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Having had a wonderful experience in Cape Town during January we thought we’d flip Africa and head North to visit the increasingly popular city of Marvellous Marrakech in mid­­-April.

Why is Marrakech so popular? Apart from being only a 3-4 hour flight from the UK it’s a completely different continent and a feast for the senses, from the bustling Jamaa el-Fnaa square to the intricate tilework and fragrant spices of the souks. It’s a city where you are surrounded by the sights, sounds, and smells of day to day North African life, which may take you some time to acclimatise to. Marrakech immerses you in a truly cultural experience and is a city which poetic analogies compare to “a drum that beats an African identity into the complex soul of Morocco.”

From medieval times until around the beginning of the 20th century, the entire country of Morocco was known as the “Kingdom of Marrakech”, as the historic capital city was often Marrakech. Even today the name used for Morocco is still Marrakech in Persian, Urdu and many other languages.

Marrakech is also known by a variety of nicknames, including the “Red City”, the “Ochre City” and “the Daughter of the Desert”, mainly because of the colours of the buildings and ramparts of beaten clay which were built during the residence of the Almohads.

In 1985 the ancient section of the city, known as the Medina, was designated a UNESCO World Heritage site.

As you take your first steps into the city, you feel the hustle and bustle of Marrakech with an energy all of its own. You get to the heart of things by winding your way through the extremely busy Medina, the walled, historic neighbourhood where it’s easy to get lost and disoriented! But it’s real fun once you relax and realise you’re not at risk.

The Video

It can be a bit intense, but while there you can fully immerse yourself browsing through the souks for local wares, taking in the Moorish architecture and filling up on street food. At the slower end of things, places like Le Jardin Secret, Bahia Palace, and the famed Jardin Majorelle give some breathing space alongside stunning scenery. Or you can always relax at one of Marrakech’s many luxury spas or ‘hammams’.

Marrakech is also famous for its parks, especially the Menara Olive Grove and the walled 1,000 acre Agdal Gardens. An irrigation system built under the Almoravids is still used today to water the city’s gardens.

Red city walls of Marrakech
Red city walls of Marrakech

Do females need to cover up in Marrakech?

While female travellers aren’t expected to dress as conservatively as local women, it’s still a good idea to pack clothing options that will allow you to cover up at appropriate times. In the Medina you can get away with wearing trousers or a skirt that reaches below the knee and a short-sleeved t-shirt, You will see a variation in dress code with some tourists wearing more revealing outfits but better to err on the side of safety.

Accommodation

Iberostar Club Palmeraie Marrakech

Iberostar Palmerie Hotel Reception
Iberostar Palmerie Hotel Reception

We stayed at the Iberostar Club Palmerie. This is a palm oasis with over 100,000 palm trees planted during the Almoravid Empire in the 11th century, the area is filled with natural beautiful and vast gardens. It’s just 15/20 minutes from the historic centre of the city and the hotel provides a great courtesy bus service, although bizarrely the location of the bus drop off and pick up is a good 15 minute walk to the Medina along a route which can be dusty and hot. The hotel is designed in true Moroccan style, with three swimming pools (one adult only) and a Star Camp for kids entertainment with a huge number of activities. The hotel spa features a Turkish bath, massages and treatments, while football, volleyball, spin classes, tennis, table tennis, pétanque, archery, badminton and basketball are all available within the stunning gardens. The hotel staff work tirelessly at cleaning internal areas, keeping grounds spotless and gardens immaculate, and should be commended.

The adult only pool at the Iberostar Palmerie
The adult only pool at the Iberostar Palmerie

The hotel food is buffet style but of high quality and if you stay a week you could easily have a different meal each evening. Lunches in particular are fantastic and became my favourite meal of the day, a wide choice of tasty salads and Moroccan vegetables cooked in the tagine along with fish and a daily BBQ option. Drinks are available aplenty and, apart from the wine and the beer, are French sourced which is not bad at all! I didn’t try one but other guests commented that the cocktails were quite sweet. The house red, white and rose wine is ‘KSAR’ which I cover later and is average, the rose being the most drinkable.

The hotel’s green credentials are impressive with no plastic bottles, filtered water stations strategically placed throughout, and stringent recycling policies.

Hicham is the mixologist at the Zen Bar next to the adult only pool. His service is excellent and he’ll teach you Arabic sayings while he tends to your drinks. Ismail a waiter in the main bar is at the top of his game, he also likes to throw in some Arabic sayings while serving you. Khalid a young waiter at the outside seating area of the main restaurant went out of his way to ensure we had a table for two each evening.

My only disappointment about the hotel is their speciality restaurant, Jawhara which is anything but special! It offers a set 5 course Moroccan taster menu which includes a choice of beef or fish tagine ordered in advance. The standard of food is poor and I didn’t finish a single course. In fact with the soup and vegetable tart starter one taste was enough to down my cutlery. Something’s not right when the standard of the regular buffet restaurant is far superior. I don’t think I’m alone in this opinion.

The Jawhara experience was so bad it made us laugh and despite that I would absolutely recommend the hotel and the staff who work tirelessly to make your stay very enjoyable.

Language Barrier

Morocco’s two official languages are Arabic and Amazigh, but virtually all Moroccans speak French. Spanish is also spoken as I was getting my ‘gracias’ mixed up with my ‘merci’ and still managed to get a reply! It may feel a challenge but attempting a little spoken word, although it may not mean much to you, believe me goes a long way with the locals.

Here are nine words or short phrases passed on by Hicham that may help you get by in Marrakech:

Afak is the Derija word for please. One way I used this word was to simply point at a bottle of water and say ”head, afak”. This translates as ”this, please”.

Fayn is the word for where. You can use it for example to ask for the toilets – “Fayn al toilet afak?” or “Where is the bathroom, please?”.

Shukran is the word for thank you and which I used daily to thank waiting staff in the restaurant and bars. Moroccans greatly value when foreigners speak their language and using this expression will definitely make them smile.

