Exotic yet accessible, Marrakech is bursting at the seams with culture and is a real assault on the senses. In the heart of Morocco, nestled between mountain and desert, it’s unsurprising to find that this is a city of contrasts. The bustling atmosphere of the Djemaa el-Fna is far removed from the tranquillity of the various gardens; and the medina’s labyrinthine souk-lined streets wonderfully contradict the wide, treelined boulevards of the New Town. Marrakech offers excellent resort style accommodation as well as charming riads – traditional Moroccan style residences with inward-facing rooms and serene central courtyards. Providing a beautiful backdrop to the city are the snowcapped Atlas Mountains – the perfect territory for embarking on treks to hidden waterfalls, visiting Berber villages and soaking up the stunning views.
Perfect for an enthralling day trip from Marrakech, a twincentre escape or a holiday in its own right, this stunning region is home to traditional Berber villagers perched on the mountainside, as well as herb and spice farms. But it’s the natural environment that’s the real highlight, with snowcapped peaks, dramatic gorges, cascading waterfalls and far-reaching views. Trekking is one of the most popular ways to discover the mountains, ranging from gentle strolls to more challenging climbs.
The High Atlas is the most easily reached section of the mountains, at a distance of one-to-two hours away from Marrakech. The serene Asni Valley lies at the foot of some of the highest peaks in Marrakech, while the charming Berber town of Imlil is an excellent starting point for trekking.
One of the most popular attractions in the mountains is the Ouzoud Falls; a four-tired waterfall with waters cascading from a height of over 100 metres. Relax by the flowing waters, or wander along the surrounding walkways that meander through the trees. The drive to Ouarzazate offers mesmerising views. This beautiful city is nicknamed ‘the door of the desert’ as it lies in the centre of a bare plateau, with the desert to the south. Take a tour of the ancient Kasbah complex of Ait Benhaddou and Kasbah Taourirt. The Ouarzazate area also has claims to fame, with a number of Hollywood film scenes having been shot at the Atlas Studios here, including Lawrence of Arabia, The Mummy, Gladiator and Salmon Fishing in the Yemen.
Basking in over 300 days of sunshine a year, Morocco’s largest beach resort is set on a sprawling protected beach. Once a traditional Moroccan town, Agadir was completely rebuilt after a devastating earthquake in 1960 as is now a modern resort, its beach is home to a variety of watersports as well as horse and camel riding. Agadir can be a lively resort with many bars and restaurants and a great deal of entertainment, however it also offers a quieter district for those in search of relaxation.
Just south of Agadir, where the Souss River flows to the Atlantic, estuarine mud flats are home to a staggering 414 species of birds including greater flamingo, cormorants, little egret, bald ibis (in winter months) and black winged stilts. Best sightings are Feb-April and Sep-Nov. For something a little special, Imouzzer is a paradise like valley lined with towering palms and just 35 miles north east of Agadir whilst the nearby Berber village is renowned for its honey production and is celebrated.
One of the most beautiful Atlantic coastal towns, Essaouira is famous for its laidback atmosphere and long, sandy beach. Intimate and romantic, this seaside resort is a great choice for a relaxing break. The town has enjoyed a great love affair with the film industry having been the setting of Orson Welles’ Othello and Ridley Scott’s Kingdom of Heaven and after being frequented by the likes of Hendrix and Jefferson Airplane, Essaouira has become a ‘hip’ place to stay.
Today, going through a great revival Essaouira is now home to a number of chic boutique hotels, maison d’hotes and riads and is quickly becoming Morocco’s sought after beach destination, where you’ll find photographers, artists and the rich and famous making the most of the cooling winds of the Atlantic, its proximity to Marrakech, and the great atmosphere.
GMT +0 hours
4½ hours to Agadir
3½ hours to Casablanca
3¾ hours to Essaouira
3¾ hours to Marrakech
Arabic and French. English is widely understood.
A 15-18% service charge is usually added to the bill.
• Head to the medina and practise your haggling skills as you barter for the best price on carpets, kaftans, jewellery, leather goods, metalwork, wickerwork and wood carvings.
• You’ll see local artisans at work as they hammer out copper trays, make jewellery and sew kaftans, giving everything an air of authenticity.
• It’s a good idea to visit the price-fixed government sponsored shops first, to get an idea of prices before hitting the souks.
• Harina is a delicious a chickpea soup, often with meat, pumpkin, onions and tomatoes.
• A tajine is mutton, veal, chicken or beef stew cooked with potato and lemon and seasoned with herbs and spices.
• Morocco’s most famous dish is couscous perfectly steamed with lamb, chicken or fish, a spicy sauce and potatoes.
• The traditional pastilla is flaky pastry coated with sugar, cinnamon and egg yolk, layered with pigeon or chicken meat. It’s also served as a desert without the meat.
• Moroccan deserts are very sweet, dripping with sugar and/or honey.
• Stick to bottled water for drinking and cleaning your teeth.