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- Morocco Holidays 2016, 2017
Discover a raw and varied landscape of undulating desert dunes, soaring mountains and vibrant cities. Morocco is blessed with a unique culture resulting from indelible Arabic, African and European influences. Though only a short flight from the UK, Morocco is intensely exotic, with a variety of experiences on offer. It is a kaleidoscope of intricate architecture, vibrant colours, incredible flavours and buzzing markets at every turn. While away the hours wandering around souks, relaxing in a hammam, or sipping traditional mint tea in a street-side cafe. Cities hold plenty of sites of interest, such as Marrakech's Museum of Modern Art, Casablanca's Hassan II Mosque –the largest religious monument in the Muslim world after Mecca –Mohammed V's Mausoleum in Rabat, and Fes' rambling medina –now one of the country's several UNESCO World Heritage Sites. Travel just a few miles from the city, however, and you'll find an entirely different face to Morocco: Berber tribes inhabit the golden Sahara sands and traditional farming communities subsist on produce grown in the plains of the Atlas Mountains, rearing cattle in some of the most dramatic scenery imaginable. To the west, clear blue waves lap miles of largely undeveloped coastline creating a surprising surfer's paradise at Essaouira. Morocco is well known for hospitality and knows how to do luxury, whether you prefer to stay in a plush new hotel or a riad full of character, you can experience all the country has to offer without compromising on comfort and relaxation.
Morocco with A&K
Morocco, where souks are exotic, spices intense, and Abercrombie & Kent's versatile staff can alchemise potential problems into holiday gold. Just ask Simon and his son Marcus. We were taking them south into the Sahara when flash flood stranded 2,000 cars and trucks. We might own the country's most impressive vehicle fleet, but raw nature had intervened. Nothing could move - apart from our guide. He walked miles to a tiny village and persuaded a local family to host our guests until the road re-opened next day. Cue carpets on the floor, excellent homemade food and a convivial, unforgettable bolthole for the night.
Extraordinary for most operators, it's par for the course for A&K. Our experienced team in Marrakech connect to a network of brilliant multilingual guides, and the country's smartest accommodation, including chic riads and our own tented camp in the Sahara.
Morocco Holidays 2016, 2017 with Abercrombie & Kent provide a privileged view of the people and places that make this country special.
The team will help you explore the remains of Roman and Greek empires, along with the most atmospheric cities in North Africa including Fez and its medieval medina, historic Rabat and movie-immortalised Casablanca. And, of course, Marrakech with the sensory assault of Djemmaa-el-Fnaa square's colourful snake charmers, magicians and storytellers. It makes for an intoxicating holiday, but for a more serene take on the city, A&K offers a unique evening in the family home of Mohamed, a local university professor. Expect to discuss everything from politics and philosophy to cooking while devouring homemade tagines.
Morocco is more than its cities. We'll take you to remains of Greek and Roman empires, Essaouira's Atlantic surf and to the Atlas Mountains, where you can hike to Berber villages with epic views of snow kissed peaks. And, as Simon and Marcus, will testify, we'll also take you, come hell or high water, to the Sahara's rippling sea of dunes at Erg Chebbi. It's all possible.
Best time to be there
Morocco is warm and sunny year round. The best time to visit is mid-February to June and September to December. Coastal Morocco is cooled by sea breezes. The peaks of the Atlas Mountains are snow-capped for most of the year.
Marrakech (BA, Royal Air Maroc, Easyjet); Agadir (Easyjet); Casablanca (Royal Air Maroc and Air Arabia); Tangiers (Royal Air Maroc & Air Arabia); Essaouira (Easyjet); Fes (Ryanair)
3 hrs 15 mins - 4 hrs 20 mins
Not required for UK passport holders
No mandatory vaccinations required
Our experts can tailor-make the perfect holiday to suit your individual requirements, however, if you need inspiration or a starting point, below are some of our suggested trips and experiences:
Nights: 11 | from £4,925pp
Delve into Morocco, from its historic cities to its mysterious desert, staying in the A&K Exclusive Desert Tented Camp by the Erg Chebbi dunes and spending... Find out more
Holiday type: Group departure
Call 01242 547 918 Enquire
Here's a selection of some recent articles to whet your appetite:
Fes – A Moroccan Treasure by Caroline Blake
CITY VIEW | Fes
All of which is at the heart of, and celebrated by, the annual Fes Festival – undoubtedly the best time to visit Fes as the city is alive with events, musicality and creativity, echoing the city’s unique heritage.
DYERS DYEING ANIMAL SKIN | Fes
TERRACE | Fes
A three night trip to Fes, including international flights, transfers, accommodation at Riad Fes, and a private half day medina tour is available from £599pp. For more information, or to discuss your trip to Fes, please call one of our travel specialists on 01242 547 703 or enquire online.