Ech Hal or Bech Hal is used to say “How much?” when you want to buy something.

Smeetee literally means “My name is…” so could be used when meeting someone for the first time.

Shno smeetek? translates as “What is your name?” so after telling people your own name is the next best thing to ask them.

Anta tahdar al engleezeeya? translates as “Do you speak English?”

B’Saha means cheers or literally good health (like ‘sante’ in French or ‘slanj’ in Gaelic).

Trips, Adventures and Restaurants

Private Walking and Shopping tour in the Souks of Marrakech

As the alleyways and dark passages of the Souks can be intimidating we hired a tour guide for a couple of hours to show us around. We met our guide Hussein outside the Cafe du France, a landmark which was easy to find in Jemaa el-Fnaa Square. Hussein was welcoming, friendly and spoke several languages including very good English. Our walk starting to the North of the Souks where Hussein explained the different neighbourhoods,  communities etc. At a brisk pace he took us down lots of tiny alleys with twists and turns that would easily confuse and render us lost without him. Our first stop was at the Herboristerie Le 35 Épices which was an impressive herb, spice and cosmetic wholesaler. The main product on sale was argan oil and after a brief demo of the production process we were shown a large range of merchandise for sale and offered a delicious mint tea. A small purchase and off we set again through the alleys deep in the Souk taking in the interesting aromas, mostly of the pleasant variety!

Madrasa Ben Youssef
Madrasa Ben Youssef

Our next stop was the ‘Gem of Marrakech’ according to Hussein. The Madrasa Ben Youssef is an architectural treasure constructed by Sultan Abdullah Al-Ghaleb Assaadi between the years 1564 and 1565 and is of invaluable historical significance. Wandering within its walls takes you to a fascinating era where art, knowledge, and culture flourish. After a couple of great photo opportunities and a wealth of knowledge imparted by Hussein we continued our tour, this time visiting the tannery, blacksmiths and silversmiths. Some of the compact, centuries old workshops were eye opening, as were the skills of the master tradesmen. A real step back in time.

We then headed to the Souk des Teinturiers where the dying process for wool and silks with natural materials was explained. The colourful bundles of wool drying above the stalls was really impressive. A quick display of how to wear the head scarfs with me as the ‘dummy’ created real entertainment!

Dyedwool-drying
Dyed wool drying in the open air above the souk

Next up was the Place des Épices with all its pungent spice stalls plus some strange objects – allegedly fish eggs floating in water trays. A real feast for the senses with every trader enticing you to buy.

Olives&preserved
Olives and preserved fruit in abundance
Mustapha's famous oven cooked lamb
Mustapha’s famous oven cooked lamb

Mustapha, a local celebrity, is hard at work with his famous oven-cooked lamb, made famous by Gordon, Fred, and Gino on their Marrakech tour.

The tour was a great way to see and learn from an astute guide, it was far more than just shopping and walking, it was entertaining, insightful and really not to be missed. Plus you could relax knowing you didn’t have to find your way out of the maze of Souks. Thanks to Hussein for his knowledge and time, recommended to get your bearings in the Souks.

After leaving Hussein, we had a delicious lunch in Cafe des Épices followed by mint tea. Even in the heat of Marvellous Marrakech the hot mint tea was outstanding and highly recommended.

Atlas Mountains
3 Valleys & Waterfalls Hike plus Camel ride

Atlas Mountain village view from Imlil village
Atlas Mountain village view from Imlil village

This trip came recommended and we were not let down. A day and an experience to remember with thanks to our hiking guide Rachid and driver Omar. Some great views and some sombre ones too due to the destruction from the recent earthquake, very prevalent in every village we passed through. Omar was our driver and the knowledge he imparted of the area, the Berber culture and its history was excellent. He is open and hospitable which helped make the day trip one to remember. At a short stop at an artisan shop just outside of Tahannaout, which is known for its Jewish cemetery and being the first Berber speaking town after Marrakech, the shop owner provided a brief history of the town and surrounding villages followed by a tour of his shop. Then we were off to the Tighanimine Fairtrade Argan Oil Cooperative. Here we had a traditional breakfast of local bread, olive oil, argan oil, rosemary honey, and argan paste (mix of Argan oil and almonds) with herbal tea which was sweet but tasty. Again after a sales pitch on the various products we had a quick walk round and made a few purchases for gifts etc. Back on the road we headed towards the village of Imlil for our hike into the mountains. On route we drove through a very busy market in the town of Asni which was a real sight with bustling market stalls and traders bargaining with locals.

After what can best be described as a sometimes uncomfortable drive due to the earthquake, Omar introduced us to our guide Rachid. We started off our hike at pace on paths, some of which were still badly damaged from the earthquake. The first thing we noticed was the snow still on the mountains and how unbelievably fresh and clean the air was, just brilliant after the hustle and bustle of the Medina in Marrakech. Rachid kept us on track and paid particular attention at potentially hazardous points, all the while imparting his intriguing local knowledge. He guided us up the rocky mountain with impressive views on the way of Jebel Toubkal which is North Africa’s highest mountain. The footpath mostly follows the incredible engineered irrigation system until we arrived at the absolutely stunning waterfalls. Here Rachid took charge of our camera and snapped several great photos which will serve to enhance our memory of the day. One thing to note is that the site can be busy with other tourists but all have a local guide directing them and preventing congestion.

Waterfalls near Imlil village
The impressive waterfalls near Imlil village

After a short break taking in the fabulous sight of the waterfalls we started our decent to the village and on our way even managed to bump into Rachid’s mother and aunt who were on their way to pay respects to a lady in a neighbouring village. Rachid explained the strong relationships that exist across villages and highlighted that even now there are many families still living in tents near to where their houses stood pre-earthquake. He suggested that central government emergency assistance for remote areas was often difficult to obtain.

Suddenly out of the trees a large Atlas Mountain monkey appeared. Rachid explained this was very unusual and it certainly caused a bit of a commotion with several locals emerging from their houses to catch a glimpse.

