City life: Majestic Marrakech

After numerous border closures, Morocco is waiting to be explored again. Hollie-Rae Brader returns to Marrakech, a city she falls more in love with each time she visits.

The pandemic has been tough on Marrakech. This typically thriving and often chaotic tourist hub has been decimated by border closures, the suspension of international flights and Covid-related disruption. In 2019, Morocco welcomed 13 million tourists; in 2021 that dropped to just four million. The country, and particularly Marrakech, relies heavily on tourism, and as such, locals are struggling, and many have been forced into poverty.

So, when the Moroccan government announced borders would reopen in early February, I was determined to be on one of the first flights back, keen to support a destination I’ve fallen in love with time and time again.

Affluent travellers have always flocked to Marrakech, after all the offering is extraordinary, with palatial hotels, attentive service and hospitality, an outstanding cultural scene and endless shopping opportunities. All of this remains, so now the world is travelling again, it’s time to return to this mystical and wonderous city. The snake charmers of the medina are calling you back.

Why sell it?

Put simply, the city needs support to get back onto its feet. But pandemic pressures aside, Marrakech is the perfect city break option. It’s less than a four-hour flight from London, making it ideal for a long weekend. There’s plenty to see and do and tour operators such as Abercrombie & Kent have brilliant teams on the ground to ensure your clients’ needs and interests are entirely catered to.

Marrakech often feels like its bursting at the seams, local life spills out of every building and the hustle and bustle is visible for all to see. Known as the Red City for the blushing walls that tower around the medina, this centuries-old trading hub is as intoxicating as it is intimidating – and it’s that heady mix that leads many consumers to seek the advice of a knowledgeable agent. 

What’s new?

It’s not really the new that counts in Marrakech, it’s the olde worlde vibe combined with the merging of countless cultures that attracts visitors from far and wide. There isn’t too much that’s new in the city, as the pandemic left many projects on hold. Musée Yves Saint Laurent, which only opened its doors in October 2017, has had a refresh.

When to go

Spring and autumn are the most comfortable times of year to visit Marrakech. Temperatures are warm, pleasant and enjoyable, unlike the summer months when the mercury soars and the city becomes unbearably hot. 

Where to stay

When it comes to high-end accommodation, the choice is endless. From small boutique riads and quirky independents to international highly-esteemed brands and even a property run by the Moroccan Royal family – there’s something for all tastes in this fascinating city.

Having visited Marrakech a handful of times, I’ve been lucky enough to sample a variety of hotels. My personal favourite is the impeccable Mandarin Oriental, and you can find out why in my review on page 96. Your guests will be well placed staying in the likes of Four Seasons or Amanjena too. I’m also a fan of La Mamounia and Royal Mansour, both of which lie within the boundaries of the medina, and the latter of which is owned by Morocco’s King Mohammed VI.

Clients wanting smaller, more‑intimate properties should consider La Sultana, which boasts a stunning courtyard and epic spa; L’Hôtel Marrakech, owned by fashion designer Jasper Conran; or El Fenn, owned by Sir Richard Branson’s sister, Vanessa.

If they want to sample life in a riad, suggest the seven-suite Riad Siwan, located close to Djemaa el Fna and home to an impressive rooftop terrace. Expect exceptionally attentive service at the four-roomed Riad Due, a stone’s throw from the souks.

What to do

Wafts of incense, piles of brightly coloured spices, the chatter of locals bartering with eager visitors – Marrakech is an assault on the senses in every way imaginable. It’s impossible not to get caught up in the energy of the city, the Moroccans make sure of that as they proudly and passionately showcase their culture and city.

You can’t come to Marrakech and not visit the medina and its souks. The beating heart of the city, the medina, is always buzzing. It’s home to Djemaa el Fna – a vast, open square where you can expect street entertainers, henna tattoo artists and a bounty of snake charmers.

Visiting the square and its neighbouring souks is an intense experience, and it isn’t for everyone, as some will find it a little overwhelming. It’s also hard to come here and not get lost, a lot of the alleys and streets of the souks look very similar. Advise clients to stick to Souk Semmarine, the most famous and largest of them all.

