After our short stay at Four Seasons, we ventured into the old town of Marrakech, the Medina. We were prepared for chaos in Marrakech after reading the guidebooks and listening to friend’s stories, but upon arrival in the Medina, we were subjected to true taste of what it is like to be a tourist in Marrakech.
The taxi driver stopped and asked a local lad for directions to Dar les Cigognes, the riad that we were to stay in for two nights. The lad and driver exchanged a few words in Arabic before we were told that we were in capable hands and the lad would show us on our way. We paid the driver, pulled our suitcases out of the boot and followed the lad, down windy alleyways, past a flurry of oncoming mopeds, when we finally arrived at the riad. The boy rang the bell and asked for money for showing us the way. We politely declined and rushed through the door once open. Here we encountered our first problem; we were directed to the wrong riad, one with a very similar name, Riad les Cigognes.
As soon as we stepped into the courtyard, the confusion set in. This riad did not look like the one we had seen on the pictures and there was a small (and quite grotty looking) pool, which we also knew Dar les Cigognes did not have. With no one that could speak English, we pointed hastily to a map to ask where we were before wheeling our cases around the busy streets and luckily happening upon Dar les Cigognes.
After parading our bags through the chaotic streets in the searing 40 degree heat, the cool courtyard at Dar les Cigognes was a pardise of tranquillity, a calm from the ensuing mayhem of the streets outside. One would never have imagined what lay behind the dusty pink walls but this place was truly stunning… palatial even. All original features had been restored to impeccable detail. The house was formerly the home to a Jewish merchant who made trade with the king in the palace opposite. We later found out that the surrounding area was once the Jewish district of Marrakech before the trouble in Israel / Palestine lead to most of the Jewish population fleeing the city.
We walked in and were greeted by the General Manager for the Sansoucci Collection, Pierre Herve. After being seated on the sofa area in the beautiful courtyard, complete with orange trees and a water fountain littered with flower buds, we were treated to a sweet and syrupy mint tea. Pierre then proceeded to give us a verbal tour of the city and provided us with a wedge of sheets that contained personal recommendations – where to get the best leather, pottery, the best museums and gardens, along with the best restaurants.
We felt that we had walked into a small paradise from the bustling outside world and immediately felt at peace in the riad. We walked up the stairs to our room, unlocked the door and once inside marvelled at the original features – the beautifully carved ceiling, the enormous wardrobe and an extremely large polished concrete bath. We found rose petals on the floor beside the bed and on the bath mat and later that evening two cookies and a small bottle of milk at the bedside. It didn’t take us long to realise that what makes Dar les Cigognes so special is the attention to detail.
We dined in the square that evening at a restaurant that was recommended to us, Marrakshi. Situated in the tourist hot spot, it was noted that it is touristy but serves the best food on the square and provides good entertainment. Our honey and almond tagine was, at that time, the best tagine we had ever eaten and we enjoyed our meal.
After seeing the snake charmers and monkeys on leads wearing nappies, we retreated back to the riad for a peaceful nights sleep before taking breakfast on the terrace the next morning. We were served a range of Moroccan breads and pastries, a bowl of fruit and yoghurt, freshly squeezed orange juice and coffee. The breathtaking flowers sat in rows upon rows of terracotta pots and set us off planning for our soon to be very own garden (we have just bought out first flat!)
During our stay, we were also treated to a tour of the local food market by Pierre, which was followed by a cooking class back at the riad. As soon as we stepped outside into the blistering heat, Pierre took us the long way round – he wanted us to see the communal oven. Each day, members of the public would take their own dough to the wood fired communal oven and pay as little as 1 diram per loaf. Motorbikes were loaded with freshly baked breads and delivered to the local restaurants.
The tour of the food market was invaluable, smelly and at times disturbing but it gave us a good insight into Moroccan produce. All of the fruit and veg is organic – because they can’t afford pesticides and only Moroccan produce is available – because they can’t afford to import. We saw tiny kittens wandering sleepily and cats staring at men butchering chickens.
Back at the riad, we thoroughly enjoyed cooking our monk fish tagine and vegetable cous cous. I won’t go into too much detail here as I will be writing about this on Eat the Olympics. But what I will say is that it was the best tagine I have ever eaten – pure heaven, despite feeling a little strange about eating the fish after seeing the fish stall in the market and Pierre telling us that we were 200km away from a beach and there is poor refrigeration in the trucks that carry the fish to Marrakech!
After two nights at Dar les Cigognes, we were off to our next stop, Dar Darma. Stay tuned for the review!
Rates at Dar les Cigognes start from 150 euros.
Dar Les Cigognes
108, rue de Berima
+212 524 38 27 40
Food For Think was a guest at Dar les Cigognes