Shopping in Marrakesh when traveling alone can be an overwhelming experience. The labyrinth of alleyways jammed packed with merchants and shops in the city’s many souks is, many times, disorienting and downright exhausting for even the most ardent shopper. On top of the enormous amount of goods to choose from, it is difficult for someone to discern what is a quality item or what is a fair price for an item you are contemplating purchasing.
Ensemble Artisanal: An Overlooked Ethnic Shopping Enclave in Marrakesh
Being the shopaholic I am, before I embark on any solo trip I do extensive research concerning what to buy and where to buy the coveted items of a particular destination at the best price. One of the places that I discovered in my Marrakesh shopping search was Ensemble Artisanal, a government sponsored shopping enclave where one can watch high quality artisans make their handicrafts and purchase these items at fixed prices. Many solo travelers miss this fabulous shopping spot because it is not in the Medina.
Visit Souks in the Medina First
As most every tourist visiting Marrakesh does, I hit the souks on my first day. I made a pledge to myself to not buy anything on my initial shopping tryst which was a wise decision. On my 50-day solo Around the World trip, I allotted one week to fully explore everything Marrakesh had to offer. Consequently, I did not feel pressured to buy something upon first glance on the first day. I knew I could go back, if needed, and be better prepared to make a sensible purchase.
Next Shopping Stop: Ensemble Artisanal
After my initial visit to the main souks in the Medina, I decided to get smart and go to the Ensemble Artisanal. Here I would learn what types of handicrafts were made in Morocco, their fair price, compare the quality of the goods displayed versus what I had seen in the souks and more importantly, not be hassled by the overzealous merchants. This was one of the best decisions I made on the trip. The following is my take on the value of making a stop at the Ensemble Artisanal on your shopping adventures in Marrakesh.
I arrived at the two-story shopping complex when it opened at 9:00am wanting to avoid the crowds. What I found was a calm retail setting, completely opposite from what is experienced in the Medina’s souks. Instantly, I realized this was going to be a productive shopping day. Leisurely, I started to wander through the many small shops. The artisan shopkeepers were relaxed, friendly and eager to share what made theirs goods special.
One of the first shops I went into was an ethnic jewelry store where I met a handicapped artisan who had filled her open-air retail space with her many creations. This was a delightful experience even though she could speak very little English. She was so proud of her work and she could see I was an interested customer. I love buying unique jewelry that I believe is representative of the local culture. Eagerly, she showed me the many pieces I wanted to try on. After 20 minutes with this sweet soul, I left with two necklaces and a bracelet. She gave me a big hug on my departure that almost brought a tear to my eye.
I have a shopping philosophy that I try to always adhere to: I only buy things from people I like. I cherish my good fortune that I am able to buy the things which catch my fancy and accordingly, I want to spread my hard earned money around with good people who I believe, in some little way, that I am making their life better. Good money should be shared with good people; a karmic principle I deeply value.
My next purchase was EIGHT gorgeous kaftans. Those loose fitting, long garments Morocco is famous for. The shop, manned by its pleasant tailor, was filled with brightly colored, beautifully embroidered pieces. I really couldn’t resist what I was being shown. I asked the price of the elegant kaftans. The gentlemen said they ranged from $30-$45 which was a fair price for these handmade creations, hence, I made a snap judgment.Eagerly, I decided to would buy one for my daughter, my mother, my 3 sisters and my valued assistant at Astrid Solo Travel Advisor, two for myself plus one I planned to give away on an upcoming contest sponsored by my company. Buying quality, unique souvenirs for my loved ones is another common travel practice of mine. The elated tailor bagged up my purchases, wished me well. I was off to the next shop.
Morocco is well known for its superior leather goods. Shoes, belts, purses, backpacks, briefcases, jackets and those distinctive leather poofs everyone identifies with in this part of the world filled the leather shop. I looked for a trendy jacket but could not find one to my liking. Also, I was very tempted to buy a Moroccan blue purse, (this color was made famous by French fashion designer Yves St Laurent) but it was a bit pricey. I passed. I inspected several of the poofs but didn’t find one that was just right.
One of the most interesting shops was a place that sold boiled wool/felt items. The first time I had been introduced to beautiful things made from this type of fabric was in Lisbon. I never knew felt could be so versatile. Purses, hats, pins, necklaces, shoes, and of course all types of clothes are some examples of what can be made from this seemingly unattractive material. What makes the Moroccan felt items so appealing is the use of bright colors and their creative designs. These items turn into a work of art that can be proudly worn and treasured.
Woodworking is another coveted craft produced in this area of the world. Beautifully carved pieces with parquet-like designs, mother of pearl or silver inlaid objects, as well as, a multitude of single wood items are some of the unique creations you will find at several of the woodworking shops in this handicrafts center. If it can be made of wood - bowls, statues, boxes, trays, vases, furniture - you will probably find it here. Worrying about my suitcase capacity led me to opt for a distinctive small, wooden solitaire game set with marble balls that now sits on my den coffee table. Off to the next shop.
At each end of the Ensemble Artisanal complex is a large multi-crafts store. One showcases rugs, furniture and Moroccan collectables and the other focuses on clothes, jewelry and Moroccan tassels which are also a specialty of this area. Yep, I had to buy a tassel! It hung on my backpack the entire ATW trip for good luck, protection and style.
A Delicious Lunch at the Outdoor Cafe
After three highly interesting and productive hours of shopping, I decided to have lunch at the outdoor cafe. There I enjoyed a tasty chicken tangine dish with french fries and a coke for just under $10.00. While eating, I continued to admire my purchases and was so happy I had discovered, visited and shopped at the Ensemble Artisanal.
Ensemble Artisanal’s Extra Conveniences
A few more reasons why any shopper visiting Marrakesh should visit this retail wonderland:
The shops are air-conditioned which is a BIG plus most of the year
You can use a credit card for your purchases
If you need cash or have to convert money, there is a bank on the premises
You will enjoy a no haggling/pressure free shopping experience
The complex has an on-site shipping service
Unlike many of the shops in the souks, it is open seven days a week.
Sharing affordable luxury ideas for the solo traveler is what Astrid Solo Travel Advisor is all about. Finding wonderful things at a reasonable or discounted price is a natural passion of mine. Being able to inform my readers as to where to find special products, services, restaurants, accommodations, and more while traveling solo is so rewarding. When in Marrakesh, be sure to make a stop at the Ensemble Artisanal. You will be delighted you did!
Watch the following, (rather lengthy) video produced by the Moroccan government and get additional information about what you will experience when visiting the Ensemble Artisanal.
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Author: Astrid Clements
Astrid Solo Travel Advisor CEO and founder, Astrid, has spent over 40 years traveling around the world. She is passionate about embracing the world’s diverse cultures and sharing with others the global need and personal benefit of cultural literacy. Her focus is on affordable luxury travel that is both substantive and fun! To read more about her and each one of our Solo Travel Advisors, head over to the About page!