters and doors were painted with flowers. The courtyards contained fountains as a centrepiece, surrounded by orange trees. One part of the palace served as a harem and the rooms surrounding its courtyard were intended for the concubines.

travel with children kids morocco marrakech bahia palace doorway

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travel with children kids morocco marrakech bahia palace flowers

travel with children kids morocco marrakech bahia palace shadows

travel with children kids morocco marrakech bahia palace ceiling

travel with children kids morocco marrakech bahia palace

Once we had left the main rooms of the palace behind, we entered a large marble courtyard, surrounded by covered walkways. The floor, under the walkway was made up of tiny coloured tiles with thin marble borders, which were inlayed with stars. More beautiful than the floor and surprisingly colourful was the ceiling of the walkway. To one side it was painted with multi-coloured stripes, the opposite side of the courtyard with flowers instead. I felt this was quite an unusual touch and had expected it to be the same on all sides.

travel with children kids marrakech morocco bahiaa palace courtyard

travel with children kids morocco marrakech bahia palace colours

travel with children kids morocco marrakech bahia palace

travel with children kids morocco marrakech bahia palace

travel with children kids morocco marrakech bahia palace flower ceiling

travel with children kids morocco marrakech bahia palace

travel with children kids morocco marrakech bahia palace

Next to the vast marble courtyard we entered a lush green walled garden with banana palms, jasmine, cypress and orange trees. This garden is one of the oldest parts of the palace and at both ends we found two rooms covered with ceramic tiles and colourful windows over the entrance doors and windows.

The garden made a relaxing and calm break from the madness of Marrakech’s alleys and streets. We would never think that we were inside one of the biggest towns of Morocco. Jerome really enjoyed an exhibition in one of the rooms at the back of the palace about cities throughout the world.

travel with children marrakech morocco palais bahiaa bahia palace

travel with children marrakech morocco palais bahiaa bahia palace

Unfortunately we had more on our list of places to see for this day so did not rest there for long. So we wandered back through the maze of beautiful rooms to the entrance heading for some food. We wanted to grab lunch before heading over to the north end of the Medina to explore the Koran school of Ali Ben Youssef Medersa, but more on this in my next post.

 

Marrakech, Morocco |Badia Palace, the Spice Market and a Visit to the Jewish Cemetery

An afternoon of visiting sights in the Medina

Next on our list of places to see, after our adventures in the souk and a visit to the beautiful gardens of Le Jardin Secret, was the El Badi palace. We made our way through the maze of the souk and back out to Jemaa El-Fna. From there we walked along another alley, the Riad Zitoun Lakdim past more shops filled with souvenirs and handicrafts of all kind, to Place de Ferblantiers.  By now it was past lunchtime and we were hungry, so looked for a restaurant with a terrace outside, where we could ideally sit in the warm afternoon sun. We found a restaurant on the top floor of one of the buildings in Rue de Berrima, which served us a delicious lunch menu for only about 10€/per person. From there we enjoyed the view onto the streets from our seats on the terrace. The food was traditional local soup or mixed Morroccan salad, followed by tagine and fruit for dessert, simple food but welcome.

Travel with children kids Marrakesh morocco medina restaurant

Travel with children kids Marrakesh morocco medina street view

The entrance to El Badi palace was less than five minutes away. Chris and I had visited the palace on our last trips to Marrakech but it was the first time for Jerome. From the outside, we could see the high mud coloured walls with the signatures holes in the side. Some people assume the holes were used as shooting holes or for airing the properties, neither are they there for birds to nest in (even though they love them for just that purpose), they are actually the remnants of previous scaffoldings! On top of the wall we could spot some storks nesting with a big thatch of sticks drooping over the edge.

When you buy the tickets at the entrance, I would advise to pay the extra dirhams to see the restored Minbar (pulpit in a mosque).

Travel with children kids Marrakesh morocco medina bad palace doors

Travel with children kids Marrakech morocco badia palace architecture

Once we were inside the El Badi palace, we first went to the lower ground to see some of the cave like rooms, where an exhibition was on display. It is probably the best route in but not well signposted. Unfortunately, as all signs in the palace, the signs in the display were only in Arabic and French, although luckily both Chris and I are fairly fluent if a little rusty in the latter. It was still interesting to look at the pictures though and decipher some of the plaques.

