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February 21, 2007

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WHERE'S JOHNNY JET?                                 Marrakech, Morocco

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Salam Alekoum (sah-LAM wah-LAY-koom) from North Africa! Last week we left off on the 3-hour drive from Casablanca to Marrakech (here’s the link). Get ready to explore this surreal city that at times feels like Hollywood (no wonder so many movies are filmed here). We’re set to check into a luxurious hotel, dine at some unbelievable restaurants, and of course go shopping in the medina. If you’re up for something different, be sure to bring an extra bag – at these prices we’re bringing home a bunch of souvenirs and presents! If you’re in a hurry or have ADD, there’s a 3-minute Johnny Jet video at the end of this week’s story. Also: Because I can't be in two places at once, I sent my good buddy Mike Manna to Milan, Italy to check out a fashionable hotel. Here’s his story.

There are few different ways to spell this city’s name: Marrakech (in French), Marrakesh (English), Marrakesch (German).... I'll use the first style, the same way the locals spell it. Note: Because Frommer’s does not publish a Morocco guidebook, I used Rough Guides Morocco and their Rough Guides Marrakech Directions book. Both were good, and supplied plenty of helpful information; the latter also offered plenty of color photos. They're available at bookstores, or online at, Amazon and

POPULATION: The population of Marrakech is 745,800. The largest group is of Berber origin. But there is also a large international community of French, Spanish, German, Swiss, Italian and British natives -- plus many more.

I was in Marrakech for three nights. I stayed at Les Jardins de la Koutoubia Hotel. It's on a busy side street, a couple of blocks from the Koutoubia (a prayer tower of the 12th century mosque), the bustle of the Medina (daily market) and Jemaâ El Fna Square. The location is perfect. From the street the hotel is not attractive at all. But once you walk through the front door and see the plush lobby and oasis-like pool through partly open sash curtains, the first-time visitor says "WOW!". No wonder Colin Farrell stayed here for five weeks while filming the movie Alexandria.

At check-in, arriving guests are greeted with a Moroccan tradition: sweet mint tea. It is so delicious! I'm not a huge tea drinker, but I couldn’t get enough of this stuff. And the way the locals pour it -- a good foot from the skinny glasses -- is an art.

FACT: By law Muslims cannot drink alcohol.

The 5-star hotel has 72 air-conditioned rooms and suites. Each includes a telephone, satellite TV, mini-bar, hair dryer and safe. My room was very comfortable, and I loved balcony and marble bathroom. I had a view of the courtyard, where the pool and one of the hotel’s three restaurants is located. I ate lunch there, and enjoyed a salad, pasta, meat and local Moroccan treats (details later). The breakfast buffet was not too shabby, and if you spend the time to shop around online or find a good tour operator you should be able to get it included in the daily rate. If you book directly through the hotel website, rates begin at 1,950 Moroccan Dirhams (MAD or DH) which is about $228 USD, for a single room (breakfast is not included). That’s top dollar.

The hotel has an elevator, but I took the stairs. One reason is because I was only on the 2nd floor of 3; also, I loved the horseshoe arch/half moon doors. Almost all places have them. In the winter the frame is kept shut; when it’s cold outside only the little door is opened. The hotel uses sensor lighting in the hallways. I wish all places would do this, because it's eco-friendly. There is free wireless internet in the lobby (I also got a weak signal on my balcony), a sophisticated piano bar and a small fitness center/spa. The staff was friendly (but at times verrrry sloooow). Not too many Americans (mostly Europeans) stay here. That's a plus, because when I travel overseas I like to feel like I’m overseas, not surrounded by Americans. The Jardins de la Koutoubia Hotel, 26, rue de la Koutoubia, Marrakech, Maroc; tel.: (00 212) 44-38-88 -00; email :

A great alternative to an international hotel is a riad. Riads were originally residential homes and many have been converted into guesthouses that still have a homey feel. The word "riad" means "garden" in Arabic, and all riads are built around a courtyard with a fountain and fruit trees (when it rains they slide a cover over). They are usually 2-3 floors and are made of timber, plaster and tiles. Riads are very popular -- there are almost 1,200 in Marrakech alone! Most can be found down side alleys in the Médina, making them seem like almost nothing from the outside. They are marked by just a small door, because the Islamic culture frowns on showing off wealth. In the old days visitors never know someone else's social class until they walk through the door and see grand gardens and tapestry. That makes going to riads so much fun -- they're huge hidden surprises. Once you walk through the door, you're in a whole new world. I went to the really-hard-to-find Riad Chorfa (6, Derb Chorfa El kebir , Mouassine, Médina, Marrakesh; Tel. [00212] 24-44-30-05). Four hundred years old, it's a perfect place to relax, have a drink and check out the revolving art exhibitions.

Innovative female chef Zakia creates some unusual tasty salads at the luxurious Riad Dar Rhizlane and offers an amazing lunch and poolside barbecue. It’s in the residential district of Marrakech: Dar Rhizlane, rue Jnane El Harti, quartier de l'Hivernage, Marrakech; tél. (212) 24-42-13-03.

1. No matter where you are, it’s always a good idea to ask someone before taking his or her picture. This is especially true in Morocco. In Marrakech’s Jemaâ El Fna Square, be prepared to tip anyone you shoot.

2. It’s illegal to photograph anything considered strategic, such as a police station, airport or the royal palace.

3. Don’t walk into a mosque. That’s a huge taboo for non-Muslims. Only two mosques in all of Morocco (the Hassan II Mosque in Casablanca, and the Moulay Ismael Mosque in Meknes) are currently open to non-Muslims.

4. Morocco is a very conservative country. Most men are expected to marry virgins. Females (especially those traveling alone) should be careful not to smoke in public, or drink in a bar; otherwise, men might think they are prostitutes.

5. Most Muslim women are veiled from head to toe. However, female visitors are not expected to weir veils.

6. Museums are usually closed on Tuesdays.

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Copyright 2007 JohnnyJet, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Pictures From

The Trip






Les Jardins de la Koutoubia Hotel


Hotel Entrance


Mint Tea


My Room


HOtel Pool


Alley To Riad


Riad Chorfa


Riad Dar Rhizlane


Lunch At Riad Dar Rhizlane


Inside A Mosque


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