Known as Morocco’s cultural capital, visitors should explore some of the countless palaces. One of my favourites is the Bahia Palace, a beautiful 150-room building with a gilded ceiling and stunning tilework. El Badii is equally as pretty.

Fashionistas will feel right at home in Marrakech. There’s plenty of brilliant boutiques stocking locally created and sourced artisanal treasures, but ensure you seek advice from the hotel concierge or a tour guide, because many of the souk’s stalls are filled with mass-produced tat.

The city’s link to high-end fashion runs deep. Yves Saint Laurent lived in the city and owned popular landmark Jardin Marjorelle. A visit to these exotic gardens (home to 300 plant species from five continents) and its famed electric-blue, art deco studio, is a must. Tourists flock here en masse, but if your client wants something special, recommend they book a private tour of YSL’s private home, named Villa Oasis, which is only open to the lucky few willing to splash the cash for the experience. Four Seasons Hotel Marrakech can assist its guests with the exclusive experience, costing £2,400 per person. The neighbouring, and the aforementioned, Musée Yves Saint Laurent, is a must for fashion fans. Showcasing a selection of famed YSL ensembles from across the years, the museum gives an insight into the history of this iconic brand.

Where to dine

The Gueliz district sits on the opposite end of the spectrum to the medina. It’s home to lots of upmarket hotels and countless trendy cafes and restaurant. One of the hottest restaurants in Gueliz is +61, which serves a fusion of Moroccan and Mediterranean cuisine, while nearby French restaurant Le Petit Cornichon is also worth a visit. Back in the medina, Nomad is one of the best restaurants and attracts crowds because of its rooftop views and delicious dishes such as roasted harissa cauliflower and cumin-covered calamari. The hotels in Marrakech are also home to some exceptional culinary options, including poolside spot The Pavilion at La Mamounia and the rooftop bar and restaurant at El Fenn.

Pair it with...

Kerry Golds, chief tour operating officer of Abercrombie & Kent andCox & Kings, reveals her top tips for where else to visit in Morocco.

THE ATLAS MOUNTAINS: Take an Atlas Mountains tour and you’ll encounter one of the world’s most enigmatic people, the Berbers. You’ll also get a glimpse of some of the most spectacular mountain scenery on the planet. Trekking up into this incredible landscape between the Sahara and the ocean is like discovering a lost world. We recommend staying in the Kasbah Tamadot, owned by Sir Richard Branson. 

FEZ: Fez is often considered the cultural heartland of Morocco. The sprawling alleyways of its medina radiate ancient history and labyrinthine souks fan out from the old city. Our Fez holidays open up a warren of aromatic food stalls and buzzing craft workshops, in streets where the donkey is still the only form of transport. Fez is undergoing something of a revival; its medina has been receiving a facelift and its riads have been upgraded with beautiful parks and gardens. We recommend a stay at Palais Faraj Suites & Spa.

THE COAST: Think of Morocco and you’ll probably imagine rolling Saharan dunes and Berber tribes in the mountains. But the coast is home to some of Africa’s best beaches. Essaouira is a surprising surfing and watersports destination. Its medina is one of the country’s many Unesco World Heritage Sites. Between Essaouira and Casablanca, you’ll stumble across Oualidia and discover one of Morocco’s most beautiful lagoons. We recommended the Sofitel Essaouira Mogador Golf & Spa.

Book it Abercrombie & Kent offers a seven-night trip to Marrakech from £4,999pp, including flights, transfers, a private guide and accommodation on a B&B basis at the Mandarin Oriental in an Atlas Suite. Sister brand Cox & Kings has a new five-night tour called Spotlight on Morocco, which leads in at £995. /

Hollie-Rae Brader

Hollie is editor of Aspire’s print and online products. She is responsible for the running of the club and ensuring the content produced and the events organised are relevant to the Aspire audience. She was previously deputy news editor and cruise writer for sister title Travel Weekly. She loves exploring new destinations and is gradually ticking new countries off her list. She most enjoys writing about cruise, South America and Japan. Before working in the travel industry she held news reporting roles at the East Anglian Daily Times and Ipswich Star.

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