The longtime North African hipster magnet beats with an enticing mix of tradition, designer cool and warm, friendly locals.
The first thing I notice when I hit the dusty streets of Marrakech is not the heat (though it’s scorching, in an eye-watering kind of way); nor is it the traffic (which is frenetic, to say the least); and it’s not the visual landscape either (though the towering palms and bougainvilleas against ancient sandstone walls are nothing if not striking). What hits me first is the people—the gorgeous, friendly, French-English-and-Arabic-speaking people of Marrakech. And as a pair of dark-skinned, green-eyed hotties in tight D&G jeans and Pumas head off arm-in-arm in the direction of the medina (the old city), I’m inclined to follow.
And then, I hear it—like a booming, ululating Arabic chant coming over the town’s PA system. It’s the call to prayer. And, just like that, I find myself in the ancient city of Marrakech. I pass through the 14th-century walls of the medina into the Djemaa el-Fna, the city’s central square, where boys on mopeds (sometimes two boys on one moped, the passenger’s hands placed intimately on the driver’s hips) jockey for space with donkeys and pushcarts, and street food vendors call out in French, English, Spanish, Italian, even Japanese (!), in an effort to lure you to their stands for hard-boiled eggs with cumin and salt or fresh-squeezed orange juice. Everything in this crazy city is a seeming contradiction. Past the square, I enter the dizzying maze of souks, where an 8-year-old boy chats me up about Beckham and sells me a pair of leather slippers (called babouches), a rug dealer seduces me with endless glasses of mint tea (or, as some call it, Moroccan whisky) with promises of no pressure to buy, and a family of jewelers, whose dinner I interrupt when I enter their shop, invites me to join them—but, more than anything else, the words on all of their lips are invariably “Soyez le bienvenue” or “You are welcome in my country” with an open-palmed hand to the chest (a totally endearing gesture of respect between men). It is, without a doubt, the friendliest place I’ve ever visited.