Travel with children kids Marrakech morocco badia palace

Travel with children kids Marrakech morocco badia palace walkway

Travel with children kids Marrakesh morocco medina badia palace tiles

Outside we walked back up some steps to the main courtyard and it is only there that the sheer size of the ruin is visible. El Badi palace was commissioned by an Arab Saadien Sultan in 1578 and was planned and built over 25 years and must have been a magnificent display of craftsmanship at the time. The palace was built with the most expensive materials, including gold, onyx and marble. There used to be 360 rooms in the palace, plus a large pool in the centre of the courtyard. Nowadays we could only imagine what splendour and grandeur this palace must have been hundreds of years ago. Now there is nothing left, after being raided and exploited by a later Sultan, who used the buildings contents and materials for one of his palaces in Meknes.

Travel with children kids Marrakesh morocco medina badia palace gate

Travel with children kids Marrakesh morocco medina badia palace sunken garden

Travel with children kids Marrakesh morocco medina badia palace pavillion

Travel with children kids Marrakesh morocco medina badia palace

All we could see was the ruins of the pavilions, which were used as summerhouses at the time, there used to be five pavilions in total on the site of El Badia besides the pools, and the sunken gardens with orange trees. Sadly there was no water in the pools and a pinky dust had covered most of the traditional Moroccan tiles. Each pool and garden had steps down and we could see some children running around between the orange trees in one of the gardens. To one side of the palace grounds, we found the entrance to the dungeons and stables. There the servants used to be housed and we walked though the dark, dimly lit passages past bare rooms.

Back outside we strolled to the room, which displayed the minbar. A minbar is a pulpit, found in Mosques where the imam (preacher) stands to deliver the sermons. The minbar we saw at El Badi palace dates back to the 12th century and used to stand in the Koutoubia Mosque in Marrakech. It was an intricately carved pulpit, with beautiful floral inlays. Some of the pieces of the inlays were sadly missing but we could see that it must have been an incredible piece of art when it arrived from Cordoba, Spain, were it was handcrafted. We were not allowed to take photos, so I am unfortunately not able to show you the beauty of this masterpiece of Islamic art.

Travel with children kids Marrakesh morocco medina badia palace servants quarter

Travel with children kids Marrakesh morocco medina badia palace

Travel with children kids Marrakesh morocco medina badia palace pool

After seeing the minbar we headed over to the tower, which can be climbed by stairs. From its roof terrace we had a great view over the palace grounds, with the pools and sunken gardens, over the rooftops of the Medina and on to the snow covered Atlas Mountains in the distance. Jerome liked seeing the storks in their nests, it felt like they were really close but they did not seem bothered by humans at all.

Travel with children kids Marrakesh morocco medina badia palace stairs

Travel with children kids Marrakesh morocco medina badia palace view

Travel with children kids Marrakesh morocco medina badia palace grounds

Travel with children kids Marrakesh morocco medina badia palace pool

We had originally planned to visit the Saadian tombs after the El Badia palace, as they are just a stone throw away, but time was ticking away and they would have been closing soon. Instead we decided to come back for the tombs the next day and walk through the spice market to the Jewish cemetery in stead.

We knew we were close to the spice market when a mixture of fragrant smells floated into our noses. The most prominent smell, that we were able to figure out, was curry but there were hints of cinnamon and other spices too. Once we got to the entrance of the souk, we saw the mountains of colourful spices outside the shops. We do not think that the mountain are completely made up of spices, some are very obviously just painted papier mâché or metal or have spice glued to them! Jerome could not take his eyes of the multi-coloured mountains and was fascinated by the array of goods for sale.

Travel with children kids Marrakesh morocco medina spice souk

Travel with children kids Marrakesh morocco medina spice souk

Travel with children kids Marrakesh morocco medina spice souk

We walked through the covered alley, immersing ourselves in the mesmerising smells. Jerome had stopped at one of the shops and the shopkeeper started to explain all his goods to him. He did not only sell spices, even though they made up a lot of his good for sale. He explained that local men and women not only come to buy spices here for cooking, but also necessary items for their daily hygiene. There were fennel flowers used as tooth picks, different types of clay for masks, charcoal for teeth cleaning, cloves to use as an eyebrow pencil when burned and many more surprising facts. He also let us smell some of the natural oils and spices. The vendor really gave us a great insight into Moroccan life and we felt that we should buy something, after him all he spent his time explaining a lot to us for maybe a quarter of an hour or more.   Even though he did not even push us into buying anything. Jerome loves cinnamon, so we bought a small packet of his favourite spice, at a much cheaper price than it would have been in the UK.

