I was lucky enough in 2016 to have my fabulous Maid of Honour and Bridesmaids organise my Hen Do for me, all of which remained a surprise. Even luckier was having two Hen Do’s. On the weekend I had the typically booze filled (and there was a lot of booze) night out, in Reading where I went to University and met my bridal party. This was then followed by a four day trip to Marrakech, not a typical Hen Party destination, but it should be. This part of the celebration was just for me and the bridal party and they had organised everything, down to the detail of stealing my passport from my bed side drawer without me knowing!
This will probably be the only trip I ever go on that I had not vigorously planned before hand and every bit of it was great! Marrakech is a city in Morocco in the north-west of Africa and it only takes 3 and a half to 4 hours to get there from London. There are two obvious reasons why Marrakech is not a big hit for Hen parties and that’s because of its lack of alcohol and the need for women to cover up, due largely to it being a Muslim country. But do not let this put you off, there are a number of reasons why you should still consider Marrakech as a Hen Do destination (or just a holiday).
There are a wide range of places to stay when in Marrakech, dependant on budget and what sort of trip you are after. Marrakech has plenty of all inclusive resorts on offer, although these are on the outskirts of the city and although offer an element of luxury I don’t think offer a true Moroccan experience. There are then Riads, normally small hotels, beautifully decorated and located throughout the city. These are probably a great option if you want a bit more tradition but also want the convenience of staying in a hotel. The place we stayed was located seconds from the souks and was booked through Airbnb. A four bedroomed traditional Riad, it had everything we needed, it was traditional and centrally located. Our host picked us up from the airport, took us to the Riad, made us tea, gave us food and hamman recommendations and made sure a taxi was booked to take us back to the airport after our trip.
What more could you possibly need? Other than 5 perfectly good reasons to visit Marrakech.
1 – Henna Tattoos
For those of you, like me, not daring enough to get a real tattoo this semi permanent alternative is great and traditional in Marrakech. We found the Henna Art Café through recommendations. Here they employ local people who have years of experience in the use of Henna. There is a book full of hundreds of different designs with a variety of costs for arms, hands and feet. So you are spoilt for choice. This place is incredibly friendly and its great to know that the money is going to local people and you are paying for a quality product.
It is advised not to get Henna Tattoos done in the market square, they are offered at a cheap price but are not done in a hygienic or safe way. You are far better off finding somewhere that charges a reasonable amount of money and is clean. We all decided to get hand tattoos, we were able to sit, chat and drink whilst having the tattoos done and best of all they lasted for a couple of weeks which meant being able to show them off to people once we got home.
2- Moroccan Food and Drink
The majority of my life is dictated by food, what I am eating and where I am eating. I love trying new things and when travelling I always want to try the local cuisine. When you think about food from Morocco you instantly thing of Tagine, and it is everywhere as well as equally as traditional cous cous. The places we ate ranged in budget and style from market stalls to a full banquet style meal but they all had one thing in common, they were traditional and delicious.
The first night we ate at Palais Chahramane, recommended by our Airbnb host. You would never be able to stumble across this place, it is every bit traditional, with tiled walls and colourful upholstery. The food is a little pricey but you do get a lot for your money, and this was a Hen Do after all, so why not splash put a bit! There was a set menu to choose from which included a selection of starters followed by tagine and cous cous as well as bread. I don’t think I had ever had a tagine as flavoursome as this one was. During the meal there was traditional music being played as well as belly dancers, which we of course joined in with, although this is not compulsory. If its tradition and a bit of glamour you are after then definitely think about eating here if you are in the area.
Although eating at Jemaa el-Fna isn’t always recommended somehow we found ourselves walking through the market stalls and being persuaded to take a seat at one of the stalls after some guys started singing at us. Clearly easy to persuade when food is involved. Here we ordered what can only be described as a feast, made up of vegetables, cous cous and meat skewers. The atmosphere in the market is electric with loads of food stalls all buzzing with activity. The food here was good and seemed to be fresh and safe to eat. You are always likely to hear bad things about this place and I am sure some stalls aren’t going to be as hygienic as others. Its a risk worth taking in my book.
Henna Art Café
When looking through guide books the Henna Art Café is mentioned numerous times, not only for its stunning henna tattoos (see above) but also its fabulous food. The menu here is incredibly cheap although limited. This place is ideal for a nice quiet lunch, we sat out on a lovely little roof terrace which was nice and light but you were covered from the sun. If you go here you must try a Berber Mojito (non alcoholic), they were incredibly refreshing and the alcohol was not missed!
