Live out your travel dreams by meandering through Marrakesh

The city is a treasure trove of photo opportunities. (Shutterstock)
Updated 23 January 2018
0

Live out your travel dreams by meandering through Marrakesh

MARRAKESH: There are some cities in the world that are almost impossible not to love. Think of Rio de Janeiro with its laid-back beach vibe and picture-perfect cliffs that plunge into the sea, or Tokyo, where futuristic technology, fresh seafood and fascinating history come together to ensure you always want to stay longer. Both are immediately enchanting. Marrakesh is not. But, with time, you’ll discover its attractions.
The majority of Morocco’s fourth-largest city is constructed from red sandstone, gaining it the sobriquet The Ochre City. It is naturally beautiful from afar, but up close, the dirt and disorganization, coupled with dangerous, traffic-heavy roads and street-hawkers as persistent as the flies that accompany your every meal, make it a hard place to drop your guard.
It is a city that can test your patience: hot, humid, dusty and with a constant din; a city where, when it comes to buying things — be it Berber rugs, Aladdin-style lamps or tanned leather backpacks — the word ‘no’ means ‘maybe’ and ‘maybe’ is all the indication vendors need to start bagging up whatever it is you dared sneak a glimpse at.
It is certainly not a destination for everyone, but those visitors willing to leave their first-world problems at the airport, spare some coins for the snot-nosed street urchins asking for help to buy a football, and embrace the mysticism that Marrakesh is most famed for, will be richly rewarded.
The nine-meter tall ochre wall that surrounds the labyrinthine medina consists of some of the city’s most impressive relics, including towering battlements and magnificent fortress-style doors. Inside, lush green gardens and a bustling Kasbah complement a collection of some of the finest Islamic architecture in the world, including the Ali Ben Youssef Medersa and the iconic Koutoubiya Mosque, which dates back to the 12th Century.
It is in the shadow of the mosque’s 77-meter minaret where the heartbeat of Marrakesh can be found: The sprawling Jamaa el-Fna.
To explore Morocco’s most famous open-air market is like stepping back in time — only the chained-up monkeys wear diapers these days and the tooth-pullers try to charge €10 for the privilege of taking a photo. The droves of tourists are diluted by the sheer mass of locals, creating an authentic scene largely unchanged since the plaza swapped public executions for more palatable forms of entertainment a few centuries ago.
By daytime, a sensory explosion reveals Moroccans huddled around Berber storytellers while serpents rise ominously from the dark depths of woven baskets to the tune of a charmer’s flute; soothsayers and slapstick shows noisily vie for your attention as henna artists reach for your arms and tassel-hatted water sellers clang their bells.
An evening stroll allows you to try your hand at a game involving a fishing rod, a doughnut and a crop circle of Coca-Cola bottles, but a tougher challenge lies amid the numerous pop-up restaurants. If you can pass through without succumbing to offers of steaming hot tagine or plentiful grilled meats you are either seriously strong-willed or have no sense of smell. Feeling especially brave? Try the street food on the northern edge of the square: boiled sheep’s head or spice-infused snail soup, perhaps?
On the opposite edge of the plaza sits the Souk El Bahja. Spread over three floors — the name translates literally as “The Up and Down Market” — here you will find everything from slippers to fossils, spices to argan oil. Haggle hard, but be aware that regardless of the price you settle on you can get your purchase for a quarter of the price outside the walled city.
While secluded riads (large houses built around central courtyards) provide a potential evening retreat and a steamy hammam can help you de-stress, the best way to escape from the mayhem of Marrakesh is to head for the Atlas Mountains.
A couple of hours outside of the city, the Berber commune of Setti-Fatma has stunning panoramic views and seven picturesque waterfalls. A shallow river runs through the middle of the town, prompting a series of Indiana Jones-style wooden bridges, while a few restaurants have set up tables in the middle of the water. Whether it is for novelty value or to keep the street cats away from your khobz, with a piping hot cup of mint tea in your hand and cold water running through your toes, it is here where you will likely, finally, be able to relax — at least until you remember you need to return your car to Marrakesh.


Hello Helsinki: 48 hours in the Finnish capital

The Finnish Capital, Helsinki, shot from above. (Shutterstock)
Updated 19 November 2018
0

Hello Helsinki: 48 hours in the Finnish capital

  • The best way to explore the city center is on foot, walking around beautiful, clean streets and taking in the fresh air
  • The best-known landmark is Senate Square and its surroundings, which make up the oldest part of central Helsinki

DUBAI: Access to Helsinki has just become easier for Gulf travelers thanks to the introduction of a new route from the UAE to the Finnish capital. Last month, budget carrier flydubai launched its Dubai-to-Helsinki flights, offering the best connection from Saudi Arabia as well.
Our first port of call after the six-hour trip was the utterly enchanting Hotel Kämp, arguably the best-known hotel in Helsinki — after all, it has been around for over 130 years. The classy, comfortable five-star property is known as a place to see and be seen.
While there, do check out Kämp Spa, where saunas are, of course, available. (There are almost as many saunas as there are people in Finland.) Kämp Spa offers two options: the eucalyptus-fragrance grotto steam sauna and a traditional Finnish one.
The best way to explore the city center is on foot, walking around beautiful, clean streets and taking in the fresh air. The best-known landmark is Senate Square and its surroundings, which make up the oldest part of central Helsinki. You can take in the glorious architecture of Helsinki Cathedral, while also viewing the Government Palace, the main building of Helsinki University, and Sederholm House, Helsinki’s oldest building, dating back to 1757.

For shoppers, Helsinki is home to one of the world’s most exciting and influential design scenes, and a treasure trove for unique pieces. Try TRE, which stocks over 300 brands of well-known classics as well as mostly homegrown products — including fashion, jewelry and furniture — from new designers.
Be warned, though: Helsinki is expensive. Very expensive. So you’re probably better off investing in a cool design piece for the home rather than the usual gifts and gadgets. You’ll leave with something memorable that’s high-quality and, of course, unique.
For something on the quirkier (and cheaper) side, second-hand clothes store UFF has chains across the city, where you’ll find some gems that are as good as new.
Dining out in the city also doesn’t come cheap, but it is an experience to savor. For casual snacking, The Old Market Hall sells cheese, beautifully fresh fish (we’d recommend the salmon), fruit and veg, and has cute little cafés.

For dinner, it’s worth treating yourself. Garden by Olo is an official ‘spin-off’ of the Michelin starred Olo and serves Nordic ingredients fused with Asian elements.
One of the newer eateries on the block is Restaurant Andrea at the newly opened Hotel St. George. Here, Nordic and Anatolian kitchens come together to offer a variety of sharing plates, inspired by both cuisines.
If you fancy taking in some of Finland’s stunning scenery, head to one of the national forests close to Helsinki. Nuuksio National Park — forests and lakes spread over Espoo, Kirkkonummi and Vihti — is easy to get to by public transport, and features eight marked trails for hiking in the freshest of air.

If you are visiting for more than a couple of days, then it is well worth exploring Lapland, the official home of Santa Claus. You’ll need to take a one-hour flight from Helsinki to Rovaniemi.
If time is tight, try a reindeer sleigh and husky sled experience, where you can interact with the animals on farms and enjoy rides through the snowy forests.
There’s so much more to see and do than is mentioned here, of course. We’re sure we’ll return to Finland one day, it’s definitely a trip worth making. Just don’t forget to pack your thermals.