Many people come to the spice market to fill up their cooking cabinets with their spices, especially saffron is a favourite among the many on offer. Be careful when purchasing saffron though, there are a few crooks around that have tricked many tourists in the past, by selling fake saffron. If you want to make sure you get the real thing, go to Talioune, a town where saffron is grown, a three hours drive away from Marrakech.

Travel with children kids Marrakesh morocco medina spice market souk indigo

Travel with children kids Marrakesh morocco medina spice souk

Travel with children kids Marrakesh morocco medina spice souk

We left the smells of the spice market behind us and walked along one of the back streets towards the Jewish cemetery. We passed local shops and children playing in the streets. One boy seemed to guess, that we were headed for the cemetery and wanted to guide us. We did not want him to come with us and politely declined in French. After the second time of saying “non merci” he got the hint and went back to play with his friends. This area of the Medina appeared more residential and less frequented by tourists, despite the fact that it was located just behind the spice market. I guess, apart from the cemetery there is not that much else to see that way. We rather liked the atmosphere, it felt more authentic and a bit like we were off the beaten track and away from the tourists. I am aware that not everyone has a weakness for cemeteries like I do, even my boys can get annoyed with me at times for it.

Travel with children kids Marrakesh morocco medina souk doorway

Travel with children kids Marrakesh morocco medina spice souk window

Travel with children kids Marrakesh morocco medina spice market street

We had never been to a Jewish cemetery before and I believe that in our upbringing of Jerome he should be aware of the history of all religions although we subscribe to nothing seriously. Morocco used to have a significant Jewish population of several thousands. They all lived in the Melach, a walled Jewish quarter inside the Medina. Today there are only 200 Jews living within the Melach, most have moved away, even though Moroccans have always been welcoming towards their community. There is one synagogue in the Melach, it is hidden away but I am sure local children would be more than happy to point it out to you. We had set our mind on visiting the cemetery and did not bother with a visit to the synagogue this time. The cemetery was hidden behind a wall, but we could see the David’s star and some Hebrew writing over the entrance gate. We were asked to donate a few dirhams towards the upkeep of the cemetery by the guard. He explained to us that his family had been looking after the cemetery for generations. When I asked him if he was Jewish, he declined and said that he was Muslim. He wore a kippah, the little round cap Jewish man wear. Chris was told he had to wear one as well to enter further, Jerome did not, I wonder if he did not have to because he was still a child or maybe he assumed he was a girl due to his long hair. It was the first time for Chris to wear a kippah, Jerome thought this was quite funny.

The guard explained to us that most of the graves were hundreds of years old, the oldest dating back to 16th century. We could see the vastness of white and sand coloured graves in front of us. The cemetery was huge and much bigger than we had ever expected. All of the white washed graves had no names or indication on who was buried there and pointed into the direction of one of the entrance gates. Most of them sadly were graves of children that had died from cholera, typhoid and other epidemics. There were so many of them, some really close to one another that there was no way you could walk between them. We found out that the graves were made up of three layers in order to make the already limited space go further.

We could see some mausoleums and larger graves at the far end, next to the outer walls of the cemetery. The guard explained to us that these were the newer graves and that the mausoleums belonged to famous and respected people of the community, including some rabbis. It was unlike any other cemetery we have visited before and it was fascinating to see and find out more about the Jewish community here in Marrakech from the large boards at the entrance. On the way out, we had to wash our hands at the fountain next to the entrance gate; this is part of Jewish tradition.

Travel with children kids Marrakesh morocco medina jewish cemetery

Travel with children kids Marrakesh morocco jewish cemetery

Travel with children kids Marrakesh morocco medina jewish cemetery

I was glad to have made the little detour to visit the cemetery, we had learned a lot about the history of the Jews here in Marrakech and seen a different aspect of the city. We made our way back through side streets to Jemaa El-Fna.

Travel with children kids Marrakesh morocco medina spice market

Travel with children kids Marrakesh morocco medina side street

Travel with children kids Marrakesh morocco medina election

There we had another orange juice from one of the stands, the vendor was pleased to see us again. We sat on the stools in front of the juice stall, watched the locals visit Jemaa El-Fna to enjoy the groups of musicians, storytellers and future tellers. The food stalls were already set up and when we strolled through them, got pestered straight away by staff to sit down and have a meal with them. We told them we were not interested as we were going back to our hotel to have dinner there. Some told us to come back another day, other were less friendly and annoyingly that happened at almost every food stall. I dread to think what it would be like if you really go there to eat. I am sure it would be a great experience and the food probably is good and great value but at this time of year I would feel too cold sitting outside in the open air to have a longer dinner. One advice though, ignore the hustlers and pick the stall that you like, do not let them drag you into their stall if you do not feel like eating there. Most guidebooks say it is a must to eat at these iconic stalls but sometimes we have to ignore these recommendations!

