Who wouldn’t want to celebrate their legendary 50th birthday in the mysterious Red City of Morocco? BIG FIVE OH with 20 of your best friends? How about for an entire week in a “Riad” in the center of the lively, welcoming, pungent, delicious, colorful, and otherworldly city of Marrakesh? This is where African, Arab, and European cultures are entwined. Marrakesh might be best described as a dizzying city full of contradictions both ancient and modern, a grand symphony encircled by one big wild car race. That about sums up turning 50, right!?
Before arriving we didn’t even know a Riad existed. A riad is typically a 120-square-meter hideaway with 20-bedroom places. It has open windows toward the interior and allows you to overlook a central courtyard, rooftops, and private walled terraces with beautiful light pouring through. Riads have a central garden divided into four symmetrical parts with a central fountain with plants. Soaring archways and pillars, detailed patterned tilework, and ornate stucco. Local artisans hand-craft features with woodwork, plasters, and tile. Carved wooden ceilings, doors, and all kinds of intricate mosaic work. It’s a visual feast and a womb for community connection. The perfect haven of tranquility for a birthday party with all your best friends, especially for a legendary 50th birthday in Morocco.
Twenty closest friends celebrated Laurie’s legendary 50th birthday in Morocco for 5 days of wandering, lounging, socializing, shopping, feasting, and celebrating at Riad Chorfa Hotel and Spa. This Riad is perfectly located in the center of the Medina. The experience was priceless, with stories that will be told for years to come, and a bond that will last long after the trip is over. One of the highlights of staying in a riad is the rooftop terrace. Riad Chorfa’s colorful rooftop terrace provided a stunning panoramic view of the city’s rooftops, the Atlas Mountains, and the Koutoubia Mosque. The terrace was the perfect place for Laurie and her friends to dream gaze at the sunset and enjoy hors d’oeuvre and drinks before dinner.
Throughout the 5 days, various groups of us visited the historical Marrakesh market, also known as the Medina. The souks are a labyrinthine network of narrow alleys and covered markets that wind through the heart of the old city, and they offer a spellbinding sensory overload of unusual sights, sounds, and smells. You also just might find a monkey on your head (see photo) or run into men playing flutes and hypnotizing cobras to rise their hooded heads up (see photo).
One of the most unique aspects of the market is the bewildering haggling process. Haggling is a cultural norm in Morocco, and the vendors are used to bargaining with customers over prices. Beware. Marrakeshis are quintessential linguists, you can be seduced into a vortex of conversations. The process can be intimidating at first, but it is an exciting experience that is not to be missed. Below are a few tips we followed.
Tip #1: Embrace the Chaos and “Get Lost in the Magic.”
Tip #2: Engage with the locals and experience Moroccan hospitality. Interact with their friendly banter, and exchange pleasantries in Arabic by learning a few basic phrases, such as “Salam” (hello) and “Shukran” (thank you), which amuses the locals.
Tip #3: Bargain with confidence and respect. Approach each transaction with playful respect, understanding that haggling is expected but should be done with politeness and a smile. Keep in mind that the vendors are making a living from their trade.
As a way to ease into Morocco, we took a few days in Essaouira on the coast where the temperature was cooler and merchants were calmer from the chill surfing and fishing vibe. Wander the medina. Check out Jimi Hendrix Cafe. Take a picnic along the ancient city walls and catch one of the most beautiful sunsets you’ll ever see.
Once you arrive in Marrakesh, be sure to visit the Bahia Palace, the Koutoubia Mosque, Saint Laurent Garden, Jardin Majorelle, and the Saadian Tombs. Laurie’s group took a cooking class to learn how to make tagine. Hire a local tour guide to take a group of friends on a camel ride through the desert. Oh, and remember the “call to prayer” that echoes five times a day from the minarets of mosques signals the time for Muslims to pray. Take a moment to appreciate its beauty and significance. It’s hauntingly beautiful. Unforgettable. Oh, and a few more reminders:
- Stay in the Medina
- Use maps.me, don’t be misled by the false info and directions of a mischievous chaperone
- Learn a little Arabic and French. Mix them together.
- Enjoy the Street Food
- Don’t drink tap water
- Definitely get a Hammam
- Explore beyond the souks
- Slow down to go fast
- Be calm and playful when haggling
- Oh and make large prints of the birthday person on exotic robes or bathing suits for everyone to lounge around the pool
Are you looking to plan a one-of-a-kind celebration? We can help. Let’s talk and set up a video chat. We will tell you everything we know. If you are up for a mind-blowing adventure, we will be your guides as friends with cameras! If you’re turning one of those milestone ages, there’s no better time to bring your best friends together for an unforgettable experience.
“OMG, I just watched this again before work this morning… SOOO many smiles!! SOOO much joy!! Perfect way to start my day! LOVE ALL Y’ALL SOOO MUCH!! Thank you!! My heart is full! So much love and appreciation for you guys!!” – Laurie
“You are the bee’s flipping knees. I’ve watched it 3 times already. It truly is such a gift.” – Lori Cotton
“Thank you both so much for your artistry, your devotion, and the sheer hours I know it took to put this together.” – Erik Rosen
“Thank you Jos and Tree for beautifully capturing life through the lens and sharing it with us! U guys are rock stars.” – Bethany Lamanski
“Fucking wow. These are absolutely stunning.” – Christopher Jacob
“This was like the ball dropping on New Year’s Eve! Thank you for sharing your gift with us, what a privilege.” – Paloma Picon
“We are so appreciative. The amount of time and effort that went into those photos must have been staggering. Your photos captured it all and gave us goosebumps. You created a Medina of pictures that everyone can enjoy in the years to come.” – Brian and Courtney
Photographers: JOS & TREE
Primary Marrakesh Venue: Riad Chorfa hotel and spa – 6 Derb Corfa Elkabir, Medina 4000 Marrakech, Maroc
Riad Chorfa Property Manager: @racine_saidou
Luxury Boutique Hotel: El Fenn | Essaouira Riad: Chill Art Hostel
Excursions: Salle YVES SAINT LAURENT, musee | Foundation Jardin Marjorelle
Additional sites to see: Bahia Palace, Koutoubia Mosque, and the Saadian Tombs
Extra resources: Visit Marrakesh & Rick Steves Morocco
Transportation and Guided Tours: @mohamedelaammari Taxi: Bab Laksour Area