This North African country, which practically touches noses with Spain, mixes exotic, Eastern vibes with a French influence to enchanting effect. Nowhere is this clash of cultural influences more keenly felt than in its lively capital Marrakech, where the vibrant labyrinth of the old medina seems a million miles from new Marrakech, with its wide avenues, shiny stores and pretty parks.
See for yourself: Marrakech on social media
Marrakech is only four hours from the UK, making it popular for city breaks and winter escapes, and offers fantastic shopping, a burgeoning dining scene and a wonderfully immersive cultural experience.
What to do
The UNESCO-listed medina is an absolute must. It’s a mesmerising mix of old and new: scooters weave their way around donkeys, jewel-coloured beads, lanterns and tapestries line the stalls while fake football strips fight for market space among the silver, silks and spices.
Enjoy getting lost as the winding streets unravel before you like a ball of string. Occasionally you’ll step out of an alleyway to discover a bustling square, intricate mosque or traditional medersa (school of religious studies).
Outside the old town maze, Marrakech opens up into a New Town area built by the French in the 1900s. The vibe here is more western European, and you can go from sipping mint tea in the medina to ordering a cappuccino in New Marrakech in minutes.
Where to stay
For an authentic Moroccan stay, a riad in the medina is just the ticket. These traditional houses were built around central courtyards and typically have just a handful of rooms, making you feel like a guest in someone’s home.
Most of them are boutique, with chic decor and attention to detail. Riad El Zohar is run by an English husband and wife team who go out of their way to ensure an exceptional stay. With its plunge pool and rooftop terrace, you’re assured respite from the dusty medina.
If you choose to eat in the riad (do!), the guests and owners usually eat together before retiring to the sitting room for after-dinner drinks and story swapping.
Riad Dar Anika is another hidden gem. Step through the heavy wooden door from the street and experience instant tranquillity. The large roof terrace is a highlight, with views across the jumbled rooftops of the medina.
For those looking for a luxury break, the newly opened Mandarin Oriental Marrakech is a five-star oasis a little further out of the hubbub. It offers beautiful villas, spacious suites, a fabulous spa and has views across to the Atlas Mountains.
Where to eat
Eating is a whole new experience in Marrakech. The most ramshackle restaurant can serve up the most delicious tagine and fluffiest couscous, so don’t feel you need to seek out high-end places.
The famous Jemaa el-Fnaa Square is a safe bet for amazing street food. Follow your nose to the source of the pungent spice aromas, pull up a crate at a makeshift wooden table and dig into a chicken tagine with lemon or beef tagine with prunes.
You can also have orange juice squeezed freshly for you. Take your own cup or water bottle, though, as many stalls reuse the same cups over and over.
In the New Town, fine French bakeries await. Expect to queue for the almond croissants at Patisserie Amandine, but they’ll be worth the wait.
The real revelation in Marrakech is riad cooking. Choose the right riad and your best meals are likely to be enjoyed in-house.
This is because being a ‘house cook’ is an important role in Morocco – and one that is held with great pride. You’ll find a traditional Moroccan chef in the kitchen (usually a woman), who is much appreciated. Don’t miss the breakfast pancakes, which are pummelled on a stone floor before frying.
You will find wine (and other alcohol) available in Marrakech restaurants, but you’ll pay over the odds for it.
The best way to get around the medina is by foot. Or take a caleche (a small cart pulled by horse or donkey – be sure to agree on a price first), which you can find waiting at the Square de Foucauld. ‘Petit taxis’ are a good way of getting from A to B in a hurry. Give the sightseeing bus a miss as it cannot go into the medina and so it misses many of the best city landmarks.
When to go
Spring and autumn offer the best sightseeing weather: warm, dry and sunny. Avoid the searing heat of the summer months, unless you’re planning on doing very little besides cooling off in the hotel pool!
The Jemaa el-Fnaa square is the centre of medina activity, with vendors touting their goods, musicians strumming on ouds and a mini zoo of animals roaming around with their ‘trainers’. Enjoy a mint tea or orange juice while you take it all in.
The Koutoubia mosque is the city’s most famous landmark, sitting just across from the hectic square in its own peaceful garden oasis. Be aware that only Muslims are allowed to enter mosques in Morocco.
The intricate detail of Bahia Palace is a treat for the eye, and contrasts dramatically with the desolate ruins of the El Badi Palace.
The Jardin Majorelle, designed by Yves Saint Laurent, is a colourful slice of paradise in the New Town, with pretty plants, water features and an exhibition of the designer’s work.
Feeling weary? Step into a traditional hammam for an invigorating scrub-down. Hammam de la Rose is a good one in the medina.
The High Atlas mountains sit just a couple of hours drive from Marrakech. Brave the winding roads and you’ll be rewarded with stunning scenery and Berber villages where time seems to stand still. Stunning hotels make the most of the surroundings and are perfect for the spa-and-stay crowd.
Three things we like
Something we don’t like
Some of the street vendors and beggars can be too insistent, and visiting the souks can feel like running a gauntlet, making you fearful of actually stopping and looking at anything you might not wish to buy.
High50 insider tips
Need to know
Six bottles of wine with every booking
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