Travel with children kids Marrakesh morocco medina jemmy el fna

Travel with children kids Marrakesh morocco medina jemmy el fna berbers

Travel with children kids Marrakesh morocco medina jemmy el fna sunset

We were tired by then, we must have walked a lot that day and were glad to get into our complimentary hotel bus and to have a quiet dinner next to the fireplace at the Caravanserai with the cat on Jerome’s lap again.

 

 

Marrakech, Morocco | Le Jardin Secret, a Hidden Palace Garden in the Heart of the Medina

The Secret Garden of Marrakech

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We stumbled upon a surprise during our first days visit to the the Medina in Marrakech. As I mentioned in my previous post we had not planned our visit to the souk preferring to take random turns and see where we ended up. This time wandering round a corner we came across Le Jardin Secret (secret garden). I usually carry a guidebook with me on our travels, which can always come in handy in case we get lost or cannot find a good café or restaurant close by. There was no mention of it in the book so we were curious to visit.

It turned out that the garden had only been open to the public since the middle of last year, and not made it into the guidebooks yet. This mean we would be among the first visitors to this renovated, large and ancient palace in Marrakech. Judges, Chamberlains and Tribal chiefs used to be the owners of Le Jardin Secret and the traditional manor house with one of the few towers in the Medina.

When visiting the Secret Garden, make sure you purchase a ticket for the tour of the tower as well as the garden, unfortunately entry for children under six years is prohibited to the tower.

Travel with children kids Marrakesh morocco medina secret garden

Travel with children kids Marrakesh morocco medina secret garden cafe

Travel with children kids Marrakesh morocco medina secret garden

We made our way down the steps into the exotic garden, the first of two that make up the palace’s grounds.  The palace was actually created by fusing two Riads into one larger property. Gardens have always been the centre of Riads for centuries.  We found ourselves in an oasis, filled with exotic plants, palms, grasses and trees. In the middle of the main path was a water channel running all the way towards a fountain in front of a burgundy coloured pavilion. There were signs explaining to us that water is a fundamental element of Arab-Muslim gardens. Water is considered to be a symbol of life and a sign of God’s existence and power. The water here in Marrakech has flown for hundreds of years, all the way from the Atlas Mountains into the town’s mosques, hammams and fountains thanks to underground channels, called khettara.

Le Jardin Secret is one of the few riads that is connected to this ancient system and this shows the privilege and wealth that the owners of this riad must wielded. We could see part of the hydraulic system, hidden behind glass, which allows the water to be distributed throughout the garden. This was incredible and interesting to see, Chris explained to Jerome that the water melting on the Atlas Mountains would flow into kilometre long channels and due to its pressure exit at the outlets in the city. I was more fascinated by the beauty of the plants and the buildings than delving too much into engineering, so I left this to the boys.

At the right side of the garden we found the hammam (bathhouse), which now partly houses the toilets. The other part has been restored and the floor partly opened to show the channels for the hot air to flow underneath the floor, heated by a wooden fire or these days with gas. A visit to a hammam is an important part of Moroccan culture and life, men, woman and children visit a hammam at least once a week.

Travel with children kids Marrakesh morocco medina secret garden water

Travel with children kids Marrakesh morocco medina secret garden

Travel with children kids Marrakesh morocco medina secret garden window

We walked on and stepped into the second part of the garden, the Islamic garden. This section was much more spacious in size and arranged into four quadrants with a path and another water channel down its middle. I was immediately drawn to the beauty of the white pavilion, with its white gauze curtains that gently blew in the breeze. The floor here was laid with green, shiny, glazed tiles compared to the earthen terracotta ones in the exotic garden. Inside the pavilion we could see photos of what the Riad looked like before it was rescued and restored. The process to return it to its former glory took over eight years. You would have never dreamed of anyone being able to bring back all this beauty from what was almost a ruin.