Top 10 Riads & Retreats
From the opulent La Mamounia in Marrakesh to the captivating Dar Ahlam, we present our top ten riads and retreats.
A member of Small Luxury Hotels of the World, La Sultana Oualidia is an authentic Moroccan riad which dates back to the 19th century. Surrounded by orange, olive and jacaranda trees, terraces, fountains and flowered balconies, it is poised on the edge of the ocean, sheltered by cliffs and bordered by green pastureland and salt-water marshes. The large sandy beaches provide the perfect place for an evening stroll, take a trip across the lagoon in a fishing boat amongst a ballet of pink flamingos or let us organise an intimate a picnic for two on a hideaway beach.
We love this property for its individually designed rooms and natural elegance. The outdoor massage cabins are a must try and the food is superb, we particularly enjoyed the oysters!
If the setting for this Kasbah, between the drama of the Atlas Mountains and the emptiness of the Sahara is not astonishing enough, then the building itself surely is. In the style of a traditional Kasbah, it is genuinely jaw-dropping. The brainchild of a Parisian party planner it is an intimate and hugely luxurious retreat behind bright ochre walls. Once part of a medieval sultan's private hunting ground in the Skoura Oasis, this towering rust-red fortress surrounded by a palm grove really is a 'House of Dreams', as its name translates. Facilities and activities include a Hammam and solarium, mountain biking, hiking, horseback riding, quad-biking, buggy, camel and mule rides, and hiking.
We love the flexible check-out times, Moroccan mud scrubs and the inspired Moroccan cuisine which can be served in a cosy corner of the Kasbah or on a secret terrace.
La Mamounia was built in 1923 and continues to be a jewel in the crown of Marrakech's hotel portfolio. The 18th Century gardens were a gift from the Alaouite sultan to his son Mamoun as a wedding present.
Classic Traditional rooms on the ground and first floors are decorated with warm tones and have views over the city and internal gardens. The Superior ones being on higher floors afford views over the Hivernage whist the Deluxe overlook the Koutoubia, the park or the Atlas Mountains and Agdal garden. The Suites are a wonder to behold with spectacular views over the gardens and Atlas Mountains, opt for an Executive Suite with a spacious terrace. The Signature Suites all feature their own style and are fit for a king. Alternatively stay in your own three bedroom riad replete with large dining room, private terrace with your own swimming pool.
Whilst here you must enjoy dinner on the terrace at La Marocain, beautiful surroundings and the divine cuisine of Chef Rachid Agouray combine to offer an unforgettable dining experience.
Riad Joya is a beautiful blend of gold, cream and pink hues that evoke a romantic feel to the property. The style is minimal with hints towards the souks of Morocco coupled with nature and the surrounding landscapes.
The rooftop terrace is the best place for breakfast whilst you take in the scents of jasmine and orange and plan your day whilst the cosy library is a real hideaway, ideal with a book and glass in hand. Experience the ceremony of the traditional Moroccan bath and scrub in Joya's exclusive hammam and, if available, we recommend you book the Tuareq Suite with its beautiful golden bath.
Staying at Riad Fès feels like stepping back in time, the building beautifully recreates the splendour of the Fassi nobility, with Moorish architecture that recalls the prestigious history and complex culture of this Imperial city. Inside, the décor is equally impressive, giving the Riad Fès a palatial feel. The rooms continue the traditional theme, although modern touches aplenty create a real comfort and warm amidst the grandeur. In terms of design, the rooms follow a number of themes - from the 'Moroccan' style with traditional furnishings, zellige floors and Moroccan fabrics, to the 'Baraco-andalous' style with its grey tadelakt walls, black zellige and its Blanc de Carrare marble bathrooms. This hotel is genuinely sensational, and an ideal base from which to explore the rich culture and fine gastronomy of Fes, which is now a 'Millennium Museum'.
We recommend staying in a Deluxe room which offers views of the Andalous or Baroque Pavillions.
Lying within an oasis of palms and olive trees, Amanjena echoes the rose-red walls of Marrakech and the Berber villages dotted amongst the High Atlas Mountains. The hotel is modern take on a traditional style - soaring domes and imposing, elegant Pavillions create a stunning, tranquil retreat.
Located a short drive from Marrakech, the property sits within a walled enclave dotted with fountains and pools and is an exquisitely crafted interpretation of Moorish tradition and opulence.
A romantic candlelit tented dinner in the property's olive grove is a must for couples.
Formerly a royal prince's private home, Les Jardins de Skoura is now run by a delightful French lady who has transformed it into a charming hotel which features comfortable and individually designed rooms and suites. The largest suite, Atlas, has its own private balcony. As the name of this property would suggest, the gardens are beautiful and offer plenty of seating and shade to enjoy the views. A relaxing pool area and outdoor dining options make this property as beautiful outside as it is in.
