Trawling the humming streets of Marrakech in the afternoon sun will wear out even the most enthusiastic of explorers. Pushy sales pitches and the sheer hustle and bustle can quickly become a hassle, so it’s a lifesaver to know that tranquillity and cooler temperatures can be found in one of the many garden spaces only a walk or taxi ride away from the Medina.
Here are a few of our favourite places for a quick respite.
Koutoubia Gardens and CyberPark
Koutoubia Gardens and CyberPark sit adjacent to the Koutoubia Mosque and are by far the easiest spaces to escape the chaos of North Africa’s most iconic square, Djemaa El Fna. A little peace and quiet lies only a short walk across the road from the main entrance along the square’s western side. Thankfully, there isn’t much going on in Koutoubia Gardens besides people strolling its shaded pathways and admiring the ornamented mosque through the rose bushes and orange trees. If you’re not ready to disconnect, CyberPark has free wi-fi hotspots and benches where you can relax next to gurgling water fountains. Both parks are ideal spots to collect your thoughts before you begin trying to navigate your way back to your riad.
Le Jardin Secret
Tucked in the heart of the old Medina, Le Jardin Secret is a paradise of peace hidden in a riad of Arab-Andalusian architecture. Designer Tom Stuart-Smith and the team behind this privately owned palatial garden seem to have achieved the impossible by creating two separate botanical spaces from scratch amid the gritty sprawl of urban Marrakesh. The Exotic Garden section is home to plants from all over the world, and the impressive Islamic Garden area recreates heaven as described in the Quran. A spring feeds water to the greenery, as well as the hammam and kitchens, and parts of the khettara, the original irrigation system under the Medina, are still visible.
Jardin Majorelle might be the most famous garden in Marrakesh, and the striking contrast between the bold blues and stark yellows of the Moorish-influenced riad amid the pastel tones of the flora never fail to inspire. The beautiful 12-acre botanical garden contains exotic plants, serene streams with floating lilies and lotus flowers, a large cactus collection and a museum of Berber culture. Visit first thing in the morning or late in the afternoon to really enjoy its quiet setting.
The layout of Bahia Palace feels random and unorganised, echoing its location in the old Medina. The palace’s intricate interiors of zellij (ceramic-tile mosaic) and woodwork are an art lover’s delight, and they stretch from bottom to top and then continue on across the ceiling. Located along the northern edge of the Mellah (Jewish Quarter), Bahia is the place to visit if you only have time for one palace.
Badi Palace is a ruined residence located only a stone’s throw away from Bahia, making the two sites very easy to see together while exploring the old Jewish Quarter. Completed in 1593, the site has certainly seen better days. Badi was constructed using the most expensive materials of the time, including gold and onyx, and today, you can still wander past the fading mosaic tiling and extravagant pavilions. Sunken orange groves sit alongside peaceful decorative pools inside the palace walls.
Built in the 12th century by the founder of the Almohad Caliphate, Agdal was once the most important garden in Marrakesh and is now protected by Unesco, alongside the entire old Medina. Encompassing a huge expanse along the southern edges of the walled Medina, orange, date, lemon, fig, walnut and pomegranate trees flourish among the groves and offer a more peaceful and agricultural side of Marrakesh to discover. To find Agdal, head south from Djemaa El Fna and stroll through the southern areas of the Medina. Pass by the Saadian Tombs until you begin to reach the groves that lead you to the vast water basin.
West of Marrakesh at the gates to the High Atlas Mountains, the Menara Gardens were also established by the Almohads. Like Agdal, Menara is a large basin that was used to irrigate the surrounding groves and orchards using a sophisticated network of aqueducts. Networks of underground channels bring water from the towering mountains in the distance to the vast water basins, which then feed the surrounding groves and orchards all year. Visit on a clear, calm day for a postcard-perfect image of the green-tiled pavilion shimmering in the reflection of the vast pool of water while the imposing High Atlas stand tall in the background.
Nestled in the foothills of the High Atlas Mountains within the spectacular Ourika Valley, Anima Garden is an easy way to spend an afternoon away from the Medina and discover a little more of Morocco while not venturing too far from your accommodation. A relatively new space designed by multimedia artist André Heller, the garden has shady pathways and pavilions with wild flowers, cacti, water features, palm trees and tall grass, with the surprising addition of imaginative sculptures of magical characters hidden among the pathways and flower beds. Anima Garden is easy to get to from Marrakesh – a free shuttle service runs from just behind Koutoubia Gardens, or renting a car for an afternoon will let you venture even further. The Ourika Valley offers stunning scenic drives and is famed for its saffron, while Setti Fatma and its seven waterfalls are also within easy reach. If you’re still not ready to head back into the Medina, get some more fresh mountain air and unwind with a saffron tea beside the Ourika River.