Kasbah Café was located outside of the Saadian Tombs, we first found this place when looking for somewhere to have a drink. We decided to return for food one evening after realising it was highly recommended. We sat out on the roof terrace where you could look out to the Moulay El yazid mosque. It was another night of tagines and cous cous as well as skewers of meat and the price was fairly reasonable. Kasbah café offered a nice mix of traditional food as well as an outdoors atmosphere which meant you could take in your surroundings whilst you ate, including being able to hear the call for prayer at the mosque.
Before arriving in Marrakech I had no idea how much they loved their mint tea. I don’t normally like anything other than Yorkshire tea but I can now say I am a changed woman. Our first taste of this amazing tea came from our Airbnb host which was made with all fresh ingredients and I couldn’t get enough of it. I had it everywhere I went, although none were quite as good as that first glass. The little tea sets used are also incredibly idyllic and you can buy them in the markets. We had read that it is polite that if someone offers you tea you should accept, which did lead to us one day cramming into a tiny shop in the souks and being made some tea as the shop owner tried to sell us some jewellery.
3- A Traditional Hamman
We knew that we wanted to go for a Hamman whilst in Marrakech, this can either be done in a more public place or in private hotels/spas. We asked our Airbnb host for another recommendation and he took us to a place only five minutes away, although this was some sort of secret back entrance. The hotel/spa was stunningly beautiful and more private and therefore more expensive than the public hammans. This experience was as hilarious as it was relaxing as we weren’t quite expecting to be told we had to be topless. So do bare this in mind before going for one, you will see more of your friends than you ever have before.
The first part of the Hamman is to go into a hot room, and when I say hot I mean boiling hot, I guess to make you sweat all the bad stuff out. One by one we were then scrubbed (really hard) all over our bodies before then rinsing away all the ‘bad stuff’. This part was not particularly relaxing but it was part of the deep clean prior to then getting a full body massage….and I mean full body, hilariously whilst listening to a cd of instrumental british pop classics. I have never felt so relaxed (or greasy after all the massage oils) in all my life, something a Bride to Be needs to be with only two months to go until she gets married.
4 – Camel Rides
This was all organised before we arrived in Marrakech through Viator. They picked us up from near the place we were staying before driving us out of Marrakech to the edge of the desert. Here we were given drinks before having head scarfs put on us and taken to our camels. All the camels had famous singers names such as Madonna, Michael Jackson and Jamelia.
We started our trek with our guides who were incredibly friendly and took some great photos for us. Half way through our trek we stopped for snacks and tea at a little shack and was taught about the sugar used to make the mint tea. We then started our trek back to where we had started, the whole time taking in the scenery.
If you go on a camel trek make sure you dress appropriately, it was incredibly hot and there is no shelter until you stop for a break. A camel ride should be on everyones bucket list, if only to get some brilliant photos and have some great laughs along the way. Our camels wouldn’t always behave themselves when getting up and down, but they took a fabulous selfie!
5 – The Souks
The souks, the main tourist attraction of Marrakech. This part of Marrakech is incredibly vast and although a lot of the stalls sell similar items the quality and price varies depending where you are. The place we were staying was just around the corner from the Riad Zitoun Lakdim, a street lined with stalls heading to the main market square, Jemaa el-Fna. This was our first glimpse of what Marrakech had to offer, each stall/shop is quite small and packed with goods to sell with their owners out in the street keen to get you to look at what they are selling.
One thing I must say is that everyone was incredibly friendly towards us, with one stall owner giving me a some free dried rose buds as a gift for getting married, at no point did anyone make us feel uncomfortable or in danger. When you finally exit this street you end up in the open market square, you are suddenly met with a wall of heat and hustle and bustle, there are snake charmers, juice stalls and henna tattooists.
Once you carefully wind your way through these people you reach the bigger stalls which are largely undercover. Here the shop owners are slightly more relaxed, only talking to you if you go in their shops. The number of products and their quality certainly increases here but so does the price.
You are expected to haggle when purchasing from the souks and this was something that had been on my bucketlist and I was keen to get it ticked off. I have never bought so many souvenirs from anywhere else I have visited. I now have bowls, mini tagine pots, a fez, amber, spices, a wooden camel, the list goes on. I just could not get enough of everything they had to offe and haggling was incredibly fun.
We had such an amazing time in Marrakech, it was such an explosion of culture mixed with a lot of new experiences. There is not one point in the four days that any of us missed the alcohol, we were having such a great time and we made such great memories. Morocco in general is also incredibly affordable as a holiday destination and therefore should be on everyones list of places to visit. I certainly plan on going back.