This bright, beautiful and vibrant city is the perfect weekend destination
There’s nothing like experiencing the traditions of Marrakech, but it’s hard to believe this exotic, African destination is less than four hours away from the UK! Marrakech is a labyrinth of souks selling traditional wears, brightly coloured decorations and aromatic foods, a city full of history and fascinating buildings that will leave you spellbound.
Shop the souks
The sights, sounds and smells of the souks (markets) and busy medina area of Marrakech, situated within the old city walls, are a treasure trove for quirky shopping and an experience not to be missed. The art of haggling over rugs, hanging lanterns and coloured spices is a fun experience – but not one you’ll always win!
If you want to explore the medina but find the crowds a little too much,jump in a Caleche (a horse-drawn carriage) to navigate the narrow streets in style. A good driver will guide you around the city, taking in all the famous sights – but make sure you arrange a price before-hand. Ask to be dropped at Jemaa el-Fnaa, Marrakech’s central square and home of the famous Koutoubia Mosque – at sunset, the square comes alive with a host of astonishing sights and sounds. Snake charmers, musicians, acrobats and storytellers enchant the crowds, while the aroma of grilled meat and tagines wafts from the row after row of food stalls.
Out and about
Escape the chaos of the busy city for the peaceful Jardin Majorelle garden nearby – known affectionately as the Yves Saint Laurent garden, after its famous previous owner – which has long been one of Marrakech’s star attractions. Loved for its green cacti and cobalt blue building, it’s an Instagrammer’s dream. Next door, Musée Yves Saint Laurent Marrakech showcases the blooming relationship between the fashion designer and his beloved Morocco. The museum houses over 200 haute couture outfits from his Paris archive, a library of 5,000 fashion books and an area for concerts and film. It’s a real mecca for fashionistas.
For a window into Islamic culture, a visit to the Ben Youssef Madrasa college is a must. It’s the largest in the country, and the architecture and decoration is out of this world, and truly steeped in history.
Thrill-seekers will love the exhilaration of quad-biking in the nearby Jbilets Desert. Plan-It Morocco offer a two-and-a-half-hour experience in this stone desert, travelling across valleys and palm-groves. After the safety briefing, suit up and follow your guide over rough and smooth terrain, taking in the stunning views of the Atlas Mountains, which are often snow-capped. Halfway through the experience, take a break at a traditional Berber house, where you’ll enjoy hot sweet tea, crêpes and fabulous Moroccan hospitality.
Marrakech is captivating – but it can also be tiring, so refresh with a trip to a hammam, something which locals consider a ritual. Farnatchi Spa, in the heart of the medina, offers one of the most luxurious options, where you can enjoy a eucalyptus-scented hammam in a steam-polished marble room that will leave your skin super-soft. Afterwards, enjoy some delicious local cuisine at the nearby Le Trou Au Mur (Letrouaumur.com), serving traditional, authentic Moroccan food and some international classics – don’t miss the signature Berber Shepherd’s Pie. A three-course meal costs from £30 a head.
Stay in a Riad
If you want to experience the full force of life in the Medina, then stay in a typical Moroccan Riad (basically, a town house built around a garden). The Riad Star is a gem – the former home of US-born French showgirl and WW2 resistance member Josephine Baker, it’s now a boutique hotel. The rooms are beautifully styled, and the round-the-clock service from the attentive staff is amazing – you’ll love the endless flow of mint tea. Enjoy freshly prepared meals and views from the rooftop terrace while watching the sunset, or relax in the wellness spa. The in-house app is a must, offering hints, tips and a map of the Medina, so you won’t get lost. The Riad Star also offers its own half-day authentic Moroccan cookery classes, where you buy your own ingredients fresh from the markets, and then rustle up a specialist dish that you can enjoy that evening.
Need to know
· Book a stay at the Riad Star from £112 a night, based on bed and breakfast. In-house hammam and massage treatments from £25 for half an hour. Half-day cookery classes from £45 per person. Visit Marrakech-riad.co.uk to book.
· Farnatchi Spa offers a traditional hammam in one of its two marble treatment rooms from £30. Book online at Farnatchispa.com.
· Plan-It Morocco provide full itinerary, accommodation and activities, including our quad-biking trip. Prices from £130 per person, including private transfers from your hotel and back. Book online at Plan-it-morocco.com.