The Marrakech Travel Review : Moroccan’Roll Than You’d Expect
Much of North Africa has had a tough year, but there’s at least one oasis where a perfect getaway hides. Luxury travel writer Mark Southern discovered what makes Marrakech the go-to weekend destination for the cool kids in the know.
Right contestants, fingers on your buzzers. Here’s your starter for ten. Which city is famous for hedonistic parties, great weather, wonderful food, and is within just three hours from London?
Ibiza Town? No.
Madrid? It’s good, but it’s not right.
Berlin? If it’s up there, I’ll give you the money myself.
Ok, hands up who had Marrakech in North Africa? No-one? Ok, apart from the smart one at the back, probably not many of you.
And why would you? For one, surely Africa’s more than three hours flight away, right? And secondly, how can a small city in an Islamic country possibly be a party capital?
Well you’d be wrong on both counts and would be walking away without even a cuddly toy, because despite its relatively small size, Marrakech is as close to the perfect weekend retreat as it gets for those wanting to head off and experience exquisite culture, excess and cuisine in a sun drenched lovers’ playground. It’s undeniably surprising, but it’s also unquestionably wonderful.
So, when you’re next asked the question, of ‘where should you go for a genuinely different weekend experience?’ you shouldn’t need to phone a friend. Don’t even ask the audience. Your first and final answer should be simple: “Marrakech, Bob. Now I’ll have a P please.”
Marrakech is not a particularly big place, so getting around is easy (although taxi driver’s appear to be constantly competing for an award for ‘ the narrowest gap fitted through in full size car at full speed’). This means that, whilst most of the action takes place in the old town medina, it’s better to be just outside of the centre, and travel in for business or pleasure.
The very best place in town is Les Deux Tours, which even our rusty GCSE French is able to translate into The Two Towers. The hotel sits just 20 minutes away from the centre, in what locals call the palmery; a vast oasis of palm trees as far as the eye can see. Legend has it that the estimated 150,000 strong ocean of palm trees brings good fortune to the locals, and if by ‘good fortune’ they mean ‘exceptional hotels’ then the myth is certainlytrue, as Les Deux Tours blows away all others in town with its luxurious excellence.
The hotel has acres of private gardens, fountains and wildlife, and is a perfect location to plan your trip from. Its award-winning restaurant and exceptional service means that you’ll be tempted to spend all of your time within the hotel’s imperious walls, but you would be missing out on the full Moroccan experience if you didn’t venture out at least once.
Make sure you book one of the Villa Suites, and treat yourself to the remarkable private dining experiences, where your own private waiter for the evening will serve you a fabulous taster menu of local produce from the hotel’s Michelin-starred restaurant. Also, take time to wander around the extensive gardens, reveling in the relaxed ambience, and enjoying cocktails by your own private pool.
This is a genuinely delightful hotel, and one that is an absolute must-stay during your time in Morocco.
Food is of great importance to Moroccans, and you’ll be given special service wherever you go. However, it can be a little too busy in some places, and taking yourself away from the hustle-bustle of the medina (and it really does hustle and really does bustle) is a very good idea indeed.
Les Jardins de la Medina is one such hidden gem, located behind the most unsuspecting door you’ll ever come across. What appears to be nothing more than an empty street houses the nondescript brown door, which acts as a TARDIS-esque portal to another world away from the hectic hullaballoo outside.
You’ll sit by the pool within the quaint riad, where history and opulence pass on their relaxing qualities like osmosis whilst you eat. Try the fish here, or their excellent French interpretation of the local delicacy, lamb tagine.
Alternatively, for a more authentic experience, get into the souks (or marketplace) right in the heart of the medina, and enjoy the local flavour from any of the stalls pedaling their wares. It’s cheap, it’s cheerful, and it’s never anything less than delicious.
Morocco is an Islamic country, but they have a laid back attitude to alcohol, bars and nightclubs. In fact, Marrakech is building up something of a reputation as being the party capital of North Africa, with a growing number of cool nightspots shooting up over the past decade.
As throughout the rest of the country, music is the narrative through which the party story plays out, and whether it’s the traditional sounds of the old town square, or the booming house music blaring from a late-night bar, peace and quiet are not to be found here. Instead, energy, fun and friendliness are the watchwords, and you shouldn’t miss the cluster of cacophonic Kasbahs around Avenue Mohammed V.
Special mentions should go to Le Bar Churchill, with its marvelously Moorish feel and impossibly glamorous cocktails (www.mamounia.com), and the extravagance and Western ambience of the most high profile nightclub in town Diamont Noir (www.hotellemarrakech.com).
Casinos and gambling are in surprisingly high supply here, with the odds very much in the players favour when choosing their favourite.
The best in town is also the oldest; Le Casino de Marrakech. This impressively opulent palace of inequity has been keeping locals and tourists alike at the tables for over five decades, and this experience shines through, with a chic confidence its competitors lack. Featuring fourteen hours per day of everything you could want from a top casino, this is the only place in town to gamble big.
There are few places in such relatively close proximity to Britain that have such an authentic sense of cultural identity. Unlike many historic cities where Westernism has diluted the local culture down to a grey shadow of its former glory, here globalism plays second fiddle to local ambience.
From the red shading of every building, to the refusal to build any high rise buildings as they would challenge the unique dominance of the main city mosque, locals care about their city, and it’s better for it.
Indeed, as long as you can ignore the ubiquitous iphone earphones in every other shopkeeper’s ears, taking a walk through the medina is like stepping into a cultural time machine, as though you could be stepping through the same souks at any time over the past century.
The beauty of Morocco cannot be fully appreciated by land, for a complete understanding of its wonders you must take to the skies.
The best way of doing this is not via any motorized method, but by helium. Take a thrilling hot air balloon ride and you’ll witness the real colours of the desert, the unique way the city fades into a fuzzy glory against the dry African sky, and above all the soothing silence of nature.
It involves an early start (normally around 5am for the best views), but it’s worth the lack of sleep as the tranquility you’ll feel as you and a significant other sip a champagne breakfast aboard your own private hot air balloon flight is exquisite. This experience couldn’t be more recommended.
For something a bit more white-knuckle, you’ll need to go more white-water. Rafting that is. An unknown gem just an hour outside of Marrakech in the Atlas Mountains, you’ll traverse rapid-running rivers, and experience breathtaking drops. Of course it’s perfectly safe, but your heart will be in your mouth for a sensational excursion with a difference.
BMI has just launched a new route here and fly from London Heathrow.
Don’t forget to upgrade to their exceptional business class if you can; it’s second to none.
Main image above copyright: FreeImages.com/Hugo Gomes