How to live like a Local in Marrakesh

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Lonely Planet Local Chris Griffiths has been photographing Morocco for more than five years and has now settled in Marrakesh, drawn in by the historic architecture mixed with an ever-changing creative scene. Navigating through the maze of the Medina, he’s usually on the hunt for cheap eats, refuge from the hustle and bustle and, as a travel photographer, the perfect photo-op.

Stacks of spices and teas in the Medina in Marrakesh. Image by Chris Griffiths / Lonely PlanetPick up spices, herbs and teas of all varieties from the markets of Marrakesh’s Medina © Chris Griffiths / Lonely Planet

The best places in Marrakesh are… the souqs and food markets. I am obsessed with herbs and spices and am also pretty fond of the way Moroccans do tea, so I’m in my element discovering all the varieties of herbs, such as lemon geranium and verbena, which are found in abundance in the Medina. Nothing beats a Moroccan sheba tea with a platter of dried fruit and nuts, olives, oil, honey and bread as an afternoon snack. The seasons matter here, which means shopping for the exact produce you want can sometimes be a challenge. But I can spend whole afternoons happily wandering around and finding the best of what’s on offer and then an equal amount of time back at home attempting to cook up tagines and Moroccan tapas dishes.

For cheap eats… look no further than the street food. It can feel elusive sometimes – the stalls somehow hide away behind those mosaic-tiled counters and tired tables and chairs. The trick is to be confident and find out what people are eating from stalls around you and to always eat at the busy places. My favourite morning snack is usually a slice of meloui (a Moroccan-style pancake) drizzled with honey, which is best washed down with nous nous (half milk, half espresso) or a classic mint tea. Afternoon bites range from grabbing a quick seafood pastilla (rich savoury pie) from a bakery or sitting down to enjoy some small plates of loubia (stewed white beans in a herbed tomato sauce).

Colourful courtyard of Bahia Palace. Image by Chris Griffiths / Lonely PlanetThe tranquil courtyard of Bahia Palace is an escape from the chaos of Marrakesh’s Medina © Chris Griffiths / Lonely Planet

When I need to relax… I’ll head to a garden or palace space for a couple of hours. The sunken gardens of Badi Palace are a personal favourite, but I also love the random and disjointed layout of the Bahia Palace. Marrakesh’s many quiet gardens and palace complexes shouldn’t be missed. To see them at their best, get up early for a morning stroll.

A typical weekend involves… finding out what exhibitions and pop-up galleries are on and indulging in creative inspiration for an afternoon. Marrakesh is a captivating place to be right now. The Yves Saint Laurent Museum and the Museum of Contemporary African Art Al Maadan have recently opened and are always displaying something brilliant. As a photographer, my favourites are the Voice Gallery, Galerie 127 and the Maison de la Photographie because they always have well-selected works on display.

Bartender pouring drinks at Barometre Marrakesh. Image by Chris Griffiths / Lonely PlanetA night out in Marrakesh often ends up in the laboratory of Barometre © Chris Griffiths / Lonely Planet

When I meet friends for a drink… I usually end up at Barometre. I like the smoky, mad professor’s lab feel – the bar is lined with apothecary jars holding all sorts of herb-infused liquor concoctions that are mixed into the cocktails. They do decent tapas there too, so it’s a cool place to grab a few drinks and a snack. Café du Livre has a great vibe and is also home to the cheapest beer in town. If you aren’t fussed about alcoholic drinks, then Cafe Clock is great for meeting up with friends. They often host traditional live music, such as Gnaoua performances, and the ambience is relaxed and sociable. I save the big nights out for when the festivals are in town, and this year I’m particularly looking forward to Oasis Festival.

Chris Griffiths, Lonely Planet Local, in Marrakesh. Image by Thomas ButterySometimes the bartering in the souqs can get tiring, and that’s when it’s time to venture outside Marrakesh © Thomas Buttery

When I want to get out of the city… I head to Essaouira to soak up the laidback coastal vibes or up to Imlil in the High Atlas to trek in the fresh mountain air. Escaping the urban sprawl of the city is easy in Marrakesh. You can find yourself in the arid expanse of the Agafay desert within an hour, and the peaceful Berber villages of the Ourika Valley are also within easy reach. That’s another reason why I love living here; the city is well connected to the rest of Morocco, meaning you have as many options for weekend breaks as there are stalls in the Medina.

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