Majorelle Garden (Marrakech, Morocco)
I visited Morocco several years ago–I believe it was back in 2010 or 2011—and it was a fabulous trip, full of the most amazing natural vistas, stunning architectural marvels, as well as lively markets and very friendly people. I had always wanted to visit Morocco, mainly because that’s where Penny Lane, the groupie from the movie “Almost Famous” picks as the location to restart her life. I wish I had a better reason for wanting to visit Morocco, but I was a part time groupie back in the day and obsessively watched “Almost Famous”, so I can’t lie and say it wasn’t a huge motivating factor in my decision to go. Plus, as I’m sure my readers all know, I’m pretty much game to go anywhere, at any time! I’m also a very big fan of deserts, and especially the Saharan desert, which I had visited a few times from the other side of North Africa, but which I had never seen from the Western edge.
In addition, I was studying Arabic, and wanted to visit a place I could practice what I had learned, although, sadly, I came to find out quite quickly that Moroccan Arabic was almost completely different from the Egyptian Arabic I had been learning in class. The dialects are so completely different that speakers of the same language can barely understand each other, at best. But the written language was similar (although the letters spelled different words), and I was able to practice reading and pronouncing the signs as they went by our bus.
I traveled alone to Morocco because, as usual, I could find no one with either the time or money to fly with me. Since I was alone, and felt no desire to do all the planning myself, I hitched up with GAdventures, an adventure style tour company I’d used often in the past, and with whom I’d had great experiences. I joined the “Highlights of Morocco” tour, which began in Casablanca, and ended in Marrakech (passing through Essaouira, the Atlas Mountains, Merzouga, Fez, Meknes and a host of other great locations as well).
I will skip the details of this tour, as I plan to post each city as a separate post, but I will say flying into Casablanca was terrible and I almost died! I was flying into Casablanca from Rome, as prior to the trip, I had spent a few days checking out the Vatican and other such sights in the city. I flew Alitalia, which I recommend you NEVER do, because they were the worst airline I’ve ever flown (and that’s saying a lot!). I was in first class, and the seats on the flight to Rome were not even completely flat, and on the flight to Casablanca they were the SAME SEATS as
economy, they just didn’t sell the middle seat! Not cool. Even worse, on the flight to Casablanca from Rome, the airplane’s landing gear somehow
failed, and we had to turn around and fly back to Rome (after flying half way to Casablanca AND after being delayed in Rome by several hours). Because the landing gear was bunk, the pilot wasn’t sure if we were going to crash on the runway or not, so he had the air hostesses announce that if “you have a God, start praying now”. The entire plane was full of devout Muslim Berbers and Roman Catholics, so everyone was in tears and praying hard and shit got very wild. There were old ladies on their knees in the aisles, begging God to spare their lives! It was a bad move, and things were completely haywire.
Long story short, we landed relatively safely, with the plane skidding on it’s metal belly onto the runway, and people flying everywhere across the airplane and lots of smoke and sparks. No one was seriously injured, although several people had broken bones, whiplash, and concussions. I, thankfully, being at the front of the plane, had none of these and once the ambulances arrived on the scene and everyone was evacuated from the plane, I was taken to a hotel and put up and had all my food and medical exams comped. I love the European system of having doctors make house and hotel calls! So nice!
Anyways, delayed now by a day and a half, I finally arrived in Casablanca. I had had the foresight enough to leave a few days cushion before the tour started, and I was lucky that I didn’t miss the departure.
Besides all this, the end of the tour in Marrakech was amazing as well! We visited the Majorelle Gardens (pictured in the above gallery) while
touring the city, and they were simply breathtaking! The gardens were divided into several different environs–desert, bamboo garden, waterlily pond, etc. Different areas had different plants, and while there were tons of interesting plants, the garden had by far the best cacti collection I’ve seen outside of America. The alternative name for the garden is “Yves St. Laurent Garden” because the garden was partly owned by the famous designer, who bought it in the 1980s and who had his ashes scattered there when he died. The Majorelle Gardens have been around for a long while, since the 40s I believe, and also house the Islamic Art Museum in Marrakech.
While touring around Marrakech, we saw some more attractions as well (including the famous Jemaa el Fnaa, which I will post about later). When the tour ended, I stayed in a riad with a fellow tour member I had befriended. She had booked the riad through a friend of a friend, and it turned out that the woman who owned the riad was a sort of local Gertrude Stein of the Marrakech art world. She was an amazing lady, originally from London, who had bought up a bunch of old riads and refurbished them, and then of course, rented out their
rooms. She lived in one, and had blazing red hair, chain smoked, had an amazing art collection and knowledge of art, as well as a catty sense of humor and charisma pouring out of every cell in her body. She lived alone and as an older woman in her late 50s, especially in Morocco, this was a rather brave thing in and of itself. She took me and my newly made tour friend out and about in Marrakech to all the art galleries she owned or had the work of artists she sponsored showing. She showed us the best food and the best places to shop in the city. She also was the only one brave enough to just walk headlong into Marrakech traffic, screaming and shouting in Arabic (she was fluent) and waving her arms at taxis to help us get a ride to wherever we were going. I loved her dearly, and I aspire to be like her someday. I never got her full story, but maybe one day I will.
Recommended Tour: GAdventures, “Highlights of Morocco“. $1699 USD for 15 days, Casablanca to Marrakech. $300 USD single room supplement (if you want your own rooms). It’s a fast paced tour that catches all the best cities in Morocco and includes one night of camping and a camel safari in the sand dunes outside of the desert town of Merzouga.
To See: Majorelle Gardens. Garden entry fee is 50 dirham ($6 USD). Fee to the Islamic Art Museum within the garden is 25 dirham ($3 USD). You must be sure to know where it is located and take a good map, as it’s entrance is off a small side street and the garden is walled, so you can neither easily see the entrance or the garden itself from the nearest major road. There are lots of gifts to purchase inside the gardens and the whole place (including museum) takes about 90 minutes to tour.
To Listen: Music from Morocco, or music that I was listening to at the time that captures the spirit of the place.
- Traditional Berber (nomadic tribes of Morocco) Music
- “Lalla Fatima” by Hamid Zahir
- “On The Floor” by Jennifer Lopez (ft. Pitbull)
Jeez, those gardens look incredible in the photos. I know the Islamic love for fountains in architecture, but I never would have imagined gardens like that could be found in a city in the desert.
It’s definitely a magical place! It’s like walking into a pocket of greenery in the most unexpected location. The gardens are absolutely incredible–if you ever get a chance, I highly recommend going! 🙂