At first glance, there is little subtlety in Marrakech. Flavors, sights and sounds are big, streets are chaotic, and everywhere in the city there is color—as bright and bold as the North African sun that shines above it. It’s no surprise that designer Yves Saint Laurent said he discovered color when he found Marrakech, a place with which he (along with countless other artists, poets and writers) fell forever in love. It’s true: one can’t help but feel dizzy and delighted by this place, a destination that truly and deeply seeps under the skin.
Upon arrival, visitors are typically swept away by the sum of it all: the disarming desert heat; the breezes spiced with cumin, saffron and cinnamon; the bursts of color found in the rainbow souk; and the sounds of both mayhem (French and Arabic words shouted above one another) and peace (the call the prayer, where the city stops for a beautiful, precious moment). Marrakech’s allure derives from its extremes, the likes of which hit you immediately—from a mosque with a million tiles to the flavors in a spicy tagine. The city has been described as a stimulation overload: a symphony for the senses. And while this is true, beyond its vibrance and fairy-tale splendor, there’s something to be said for Marrakech’s discreet charms, too.
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In fact, while the in-your-face elements might have first attracted me to Marrakech, discovering the city’s subtleties is what made me truly fall in love. There, you can marvel in the chaos and bravado, but also delight in the simplest delicacies—the curve of a handmade slipper, the perfection in a drop of Argan oil, the feeling of bare feet on a smooth terracotta floor. Like with many cities, so many of Marrakech’s charms are found beneath the surface. You can enter a nondescript building to find a garden teeming with orange blossoms and trickling fountains of rose buds; you can duck into the back alleys of the medina to find a treasure trove of rugs, kaftans and jewelry in every color; or sit for a cup of tea to see it poured with such artistic precision, it feels almost spiritual. Marrakech’s beauty, I found, is both loud and soft.
On our first night, our guide invited us to break the Ramadan fast in his home. There, we feasted on prunes and pastries–each delicacy finer than the next. Before tasting every treat he explained its significance: how it was made, its place in Moroccan culture and in the Islam religion. His appreciation for a flaky, beautiful pastry, after a day of fasting, awed us.
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Later that night, we strolled through Djemma El Fna, the city’s central square, around midnight, when the entire city breaks for the evening: eating, singing, enjoying the relief of a cool night’s breeze. Families gathered in circles telling stories and playing music, and waved for us to join them as we passed. We sang and laughed, and stood there: happy, giggling and completely, head-over-heels in love.
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