Where possible food is home grown from the surrounding orchards or the vegetable garden ensuring only the freshest ingredients are used to prepare delicious meals. Les Jardins de Skoura is located in the heart of the Skoura palm grove in the Kasbah Quarter and commands outstanding views of the Atlas Mountains.
Bought by Sir Richard Branson in 1998 during one of his famous ballooning expeditions, Kasbah Tamadot is set in the foothills of the Atlas Mountains one hour's drive from Marrakech.
All 24 bedrooms and suites are individually decorated using traditional Moroccan furnishings and antiques, as well as items from the vast collection of Luciano Tempo, Kasbah Tamadot's former owner. As a renowned antiques dealer and interior designer, Luciano brought together artefacts from all over the world, many of which feature in the bedrooms. Each room has a uniquely descriptive Berber name.
The wonderfully appointed hotel is ideal as a relaxed retreat, or as a base from which to explore Marrakech and the beautiful Atlas region - by foot, 4x4 or mule. Facilities and activities include tennis courts, table tennis, a gym, picnics in the hills and day trips.
On a cloudless night the sky is jammed with more stars than eyes can take. Head to the roof terrace for some star spotting and moon exploration with the telescope (not that you need one!).
This hotel feels like a home from home, but with other-worldly charm. The 33 suites and pavilions are hidden away in peaceful gardens, and behind the flower-covered walls of stone cottages. All are wonderfully appointed with Moroccan mosaics, hand-woven rugs and antiques and are individually decorated. They have cosy log fires, spacious lounges and private terraces - a great spot for a leisurely breakfast.
Saunter down the rose alleys and watch colourful butterflies flutter before a game of croquet on the lawn, mowed by the organic herd. Saddle up for a lesson at the riding stables or relax with a traditional hammam and clay body mask in the beauty centre.
At lunchtime enjoy the poolside buffet bar which offers an organic lunch with fruit, vegetables and dairy produce from the hotel's own farm.
Villa des Orangers is a lovely, intimate hotel where everything has been carefully designed to ensure a completely relaxing stay. The deluxe rooms and suites are decorated in rich, warm hues, some with individual roof terraces looking out onto the open courtyards.
The pretty central courtyard, shaded by orange trees, is a lovely spot for breakfast, whilst the rooftop terrace is a real sun trap and great for afternoon tea.
The hotel is a 400 metre walk from Jemaa El Fna Square and the Koutoubia mosque and, as such, is an ideal base from which to venture out in the noise and colour of ancient Marrakech.
Although the busy medina is on your doorstep the tranquillity that we found at Villa des Orangers felt like we were miles away.
Morocco….off the beaten track
There's much more to Morocco than Marrakech.
As a first time traveller to Morocco, I was expecting to find a land where the East meets the West, full of spices and sounds, mountains and desert. I was not only thrilled to find all this to be true, but also to discover that there is much more to the country as I travelled around. Moving off the beaten track, we happened upon beautiful landscapes, charming kasbahs, traditional Bedouin hospitality and sleepy villages little changed for centuries.
It is always worth spending a few days in Marrakech. There are a number of historical and cultural sights to see: Koutoubia mosque, The Baadi Palace, and of course the buzzing, ridiculously atmospheric Djemaa el-Fnaa Square at night. I loved wandering around the warren of alleyways around the square, looking for interesting artefacts for my house and enjoying mint tea in shady cafes. The Majorelle gardens, designed by French artist Jacques Majorelle, a striking contrast of lush green exotic plants against a backdrop of vibrant sapphire blue architecture, are a welcome - if slightly surreal - retreat in the middle of this dusty terracotta city.
From Marrakesh, the spectacular Atlas Mountains are ever-present on the horizon, the snow-capped peaks most clearly visible during winter. The mountains are easily reached within an hour, the high altitude air offering cooling respite from the heat of a Marrakesh summer. On arrival at the delightful Kasbah Bab Ourika we were treated to a wonderful alfresco breakfast which was complemented by the setting: the kasbah is located on the edge of the national park affording unbroken views of the surrounding valley and mountains.
After breakfast, we spent the day trekking through the national park accompanied by our guide. Walking through the pristine Ourika valley, amongst groves of apple, almond, orange, olive and peach trees, it felt like we were stepping back in time, particularly when we passed by a number of Berber villages and the salt mine which has been used for generations. The heat of mid-summer however can be uncomfortable; spring and autumn are cooler and in spring the valley is carpeted with wild flowers and blossom whilst in November the saffron flowers envelop the valley in purple.