Travel with children kids Marrakesh morocco medina secret garden pavillion

Travel with children kids Marrakesh morocco medina secret garden water garden

Travel with children kids Marrakesh morocco medina secret garden sitting area

Travel with children kids Marrakesh morocco medina secret garden water reservoir

Next to the pavilion we found the water basin where some of the water is stored. We strolled past the tables of the café, through narrow paths underneath lemon trees to Oud El Ward pavilion, the largest of the pavilions in the garden. All the walls in the garden and the buildings are covered in tadelakt, the smooth plaster, which is a typical feature of many grand Moroccan buildings. Inside this pavilion we watched a film, explaining the history of the riad and the water system. Jerome was interested in watching it and therefore we watched part of the film, before we climbed the steps up onto the roof terrace of the pavilion and the starting point of the tower tour.

Travel with children kids Marrakesh morocco medina secret garden Tea break

Travel with children kids Marrakesh morocco medina secret garden lemon grove

Travel with children kids Marrakesh morocco medina secret garden fountain

Travel with children kids Marrakesh morocco medina secret garden sitting area

Travel with children kids Marrakesh morocco medina secret garden curtian

The roof terrace was a great place to get a view over the Islamic garden and the pavilion on the other side. People were sitting there to enjoy a glass of Moroccan mint tea and the warm winter sun. The tower tour is every fifteen minutes and we did not have to wait long before the guide came back with the last tour.

Travel with children kids Marrakesh morocco medina secret garden view

Travel with children kids Marrakesh morocco medina secret garden

The guide decided on doing the tour in English as the majority were English speakers or at least would understand English the easiest. He guided us up the narrow stairs to a room with an open skylight. The ceiling around the skylight was ornamental wood and painted with in red, green and navy blue. We had to duck our heads to walk though the door into the next room, this was deliberately so that everybody would bow in front of the lord of the house. The doors were an aqua green and intricately carved with flowers and leaves, as was the arch of the doorway. The ceiling of the next room was painted with colourful ornaments. Our tour guide explained what the various colours symbolise: white for god or peace, green for paradise, blue for protection and red for wealth and luck. Jerome listened curiously to the tales our guide told us but I could also see that he was eager to go to the top of the tower.

Travel with children kids Marrakesh morocco medina secret garden tower

Travel with children kids Marrakesh morocco medina secret garden tower door

Travel with children kids Marrakesh morocco medina secret garden ceiling

Soon enough we climbed the last few steps and found ourselves outside on the roof. Towering above the surrounding buildings, we stepped onto some wooden steps to one side so we got an even better view. In the distance we could see the snow covered mountains, they looked majestic against the blue sky. Our guide explained to us that none of the houses in the Medina are allowed to be higher than three stories. This privilege belongs only to the mosque towers (the Koutoubia tower was the tallest), which we could see popping up between the many rooftops and satellite dishes. We looked out on a sea of concrete and tiled roofs, interrupted only by a few palm trees. Outside the walls of the Medina, in the new town, the buildings are permitted to be seven stories high. The guide offered to take some souvenir shots of our little groups and then we returned via the stairs to the ground floor.

Travel with children kids Marrakesh morocco medina secret garden mountain view

Travel with children kids Marrakesh morocco medina secret garden koutoubia mosque

Travel with children kids Marrakesh morocco medina secret garden city view

We walked along the green tiled path, through the exotic garden and left this peaceful retreat behind us in exchange of the craziness of the souk.

Marrakesh, Morocco | Exploring the Magical Souks

A morning walk in the alleys of the main souks in the Medina

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Our second day at the hotel Caravanserai started with an early breakfast, as we wanted to take the complimentary shuttle bus from the hotel into Marrakesh to visit the souks and see some of the local sights. The bus was just after 10 o’clock and fifteen or so minutes later we were dropped off next to Jemaa El-Fna, the large market square and the main entry point to the souks and the heart of the Medina.

At this time in the morning we could already see the juice stands, and lunch stalls opening up. Plus the side shows of the square with men showing off their monkeys, charming snakes and generally selling small things were all ready for a busy day.   The juice stands sell freshly pressed orange juice for 4 dirhams, which is an absolute bargain compared to prices in Europe. We walked towards the juice stands and soon enough we were literally pestered by guides to take a tour. We politely declined, saying that we already knew where we wanted to go in the souk in French, but they still got stroppy and kept pestering us more. Chris got a bit loud saying that we were not interested, this finally seemed to get through to them, even though they did not seemed pleased about it. We did not let this spoil our mood and walked on. If you do want a guide I would advise booking at your hotel or at the tourist offices as the so-called guides near the sites are not licenced and may well be unreliable. If you do visit the square be prepared to fend off the hawkers and stall owners with a polite “Non”.