Rachid seems to know everybody in the village and we were accompanied on the last stage of our walk by a host of primary school kids on their way home from school.

Lunch at a village restaurant was just delicious. Our starter of fresh salad and spiced couscous, accompanied with locally baked bread was great. This was followed by a main of chicken tagine which was simple but very tasty and highly recommended. The food and the mountain views from the roof top terrace just finished off our hike perfectly and so reasonably priced as well at less than £12 in total.

On our way home and fighting our inner concerns for animal welfare we stopped for a short camel ride. This was testing and interesting at the same time. Getting on and more particularly getting off is the challenge. Despite very sweaty hands holding the bar I managed not to embarrass myself …. just!! Something else ticked off the list but I won’t be hurrying back for a repeat of experience.

My Moroccan Camel
My Moroccan Camel

I can honestly say thanks to Rachid, the 90 minute walk was one of the highlights of our trip to Marrakech, the scenery and photographic opportunities were just incredible and not easy to do justice on an iPhone!

A trip which can only be highly recommend and certainly made what it was by Rachid and Omar, thank you guys you do your villages proud!

KSAR Moroccan Wine

Not expecting to find Moroccan wine produced 300 miles from Marrakech we were introduced to KSAR in our hotel. I suppose it is almost inevitable that a former colony of both Rome and France would end up producing wine at some point. KSAR is produced near the inland town of Meknès in the foothills of the Atlas Mountains and belongs to the Les Celliers de Meknès group, the best-known and probably the largest wine producer in Morocco. Investing early in planting Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon grapes while ageing its product in oak barrels was a first in the country. A wide range of red, white and rosé wines are produced by Les Celliers des Meknès and exported under brands such as Château Roslane, Domaine Riad Jamil and KSAR. Having witnessed the landscape of the Atlas Mountains I’m sure the soil and weather is perfect for wine production.

Sampling both KSAR red and rose at the hotel, I far preferred the rose which is dry and drinkable. Although it must be said the red and white KSAR wines were being sampled just as much by others in the hotel. I’m sure other Celliers des Meknès wines will be good but a lack of availability of the wider range in our hotel restricted any tasting opportunities.

The drinkable KSAR Rose wine
The drinkable KSAR Rose wine

Rabha Kedima Spice Square

CafeÉpices- roof-terrace
Looking towards the Cafe Épices roof terrace

Café des Épices is a world-renowned cafe restaurant that attracts people from all over the world and is situated in the middle of the famous ‘Place des Épices’. After one of our wanders through the souks we were lucky to secure a table for an early lunch while watching the busy wicker and spice market stall holders trade their wares and the Henna tattoo ladies bargaining with customers. From my time observing and learning, I’d clearly stick to a price between 33 and 50% of what the vendors first ask!

Épices wicker hats
Vendors even sell the Café des Épices wicker hats while you dine

We couldn’t get upstairs to the terrace as it was already full but I’m told that on a clear day you get a perfect and breathtaking view towards the Atlas Mountains, to complete your experience you sit at low tables on Berber cushions. Pre-booking or waiting a long time on a terrace table is the norm!

Our lunch consisted of aish burrito and a kefta morrocan sandwich, just fabulous with the harissa and mint flavours almost jumping out at you. As with the vast majority of places in Marrakech, there is no alcohol on sale within the cafe. We tried their famous mint tea which really lived up to its star status. Poured with true Moroccan style by our waiter it was a spectacle too. What a wonderful lazy lunch in the middle of a chaotic spice market.

The art of pouring Moroccan mint tea
The art of pouring Moroccan mint tea

So if you are on a visit to Marrakech, make a visit to Cafe des Épices as I can assure you will find the food very tasty and the views a bit chaotic but entertaining.

La Pergola
7/8, Riad Zitoun Lakdim

The rooftop La Pergola is a jazz bar and restaurant located on the terraces of the famous Riad Monceau.

Jazz Band playing on the ground floor of La Pergola
Jazz Band playing on the ground floor of La Pergola

It is easy to find, as we established, and situated only 100 meters from Jemaa El Fna Square. We had a booking for dinner but went early to find its location. Literally stumbling upon the entrance situated down an alley we went in for a drink just to give us the feel of the place. From entering the reception area it was very impressive. An ideal place to enjoy a pre-dinner drink on the terrace or at the bar.

The jazz band were already playing which gave the place a good atmosphere, hard to believe that outside the Riad walls there was the hustle and bustle of the busy Medina. Just sitting in partial sun on the rooftop listening to the live jazz music three floors down in the courtyard was really chilling.

We finished our drinks and had a quick wander round the Souks and Jemaa El Fna Square before returning for our 1900 table reservation. What a transformation the whole place was packed but relaxed still due to the sound of the jazz band.

Walking through the ground floor restaurant of Le Bistro Arabe, which is slightly more refined dining, we then climbed the steep marble steps for our evening meal at La Pergola. In comparison to earlier it was very busy and our fabulous waiter (unfortunately didn’t catch his name) told us the rooftop is generally full days in advance, he recommended booking as early as possible if we wanted to revisit before we returned home.

Morrocan Chateau Raslane
A very nice Morrocan Chateau Raslane

We ordered a bottle of Chateau Raslane from Les Coteaux De L’Atlas which raised my expectations of Moroccan wine.

It was a very nice accompaniment to our delicious lamb nabrik starter stuffed with grilled almonds and goats cheese. It was a large starter so thankfully we opted to share.

The ‘special’ of Moroccan tapas also looked delicious and described as XXL it certainly lived up to its label, so can really only be shared. Our mains of fish & bakchich and crying beef kofta are signature dishes and excellent. The crying kofta comes with a chilli warning but is not too hot, just perfect.

We finished our evening off with a lovely Moroccan mint tea known for its digestive benefits. No wonder the menu is authorised by chef Abdel Alaoui, creator of the Choukran restaurants in Paris, it is magical Moroccan. Highly recommended for its delicious local food or a jazzy pre-dinner cocktail. It has a real warm ambiance, very friendly staff and is a Marrakech culinary experience not to be missed.