The following day we set off from the Atlas Mountains to Erg Chebbi in the Sahara where A&K's own desert safari camp is based. This is a long journey best broken with an overnight stay in Ouarzazate en route. We set off across the sands of the Sahara by camel to reach our camp, arriving in the late afternoon sun to be greeted with refreshing mint tea and delicious pastries. We were in plenty of time to see the desert sun set over the undulating dunes - a sight I could never tire of. Our brief time in the desert was characterised by the welcoming staff, including the French chef who concocted delicious Moroccan salads, lamb tagine with plums and vegetable couscous, all absolutely wonderful. The tents were extremely comfortable, decorated with authentic Berber rugs and colourful bedspreads. We spent the evening sitting by the camp fire under an endless canopy of twinkling stars, listening to stories told in soft voices, feeling like we were true nomads of the desert.
The next day, as we made our way towards the medieval city of Fes, we passed through an area known as 'Little Switzerland' due to its remarkable Alpine landscape - steep slopes, pine forests and tall trees - a complete shock after leaving the desert and all its starkness a few hours previously. The village of Ifrane could have been plucked straight from the Alps; it lies in the Middle Atlas mountains and was developed as a ski resort by the French in the 1930s. It is still a busy ski resort today. We were quite taken with the monkeys that live in the trees during summer time.
A great way to conclude a holiday in Morocco is with some time by the beach. Essaouira, a small harbour town on the Atlantic coast, fits the bill perfectly. Although a popular destination, the town retains its authenticity; its medina has been named a UNESCO World Heritage Site and the old quarter has traditional whitewashed houses and winding streets. The coastline of golden beaches stretches for miles. It is a fantastic centre for water sports particularly wind-surfing and kite-surfing thanks the refreshing winds blowing in from the Atlantic Ocean.
To talk to our North Africa specialists, please call our Middle East & North Africa team on 01242 547 717.
Desert Escape - Morocco
Desert Escape - Morocco by Lynne O'Connell
I was initially reluctant to leave Fes, with its world famous medieval Medina. It was here that I really felt like I was in Morocco, it has changed so little and really is the place to see the medina at its best. Fes is the centre for arts and crafts in the country so naturally it is also the perfect place to experience riads with amazing zellige tiles, tadelakt walls, marble, ceramics and stucco.
Leave we did though, to go on a great road trip to the Sahara desert and then onward toward Marrakech. We would be travelling for 4 days with stops at the edge of the desert, a night under the stars in the dunes of Erg Chebbi and then a night in the beautiful palm grove of Skoura before heading on to Marrakech.
Morocco has a great range of landscapes so any long journey is going to have plenty of interest on the way. The exciting journey took us past crops, pastures, fertile valleys, and into forests and mountains. Our first stop was Ifrane. This was a complete surprise as I was not expecting Alpine country; it was like being in Switzerland and was slightly surreal.
On the way to the desert you pass through the Ziz Valley. The river Ziz feeds a string of oases which are astonishing to see. They are a green belt area with stark, parched land either side, then in the middle a lush green oasis and small ksour whose existence depends on this presence of water and the oases. There are more than Date palms here, they grow figs, olives, apricots, crops, tomatoes, alfalfa and keep chickens and goats. Everything they need is nurtured in these oases.
I discovered that Ksour are actually fortified villages. They are built of pise and earth bricks. They are complete villages along the oasis, with a mosque, medersa and granary.
In the late afternoon we left our hotel on the outskirts of Erfoud where we had stayed overnight. Immediately I got the feeling that something exciting was about to happen. We said a temporary goodbye to our wonderful A&K driver to get into a 4 x 4 vehicle driven by local drivers who are used to the terrain and desert dunes. The vehicles are not luxurious but they are comfortable, have air-conditioning and are sturdy enough to make you feel safe. We had plenty of water on hand but there is only enough space to carry with you a small bag for your magical night under the stars. Sunblock is also a good idea as deserts are after all extreme and you are about to enter the Sahara, the largest desert in the world!
Driving over the arid dry land before you hit the sand dunes is exciting. The drive is fast and you are shaken in the vehicle as you see nothing but barren desert around you. We had three vehicles mostly travelling in convoy but in the wide open arid space, it was like we were in the Paris Dakkar Rally of old. We could see our fellow travellers with sand dust coming from their tyres to the right and left of us.
The dunes of Erg Chebbi are stunning and we were led to beautiful untouched sand dunes and depending upon which way you look, the colours change. They are about 30km long and in places up to 150 metres high.
We were met at our camp by a blue robed Berber who prepared the customary mint tea for our arrival drink. Standing a few feet away are our camels and their owners, who waited patiently for us to join them for a ride further into the dunes for a sundowner at sunset. I decided to walk over and make peace with one of the camels. I was a little nervous to say the least. I was given the most wonderful camel, he was gentle, quiet and very steady. I need not have worried, in fact I loved the whole experience and can fully recommend it. My local camel driver gave me a white cotton cloth which thankfully he fashioned into a protective scarf for my head - a Keffiyeh! The sun may have been on its way down, but we still needed the cover and of course its touches like this that help get you in the Sahara desert mood!