Travel with children kids Marrakesh morocco medina secret garden koutoubia mosque

Travel with children kids Marrakesh morocco medina juice stand

Travel with children kids Marrakesh morocco medina secret garden

The souks can be confusing to people who have never visited one. The aim is to get lost, there’s always plenty of ways out and more fun if you do not have a specific plan on where you’re headed. There is so much to see of the local Moroccan culture here. Men wearing djellabas, a loose fitting cloak with a pointy hood, the berbers with their colourful tasselled hats and some of the women with headscarves. Do not worry too much about what you wear when visiting Morocco, but it is sensible to not show too much flesh and wear longer skirts or trousers, even for men shorts are not really accepted. Unless you plan to visit a mosque, which is not possible in Marrakesh, unless you are Muslim, there’s no need for headscarves. In general Morrocco is an open-minded country and if you do not wear clothes that do not show too much flesh, including tank and low-cut tops and shorts, you should be fine.

Travel with children kids marrakech morocco berber

Travel with children kids Marrakesh morocco medina souk

Travel with children kids Marrakesh morocco medina fish

Travel with children kids Marrakesh morocco medina secret garden carpets

We did not need to worry about our choice of clothes too much as it was far too cold to even think about wearing anything that could be too revealing. We walked into the souk, one shop after another. There were beautiful woven carpets on a wall, for sale of course. A man with his moped, a basket of dead fish on its back, local children running around and shopkeepers having chats. The light in the alleys was almost dreamy with the sunrays creeping in through the gaps of the corrugated iron roof. There was so much to see that Jerome was not keeping up with our pace and we slowed down in order to not loose him. It was not yet busy in the maze of alleys, but from experience would get busier as the day moved on. There definitely were more tourists than we remember from last time, but as a result the sellers seemed to pester less to buy and it seemed less dirty and smelly.

Notably in the tannery souk, the unbearable acrid smell had disappeared. With it though, sadly, the colourful dyed wool and leathers that used to hang everywhere to dry were also much reduced. The souk used to be arranged by section, the metal works, the leather shop, tannery and so on. Nowadays some of these arrangements still exist, but they appeared to have been mixed up more than they used to. The tanneries have moved further north, away from the touristy souk, into the residential area of Place Moukef or Bab Debbagh. It is still possible to visit them, but prepare yourself for smell, animal dung is also used in the dying process, which can make it unbearable to sensitive noses.

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Travel with children kids Marrakesh morocco medina dyed wool

Travel with children kids Marrakesh morocco medina alleys

Very few shops have yet to display fixed prices and haggling is still the norm. How to haggle? Chris is always too generous and usually leaves it to me. I would say, start very low, and as a guide, never pay more than a third of the originally suggested price by the seller. If you do give a final price you have to stick with it and buy the item, so make sure you are actually prepared to pay the amount for it and you really want it. If you agree a final price there is no going back otherwise and the seller will be very disappointed. Of course it always depends on where you are in the souk as to what price much as other cities have expensive districts. In general the closer you are to Jemaa El-Fna the higher the prices will be as the shopkeepers pay higher rent.

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Travel with children kids Marrakesh morocco medina bags

Travel with children kids marrakech morocco souk

We did not really plan on purchasing anything, apart from a woven basket and Jerome had promised a small gift to a friend. Early on in the souk I found a shop, with a large choice of baskets, some with embroidery or pompoms others plain and in many shapes and sizes. I haggled with the owner, I could have probably gotten it a few dirhams cheaper but Chris felt generous. I did use the bag a few times during our time in Marrakesh and look forward to using it as a beach bag in the summer. I almost wish, I had bought another one.

Further on in the souk we watched a man making felt from wool, water and soap. He then makes the felt into an array of products, including scarves, bags and slippers. He was happy to explain the process to us and did not seem too upset that we did not buy any of his goods, although later I did go back and get some slippers from him. Other shopkeepers might not be as friendly and helpful; some can be downright pushy. I guess it is part of their culture and they have to make a living from their shops.

Travel with children kids Marrakesh morocco medina felt

Travel with children kids Marrakesh morocco medina jewellery

Travel with children kids Marrakesh morocco medina cats

Jerome is not a boy that really likes shopping, few children do, but the souk had beguiled him with the range of colours and products. He had even spotted several things that he was interested in but we left buying them until later in the visit. Most children will enjoy the market place but it is worth encouraging them to look rather than touch, as soon as you show interest the shopkeepers will pounce! There a many things that children will find fascinating – whether inlaid wooden games, silver teapots, musical instruments, shiny stones, gems or even fossils. We also saw baby tortoises and a chameleon for sale, not that you should buy and export them.

