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Marrakesh

Soak up the pleasures of the souk. Barnaby Rogerson offers tips on crafts, couscous and complaints

Barnaby Rogerson | March/April 2014

Do head for the centre. Marrakesh emerged from the dust of history as a marketplace where highland tribes, mounted nomads and oasis cultivators came to trade. Despite new developments, the central labyrinth of covered souks remains exceptional in all its vivacity and colour. Forget about poetry and politics — the muses of Marrakesh are craftsmanship and salesmanship.

Do stay as close to the centre as you can afford, shopping around any of the 365 exuberant Riad conversions. But for less of the 1,001 nights and more calm efficiency, lay your head at Les Jardins de la Medina, La Villa des Orangiers, or La Maison Arabe.

Don't come for the fine air, as Winston Churchill is said to have done. It has long since been smothered by traffic fumes and Marrakesh's sunken position beside an old wadhi bed. Instead, take off to the High Atlas Mountains, or to the sea at Essaouira, Oualidia or El Jadida. Or buy lunch at the Beldi country club.

Do trust the women when it comes to couscous. Al Fassia, run and staffed by women, does the best in town.

Do watch the world from the Café de France on the corner of the Jemaa el Fna, or from a terrace table at Café des Epices, deep in the souk. Go for an aperitif and share the evening with a colourful human cocktail — equal parts shady Moroccan middlemen, expats and wide-eyed visitors.

Don't go to Le Comptoir for a quiet night. After dinner on Saturday, the beau monde decamp en masse for the cocktails, fierce belly-dancers and wild, decadent atmosphere.

Don't poor scorn on the king. Everyone over 35 worships him; anyone under 35 reviles him for not giving them a job. Neither group is keen to listen to your views on Western Sahara, liberalisation of female rights or the definition of Islam.

Don't complain about the urban sprawl. Morocco may not have oil or gas, but it has got land to spare, and the manners to make its guests long to return.

Do remember that the time between noon-day and mid-afternoon prayers is the period of bad luck, when tempers get frayed and it is considered impolite to make house visits. Better to eat, then sleep (with or beside a partner), reserving your energy for the evening passeggiata.

Don't equip yourself like a war-photographer in dry-dry khaki and a camera-bag, "destroying the present for an inadequate view of the past in the future". For great photographs of the country and its people, check out the brand new Museum for Photography and Visual Arts.

Don't bother trying to penetrate the precious world of expat high society. They are unlikely to want to meet you. But if you'd like to try to dress like them, head to Aya, Nawal El Hriti's kaftan design studio in the old Mellah (Jewish) quarter, or to 33, a haven for about 50 separate designers. It is opposite the Majorelle garden and has its own Kaowa juice bar.

Do remember to hoard your spare change to give to beggars. To paraphrase the Prophet: if you wish for a favour from God, at least favour the poor with a kind word.

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