Jardin Majorelle

Yves Saint Laurent memori
Yves Saint Laurent memori

A visit to the Jardin Majorelle on Rue Yves Saint Laurent was recommended to us by Tony Reid. With the weather forecast to be 30 degrees plus we were thankful to secure an early morning booking. This was a very good move as it got extremely busy when we were leaving the gardens later in the morning. Even at 0830 it was difficult to take a photo without some random tourist making a cameo appearance. On entering a small gateway the gardens open up in front of you. The peaceful atmosphere initially takes a bit to comprehend since you have just left busy city streets with no hint of the beautiful gardens behind the wall. They are impressive and boast a variety of water features, plants, trees and cactus from all over the world.

catus and palm trees within the gardens.
A sneeky view through the catus towards the palm trees within the gardens.

Everything was impeccably maintained and the clever use of colour (majorelle blue and yellow) really enhances the gardens. Truly a hidden gem and remarkable that such a peaceful and beautiful place can be situated in the city. A great experience, which is recommended and certainly one of the best urban gardens we have visited.

Cafe Bacha

Replica Bacha
Replica Bacha Coffee sign

The story of Bacha Coffee begins in 1910 in the Medina of Marrakech. The spectacular Dar el Bacha Palace, which means “House of the Pasha”, brought together the greatest cultural and political minds of the century over glittering pots of “coffee of Arabia” or Arabica as it is known today.

After being closed for 60 years, Bacha Coffee recently reopened to reignite its tradition of offering fine 100% Arabica coffees from around the world and now has locations as far afield as Taiwan, Qatar, Singapore and of course, France.

After our early morning visit to the Majorelle Gardens we caught a taxi to Cafe Bacha which is located in the Confluence Museum and opens at 1000. We had no choice but to wait 40 minutes on it opening as a queue had already formed. Once inside you pay 10 Moroccan dirham each just to gain access to the coffee shop but this doesn’t guarantee a seat due to how popular it is. It’s important to note that only cash is accepted so be sure to have this on hand. Also I suggest to get ahead of the crowds, it’s best to arrive around 0915 as the queue forms quickly. We were near the front so managed to get straight into the coffee shop. It was worth the wait and offers a truly memorable experience with a massive selection of coffees sourced from all over the world. This caused me a problem as reading the menu I wanted to try them all. I chose a medium strength coffee from Surabaya, Indonesia. We had the set continental breakfast menu – two delicious French bread rolls, homemade jams and local butter. The orange juice was so fresh it tantalised our taste buds. This was followed by a very light and tasty almond croissant and a raspberry & cinnamon croissant. Great accompaniments to terrific coffee. Hot breakfast options such as omelettes are also available and the display of cakes and treats looks fantastic. The service was impeccable, incredibly polite and knowledgeable staff provide recommendations to guests on their choice of coffee.

Marvellous Marrakesh Splendors
Marvellous Marrakesh Splendors

The ambiance in the Cafe is stunning, with beautiful decor that cannot be done justice in photos. The cedar carved doors are simply stunning. Again another Moroccan treat hidden behind closed doors. The entrance is so insignificant you would simply walk by if you weren’t aware what grandeur and treats lie within. 

Travel and Transport

Travel and transport in and around Marrakech is a challenge and very stressful. Our experience was not good but I will come back to that later.

Getting around the Medina in Marrakech is really only done by walking. Most of the historic centre’s streets are so narrow that only pedal cycles, mopeds and motorbikes can gain access to this part of the city. It can be nerve wracking and you need eyes in the back of your head to keep a watch out for the bikes and scooters as they drive at unbelievable speed despite the crowds.

I thought of my scouting days when told that orienteering through the souks is a little tricky, however it can be totally disorienting, there are no maps and guide books often have different street names from the nameplates on the walls of the souks making it even more confusing. If you ask a local for directions it’s mostly customary for them to accompany you and then blatantly ask for a tip, which they will most likely say is not enough, or they’ll take you somewhere different, so not recommended.

I suggest taking a photo of google maps on your phone or asking for guidance from the reception staff in your accommodation before starting out rather than walking about with your phone in hand. It’s a challenge but a good one and to be honest a safe one. Avoiding the sales pitch from the stall holders can a bit wearing but a polite ‘no thank you’ and quickly moving on usually works.

The local buses in Marrakech are very old and are usually packed with people, so I would recommend avoiding them and use hotel courtesy buses or take a taxi instead and if close, go by foot.

If available, I firmly suggest using your hotel courtesy bus where possible. By far the safest option from the maniac driving and drivers who think nothing of texting while they drive at speed through the narrow streets and markets. To be honest our taxi experiences on occasion brought a really stressful end to what should have been magical Moroccan evenings.

Taxis

Two kinds of taxis exist in Marrakech: small ones called “petit taxis” and the big taxi called “grand taxi”. The smaller taxis are used in the city centre while the larger ones are for far-away excursions. Taxis in Marrakech have meters, but unless you remind the driver they don’t activate it. Unless you have pre-agreed a fare make sure they switch it on before you get in, if they refuse, just find another taxi. I suggest you always negotiate and agree a fare for the journey with the driver before the engine starts.

To get around the centre of Marrakech it will cost between 30 Dirham (£2.50) and 50 Dirham (£4) but be aware it can be a nerve-wracking journey. Taxi drivers are very happy to be hired for a whole day and will visit other areas even a few hours drive from Marrakech.

Horse-drawn carriages in Marrakech

This is one of the most traditional ways of getting around the city, a nice to do but again my inner conscious in respect of animal welfare got the better of me and this time I avoided it. The horse drawn carriages are plentiful throughout the city.

Marvellous Marrakech – Been, seen and will struggle to return!

As I view the sun setting behind the beautifully manicured palm trees in the gardens of the Iberostar Palmerie, I wonder if I will ever visit what is an intriguing city again. Several experiences have been wonderful and are highlighted in the review. However, there are a few safety concerns worthy of highlight.