I was lucky enough to be at the front of the caravan for much of the journey further into the dunes. Looking ahead all I could see was desert - it was one of the unique experiences in life where I kept thinking, 'wow, I cannot believe I am riding a camel in the Sahara Desert.' I was looking around enjoying the fantastic scenery and then I was very concerned about staying on top of the camel, you are after all quite high and they do tend to lollop. This was soon forgotten once my camel (Lenny Lashes) led me comfortably into the desert.
We reached a fabulous dune that had a table with wines and drinks awaiting us, along with nibbles, seemingly set up in the middle of nowhere. We dismounted our camels and walked to the top of the dune to sit and watch the sun set over the Sahara Desert. This was truly a magical moment in life and one I shall never forget. We were quite excited and animated about the whole experience but at one point we had some 'silent' time to fully experience the moment. As the sun set we joined our trusty steeds (can you say this about a camel) and rode back to camp. There was a fire going with our Directors' chairs around it and we sat and had a further drink. Dinner was soon served in the dining tent. It was set up wonderfully with full service and the food was first class, a real Moroccan delight.
Sitting around the camp fire in the evening was amazing. The temperature had dropped enough to be comfortable but not cold (it was early June), whilst the sky was clear enough to do some star gazing.
Our tents were brilliant, they had good beds with white cotton sheets, carpets on the floor and side tables with water to drink. We also had a sink with water for washing. There are no noisy generators at the camp so atmospheric candles gave us our light. We wondered if we would sleep well in the tent. For about half an hour we listened to the wind but it eased and we then fell soundly asleep. We arose early to climb the dune behind our tents and watch the sun rise. It was about 6.15am and there we all sat watching in sleepy silence as the magnificent sun rose.
Next to each sleeping tent we had another smaller tent that housed the toilet (one each for each tent) and the shower area. In the morning, I had a lovely hot shower - it is hand held but the power of the water supply was good.
I would defy anyone not to enjoy a night in the desert. This part of the Sahara is reasonably accessible and shouldn't be missed. It is not recommended year round as the temperatures can be extreme. It is perfect for a romantic couple or fun for a small group of good friends. Ours was the private camp, which means there was no one else camping with us that we did not know. If you do want to join a permanent camp, we can recommend the Madu Camp. You will be in close quarters and get to meet other travellers, but still in relative comfort.
After leaving the desert, we had the delight of driving the though the Todra Gorge, with its cliffs which are 300 metres high in places. We were dropped off at one part of the canyon whilst our vehicle drove on to pick us up later. This gave us the opportunity to walk through the gorge, and look up from the canyon floor at all its majestic beauty. We learned that Winston Churchill used to come here to paint; he was a regular visitor and found it very inspiring. It is easy to see why. I imagine it is a little busier now than when he was here but the landscape is the same.
We drove on to Skoura, a small town not far from Ouarzazate, which was built in the 12th Century and is set amongst a palm grove. We were lucky enough to stay at the most wondrous hotel, with a real difference, Dar Ahlam, translated appropriately as 'House of Dreams'.
On reflection, this was a really special road trip from Fes to the Desert, and then from the Desert through to Ouarzazate and onto Marrakech. Both are great routes to and from the Sahara. Taking in the vivid sights and sounds of rocky desert, sand dunes, palm groves, towns, villages we saw a feast of utterly beautiful things that will stay with me for a long time yet.
Must See Morocco
Marrakech, also known as the 'Red City' due to the colour of its red sandstone walls, is the bustling heart of Morocco. The famous Djemaa el-Fna square draws you in with snake charmers, acrobats, magicians, mystics, musicians, story-tellers and vendors. Your A&K guide will share the tricks of the trade and the history all around. I recommend Villa des Orangers and Riad Joya, both calm oases amidst the buzz. At night, stalls and restaurants compete for attention, and the smells and sounds lend an exotic air. I loved La Marocain Restaurant at La Mamounia for fine dining Moroccan-style in a traditional riad.
One of the country's oldest cities, Fes is a charming place with history at every turn, from the network of pedestrianised alleys at Fes El Bali to the ancient University of Al-Karaoiuine. Donkeys idle by carrying goods, there's a trade on every doorstep, and children play football in channels narrower than the pavement. Our guide was on first name terms with people inside the medina and took us behind closed doors, introducing us to weavers, tanners and scholars. Riad Fes is one of my favourites. Unassuming from the outside, it is a haven of luxury, and you can choose between traditional and modern rooms. For a view of the intricate medina, there's nowhere better than the terrace at Sofitel Palais Jamais, where you can enjoy a sundowner looking out over history in action.
