5 inspiring reasons to visit Marrakech this autumn

Autumn is one of the best times to visit Marrakech. The ferocious heat of summer has abated, the crowds have thinned and the city and its surrounding regions offer an array of irresistible things to do, from trekking in the mountains to a traditional hammam. Here are our top five.
Metalwork for sale in Marrakesh souq. Photo: Shutterstock
Metalwork for sale in Marrakesh souq. Photo: Shutterstock

1. Hike into the High Atlas

Autumn is hands-down the best time of year to hike the copper-tinted foothills and soaring peaks of the High Atlas. The weather is cool enough to allow you to trek comfortably, and the first snows of winter are yet to arrive. Stunning Kasbah du Toubkal, perched above the village of Imlil – with views so magnificent that Martin Scorsese filmed his Dalai Llama biopic, Kundun, here – is the perfect place to base yourself, whether for a day or longer. The Kasbah organizes tours that range from gentle 45-minute walks to local Berber villages to five-night treks with a Berber guide, cook and mule and, of course, guided ascents of Jbel Toubkal which, at 4,167 metres, is the highest mountain in North Africa. Let Insight Guides create a bespoke tour of Morocco's Atlas Mountains for you.

Kasbah du Toubkal in the Atlas Mountains. Photo: Shutterstock

2. Ourika’s saffron harvest 

Just over an hour from bustling Marrakech lies a rural idyll, where Berber villages cling to the hillsides and the Ourika river rushes through clusters of russet-hued oak and juniper trees. In late October and early November, the valley stirs into life with one of the most vivid sights in Morocco: the saffron harvest. Before the sun has risen, local women spill into fields of purple crocuses and work tirelessly to pick the flowers before any light can hit the fragile saffron threads (worth more, by weight, than gold) that lie inside. Head to La Safraniere to watch the harvest, learn more in the farm’s little museum and buy your very own pot of authentic Moroccan saffron. Indulge in a hearty Moroccan lunch nearby at Nectarome, a bio-aromatic garden, which also holds workshops on the medicinal, cosmetic and culinary benefits of plants.

3. Warm up with a hammam

It may be sunny and warm by day, but autumn nights in Marrakech can be distinctly chilly, which means this is the best time of year to visit a traditional Moroccan hammam. Whether you choose to brave a local hammam or luxuriate in one of the city’s extravagant spas, it is an unforgettable experience. The hammam isn’t just a beautifying ritual but an essential part of Moroccan life, where neighbourhood gossip is circulated, friendships are forged, business discussed and marriages plotted. Local hammams abound, but one of the best is Hammam Dar el Bacha in the northern medina, where you can slather yourself in olive-oil savon noir, have it scrubbed off (gommage) by an attendant and finish with a calming ghassoul clay mask, scented with Moroccan rose. You’ll emerge as shiny as a newborn.

Inside a traditional Hammam in Morocco. Photo: Shutterstock

4. The Marrakech Film Festival

In its 17th edition and this year celebrating Robin Wright and Agnes Varga, the Marrakech International Film Festival is a week-long gathering of the great and good of the film world and a vibrant celebration of diversity, cultural exchange and artistic talent. With international (subtitled in French or English) films screened in some jaw-dropping locations such as the Palais de Congrés in Gueliz and the ancient square of Jemaa el Fna, plus masterclasses, workshops and lectures across the pink city, this is a cinephile’s dream. As the festival’s founder, King Mohammed VI acknowledges, the festival is, “a place where dreams, art and civic engagement coexist in harmony”.

5. Christmas shopping in the souks

The souks of Marrakech are one of the most exotic places in the world to shop and, at this time of year, the perfect place to get a head-start on your Christmas shopping and give something truly original. The labyrinth of souks threads north from Jemaa el Fna, so this is the place to dive in. The main artery, Souk Semmarine, gleams with traditional ceramics (keep an eye out for fashionable green Tamegroute pottery) and textile shops where you can haggle for a kaftan or two. Stop for a coffee in the atmospheric Spice Square, which is also where you can invest in a Berber rug and stock up on the spices that scent the air. From here, head to Souk Smata to pick up a pair of brightly-coloured or sequinned babouche and then on to Souk Cherratine for leather bags, belts and purses. At the northern edge of the souks is Souk Cherifia, a contemporary boutique collective where everything – from canvas bags to children’s toys and quirky homewares to graffitied T-shirts – has a modern twist on traditional Moroccan design. Finish up with a well-deserved pot of mint tea on the roof terrace of Café Arabe, which has wonderful views over the medina.

Insight Guides can tailor-make your trip to Morocco to include all these autumn highlights and more.

Traditional Moroccan mint tea with sweets. Photo: Shutterstock