From our first steps through the arrival doors at Marrakech Airport and into a very unsavoury interaction with the taxi manager I have not really felt the love. The aggression shown by this person was quite honestly shocking. He suggested our booking was for 12 hours before the agreed time even though this is tied to a flight number, he demanded my wife’s phone number, refused mine, said our taxi booking which was prepaid with British Airways was invalid and then bumped me with his chest! It was extremely hard to hold back my inner wishes. Only when I suggested we go to the local Police did he back off. Thankfully I have had an initial apology from British Airways who sorted out our return airport transfer but I still await a formal response from BA to my complaint.

The next concern is the manner of driving, mainly by taxi drivers, it is just frightening and totally unsafe in such a busy city. Then there is the constant feeling of being conned or overcharged with every interaction being a negotiation, which leaves such a bad taste and a sad feeling. Yes people have to make money but please don’t exploit what undoubtedly is a good source of income. Once they’re gone, they may be gone for good.

Despite these concerns I would like to thank those named in my blog and the other hotel staff, tour guides, and restaurant staff in places we visited for doing their utmost to welcome, accommodate and enhance our stay. On this occasion however one real bad apple certainly ruined the barrel, unfortunately it tainted our first impression of Marrakech.

But never say never again!

On recovery from the devastating earthquake on 8 September 2023 and to the good and honest people of Marrakech, I truly wish you good health and speedy recovery or ‘B’Saha’.

It’s a choice to visit Marrakech, if you do, enjoy it and please sample the best things on offer but look after your personal safety.

Calum Glenny

Gourock’s ‘Avid Traveller’

Culum glenny

 

 

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Avid Traveller, Malaga, nerja, travel literature, TravelWatchNews

While eagerly waiting to disembark our flight at Malaga Airport, I become aware of my fellow passengers’ rising anticipation of sun and warmth, the brief excited chat going on around me is about where people are travelling on to. The vast majority were heading West of Malaga to the popular resorts of Marbella, Mijas and Benalmadena. Knowing where we’re going I feel we’re pushing against the flow by saying, ‘I’m heading East to Nerja’.  This makes me think that Marbella (West) or Nerja (East) may be the question!

Heading East to Nerja on the Spanish Sunshine Coast

Nerja - A Great Spanish Sunshine Break

Nerja can be described as quaint, quieter and probably more family-orientated than Marbella. There are very few stag parties or ‘football tops’ in comparison to Marbella and its surrounding coastal towns. Dining in Marbella however can be superior, although often more expensive. So saying, Nerja has its share of top class restaurants. Marbella also has Puerto Banus on its door step with its shopping, coffee venues and sight-seeing attractions during the day, then its mega club scene at night. At my age thankfully the club equivalent is relatively small scale in Nerja, the most well known being Plaza Tutti Frutti which is a large square, lined with numerous bars and which is frequented mainly by locals at weekends.

Your own destination choice will be very much dependent on what you’re looking for in a Spanish holiday. This blog takes in several visits to Nerja when I was staying in the award winning and beautiful pueblo blanco of Frigiliana.

Nerja on the East of Costa Del Sol

On our frequent visits to Southern Spain and mostly to the autonomous region of La Axarquia, I have spent many a sunny day in and around the town of Nerja.

Nerja is a picturesque Costa del Sol resort town sitting along Spain’s Southern coast. Just 50 kilometres east of Málaga city and connected by the Mediterranean highway. Once a sleepy fishing village, Nerja now has a population of over 25,000.

Nerja a picturesque Costa del Sol resort town
Balcón de Europa from Hotel Balcón de Europa.

It boasts an impressive seafront promenade and stunning blue Mediterranean sea views from the famous Balcón de Europa. Sightseers are mesmerised looking out across the water and often forget to turn around and take in the stunning views of the rugged mountains behind. Nerja is home to several historic churches and beside the Balcón de Europa is the impressive El Salvador Church, first erected in 1505 but rebuilt in 1697. If you catch sight of a wedding there you will be impressed by the set up and fashion on show. On either side of the Balcón are sandy beaches and numerous coves in the cliffs.

Balcon de Europa

The Caves of Nerja (Cueva de Nerja) are nearby and house unusual stalactites and stalagmites, although I’ve yet to see these as every time I’ve visited they’ve either been full or closed!

Nerja is also known for its paleolithic paintings (early Stone Age) which are best viewed by guided tour with many on offer. The town also has a three story museum covering the history of the first settlers based at the Nerja Caves until the tourist boom of the late 1950’s.

Festivals in Nerja

Similar to other local towns and villages, Nerja is served well with festivals. Catch one if you can, the main ones being:

Three Kings (January),
Carnival (February),
Semana Santa (March/April),
San Isidro (May),
San Juan (June),
Virgin del Carmen (July),
and the Feria (Second week in October).

Nerja Attractions

If you ask a local they will list the following attractions as the best places to visit:

1. Old Town
2. Balcón de Europa
3. Church of El Salvador
4. Museum of the village of Nerja
5. Beaches
6. Caves

Nerja Accommodation

There are a large number of hotels, hostels and self catering rental options in Nerja. To be honest you are spoiled for choice and you will easily find what you require and meet your budget needs.

Hotel Balcón de Europa

Plaza Balcón de Europa

Plaza Balcon
Balcón de Europa

Built into the rock face, this impressive hotel has direct access to Caletilla Beach and Playa el Salon. It features an outdoor infinity swimming pool and a restaurant with great sea views.

The hotel has a lovely outside terrace on the Balcón itself serving drinks and light meals. Sitting relaxing and people watching with a glass of Juve & Camps Cava is one of my favourite pastimes here.

Located in the centre of Nerja, the hotel is close to many shops, bars and restaurants. Its only downside is it’s accessed via the pedestrian walkway so unless you arrange a meet and greet you will have to carry your luggage for about 10 minutes from the transport drop off point to the hotel which can be strenuous in the heat, especially if you overpack.