Lying on the Atlantic coast west of Marrakech, Essaouira's name means 'the wall', in reference to the fortress walls that originally enclosed the city. Walk along the walls today and you'll enjoy views over the sea and the souks beneath. I always recommend a visit to the working harbour, where you can sample delicious, fresh fish. Essaouira's pace is slower than that of the big cities, but there's just as much to discover, and the sweeping beach is a lovely bonus. The terrace at Villa de l'O makes the most of the coastal views. Elsewhere, Heure Bleue Palais is my pick for a traditional hammam, and if golf is your thing I'd recommend heading to Sofitel Essaouira Mogador Golf and Spa just outside town.
Ifrane is a hidden gem in the Middle Atlas Mountains, different to anywhere else in Morocco or the Middle East. At first glance, it resembles a town in the Swiss Alps, with thick forests and winding rivers. Michlifen Ifrane Suites & Spa is a luxurious bolthole, with wooden panelled rooms, and thick furs and fires for winter (when down-pourings of snow transform the town into a peaceful, snowy wonderland). The spa is also one of the best that I have been fortunate enough to visit. Horse riding provides an opportunity to discover the area and interact with the local Berbers.
Erfoud is the 'gate of the Sahara'. Surrounded by ksars (castles), and unchanged for centuries, it has long welcomed traders travelling across the Saharan wilderness. The Erg Chebbi dunes are home to A&K's Luxury Desert Camp, which is reached by an exhilarating desert drive and a camel ride. In contrast to the harsh, dry landscape, the tents are a welcoming Eden, with en suite bathrooms and inviting beds. Sundowners looking over the shape-shifting dunes under a pink sky aren't easily forgotten.
Big Five: Moroccan Riads
Riad Joya, Marrakech
Tucked away in the heart of the old medina, in a quiet part of the protected Mouassine quarter, Riad Joya is one of our favourite Marrakech bolt-holes. An elegant 7-suite luxury boutique hotel designed by Umberto Branchini, Italian Architect and Designer extraordinaire, it provides a serene and stylish escape from the medina's bustling streets. The manager Khalid and his staff are extremely welcoming and helpful; A traditional glass of Moroccan mint tea awaits you on arrival, accompanied by delicious Moroccan biscuits and pastries. With fantastic views over the medina and snow-capped Atlas Mountains, the terrace is a great spot to enjoy what is, in our opinion, one of the best breakfasts in the city.
Riad Fes, Fes
The most unspoiled of Morocco's four Imperial Cities, Fes is an excellent place to shop for traditional goods and see skilled craftspeople at work. The refined Moorish architecture of Riad Fes compounds the feeling of stepping back in time, but, with two 'sides' to choose from, there'll be a room for you whether your taste is traditional or modern. Stunning, spacious interiors and a fabulous spa will ease away any troubles, and the cookery courses are fantastic; particularly when you retire to the contemporary rooftop terrace to enjoy the fruits of your labour while the sun sets over the old city and the Atlas Mountains.
Riad Kniza, Marrakech
Restored to its former glory by renowned local antiques dealer Haj Mohamed, using traditional materials and artisans, the 18th Century Riad Kniza is jam-packed with beautiful local artefacts. Located in the heart of the medina, it provides a wonderful base from which to explore the vibrant streets of Marrakech. After a day sampling the delicious street food and honing your haggling skills, you can put your feet up and relax in one of the many cushion-laden corners, or cool off in the gorgeous Andalusian-style pool. The food here is a real highlight and we highly recommend spending an evening on the roof terrace, soaking up the views and enjoying the tasty Moroccan fare.
Villa de l'Ô, Essaouira
If you like your riads by the sea instead of in the city, Villa de l'Ô is our pick. Sheltered within the original white-washed medina walls of this charming working port, there are just 12 rooms - all individually designed with beautiful attention to detail. The riad is calm and peaceful, yet only a stone's throw from the bustling souqs and restaurants which give Essaouira its atmosphere. The roof terrace is a real favourite of ours - spacious and breezy, perfect for sunbathing or a dip in the Jacuzzi with sweeping views of the long sandy beach on your doorstep.
Les Jardins de la Medina, Marrakech
Located next to the Royal Palace, and reached through a warren of narrow, lively streets, the 19th century riad of Jardins de la Medina is an oasis of peace and tranquillity in the midst of a fascinating and bustling city. With fragrant orange, jacarandas and olive trees, the riad houses the medina's largest private garden- a fabulous place to unwind after day's sightseeing. With 36 rooms, Les Jardins is a little larger than most riads, but it manages to retain a laid-back, intimate atmosphere, and each of the rooms has a private outdoor terrace.
for more information on Morroco click here or call 01242 547 702 to talk to a specialist
A Taste of Morocco
My journey started in Fes. One of the four imperial cities of Morocco (the others being Marrakech, Meknes and Rabat) Fes continues much as it has done since medieval times, with busy workshops producing pottery, metalwork and leather goods, all available to buy in the lively souks. As I wandered around, hunting for bargains and soaking up the intoxicating atmosphere, I had that rare feeling of having stepped back in time. The city is also home to Morocco's best-preserved medina, a UNESCO World Heritage site. Although well worth the visit, the pungent smell of the tanneries and copper workshops inside its rambling walls can be a little overwhelming. I'd recommend holding a bunch of fresh mint under your nose for the duration!
