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Marrakech is definitely a great place to visit if you want to immerse yourself in Moroccan culture. From haggling in one of its many souks to getting a henna tattoo, there are many ways to embrace the culture. Here are a few things you can do to get to the heart of the north African country.
An assault on the senses
One of Morocco’s largest cities, this is the best place to head to if you really want to get a taste of the nation’s culture.
When I went to Marrakech, the first thing to hit me was its lively ambience. You are immediately struck by people rushing around, stallholders shouting and the strong scent of food cooking out in the open when you arrive here for your luxury holiday in Morocco.
Even if you choose to stay in opulent accommodation in the centre of the city, no riad or hotel is able to escape the vibrant atmosphere of Marrakech – and this is half the reason why so many people love coming here.
As well as the constant bustle of locals and tourists walking throughout the city at all hours of the day, you’ll be able to smell the strong scent of spices and incense in the air. But if you really want to embrace all the sights and sounds of Marrakech, there is only one place to head to – its souks.
Haggle at the souks
Marrakech is home to the largest marketplace I have ever seen in my life, with a myriad of stalls surrounding its main square, Djemaa el-Fna. Even if you don’t buy anything, you can spend an entire day (and more) simply walking around the bazaar, as it stretches out like a maze around the central courtyard.
As the marketplace is so huge, you will find everything you can imagine here, from lanterns and traditional ornaments to fresh fruit and herbal pharmacies. This is, unsurprisingly, a great place to pick up some souvenirs, either to bring home and remind you of your holiday or to give to family and friends.
You could buy some handicraft items, such as wooden ornaments or pictures, so you can have an authentic slice of Moroccan culture in your living room. Alternatively, you could revamp your wardrobe with a pair of babouches – leather slippers – or brightly-coloured dyed garments. Head to the jewellers’ souks, where you’ll find stall upon stall selling gold necklaces, bangles and earrings. There is also a huge range of cheaper costume jewellery if you want to save some money for other souvenirs from your trip.
Don’t forget to try your haggling skills out here. This is the best place in Morocco to pick up some bargains and the stallholders thoroughly expect you to barter with them, with the process often ending up in a cheerful conversation with the vendor – as well as the successful purchase of an item you will remember buying forever.
Get involved in the culture
There are several historic attractions you can visit in Marrakech, as well as tour operators offering the chance to enjoy trips into the desert or to the seaside. However, I found a great way to really embrace the local culture was to stay in the city centre and get involved in things they would.
You could pay a snake charmer to show you how he can make his cobra wind their way out of his ceramic vase simply by playing a recorder or you can add some beautiful body art to your arms or legs by getting a lady to give you a temporary henna tattoo. Of course, don’t forget to sample its food – one of my favourite parts of the trip.
Delicious tomato stews called tagines can be tasted at local restaurants, where you can enjoy scrumptious local cuisine cooked in an authentic style.
After I’ve booked a holiday, I instantly start researching the local cuisine and start checking out restaurant reviews. I love sampling different dishes when I’m away and make it my mission to try something new every evening.
The Italian city of Pisa sounds like a foodie heaven. Enjoying fresh pasta, homemade pizzas and sumptuous desserts is a treat, so the thought of eating this type of food every night is amazing! The Pisa region as a whole offers mouth-watering dishes, so it can be worth picking up car hire from Pisa Airport if you fancy going on a culinary adventure.
Here is a guide to the food and drink I think you should definitely try when in Pisa.
Truffles (not the chocolate variety!) are definitely a delicacy and a food I’ve always wanted to try. Used by the best chefs across the globe, the province of Pisa boasts plentiful growth, particularly in the San Miniato hills, where the white truffle is found. This means you’ll spot truffle-infused dishes on many restaurant menus and I’d recommend you give it a go. Pisa isn’t just home to the white truffle, but also the black, scorzone and themarzuolo varieties. Hop in your car and head to the hamlets in the truffle-producing areas – you can check out market shows dedicated to the food.
Extra virgin olive oil
You’ll certainly taste the difference when your food is cooked in the extra virgin olive oil produced in Pisa. But before you try the oil as a base for other ingredients, make sure you order a tasty selection of breads and dip them straight into the oil – you will really be able to pick out its flavours. There are four production areas in the Pisa province, each producing a slightly different olive oil. For example, produce made in the Monti Pisani district is yellow with hints of green, with a little bit of spice in an overall fruity aroma.
Of course, a hearty Italian meal isn’t complete with a glass or two of local wine to wash it all down with. I love trying the wines of different regions and Pisa doesn’t disappoint. Whether your tipple of choice is red, white or rose, you’ll have fun trying to find your favourite one! Perhaps the most renowned wine in the Pisa province is Nettare di Bacco, so make sure you sample a glass or two. If you have a car, it’s the perfect excuse to visit some of the region’s vineyards, where a guide will go into detail as to the history and production process of the wine. The Cecina Valley is a good place to head to, where you’ll not only participate in tasting sessions, but also soak up beautiful scenery and architecture.
When dining in the city, you’ll notice the same dishes crop up at different restaurants as they’re popular with locals and tourists alike. With the sea nearby, seafood is a good choice, with marinated eels, clam risotto and salted cod with olives a great introduction. A personal favourite is chicken liver crostini, as well as the succulent Volterra ham.
Larded pheasant from San Rossore and veal cutlets will be high up the dining agenda for meat lovers, while vegetarians will no doubt enjoy the endless fresh pasta options, complete with those local truffles and the olive oil I mentioned.
To round off the perfect meal, try chestnut cake and Calcinaia nozza, which is a type of wafer.
I’m certainly hungry now – if you’ve been to Pisa, do you have any restaurant recommendations?
Vimeo: Easter Island Timelapses
Easter Island timelapses by Bo Hakala.