Here is a story of an exotic getaway that could potentially prolong that summer feeling a little bit longer...
My family spent the last part of our summer holidays in Marrakech to catch some extra gamma rays to help us through the English winter!
As we drove through the winding roads of La Palmeraie under the scorching Moroccan sun, we spotted mini sand tornadoes in the distance. It has been a very dry season and some rain could have alleviated the palm trees of La Palmeraie. But that was unlikely in Marrakech.
The villas dotted on the road had tall salmon-pink walls and we could just catch glimpses of palatial buildings among the olive trees and palms, in fact one of them was one of many palaces of the King. As we approached our villa, NoorZayan, the villa's walls were topped with cascading white bougainvilleas - a welcome sight after a dry dusty road. At first glimpse, we knew Villa NoorZayan broke away from the convention of traditional architecture. It was modern and unpretentious, but its large scales and spacious interiors spelt comfort and luxury, as we soon found out.
Several years ago, my husband and I visited Marrakech and stayed in one of the riads in the Medina. It was perfect for a couple with no children. A villa with a large pool suited better travelling with children, away from the hustle and bustle of the centre.
The decoration of the villa was minimalist, refined, and combined with a sense of comfort, it oozed charm. The staff was attentive but discreet, the food was authentic and delicious. We had some delectable little hors d'ouvres before sitting down for candlelit dinners. Meals were served in various different corners of the property, with beautiful table settings.
Our children struggled to leave the villa and only the temptation of waterskiing nearby got them into the car... At the villa, there were so many activities to keep us all very busy. We played tennis, volleyball, petanque, billiards, and swam in the beautiful swimming pool.
The bedrooms were serene and cozy and best of all, the beds had crisp bed linen!
It was just the perfect final getaway for a summer to remember!
Where to Shop
While in Marrakech, we couldn't miss the opportunity to do some shopping, so we hit the souks and boutiques - I got a pair of soft blue leather shoes from Atika in Gueliz that I look forward to wearing this fall (Atika has a large selection of colours for Tod's-like loafers). Around Rue de la Liberte, there are many shops that sell fashionable and trendy leather bags, jackets and shoes at very reasonable prices.
A couple of streets down from Rue de la Liberte on Avenue Mohammed V, we grabbed a drink at Grand Cafe de la Poste, tastefully decorated in a colonial setting - a must stop for people watching with a cocktail in hand.
In the souks, we got some traditional Moroccan crafts such as basket ware and metal decorative objects. While you are in the souks, you may be interested in visiting the tanneries, but not recommended for the faint hearted as the stench can be overpowering! If you need to refuel and rest your tired legs while in the souks, ask anyone for the Terrace des Epices on the rooftops of the souks (same group as Cafe des Epices and Nomad Cafe, all good addresses for lunches too).
Next day, we visited Sidi Ghanem (the design and industrial zone). We spotted beautifully coloured futahs and original pottery at Chabi Chic (see photo below). At Magasin General, in the midst of European antiques, we spotted quaint little English tea sets in Marrakech! Fenyadi is well known for various objets de maison.
Where to Stay
NoorZayan Villa (www.noorzayan.com) for families and people wishing to be home away from home with benefits of privacy and full staff.
El-Fenn Boutique Hotel (www.el-fenn.com) located in the Medina to experience life in a luxury riad and be close to the action.
La Mamounia (www.mamounia.com) for the ultimate hotel experience.
Riad l'Orangeraie (www.riadorangeraie.com) set in the Medina for more budget conscious travellers.
What to Do / Where to Eat
Marrakech is a city that attracts hedonists, trend-seekers, film stars and fashionistas, so there is no shortage of chic restaurants, cool bars and clubs. My favourite restaurants are: Bo-Zin, La Maison Arabe (also offers cooking classes), Dar Moha, and Grand Cafe de la Poste (as mentioned above).
If you are yearning for culture and history, head to the Koranic school Madrasa Ben Youssef built in the 15th C and decorated in beautifully carved lace arabesque, Islamic calligraphy and zellige tiles. The architecture and craftsmanship is reminiscent of the larger structure of Al-Hambra in Granada. Make your way to Jardin Majorelle (YSL's villa and garden) and capture its electric blue painted walls and exotic garden.
Take a day trip to visit the valley of Ourika (la vallée d'Ourika) for scenic waterfalls and mountain views. Slightly further south of Ourika, book a table for lunch at Richard Branson's Kasbah Tamadot. On your way back to Marrakech, stop by the Saadian Tombs built in the 16th C which were forgotten and neglected for hundreds of years and rediscovered in 1917. The mausoleum showcases beautiful decorative art of the time.
Into golf? Play 27-holes at the legendary Royal Golf of Marrakech, with views of the Atlas. If you want to experience golf in a desert landscape, try 18-holes at the Assoufid Golf Club, also with Atlas as backdrop.
What to Bring / Practical Info
Don't forget to pack an extra bag for all your shopping and bring a good camera if your phone camera doesn't cut it. Marrakech is truly photographic - there are myriad of colours and shapes to capture in landscapes, cityscapes, souk scenes, architectural details and many more!
Take a good map of the souks and orient yourself for general direction prior to plunging into the souks. For your sanity, keep a sense of humour and smile when bargaining, but also be politely firm if you are not interested. Watch out for the mopeds and the cyclists in the narrow alleys of the souks.
As in many countries of the world, be sensitive to the customs of the country and wear sensible attire.
When to Go
The best time to go is March to May when it is sunny, dry and warm. September to December are also popular, although November sometimes can be rainy. In this trip, we visited at the end of August with temperatures reaching 40C degrees plus! But the dry heat was bearable as long as we stayed indoors during the midday sun!