Marrakech

Marrakech is the second-largest city in Morocco, located against the wonderous backdrop of the Atlas Mountains. It is an ancient walled city, characterised by narrow streets, medieval buildings, bustling markets and mosques, where your senses are assailed by exotic smells, sights and sounds.  Morocco is not a destination for beach lovers, being almost 2-hours’ drive from the coast, but it is the perfect place to visit for those who wish to experience a completely different way of life and a culture that is a mixture of Arabic, African Berber and European influences.

Marrakech is a year-round destination, although it can get very hot in summer.  Winter months are pleasantly warm during the daytime, but can get a little chilly in the evenings. The Moroccans are a friendly and hospitable people, for whom nothing seems to be too much trouble.

There is plenty to see and do in Marrakech, but tourists tend to flock to the Medina quarter, the oldest part of the town, whose palaces and ramparts are relics of the city’s bygone imperial golden age. Towering over the entire city is the 77-metre high minaret of the 12th century Koutoubia Mosque.

The 16th century El Badi Palace is long abandoned, and few traces of its former glory remain, but it is still worth visiting.  There are spectacular views from its rooftops, and in summer it is the venue for the National Festival of Popular Arts.

The Bahia Palace is more modern, dating only from the end of the 19th century.  Its name means “brilliance”, though to modern eyes it may merely appear tawdry.  The harem, set around a vast, beautiful courtyard is still worth seeing, as are the lovely gardens.

If you need to relax after a long day sight-seeing, there are numerous spas in Marrakech, Alternatively, you could refresh yourself with the local speciality drink of mint tea, or take a stroll around the Menara Gardens and lake to escape the hustle and bustle of the city.

Marrakech has a lively nightlife, which is mainly centred around Djemaa el Fna Square in the Medina.  Although dull during the daytime, the square comes alive at night with food stalls, street entertainers, musicians and dancers, snake charmers and fortune-tellers. Bars stay open until midnight, and clubs until dawn. You can also barter for bargains such as carpets, leather goods, ceramics and spices in the souk until very late. Moroccan food tends to be spicy, but the square has numerous hotels and restaurants where you can find European cuisine.

Many tour companies offer accommodation in “riads”, which are small, intimate hotels with traditional Moroccan architecture, furnishings and artwork. One of the most famous hotels in Marrakech is the historic La Mamounia, which Winston Churchill described as “the most lovely spot in the whole world”. More contemporary hotels include the Islane, which has all modern conveniences, including en-suite rooms with wi-fi, air-conditioning and satellite TV.

The local currency is the Dirham, and both Arabic and French are widely spoken.  No visa is required for UK and US citizens.