I’ve heard people say some areas of the hotel look dated but for service and views of the Mediterranean I’d recommend this as an accommodation choice.

Parador de Nerja

Calle Almunecar, 8

Parador de Nerja a Malaga gem

A ‘parador’ in Spain and some other Spanish speaking nations are establishments where travellers can obtain accommodation, food and beverages, similar to an inn. Since 1928, the Spanish National Tourist Board in an attempt to boost domestic and international tourism began to nationalise these paradors and develop a national network. Paradors range from historic buildings, monasteries and castles to modern buildings that tend to hold ‘special appeal’. At the impressive 4 star Parador de Nerja this appeal is recognised in its panoramic views of Burriana Beach, the Mediterranean and Nerja Old Town.

This is a large, bright modern hotel with terraces facing the sea, a beautiful garden with an outdoor swimming pool, a lawn tennis court, a paddle tennis court and is very close to the pedestrian walkway into the centre of town.

Nerja Restaurants

During our visits we found several great tapas bars and restaurants all within a very short distance of each other in old town Nerja.

Redondo Bar

Calle Gloria 10

 Redondo Bar

A busy bar with limited tables outside, Redondo Bar serves good food with a large selection of drinks. It offers free tapas with each drink ordered but be sure and ask for your tapas. Very popular and in a busy street, sometimes there’s a wait for a table particularly in the evenings or if the weather is not sunny. Recommended for a quick drink and tapas, don’t expect a relaxing evening meal as it can be slightly chaotic when busy but the atmosphere is great!

Mum Indian Restaurant

Calle Pintada, 3

I do like an Indian meal and we have eaten in Mum several times. Each time we are impressed with the incredible tasting food and excellent service. Not really sure what is going on with the decor mind you but some people seem to like it. If going ask for a seat through at the back terrace of the restaurant. Overall really nice food however the stuffed tandoori mushrooms were a personal firm favourite and the chicken hyderabadi biryani really did tingle the taste buds without being too spicy!

We will revisit when next in Nerja or nearby and I recommend if you like good authentic Indian food.

La Braseria de Pacomari

Calle Almte. Ferrándiz, 31

La Braseria de Pacomari in the heart of Nerja

Situated in the very heart of Nerja, with a family friendly atmosphere. This is a brilliantly different restaurant where the menu merges Asian and South American options with premium Spanish cuisine. It’s truly an art form and your taste buds will love it! Combined with an excellent wine list from all corners of Spain to go hand in hand with the delicious dishes. I cannot recommend highly enough but be sure to book especially in the evening as you have little chance of getting a table without a reservation.

Restaurant 34, Hotel Carabeo

Calle de Hernando de Carabeo
Hotel Caraba- Restaurant 34

We were kindly invited to a meal at this restaurant to celebrate friends Kevin and Jenny’s special birthdays (not 21!). It’s neatly tucked away in the boutique Hotel Carabeo in a fantastic setting. The authentically Spanish-focused menu comprises many delicious, mouthwatering dishes. It claims that the organic fruit and vegetables used in the cuisine are sourced from their finca, as is their own homemade extra virgin olive oil.

Daily chef specials run alongside the a la carte menu and there is also an impressive set menu at €30 for three courses.

There are various dining areas to choose from, including the original hotel dining room, tables secluded in hedge trimmed alcoves around the impressive swimming pool, or on the summer terrace overlooking the beach. Truly a wonderful experience and comes highly recommended, the octopus starter and the suckling pig main were incredible dishes, just delicious.

Hotel Carabeo
Hotel Carabeo pool and dining alcoves

We can’t thank Kevin & Jenny enough for our introduction to Restaurant 34 and inclusion in their special celebrations. Feliz Cumpleanos to you both!

Terraza Buddha Lounge Bar

Calle de La Gloria 13

If you’re looking for night time entertainment, Bar Buddha is it. It has various levels with a restaurant, outdoor lounge and karaoke area. A wide selection of cocktails and chipitos (shots) are available at the impressive rooftop bar. Fairly priced and a great atmosphere although it can be very busy. The entrance is tucked away but can be accessed from opposite the Rodondo Bar.

Beaches

As previously stated Nerja is a small town but it punches well above its weight for excellent beaches. The coastline is dotted with loads of small coves and sandy beaches. You are spoiled for choice whether looking for watersports, sunbathing or simply swimming in the crystal waters of the Mediterranean.

Burriana Beach

Burriana Beach in Nerja' in Malaga Sunshine Coast

Burriana beach is the longest beach in Nerja, virtually one kilometre in length with as many watersports on offer as you can imagine. Lined with some of the best chiringuitos in the area, you can also find numerous beachside shops selling snorkels and all sorts of beach paraphernalia.

Chiringuito Ayo

Burriana Beach

A local favourite to visit is Ayo for a lunch on Burriana Beach. Every day you can watch chef Alfonso make fresh paella in traditional big pans on an open fire. Great photo opportunity.

Chef Alfonso at work

It’s certainly no palace but straight forward and simple with plastic chairs and tables. However, the paella is the top attraction and very good, loaded with chicken and shellfish. It used to be known for free paella refills but following the pandemic and mindful of the waste that people left, this is no longer an option. The service is great and even in the height of summer when there are long queues, table turnaround is quick due to the efficient and friendly service of the waiting staff – Nico, Livia and young Jose certainly look after you! You can’t really beat the price and quality on offer, the paella is fabulous and must be sampled but the rosada a la plancha is a winner for me and simply delicious! Eating grilled fresh fish while sampling local wine, sometimes it’s hard to remember you’re in a chiringuito on a beach and not a top class restaurant! Also worth knowing about is the breakfast here which is excellent – a large strong coffee and pan con tomate sets you up nicely for a day on the beach.

Nico, Livia and Jose at work

This is a local institution and certainly not to be missed! Go and visit Nico, Livia and Jose who work as a great team at the far left hand side of the restaurant.

Playa la Caletilla Beach

This is one of my favourite Nerja beaches, which is accessed by a steep downward hill and has a small shop selling drinks and snacks. Facilities such as showers, sun loungers and umbrellas are also available.

