Gorgeous sun drenched beaches and memorable cities is perfect for relaxing, for sports, for its culture and some very desirable shopping! Not surprisingly, this North African country is attracting an increasing number of visitors keen to experience all that it has to offer.
The best times to visit Morocco are from March to May, and between September and November when temperatures are at their most comfortable.
For Game of Thrones fans, some of the scenery will seem very familiar. The pretty coastal town of Essaouira, just three hours from Marrakech, was the location of Astapor, home of the Unsullied. Stroll in the footsteps of Daenerys, along the ramparts of the Scala, the old Portuguese fortifications. The cannon row here posed a problem for the Game of Thrones producers, since they are bolted into place. As a result the film set was built over the top of them!
Another unmissable Game of Thones site is Ait Ben Haddou, also just over three hours drive south of Marrakech. This ancient village doubled as Yunkai, the yellow city in Slavers Bay, to which Daenerys laid siege during series three. Even if you are not a Game of Thrones fan, this village is definitely well worth a visit. Narrow streets wind through tall earthen buildings, some reminiscent of miniature castles, crowded together within high walls. It represents a very traditional style of regional architecture. Views from the top of the village are spectacular, since you are gazing out across the Sahara just beyond its fortifications.
Marrakech itself makes a fantastic holiday centre. There is a wide choice of hotels ranging from well-known international chains such as the Hotel Sofitel, to the Hotel Ibis, Four Seasons and Savoy le Grand Hotel, to privately owned traditional riads.
The pretty rose-pink adobe walls of the Medina contain one of the glories of Marrakech – its souks. Inside these walled areas, it can seem as though time has stood still. Merchants have traded from these small shops for centuries, with goods piled high, ready for eager customers. It is constantly noisy, with traders calling out trying to attract your attention and people chatting, as well as constant bartering taking place. Always remember that the first price quoted is just a starting point for negotiation – haggling over the price is the norm. Everyone likes to bargain hard!
Getting an official guide to take you round the souks is recommended, as it ensures that you don’t get lost in the labyrinthine alleys. No two parts of the souk are the same, as different areas focus on different products. You should head for the Semmarine souk, if you want classic Berber or Arabic craft items, while the Attarine souk is great for brass & copperware. Yet more souks focus on leather or spices, textiles or jewellery. For really good bargains to bring back to the UK, search out craft items and bags, and natural products such as spices, Black Soap, Rose Water and Argan Oil, which is only harvested in Morocco.
The Jemaa el-Fnaa is definitely well worth a visit, if only to soak up the atmosphere. A UNESCO world heritage site, it is situated in the very centre of the Medina. A massive marketplace, there are always lots of food stalls and water sellers to be found throughout the day. As the evening draws on, street entertainers turn up. Wherever you look there are musicians, magicians, snake charmers or storytellers vying for attention.
The riads, the stunning palaces of Marrakech, are also worth considering. Built by Si Moussa, chamberlain to Sultan Hassan 1 of Morocco in the 1860’s, the Bahia Palace justly deserves its title of Beautiful Palace. The soaring architecture with intricate lacey stonework, brilliantly decorated tiled columns and floors covered with brightly coloured geometric patterns are complemented by the quiet, fragrant garden squares complete with tiled, raised beds and constantly bubbling fountains.
Covering over eight hectares, this is a palace guaranteed to please the eye. Quite apart from its architectural beauty, it is filled with richly decorated marble, carvings, paintings, stucco work and most spectacularly the first stained glass windows of the Maghreb.
Not far away is the Dar Si Said Museum, containing historic and contemporary art works. Located in an old palace, it also houses antiques, armour, musical instruments and folk art from Marakesh and the nearby Berber villages.
A very different cultural influence can be explored in the modern Yves Saint Laurent museum. This doyen of Parisian haute couture has spent much of his life in Marrakech. The museum now contains a collection of his work, with over 100 costumes on display, along with accessories such as jewellery, shoes, gloves and hats. There are collection boards reflecting every collection he ever made, as well as his notebooks and original sketches.
Next to the museum is one of the loveliest sights of Marrakech – the Yves Saint Laurent Major Elle Garden. Yves Saint Laurent owned the garden for over three decades until his death in 2008. Occupying two and half acres, it is an ideal spot in which to relax. There are pools filled with water lilies, shady paths, exotic plants filling the air with fragrance, and everywhere the sound of birds and bees. At the centre of the garden is the stunning art deco building painted in vibrant Majorelle Blue, which contains a fascinating Berber Museum filled with costumes, jewellery, art, weapons and ceremonial items spanning over 9,000 years.
Just outside Marrakech are the impressive Atlas Mountains, with steep slopes, perfect for winter skiing and snowboarding. Head over to the Toubkal National Park for the biggest ropes adventure in Africa complete with ziplines, ropes courses and aerial bridges. Equally as much fun, is to take an overnight guided tour into the desert; camping out under the starlit sky or riding camels to a distant oasis.
Anyone preferring some water sports should head out to Essaouira, where the blue and white architecture is almost Mediterranean in style. Enjoy an afternoon swimming, surfing or even kite surfing around the coast taking advantage of the Atlantic winds.
By Natasha Akbar
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