Fes is well-known throughout Morocco for its culinary traditions and I was lucky enough not only to taste some Fessi specialities but also to learn how to create them during a cookery course at my hotel, Riad Fes. Under the careful instruction of passionate head cook Fatima I set about making my own lunch: a tangy Moroccan artichoke salad followed by a delicious (if I may say so myself) chicken and olive tagine, and seasonal fresh fruit salad. If you have a sweet tooth like me then I would recommend trying the traditional Berber dish Pastille: a filo pie usually filled with chicken or pigeon and finished with a crunchy layer of toasted and ground almonds, cinnamon, and sugar.
Leaving Fes behind, I headed into the Middle Atlas to a small town called Ifrane, which resembles a Swiss mountain village rather than a North African town. With fresh, cool air, alpine vegetation and houses with sloping, terracotta roofs, it presents a striking contrast to the rest of the country. From here I sat transfixed all the way as the road dropped south to the town of Erfoud and from here into the Sahara Desert. The dramatic change in landscape is simply spectacular. The private Abercrombie and Kent luxury camp awaited me, as did a trusty steed - though not a horse in this case - I had a camel ride to enjoy, taking me to the top of a dune for sunset aperitifs. On my return to camp, dinner was served around the campfire, followed by a soothing cup of mint tea. Dining under the stars, in the middle of the vast, silent desert, listening to the tales of my guide has to be one of my favourite moments of the trip.
The next day, feeling refreshed, I returned to civilisation, where I stayed at the magnificent Dar Ahlam near Ouarzazate. Located in a small village the hotel offers a fabulous retreat - there's no reception desk, and no televisions or telephones in the rooms- it's very tranquil and feels like a private home rather than a hotel. Here I enjoyed a traditional hammam treatment - the North African equivalent of the ancient Roman and more modern Turkish baths. I can safely say that afterwards I was squeaky clean.
The final stage of my journey took me over the Tizi n Tichka Pass to Marrakech. En route I visited the now world-famous Kasbah Ait Ben Haddou. World-famous because it has been used as a set and backdrop in many a film, including Gladiator, which was filmed here in 2000. It is one of Morocco's best-preserved kasbahs - small fortified villages or compounds, which are dotted around the southern regions of the country. With vertiginous drops and switchbacks for several kilometres, the Tizi n Tichka Pass is not for the faint-hearted. Thankfully my experienced driver knew all the twists and turns, as well as the best places to stop for the most jaw-dropping views. Along the way, we passed Berber villages and people working on the land - a reminder of the different cultural influences which have helped to shape modern Morocco.
Known as the Red City, thanks to its ochre-red walls, Marrakech is a city of endless, winding souks, captivating sights including the Koutoubia Mosque and Djemaa El-Fna square, wonderful restaurants and a brilliant choice of accommodation. I spent the day exploring the medina, putting my haggling skills to the test and sampling the delicious street food. There is an abundance of beautiful things to buy and relish but if you find that hustle and bustle is too much, then it's easy to find quieter places in the city - Marrakech has a number of gardens, some of which have been in existence since the 12th Century.
There is so much still to see and do in Morocco that I am already planning my next visit! I would like to visit the north of the country and the coastal towns of Oualidia and Essaouira, as well as to enjoy the trekking opportunities in the Atlas Mountains. Morocco is a captivating destination and is within easy reach for a short break, but I would recommend an extended trip with time to take in all of the country's many, varied landscapes and cultural highlights.
Attack by Orange! by Jon Nicholson, Photographic, Marrakech
Just back from a successful trip to Marrakech, travelling with journalist, Kieran Meeke from the Daily Telegraph and client Victoria Lush. The objective for the two days was to try and get them both to understand that one cannot just walk in and take snaps of people; there needs to be a more considered approach. To respect a way of life and a different culture. I thought this would be an easy trip and we definitely got the job done but I have to say this is one place that does not like tourists waving cameras around and within a couple of hours we were being pelted with oranges - which doesn't exactly help the need to move around in some form of transparency.
As soon as my two companions had had their first night in the main square - with the usual hassle - it became clear that they both tried (photographically) to compensate for the lack of light by uping ISO, rather than opening up the aperture and slowing the shutter speed. Our pics were very different. This was however, a great starting point for me to take two people who, whilst take pictures well, to the place where it all starts "the light meter"!!