The beach is home to what were fisherman’s huts, now renovated into summer accommodation. It’s a fairly popular beach in the heart of Nerja town so can get busy. Although there are no restaurants or chiringuitos on the beach it’s only a short walk to the heart of Nerja and a huge choice of restaurants and tapas bars.

Carabeo Beach

Nerja - A Great Spanish Sunshine Break

Only accessed via the pedestrianised Carabeo street although with parking available in the adjacent town car park. Carabeo Beach is really a very uncomplicated beach, there are no sun loungers, bars or restaurants available. The simplicity of this beach is not to be understated however with its sandy crystal clear waters beautifully enclosed by high cliffs it’s the most natural of beaches.

Travel & Transport

While West of Malaga has a terrific train system, the East relies on its bus and taxi infrastructure. Nerja bus station is a 15 minute walk from the Balcón de Europa although this is somewhat of a misnomer as it’s effectively a layby on the N-340 with a small ticket kiosk. But don’t be mistaken as it provides excellent and regular bus links throughout the region. There’s also plenty of cafes and bars nearby to grab a refreshment in between journeys.

There are a multitude of taxis in operation but if you’re going to pre-book an airport transfer or a pick up from outside of Nerja, I suggest you use Taxi Frigiliana. WhatsApp or call them on +34 696969469 or check out their website www.taxifrigiliana.com if you require a taxi service to get to Nerja or to travel from Frigiliana. Owned and run by Paulino Lopez, it is a stand-out in service provision, honesty and integrity.

Historically West v East?

So back to the original conundrum. Local folklore states that dictator Franco, who ruled Spain from 1939 until he died in 1975, divided the area in two:

West of Malaga was for tourism; East of Malaga designated for agriculture. To be honest who really knows if this is true or simply an urban myth, but actually there is some logic in the statement particularly driving East along the Mediterranean Highway gazing at the farmers’ green hilly fields!

So here is a quick debrief on the original question of West or East of Malaga?

West

The western part of the region stretches 60 kilometres from Malaga to Marbella and beyond. In between you will find Torremolinos, Fuengirola and Mijas, and past Marbella you will reach Estepona and Gibraltar. All familiar names that roll off the tongue and true favourites with tourists.

East

East is very different and most readers will not have heard of Rincon del Victoria, Algarobbo or El Morche. Velez-Malaga and Torre del Mar may be better known along with Torrox and Nerja. This 69 kilometre agricultural stretch is lined with poly tunnels and greenhouses, it’s also the largest mango and avocado cultivation area in Europe. Tourism clearly exists but not to the same degree as the West. I know I’m not alone in saying that the East and in particular Nerja is rather more relaxed.

As the sun sets


I’m certainly not discrediting Marbella, Mijas or other resorts west of Malaga as we have several good friends who own impressive properties in these areas. We have also spent many a happy holiday or long weekend with friends and family in these locations.

So despite the West v East conundrum the resort choice is as always down to the individual traveller. No matter what your choice you will enjoy warmth and hospitality. If you’re undecided perhaps opt for the ‘middle’ as I personally find Malaga an exceptional city to visit and it should be classed as up there with the best of Spanish cities.

In conclusion I’d say Nerja is an excellent choice for a holiday, it has it all and is friendly and relaxed. For me, one of the best secrets attached to Nerja is its easy access to the award winning and beautiful pueblo blanco of Frigiliana. Only €1.20 (£1) on the bus or €12 (£10) in a taxi to visit this stunning village but be ready for its many stairs and hills – as my local friend Antonio Domingo says ‘it’s all ups and downs in Frigiliana!’.

Summary Video


Video @RoguesinParadise

AvidTarvellers.News Blog by Calum Glenny

 

Calum Glenny
Gourock’s Avid Traveller

More like this – The AvidTraveller.News

Associate of Rogues Guide and the Book
Rogues in Paradise –


Avid Traveller, barbados, rogues in paradise, Slavery, travel literature, TravelWatchNews

I am delighted to have read the draft copy of this delightful and informative book. Rogues in Paradise. Here is a synopsis of my Rogues  Review. The full review is available here >>>

Book By Author Ian R. Clayon

ianrclaton-author
“Rogues in Paradise” is a captivating book about Barbados that delves deep into the heart and soul of this enchanting island.

The book, written by author y Ian R. Clayton, founder of the Barbados Tourism Encyclopedia, provides a unique and intimate perspective of the island’s people, culture, heritage, and history.

Rogues Heroes, Legends, and Everyday Bjans

Rogues introduces readers to unforgettable people like Queen Bee Peggy, who finds herself on a high-tech medical stretcher, and Rex Wooton, embroiled in a comical caper with ‘stolen’ construction lights. It also recounts the uproarious courtroom antics of ‘Fred’ as he tries to save the Race Horse Bathing at Pebbles Beach. The stories of people are warm and vibrant everyday characters who embody the true spirit of Barbados.

a Captivating book by Author Ian R. Claton

However, “Rogues in Paradise” is not just about these characters; it’s about the legendary heroes who are often also rogues. Clayton seamlessly weaves significant historical events and special places into the narrative, shedding light on the island’s rich heritage and remarkable people. He discusses Errol Barrow, a visionary leader who introduced free schooling and meals for all children, making Barbados one of the most literate nations.

Reflection on a Dark Past

The book’s entertaining stories transition seamlessly into a more solemn reflection on the inhuman and brutal slave trade and its lasting impact on Barbados. Throughout it all, Clayton underscores the unwavering resilience of the Bajan spirit, emphasizing that it has endured and risen above all adversities.

the dark side of colonialism and the african slave trafe

“Rogues in Paradise” offers readers an engaging account of history, with humour, and poignant reflection that deepens understanding and connection to Barbados. For those who have visited the island, the characters in the book will feel like old friends encountered on beaches, in town squares, or even in the local rum shops and restaurants. Clayton’s narrative reinforces the idea that the people define Barbados, and Barbados, in turn, is a reflection of its people.

its humour will make you snile

As an avid traveler who has frequented Barbados, I eagerly anticipate the updated edition of this book. I assure readers that “Rogues in Paradise” is a delightful and enlightening read, offering laughter and profound insights of the history and people of of Barbados.