Travel with children kids Marrakesh morocco medina metal lamps

Travel with children kids Marrakesh morocco medina souk shop

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After a while, having turned into another random alley we reached an open square where men with their horse carts gathered and sold goat and sheep hides, sometimes even cow or camel, on to the tanners. Some of the carts were loaded to the top with dead animal skins, an unusual sight for us but still interesting to witness.

Travel with children kids Marrakesh morocco medina bike

Travel with children kids Marrakesh morocco medina secret garden side street

Travel with children kids Marrakesh morocco medina fruit vegetables

We turned around, back into the maze of the souk and soon after we stumbled onto the Secret Garden. Read all about this wonderful place in my next post.

Marrakech, Morocco | Hotel Carvanserai, a Small Boutique Hotel Off The Beaten Track

Our first day at the Hotel Caravanserai in a small village outside Marrakech

Winter sun in London is a rare sight and occurs mostly on the coldest days because of the lack of cloud cover. I have always been a person who loves sunny warm weather and I dread the cold winter months, especially January and February. Normally we get away for half term in February to a place far away from the grey London skies. This year was looking to be difficult to escape then so instead we booked a weeks break over New Years Eve to Marrakesh, Morocco. Temperatures there would be chilly in the evening, we knew, but during the day in December it is generally sunny and around mid 15C, more on some days. It had been a while since our last visit to this amazing town in North Africa. In fact the last time had been when I was pregnant with Jerome twelve years earlier. On that trip we had stayed in the same hotel as we planned for this visit, the Caravanserai.

It is an oasis away from the hustle and bustle of the Medina, and unlike the artificialness of the Palmerai luxury chain hotels. Some people might be put off by the hotel’s location as it is in a little village, surrounded by local houses. The hotel is actually housed in an old Caravanserai, and was in times gone by the last roadside inn for camel caravans before reaching Marrakesh. The one day camel ride is now easily covered in a minibus in twenty minutes.

travel with kids children morocco marrakech hotel caravanserai pool

travel with kids children morocco marrakech hotel caravanserai pool reflections

travel with kids children morocco marrakech hotel caravanserai pool side

When we arrived we found that the hotel had not lost any of its beauty, the blush-pink, smooth plastered walls centred round the swimming pool remained as we remembered. With only sixteen rooms it has an intimate feel. Our spacious suite felt private with our own terrace. Two suites even have their own pool and we had been lucky to have one of these on our last visit. Jerome was in awe when he saw the main pool, unfortunately the water was only about 5C reflecting the temperature overnight, so was far too cold to even dip your feet in for more than a little while.

We had arrived just in time for New Years Eve dinner, a small romantic affair with just two other couples in the dining room. We had a table next to the fireplace with a blazing log fire to drive off the cool air, but we were glad to have brought some warm clothes; the houses are really not well designed for cold chilly winter nights more for the summer heat. We ate a menu of local dishes: chick pea soup, followed by delicious lemon chicken tagine and cake for dessert. Jerome quickly befriended one of the cats, Mischka, who lives at the hotel. I am allergic to cats, even though I adore them and grew up with them, luckily not extremely, but I could already feel that my nose started to itch. Just as well that I did bring some anti histamines just in case of animals. The cat just happily lazed on Jerome’s lap during dinner and afterwards while we played some card games.

travel with kids children morocco marrakech hotel caravanserai pool

travel with kids children morocco marrakech hotel caravanserai card games

travel with kids children morocco marrakech hotel caravanserai lamps

travel with kids children morocco marrakech hotel caravanserai seating area

We did not expect much in terms of fireworks and being out of the town centre we knew it was not really worth staying up late for New Year. However, in the end we went out onto the balcony to see the few rockets light up briefly over Marrakesh town in the distance just as midnight came.

The next morning we got up just in time for the end of breakfast. Jerome fascinatedly watched the woman cook pancakes on a little stove besides the dining room. Normally pancakes are his favourite food for breakfast he did not like the Moroccan version preferring the eggs, bread, honey and jam. Chris and I indeed liked the pancakes, one type almost like soft puff pastry and the other a soft fluffy more traditional style, and we had them every morning during the rest of our stay.