This is the most important thing to get right……an understanding of exposure. Nowadays with good modern cameras with amazing meters inside them, it's easy just to shoot and not know what's going on, and in low light situations hand held photography can be very hard with Av or P settings. Basically they take an average exposure, so one may end up with a shutter speed that is so slow and an aperture that is too high….. hence camera shake. The picture looks in focus but there is movement, so it's a little blurred.
Another cause of camera shake is a lens that is too heavy on the front of a camera, so when you hit the fire button the whole camera shakes.
I tend to walk the streets with a 35mm F1.4 and a 50mm F1.4 lenses and a Nikon D3s and a D3x: well balanced and amazingly sharp gear. So this shot in the main square was at 200 iso 250th sec at F1.4 on a 50mm lens (D3X). That really put the cat amongst the pigeons for the guests and the next day I think was a little tough as I relentlessly kept on at 'manual exposure'.
But the penny dropped and they both started instantly taking better pics, whilst Vicky's issue seemed to be that her camera didn't want to let her take the picture at all - she realised that she was in control and so she thought more about the picture and less about the camera.
We visited some areas where we could take pictures with any hassle and found a man who's job is to stuff saw dust that he has collected from the market traders, into a furness in order to heat the Haman next door. This proved to be another test since it was very dark, but they both worked out what to do and the pictures proved they could move on.
Low light situations in countries like this reveal an incredible amount of rich colour. Again keeping iso down, shutter speed up and aperture open they worked hard and got the guy to relax and even sit for a few portraits.
In two days of working we were right in the middle of the action staying at the Angsana Riad - we were moments from our prey, so after looking at photos we would then head out.
Here in this portrait the iso was 500, shutter of 60th, and aperture was F1.4, 50mm D3x.
The last picture proved to be a mix of emotions, it's hard to go and expect to get good pictures at every opportunity, and we drove for two hours into the countryside thinking we were going to a small remote area where we could shoot a more rural scene only to be told that there were none around…???? Our guide was feeling the heat now and luckily pointed out the castle on the hill which was in fact Sir Richard Branson's Moroccan Retreat. Hurray, a long lunch by the pool beneath snow capped mountains released any tensions and we then proceeded to walk along the valley floor and had a wonderful afternoon shooting villagers going about their normal lives.
Two days is short and we tried to get as much in as we could, not ideal, but we are going back to Essouira in June which is a more relaxed area on the coast before hitting the long haul trips to India and Bhutan.
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Marrakech & The Mountains by Sarah Brunger, Travel Consultant, Europe & The Middle East
It is Saturday evening and the Sun is setting. I'm walking through Djemna el-Fna, the huge square in the medina from which offshoots the colourful souks. With the vendors, performers, snake charmers, musicians and acrobats, I feel like I've walked onto a movie set. My guide tells me that until French occupation in 1912, the square was a slave auction. It was also known as the "Square of the Dead" as the heads of executed prisoners were displayed there on pikes. I look around and try and picture what it must have looked like but it's just impossible. The atmosphere is so lively and happy.
Wood-fuelled cooking fires, bread baking, cardamom, cinnamon and allspice in the market all waft through the narrow lanes, instantly making me feel hungry. It takes a lot of willpower to look away from the olive vendor who is tempting me with a tub full to the brim of juicy stuffed green olives that smell so divinely of garlic and chilli.
As we walk nearer to the Kosoubian mosque, the crowds get slightly smaller and I spot a few colourfully clad men decked out in elaborate tasselled hats. You can hear the musical clinking of the brass and bells they wear and for a dirham or two, water is poured from camel leather bags into brass or tin cups.
I stay close to my guide as I have a habit of wandering off. But as soon as I spot the stall with the most incredible scarves and Moroccan jewellery, I'm away - cedar wood bangles dyed black with intricate silver designs, earrings made of stone and delicate trinkets. In my head I'm already planning my return visit to the souks.
The following day I walk out into a 27 degree heat at 9am, though that is unusual in February, I'm told. I'm thanking every second the sun is beating down on me and try and forget the cold, wet weather I said goodbye to at Heathrow, just a three and half hour flight away…
I am driven in a luxury air-conditioned 4WD up into the Atlas Mountains. After an hour and a half, we stop and my guide points up a hill and smiles. Just twenty minutes later (which feels like an hour) I've hiked uphill to a small Berber village. I decide to follow the smell of freshly baked bread which has already provoked my stomach into making loud growling noises. I eventually find a small old Berber woman dressed in a red and blue striped apron sitting quietly on the ground. She looks up and smiles at me and offers a flat, round piece of piping hot bread. Looking round, I think I am in heaven - the sun is shining on mountains topped with snow and the landscape of hills, streams and small forests with Berber villages dotted around is just incredible. Lost in my own thoughts I fail to notice a goat creeping up behind me which manages to nudge me in the back of my legs, instantly knocking me to the ground.
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