Exploring the Gardens of Marrakech
One of the best things about visiting a hot, dry and sensory explosive country like Morocco, is taking solace under the shade of a palm grove, dipping in a cool blue pool in your riad, or exploring its lush, peaceful gardens. They feel like an oasis in the mirages you see heroes get tricked by in movies; where it's nothing but hot sand for miles and then suddenly - heaven. I got to visit two beautful gardens during my time in Marrakech, and I'm convinced no one does it like the Moroccans can.
The first garden we stumbled upon by accident. It was our first day out and we were overwhelmed with the medina's winding narrow streets, loud shop hagglers and jarring traffic (which was a mixture of donkey carts, mopeds, and pedestrians trying to not to get run over). As we passed a door I saw the french word "jardin" (garden) and immediately knew it was what we needed. We ducked in quickly and found ourselves next to other harrowed-looking tourists, relieved to find a moment of peace.
Once a 19th century palace, Le Jardin Secret has not always been open to the public. However, for the past two years it has welcomed people within its walls to walk around, sit and relax, and it offers tours complete with a history lesson for a small fee. To sum it up, over the centuries the property has been taken over by one wealthy man, then another and another -- the latter being assassinated with poisonous tea. It was not maintained for a long while, but now it has been redone with special meaning.
I grabbed a free straw hat to protect myself from the hot desert sun and then we began our tour. From the first moment through the doors, you can feel something a bit magical coursing through the courtyard. Front and center is a large fountain that pours out into little channels on four sides, flanked by small groves of lemon, date, fig, and pomegranate trees, flowers, olive trees and lavender. Our guide told us its quadrant layout is modeled after the way heaven is described in the Quran.
From the roof there is a spectacular view, with snow capped mountains topping off the horizon. To get up there you need to pay a tour guide, and it's so worth it! Ours was very funny and friendly and let us take our time to taking photos, even snapping a few for us.
We wandered around in the palace to see the old living quarters. I don't even know what to say about the attention to detail besides how insane it is! I want to bottle the color green that the tiles were and paint a whole room in my house with it. The wood carving and paint on the doors and walls was meticulously done by hand, and I just don't know how people do it. One door would've taken me years!
It was the perfect first thing to do to kick off our trip! While I was doing my research and planning our days, the name of this garden never even came up. It's fairly new still, so perhaps the buzz isn't as high. But it wasn't crowded, there was no line to get in, and it was the calmest place ever. I could've stayed there for hours.
Now, for the second stop. We know it's not a trip to Marrakech without a visit and a mini photoshoot at Le Jardin Majorelle, so off we went in a cab to the famed designer Yves St. Laurent's Moroccan mansion. And I will be honest and say that as beautful as it was, it doesn't make my top fave moments from this vacation. Read on to know why.
As soon as we turned the corner, we saw the line wrapped around the street. I thought getting there around 11 or 12 would be fine, but it was still quite a wait. If you haven't purchased tickets beforehand, there is a line. If you have, there is still a line, and not much shorter either. Since there was a cafe across the street, we grabbed some coffee and a pastry and sat down to see if the line would get shorter so we wouldn't have to stand waiting for so long. No luck. It took about 50 minutes, and once we were inside, I was again overwhelmed. The beauty and tranquility was interrupted by the throngs of tourists, and no doubt travel bloggers like me, trying to "get the shot" more than take in the atmosphere.
I realized that very quickly and after taking a few snaps I put my camera away. There were too many people to get many good, clear pics anyway. The ones I did get took too much time, since I had to wait for the rare moments when someone didn't accidentally walk right into my frame. The grounds, however, were beautifully quirky and shabby chic, with lots of different areas to explore. Separate little ponds and streams ran through the oasis, little rock gardens and fountains -- accompanied by benches and other seating areas, mostly painted blue or yellow to match the house. Lush flowers and overgrown vines created shady canopies, a welcome relief from the midday heat.
The house from a distance is almost completely blocked by cacti and palm trees, but the bright cobalt blue that pops through is perfection. Funny enough, in 7th grade I was obsessed with this exact color blue. My parents let me express myself, so I painted my entire room this blue, ceiling included. I was a little Yves in the making!
Eventually we made our way to the famous steps that you see all over Instagram. I noticed that I was definitely not the only one to plan my outfit ahead of time to coordinate with the design. There was a wait for this too, and honestly I didn't like the feel of desperation within myself and all the people around me. You have to be on your toes to be the next one to jump in and take a photo, and you can't take too many because everyone waiting is watching you impatiently.
But I didn't buy that yellow dress for nothing, and dutifully took a few pics before finding the museum, which didn't allow photos inside. Sigh, why wouldn't they let me be great? I know there are usually good reasons for not taking photos, like the flash affecting the preservation of old artifacts, but when you wait for almost an hour only THEN to be told no pics, even without flash, (happened at the Sistine Chapel in Italy after a three hour wait) I’m going to be annoyed. There was a small section with some of Yves' sketches and prints, and a larger room devoted to the history and clothing of Moroccan berbers (locals that live a more traditional life in the mountains). There was also a little cafe to rest and have tea.
You just can never tell from photos how much work travel can be, or how much people put up with in order to have epic photos to share, and I'm here to share the truth (along with hot pics, because come on, have you met me?) I'm not saying it wasn't worth going or that you should skip it, but don't believe in the hype! I loved the first garden so much more. There's nothing better than stumbling upon something beautiful. There lies the adventure! Either way, remember to enjoy just being there (and get there early hehe).
Rest assured: I will of course be adding more stories to my Morocco series, as it is definitely a standout among all the places I've been. What else do you want to know about Marrakech? Drop me a comment!