Magical Marrakech is a rousing Red City at the cultural crossroads between Africa, Europe and the Middle East and it’s fast becoming the go-to place to be seen. Long-time favourite of celebrities – the mystical city in Morocco is THE destination of 2016.
Let yourself loose in this North African magical playground and prepare to be enchanted by all you discover. From the highly decorative riads, dusty desert and the bustling markets, to tantalising tangines and the shady souks, this city has something extra-especial about it that has enthralled travellers for centuries. So grab your Fez and and take the trek of a lifetime.The dusky terracotta walls which frame the Old Town of Marrakech are a sight to be seen in themselves – and a visit to the Medina within these ancient battlements is first on any well-heeled travellers’ list.
At first, as you arrive in Jemaa El Fna Square – the gateway to a world of wonders, you’ll find yourself overwhelmed by noise, clashing cultures, snake charmers, street hawkers and strange smells, but a few steps in any direction and you’ll be transported back in time to an ancient city, which leaves you feeling like time has somehow stood still for centuries.
Traditionally-clothed Moroccan women gather on rough blankets under rickety wooden shades grinding Henna leaves, while others pound and blend spices, producing the most amazing smells. Marrakech isn’t for the faint-hearted – but boy – it packs a punch and leaves you with a lifetime of memories.
And if you’re after that picture-perfect moment, you don’t have to look very far. Round every twisting cobbled Medina street, or over any balcony, you’ll find a photograph begging to be taken.
Navigating the souks or market within the Medina initially seems daunting, but after a few deep breathes and a second to adjust, you’ll soon find yourself lost (often literally) in an amazing world. Crammed full of every Moroccan craft or speciality you could ever have imagined and then some, this is a shopper’s paradise.
But be warned, you’ll need to bargain hard. We found some amazing, hand-crafted leather footstools, more spices than we will ever need and some very fine and traditional jewellery. In fact the day we spent exploring just wasn’t enough and we went back twice. The second time, armed with much more confidence, we bartered, walked away and returned back to our hotel laden with treasures – costing just a few pounds.
My advice, don’t skimp on your hotel. With so many low-cost carriers flying from so many regional airports in the UK in around 3 – 4 hours, you’d be a fool not to take advantage of this perk and splash out on some real luxury.
For me, and a host of Hollywood celebrities (not that I’m one to name drop) the ONLY place to stay during your trip would be, The Four Seasons Resort & Residences Marrakech. It truly is the ultimate luxurious Oasis in a desert.
From the second you arrive at the gated development you know you’re in for some serious Five-Star pampering. Checking-in? Why stand at a reception desk when you can nestle on a comfy sofa and sip delicious Mint Tea. It’s all about the experience at the Four Seasons Marrakech – and boy do they take experience to a new level.
Having never visited a ‘resort’ Four Seasons, I was a little unsure how the normally seamless service would work in a lager-scale property. However my fears were completely unfounded and in no time we were whisked by golf buggy to our out-of-this-world suite, complete with private wraparound terrace and plunge pool. The perfect antidote for any weary traveller.
The suite itself was huge. Oversized sofas, an amazing four-poster bed and state-of-the-art entertainment systems as standard. And did I mention the bathroom? A wonderful blend of Moroccan design and modern functionality. If I could, I’d replicate this bathroom at home – especially the family-sized bath tub which was large enough to swim in!
The resort is cleverly constructed and designed to offer everyone exactly what they want. There is a stunningly symmetrical ‘quiet’ or adult pool area, framed by deep and luxurious loungers and cabanas and also a fun or kids’ pool, where families spread out, relax and let their kids have fun.
And you needn’t be bothered about leaving your lounger for anything. From complimentary iced water, to cleaning your designer sunglasses (yes that’s standard at this resort) and even eating an Al Fresco lunch or snack, you need only glance at one of the attentive, yet seemingly invisible staff, and your every need is catered for. Or you could use the fantastic new Four Seasons App – seriously great. Imagine lying by the pool and ordering room service, a different pillow or organising a dinner reservation with a simple few clicks. And even better – it works seamlessly – just as you’d imagine from the Four Seasons.
Travelling with kids can often mean parents don’t get any ‘us time” on holiday and the Four Seasons again have come up trumps with their Kid’s Club. Your little and not so little blighters can have their own mini adventure everyday, with a raft of exciting activities which constantly change. This means you can ‘steal’ a little time for yourself by the pool or in the spa without worrying about your precious offspring.
Another bonus for those with kids – under 5’s eat free and under 12’s eat for half-price – so you needed worry about keeping their demanding appetites satisfied. Okay, so if you’re here for a longer period, you might wish the kids menu was a little more extensive, but it didn’t bother any of ours, who happily ordered their favourites in endless succession.
Talking of culinary experiences, this hotel does offer a wide and varied offering of food and drinks in several breathtakingly beautiful bars and restaurants. One is nestled in an Olive Grove, another perched high in a tower with views over the city. Make sure you visit as the sun sets. Its beyond memorable.
However amazing this hotel is, and however hard it is to drag yourself away from everything you could possibly need for a holiday, I do recommend you venture outside this paradise.
I’ve already mentioned the Medina, but there’s a lot more to see and do in Marrakech.
I’d recommend a visit to the Jardin Majorelle – another ‘oasis’ on the outskirts of the city and the brainchild of the French painter Jacques Majorelle. He came to Marrakech in the 20’s and this masterpiece enclave behind its walls include a botanical garden crammed with exotic plants and amazing water features, not to mention The Berber Museum.
Now, no visit to North Africa would be complete without a camel encounter, however tacky that might sound, I’d truly recommend you avoid the hawkers lining the streets from the airport with their beasts and head for La Palmeraie. With it’s desert like landscape it offers the perfect backdrop for any adventurer, big or small. A word of warning, in the height of Summer a 15 minute Camel trek is enough. It’s blisteringly hot and quite frankly, camel trekking is an experience you should not miss, but it’s not the most comfortable mode of transport.
With all your exploring, you’ll be looking to eat. I have two superb recommendations. For traditional Moroccan cuisine, without the fear of any nasty tummy bugs, you have to visit the unpretentious and little-known Al Fassia. This is the best Moroccan cuisine you will ever find. Don’t be afraid to order a selection of dishes, all served as and when they are ready to your table. We chose to eat at a table in the walled courtyard and left knowing we had eaten some of the best Moroccan food ever – the Lamb Tagine was beyond description, but equally so, the selection of smaller dishes we ordered were just delicious.
And our other favourite discovery was the newer and more contemporary, La Papillote. Location-wise, its smack bang next to the biggest water-park in Marrakech, but don’t let that put you off. At night, this restaurant serves up cuisine worthy of some of the finer restaurants in London and Paris – and at a fraction of the cost!. We spent a wonderful evening here and would loved to have returned, but sadly made this discover on the last night of our trip.
The Moroccan people are incredibly friendly. They adore ‘family’ and children and at no point during our trip did we feel anything but safe.
Immersing yourself in Moroccan life is easy. Getting there is easy. What’s stopping you?
AIRLINES: EasyJet, Ryanair, Monarch and British Airways are among the airlines offering scheduled services direct to Marrakech from several main and regional airports in the UK.
HOTEL: For room and suite rates and availability visit www.fourseasons.com
1 Boulevard de la Menara,
Marrakech, 40000, Morocco
Tel. (212) 524 359 200
Fax. (212) 524 359 201