Summary Video of My Rogue Review

Original Review Blog –  https://RoguesinParadise.com/reviews-videos/

Calum Glenny – The Avid Traveller

Calum Glenny Avid Traveller
Whether planning a trip to the island or intrigued by its rich culture and heritage, this book is essential to understanding the essence of the island and the  Bajan people.

Rogues Review By Calum Glenny-
http://AvidTraveller.News

 

 


africa, obeah-voodoo, travel literature, TravelWatchNews

 

Exploring the differences between Voodoo and Obeah in the Caribbean

The Rogues article on Voodoo inspired this blog. While Voodoo is not common in Barbados and many Caribbean islands, it has influenced religious practices in many islands. One of those derivates is Obea: An afro-influenced spiritual and magical tradition.  Obeah draws on African religious elements, including but not limited to Voodoo. It reinterprets and “Africanizes” Voodoo, Christian practices, and a combination of many religions—a creolization of religions. In some regions of the Caribbean, aspects of Indigenous and South Indian religions have been incorporated into the practice. While it draws on some elements of Voodoo, there are critical differences between Voodoo and Obeah:

Mysterious Differences

Obeah voodoo influences differences

  • Origins: Voodoo originated in West Africa and was brought to the Caribbean through the transatlantic slave trade. It has strong influences from the Fon and Ewe cultures of present-day Benin and Togo. Conversely, Obeah emerged in the Caribbean region itself, primarily in Jamaica and other parts of the West Indies.
  • Belief Systems: Voodoo encompasses a complex belief system that combines elements of African animism, spirit worship, and Catholicism. It emphasizes the veneration of spirits (loa) and the interconnectedness of the spiritual and physical realms. Obeah, in contrast, is often described as a more folk-based and individualistic practice. It incorporates elements of folk magic, herbalism, and ancestral reverence.
  • Rituals and Practices: Voodoo rituals involve elaborate ceremonies, drumming, dancing, and spirit possession. There is an emphasis on community participation and traditions typically held in dedicated sacred spaces such as temples or outdoor shrines. Obeah practices, on the other hand, are often more private and individualistic. They may involve using charms, herbs, divination, and spellcasting.
  • Spellcasting and Magic: Both Voodoo and Obeah practitioners engage in spellcasting and magical practices, but there are differences in their approaches. Voodoo spellcasting often involves the invocation of specific loa, intricate rituals, and using symbolic objects. Obeah practitioners, on the other hand, may focus more on folk remedies, charms, and spells tailored to specific needs or desires.
  • Cultural Influences: Voodoo has been more widely recognized and studied by scholars and has gained some degree of exposure in popular culture, particularly in Haiti and New Orleans. Obeah, in comparison, has remained more localized and less well-known outside the Caribbean region.
  • Variants of Obeah are practiced in the Caribbean nations of the Bahamas, Barbados, Belize, Dominica, Grenada, Guyana, Jamaica, Saint Lucia, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Suriname, Turks and Caicos Islands, Trinidad and Tobago, and the Virgin Islands.

More about Voodoo

See the original article at Rogues in Paradise:

Discovering the Mystery and History of Voodoo

Rogues in Paradise is the real story of Babados’ People, place, and history. It traces the origins of several Bajans back to Africa and studies the tribal influences, philosophy, and heritage.

 

Related links

 

Thje story behind the Book Rogues in Paradise

About the Bajan People

More Historical Mysteries


barbados, rogues in paradise, travel literature, TravelWatchNews

Uncover the captivating story of Ferdinand Paleologue, Barbados Greek Dynasty at Rest in St. Johns Church. He is from the esteemed Palaiologos Greek family that ruled the Byzantine Empire until the 15th century. He embarked on a remarkable journey that brought him to Barbados. Fleeing the English Civil War turbulence, Ferdinand arrived on the island in 1644, immersing himself in its privileged circles and establishing his position among the elite.

His influence extended beyond agriculture, with Ferdinand playing a pivotal role in shaping the spiritual landscape of Barbados. From serving as a vestryman to ascending to the distinguished position of churchwarden at St. John’s Parish Church, he left an indelible mark on the island’s ecclesiastical affairs.

Greek Dynasty in Barbados Ferdinand was buried in the graveyard at the church. His tombstone reads, “Here lyeth ye body of Ferndinando Paleolocus descended from ye imperial line of ye last Christian emperors of Greece.” Died on October 3, 1678.

Unearth the allure of Barbados as a refuge for those seeking new beginnings, witness Ferdinand Paleologue’s contributions to the island’s economic and spiritual fabric, and marvel at the spectacular home he built,  Clifton Hall, a testament to his grand vision. This is your invitation to experience the captivating legacy of Ferdinand Paleologue and the extraordinary people who have shaped the paradise of Barbados. See the spectacular St. Johns Church, perched on the breathtaking Hackeltons Cliff.

 

St. Johns church on the edge of the cliff.

Don’t miss the opportunity to delve deeper into the captivating stories of Barbados’ rogues, heroes, and emperors. Discover the thought-provoking book,Rogues in Paradise,” which challenges traditional perspectives and showcases the extraordinary individuals shaping the island’s vibrant culture.

Join us on this journey and unravel the rich tapestry of Barbados’ history, where elegance, influence, and a spirit of resilience converge to create a story that inspires you. Explore more and secure your invitation to the “Rogues in Paradise Free chapters book launch by clicking the link below.rogues in paradise celebrating Bajan culture

Related Links –

The Barbados Tourism Encyclopedia Blog on Ferdinand Paleologue

More Mysteries of History –RoguesinParadise Mysteries

The Real Story of Barbados People, place, history and Culture Rogues in Paradise. About Rogues in Paradise