Take-Homes is a series of posts from each destination in which I recommend mementos to buy. My suggestions, and my own purchase choices, are based on sustainable travel criteria: they must be things that are authentically local, that are traditionally made by locals, or things locally produced that are used on an everyday basis by locals, and could include anything from handicrafts to regional food produce.
On previous trips to Morocco I’ve purchased countless carpets and kilims, Oriental lanterns, colourful ceramics, leather poufs, the ubiquitous teapots and tea glasses, and Essaouira’s famous Thuya wood among (suitcases of!) other things. This time I’m limited in what I buy by the length of our trip, so my souvenir suggestions will tend to be small or lightweight, sometimes practical, and most often affordable.
Therefore this is by no means an exhaustive list of things to buy – for that, see my Marrakech Medina Meander: a shopping-themed walking tour – rather it’s more like a list of ‘what Lara bought on her holidays’, or ‘what Lara would have bought if her luggage wasn’t already so heavy’!
ESSAOUIRA ART Moroccan artists are marvelously talented and in Essaouira especially you’ll find beautiful, affordable art in the unique local naïve or primitive style. Look for homegrown talent Mohamed Tabal and Amal Bouhali, whose work I’ve bought on previous visits. You can pick up paintings at galleries dotted all over town, although Galerie d’Art Frédéric Damgardor is the most respected. Paintings start from as little as £100 although the finest works can cost far more. The wonderful thing about art is the canvases can be rolled up and the galleries do a fantastic job of securely packing paintings. Amal’s husband runs a small store selling her work and postcards of her art, pictured above, on Avenue Sidi Mohamed Ben Addellah.
A JELLABIYA The jellabiya or djellaba, often mistakenly referred to as a kaftan, is the long, loose-fitting robe or gown worn by Moroccan men and women on an everyday basis. They have long sleeves that are wide at the cuffs and a huge pointy hood to protect the wearer from the elements. In winter, locals wear a woollen jellabiya and in summer they’ll wear cotton, or on special occasions linen. Women often wear a baggy jellabiya in public, although in the privacy of their home might wear a hoodless version, cinched in above the waist, with decorative stitching, trims, or embroidery. I bought one to wear at ‘home’ when I’m writing, as they’re super-comfy. Quality varies enormously, so check the stitching inside if you want it to last, and check the tag to make sure it wasn’t made in China!
BABOUCHES These handmade leather slip-ons are what you see on the feet of most Moroccan men and women, even in winter when they might wear them with a couple of pairs of thick socks. The back of the heel is folded down and they might have round or pointy toes, and sometimes the toes curl up. You can buy them in plain leather in a huge array of colours or decorated with tassels, sequins and henna-like patterns (as mine are above). Babouches are sold absolutely everywhere in the Marrakech and Essaouira souqs, so shop around. The quality varies greatly, although is easily judged by the quality of the stitching, feel of the leather (you want soft leather if you’re only planning to wear them indoors as slippers but more durable leather if you’re going to wear them on the street); the inner sole (look for a soft padded sole for greater comfort); and the sole itself (which should be thick if you’re wearing them outside, but won’t matter if they’re for indoor use only).
SILVER JEWELLERY There’s an abundance of sterling silver jewellery in both Marrakech and Essaouira and it’s all a brilliant buy. You can find anything from authentic, chunky, antique Berber necklaces, bangles and rings, to more tarnished-looking fake ‘Berber’ jewellery that’s probably been made in Afghanistan or Yemen. There are also more contemporary styles of jewellery inspired by traditional Berber and Bedouin designs that you’ll find all over the Middle East and, unless you’ve shopped around the region before, you might not be able to identify what has come from where. But then again, if you like it, that might not even matter. I have a lot of Bedouin jewellery from the Arabian Peninsula, especially Oman, so this time I opted for some pretty contemporary ‘Berber-inspired’ rings. And they were a bargain too!
Note that the main problem with buying jewellery in Morocco is that jewellery with a large percentage of other metals, such as copper, are sold as sterling silver (look for the universal ‘925’ silver stamp, which means that it contains 92.5% silver), and, unlike say in Dubai, not every jeweller prices according to weight based on the market rates for silver, so, once again, when you find something you like, you need to shop around, compare prices, and bargain.