El Fenn, The Mini Marrakech Adventure

Hammams, spices, oboes, mint tea, more mint tea, heat, sunsets, drumming, souks, colour, equals 4 days in Marrakech! 

Over the years we have been lucky enough to travel to the likes of Bali, Thailand and Malaysia but Marrakech was like nowhere we had been.  I was ready for hustle and bustle, dusty streets and hoards of people but still that didn’t quite prepare me for the ‘real life’ Marrakesh.  In hindsight arriving in the dark maybe was not the best idea to settle me into this crazy but ‘so good’ crazy city, to add to it to then be quickly scurried down a dark street to our hotel perhaps was not the best start.  However, as we walked through the giant regal like doors of El Fenn hotel, it was at that point I decided it was all going to be okay!  El Fenn, a beautiful Riad in the Old Town, Marrakech, is just a short 30 minute taxi drive from the airport. It is a  tranquil, quiet romantic oasis, hidden away from the opposite goings on outside.

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Grand but chilled, stylish yet friendly, structured yet bohemian, it was the perfect base for our short stay here. Local artwork covered the walls, colourful rugs, heavy drapes, lanterns hanging, candles flickering, slippers neatly placed and rooms fit for Royals, yes I was happy here!  Excitingly we received the news that we had been upgraded, credit to booking through http://www.i-escape.com I embarrassingly did gasp when my eyes first fell on our room.  A bed bigger than our bedroom at home, a beautiful copper bath tub, and a tranquil swimming pool situated just outside,  awaited us.  After a quick nightcap in the courtyard, fit with lemon trees, hammocks, sounds of the Old Town and little friendly resident tortoises, we hit the sack ……

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Call to prayer did stir us at around 5am nicely reaffirming where we were in the world, after a few more zzz’s and fresh mint tea,  which was waiting outside our door, we hit the roof top for breakfast.  Fresh strawberries and croissants were washed down with coffee, whilst discussing plans for the day.  Additionally, hot topic was the freezing cold weather, rain and wind, which was not quite in our vision of North Africa in April!   However as typical Brits we swapped flip-flops for boots and sunnies for umbrellas and began our day.

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After what felt like stepping out of Narnia and into the bustle of the Old Town, we decided to head straight to Ben Youssef Madrasa.  An Islamic college dating back to the 14th Century, which had been reconstructed by the Saadian Sultan Abdallah as-Ghalib, creating around 130 rooms around a courtyard, carved with cedar, marble and stucco.  Nothing at all like the halls of residents I lived in.  The walls were carved with inscriptions and geometric patterns, creating infinite endless repetition,  a dream for any eager Instagrammer.

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With a quick walk back through the souks, as of course I had set a whole day aside for shopping. We swam and read books in our chilled Riad and were waited on with afternoon tea and homemade pastries, refueling us in preparation for a sunset adventure to Djemaa-el-Fnaa.

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The Djemaa-el-Fnaa is the heart, soul and pulse of Marrakech and feast for all senses, a super exciting place to be.  However I, with a huge fear of snakes, decided it would be best to leave the visit ‘til sunset, as the snakes, along with their charmers tended to take off….Or so I thought!  So feeling a little unnerved we made our way to the Cafe de France, the best spot for sunset views, people watching and mint tea.  People, young old and in the middle gathered everywhere.  Animals, carts full of figs and oranges jamming up the road, all built to the excitement or slightly terrifying visit to the  square.  Making our way across, stands of freshly squeezed orange juice, bbq’s, storytellers, musicians, drummers and insence, enveloped the square. Then of course the oboes, to me the dreaded sound of the snake charmer.  So with my head straight forward we made it snake free to the cafe and from there took in the most amazing scene, the drums, call of prayers and even the oboes created the perfect sound scape to this colourful evening as we watched the sunset with calming mint tea.  I also happily watched the snake charmers leave!

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That evening we indulged in a three course meal at the hotel and finished with drinks in the cocktail bar, practically lying not sitting on the giant comfortable sofas, before heading off to bed in awe of what we had seen…… Well apart from the snakes!

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Having had a shopping list the as long as tomorrow, we began the souk adventure.  El Fenn is literally a few steps away from the start of the souks, which is a maze of stalls and shops, selling slippers, traditional textiles, bags, pottery, jewellery, scarves, spices and more slippers, heaven for any shopping addict to get lost in.  Lost you do get inevitably but you get to grips with it in the end, or shall I say Wes did, I just stayed closed by and followed.  You can of course hire a guide if preferred.  After getting quite good at bartering (or so we thought) and buying enough pairs of slippers for nearly everyone I knew, and a few extra treats, we left the souks wishing we’d not booked a ‘carry on’ seat on the EasyJet flight home, so we could re-furnish the whole of our home with Morrocan delights.  Whether we ended up getting a good deal or not, I think it is okay and of course ethical to pay what it is worth. We headed back to the Riad for some quiet time and of course not forgetting the afternoon tea and a dip in the pool, because yes the sun had come out!

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The final morning was spent lazing around the swimming pools, hanging on the roof top taking in the draw dropping view of the Koutoubia Mosque with the Atlas Mountain standing firmly behind.  With a quick stop in the hotels Hammams and spa, before leaving, feeling as if we had really experienced something very different, quite lovely but altogether rather overwhelming.

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El Fenn was a a stunning oasis of calm in a colourful world of structured chaos.  Would we return? Absolutely, just get rid of those damn snakes first!

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We flew with EasyJet Airline and booked El Fenn through the guys at http://www.i-escape.com Hotel staff were happy to give detailed information on restaurants and top things to do. They can also arrange a guide for you to delve deeper into the Souks.

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