travel with kids children morocco marrakech hotel caravanserai chairs

travel with kids children morocco marrakech hotel caravanserai garden path

travel with kids children morocco marrakech hotel caravanserai garden trees

We had not planned to go into town on our first day, plus the complementary bus had already left at ten o’clock. We planned a lazy day by the pool. Luckily Jerome had spotted a pool table in one of the adjoining rooms next to the pool area and immediately wanted to play a few rounds with Chris. I collected our Kindle readers and some card games from the room, grabbed two of the free sun loungers beside the pool and I lay down to read my book. In the sun! The sun was hot, hotter than I thought it would be. I could understand why other guests were there in t-shirts and shorts. I was almost tempted to grab my bikini and sunbathe. We had a lazy afternoon, with lunch at the poolside. Finally, the sun kept dropping behind parts of the building so we moved place to catch the last rays. Upstairs, outside our room, was an alcove with Moroccan style sofas and we moved there as it was still facing the sun. I remembered that last time we stayed we had spent all day in the garden, but unfortunately the trees have grown so much since that there is no sunny spots left. It is probably great in the heat of the summer, but not for this time of year.

travel with kids children morocco marrakech hotel caravanserai stairs

travel with kids children morocco marrakech hotel caravanserai window

travel with kids children morocco marrakech hotel caravanserai alcove

travel with kids children morocco marrakech hotel caravanserai cat

Somehow time seemed to pass quickly and we started to get chilly and moved inside. Jerome enjoyed a laze in the huge smooth stone bathtub. The room was warm with adequate heating so we were fine to change and go down for dinner. Mischka, the cat joined Jerome again. I could see the two seemed smitten by each other.

travel with kids children morocco marrakech hotel caravanserai countryside

travel with kids children morocco marrakech hotel caravanserai seating mother

travel with kids children morocco marrakech hotel caravanserai field

travel with kids children morocco marrakech hotel caravanserai local kids

travel with kids children morocco marrakech hotel caravanserai stork

For the next day we planned to go into Marrakesh town, to do some shopping and see some of the sights. Read more about it in my next post.

 

 

Bloggers Recognition Award

My second blogger award!

Bloggers Recognition Award travel with children kids

I was over the moon when I found out that I was nominated for another blogging award shortly after the last one. This time it was for the Bloggers Recognition Award and I was recommend by Anne of Horse Addict. I admire her knowledge and writing about these graceful animals and urge you all to have a look at her blog yourself. I also would like to thank her for all the comments on my blog, it always amazes me how many places Anne has travelled and visited throughout the world. I will try my best to match her experience and adventures. You can find her blog at www.horseaddict.net

I will also be recommending others for the next round of the awards as below, and the rules for them accepting the award are as follows:

  1. Give thanks to the person who had nominated you and a link to their blog.
  2. Write a post to show your award.
  3. Briefly tell how you started blogging.
  4. Give two pieces of advice to new bloggers.
  5. Nominate 15 other bloggers for this award.
  6. Comment on the nominated blogs and let them know you have nominated them and give a link to the post you have created.

How did I start blogging:

I was in a period between jobs last summer after I had finished working as a personal shopper for one of the big department stores. I started writing to keep me busy while Jerome was at school but also to share my photos wider than just Instagram. I love taking pictures when we are away on holiday or travelling, sometimes to the annoyance of both my boys. It became a way to share experiences about travelling with children as friends and family have always asked me how we manage travel to exotic places with a child. I want to show other parents, who perhaps find it incredibly difficult to go away on holiday with their children, that it is not as hard as they think to experience interesting places. I also want to show with my posts that there are many things to do and places to go beyond the obvious family resorts and tours. My posts are also a great way for my family and friends in Germany and beyond to keep up with our lives as living in London we are not able to see them as often as we used to. I never thought that I would enjoy writing as much as I do. I used to be terrible at essays in school, so it was not my favourite subject by far. It makes me happy to get such positive feedback and be in contact with so many different people and their interests from all over the world.

 Two pieces of advice for new bloggers:

  1. Concentrate on a topic that you’re passionate about. Without passion your writing will not capture the readers’ imagination and you will not keep going.
  2. We all have days when we feel down or find it difficult to concentrate and get words onto paper. Keep going, there are people out there who love reading what you write about!

 

I nominate the following bloggers for the award:

A Small Wardrobe

Japan etc.

rookie experiences

SeaSaw Travels

Flying Kitty Adventures

Tokyo Local Sites

Travels With Diane

AiKaiTe

Fumbling through Italy

Have Paprika, Will Travel

Born To Travel

of dreams and particles

I’m on my way to you

USA Through Our Eyes

Jess choose to fly

All of these have inspired me to write and post. They have great content on a wide range of topics from Fashion, Photography to Travel and more. I encourage you to dip into them and enjoy them as mush as I do.