If you like your skies blue, your sun scorching, your tagines sizzling and the odd call-to-prayer (the 5.30am ones are particularly thrilling), then you’re going to find Marrakech tres fantastique.
Just 3 1/2 hours directly south of London (EasyJet and BA are the main carriers) you’ll find a whole new world. Dusty streets, terracotta towers, drums, horns and nondescript doors opening into huge, decadent ‘riads’ (small traditional house-hotels) all lend themselves to the Moroccan experience.
Temperatures in late April and May hit 30 degrees – so my advice would be not to go in July and August unless you genuinely want to try frying an egg on the floor.
There are some gorgeous hotels with huge pools – like Les 5 Djellabas – further out of the city centre if you want a more secluded getaway, but to get stuck in to the culture and general hubbub you need to pick from the hundreds of riads encasing the grand square (the Jemaa el Fna).
For something that won’t break the bank but offers impeccable service, traditional decor and a breakfast feast on the rooftop (avec pool) try Riad Hasna Espi. It’s 5 minutes from the square but once inside you feel like you’re miles away. For something a little swankier, have a look at Maison MK or Riad Samarkand.
If you’re spending 3-4 days in Marrakech (which is the perfect amount of time so it’s great for a long weekend) then you’ve plenty of time to look around. Start by heading for the landmark Koutoubia Mosque: a homing beacon once in the tentacles of the souks.
From there, head into the square (best experienced at night when it comes alive) for some street food and snake charming. A word to the wise: say no to everything (unless you really want it), don’t let the henna ladies grab your hands (I got royally ‘done’ and as I’m writing this still have what is apparently my boyfriend’s name staining my skin – but I can’t help but wonder what it really says) and keep one eye on your purse. It’s an inspiring work ethic really, if these guys can make money, they will!
The souks are best experienced in the relative cool of the morning, and the wares really are wonderful. From ornate lamps (I have two in my case) to plates and bowls, to *ahem* knock-off watches and shoes, get ready to haggle to your heart’s content. Don’t pay more than 200 Dirham (about £17) for anything.
To escape the madness of the square, head to the new town of Gueliz for a spot of lunch at La Grand Cafe de la Poste, before strolling up to Jardin Marjorelle (pictured): designed by Yves Saint Laurent they’re massively gorgeous and well worth a visit with camera in tow.
While you’re in Morocco, it’d be rude not to visit a hamman spa. It was my birthday while we were there so we splashed out and went to Hotel MK for the ‘Evening Pamper Package’: a 1.5 hour hamman and massage bonanza that leaves you feeling clean for the first time in years, followed by a 5 course tasting menu which I deemed ‘the best meal I’ve ever had’. And I’ve had a few. Of course, you can find different price levels if you look around, so definitely put it on your to-do list.
That reminds me, Marrakech is a Muslim city, so booze is hard to come by. If you fancy a night on the handpainted tiles then don’t fear: you do have a few options! Head to Palais Jad Mahal in Gueliz to sip cocktails as bellydancers gyrate around you in this ornate palace-style club (complete with sunglass-wearing revellers).
Alternatively, Kosy bar in Le Place des Ferblantiers is an incredibly beautiful riad-style restaurant/rooftop bar/club combo that’s not cheap but a great time will be had by all.
Finally, you absolutely cannot complete a stay in this city without visiting the world renowned La Mamounia hotel. The residence of choice during filming of the Sex and The City 2 Movie (trust me, this is not it’s biggest claim to fame), the hotel sits close enough to the square that you can still hear drums as you sip £16 manhattans, but my god is it worlds apart. A stunningly imposing facade flows onto the most amazing pool and gardens out back: we treated ourselves to one drink just to drool at the rich and the beautiful people flocking to the outside bar as the sun fell. I’m still a little in awe.
If you’re clever you can book a 4 day trip for under £400 each, not bad for pretty guaranteed sun and a totally otherworldly experience.
Words by – Jo Birch