Marrakech is a fascinating and chaotic city divided in two. The Medina is the ancient walled city. The walls date from the 12th century, when Sultan Ali Ben Youssef had them built to defend the city against the attacks of the Almohad tribe from the south.
The modern city was built during the French Protectorate (1912-1956). There could not be a greater contrast between the two.
Tree-lined streets and 5-star hotels (Movenpick, Sofitel) define this elegant neighburhood of Marrakech. Although there isn’t a lot to do here, Hivernage provides a welcome respite from the hectic activity of the Medina among orange trees and rosebushes.
The Menara Mall is on Boulevard Mohamed VI. I found that the best feature is the restaurants with tables on the curb and the panoramic views from the food court. Other than that, the mall is pretty unremarkable.
Staright ahead on Prince Moulay Rachid Avenue is the Jardin Menara. These botanical gardens were created in the 12th century during the Almohad dynasty. It’s rather a giant olive grove with a central water reservoir and an ancient irrigation system that brings water from the mountains.
The pavilion dates from the 16th century. Entrance to the Jardin Menara is free of charge but you have to pay to go into the pavilion. We didn’t. It didn’t seem worth it. The gardens are a UNESCO World Heritgae Site.
The French colonial rulers decided to get out of the medina and build their own neighbourhood with electricity and plumbing. Also, with wide streets fit for cars. As time went by, wealthy Moroccans moved to Gueliz as well.
Nowadays, Gueliz is the hub for restaurants, nightclubs, high-end shops and cafes like any other Western city. We went to the Plaza Jardin 16 Novembre square for tea and coffee. It felt like we were in another galaxy from the Medina, it was all modern, clean and so French.
We had planned to visit the Majorelle Garden that morning. The gardens were created by French artist Jacques Majorelle and restored by Yves Saint-Laurent. The people from our riad told us to get there early, or it gets too crowded. With one thing and another, we got there by 11 am. Too late. There were way too many people for the tiny place. We changed plans and that’s how we ended up in that square.
I insisted on visiting the Mamounia Hotel, a historic 19th century palace converted into a hotel in 1923. Winston Churchill was a fan of the hotel and the city.
So we walked along Mohamed V Avenue, lined with orange trees as well, and then on to Al Yarmouk Boulevard. This boulevard runs parallel to the Medina walls. Across the street, there are beautiful mansions. We walked by the Royal Mansour Hotel, with rooms ranging from USD 1,200 to 6,800 per night.
You go through a metal detector at the Mamounia Hotel. They make you leave your backpack at the security thingy too. However, it’s worth it. The building is intricately decorated and very grand. We had lunch on the terrace, lulled by birdsong and the calls to prayer. After lunch, we strolled around the grounds. A riot of rosebushes, orange trees and cacti.
There are bicycle stations in the new city. I dare not ride in traffic, let alone in Marrakech, but I’ve seen adventurous tourists riding bikes.
We walked a lot; however, taxis are readily available. You should negotiate the price, but it got to be very exhausting. Our peace of mind wasn’t worth haggling over a couple of euros.