Live out your travel dreams by meandering through Marrakesh

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


Vienna topples Melbourne in ‘most liveable city’ ranking

Updated 14 August 2018
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Vienna topples Melbourne in ‘most liveable city’ ranking

  • Each year 140 cities are given scores out of 100 on a range of factors such as living standards, crime and transport infrastructure
  • Vienna scored a ‘near-ideal’ 99.1, beating Melbourne into second place on 98.4

LONDON: Austria’s capital Vienna has beaten Melbourne to be ranked the “world’s most liveable city” in a new annual survey released Monday, ending the southern Australian city’s seven-year reign.

It is the first time a European metropolis has topped the annual chart compiled by the Economist Intelligence Unit which identifies the best urban playgrounds to live and work in.

Each year 140 cities are given scores out of 100 on a range of factors such as living standards, crime, transport infrastructure, access to education and health care, as well as political and economic stability.

Vienna scored a “near-ideal” 99.1, beating Melbourne into second place on 98.4. Japan’s Osaka took third place.

Australia and Canada dominated the top ten, each boasting three cities. Australia had Melbourne, Sydney (fifth) and Adelaide (10th) while Canada had Calgary (fourth), Vancouver (sixth) and Toronto (joint seventh).

“Those that score best tend to be mid-sized cities in wealthier countries,” researchers said in their report.

They noted that several cities in the top 10 had relatively low population densities which fostered “a range of recreational activities without leading to high crime levels or overburdened infrastructure.”

Australia and Canada, researchers said, have an overall average population density of 3.2 and four people per square kilometer respectively, compared to a global average of 58.

Japan, which alongside Osaka boasted Tokyo in the top ten (joint seventh), is the glaring exception to that rule with a nationwide average of 347 people per square kilometer but its cities are still famed for their transport networks and living standards.

Copenhagen was the only other European city in the top ten at ninth place.

Researchers said wealthy financial capitals such as Paris (19th), London (48th) and New York (57th) tended to be “victims of their own success” with higher crime rates and overstretched infrastructure dampening their appeal.

At the other end of the spectrum the five worst cities to live in were Damascus at the bottom of the table followed by Dhaka, Lagos, Karachi and Port Moresby in Papua New Guinea.

The survey also looked at cities where long-term improvements had been made. Abidjan, Hanoi, Belgrade and Tehran saw the largest improvements in liveability over the last five years — more than five percentage points.

Ukraine’s Kiev, the capital of a European country wracked by political violence, civil war and the loss of Crimea to Russia, saw the largest drop in its liveability over the last five years (-12.6 percent).

Puerto Rico’s San Juan — which was devastated by a hurricane last year — as well as Damascus and Caracas also saw steep drops over the same period.