You have a measly weekend to recharge your batteries, grab some sunshine, eat, drink and be merry and get back for work on time for Monday morning. Then I’m about to explain why I found there was no better place than Marrakech in Morocco.
We flew off on a Friday afternoon via Easy Jet on a very manageable just over three hour flight. I’d never been to Morocco before, the closest I have come had been Egypt, and I wasn’t a fan. So I was determined to find the excitement in North Africa I had so often heard about, the mystical, exotic, old world experience but with a five star comfort level because after all Sex And The City was my main reference point for this trip.
After a short (10min) taxi ride from the airport we were welcomed into the most beautiful, candle lit, hotel courtyard. Hotel Dar Rizlane a boutique five star residence that perfectly combines the sense of exotic opulence I had hoped for. We were ushered into a glass hideaway filled with pink roses and given sweet mint tea and left for a short while to take in the change of atmosphere, London stresses quickly melted away and yes I felt ready for a party!
Luckily I had booked one, dinner in what the internet told me was one of the most exciting restaurants/ bar/ clubs in town. We hopped in a taxi and arrived on the strip where a lot of night life seemed to be going down. Comptoir Darna needs to be booked in advance if you want to eat, even off season it was packed and with good reason. The bar is buzzing with a cosmopolitan and glamorous crowd of locals and tourists from all over the world. Belly dancers, acrobats, men on stilts and musicians take to the floor throughout the night, to say it was an assault on your senses is an understatement, in the best way. We drank fantastic cocktails, ate what must have been half a succulent lamb, drank some more, smoked sheisha, danced with a man dressed as a lamb (yes seriously) and returned to the hotel very blurry eyed.
Breakfast at the hotel revealed the true beauty of the surroundings, the gracious staff served us pastries and tea around the pool up until lunchtime, so no need wake up early. Even though it was December there was enough sunshine to enjoy, albeit with a scarf on. There was a delightful combination of bird song and flora and every now and then a whiff of horse, venturing outside of the hotel we discovered a flee bitten, horse and cart stop on the corner which you can ride to the souk in the old town, so of course we did. The prices on display had no bearing on what we were charged, we tried to haggle but we’re outsmarted by the drivers lack of English and our lack of motivation so we paid what was about £10 for the 15min journey which I’m told is a rip off but never mind.
If I though last nights dinner was exciting, I was about to have exciting punched in the face by the Medina. We pulled up in a cascade of traffic, families on mopeds, donkeys, taxis and drums blasting like a Moroccan carnival. With trepidation we entered the center square, I’m a savvy, street smart Londoner, I know what time it is in most places but suddenly I’m distracted by trays of hedgehogs, men squatting over mats of pulled teeth, little hustling children, pipe players, dancers and suddenly a lady takes my hand and starts administering henna over it. I don’t know if I was briefly mesmerized by her charm but naivety must have shone through because suddenly we were surrounded, a snake playfully, terrifyingly placed on us, tours are being offered, magic chants, and implores for dirrums. We escaped into the souk itself and enjoyed bartering for scafs, bags and oils with friendly vendors.
This being our last night I wanted to sample the height of Marrakech elegance. La Maison Arabe is a deceptively sprawling hotel and restaurant. Decidedly five star with an elegant jazz bar where we enjoyed Champagne cocktails before taking our seat beside the pool in the flowered courtyard for dinner. There were two menus, one traditional and one French. We sampled from both, the lamb shank and the Jim Dory as mains with a delightful local rose wine from an extensive list. The food was beautifully presented and the service faultless. Along with the traditional live music, warm Moroccan decor and ambience it was a magical evening. To top off the evening of elegance we made a late night detour on the ride back to the hotel to the Grand Casino for a few hands of black jack and a night cap before bed.
Our last day had to be all about relaxation and finding the best Hammam on offer. There are many of course from expensive hotel spas to local wash houses, it’s probably as easy assumption that I wanted to experience a luxury Hammam and I found just that in Hammam De La Rose. Situated in the old town this is a spa where you can truly wile away hours, try the treatment of the rose for a wonderfully relaxing and cleansing experience. Each treatment area has been designed to offer maximum relaxation and comfort, the steam room itself where you are bathed then scrubbed rom head to toe. Then drift away during a couples massage with essential oils, you literally leave feeling like new.
Before catching our flight home we had time for one last meal, I was determined not to leave Marrakech without tasting a traditional tangerine so on recommendation we found Cafe Arab, a short walk from the spa. This town house restaurant sports a fantastic roof top terrace bar and lounge where you can watch the sun set while listening to the calls to prayer echoing from mosques all over the city. The Tangeines were utterly delicious, the flavours from the slow cooking of the vegetables in the clay pot, along with the tenderness of the meat made me wonder why we don’t cook everything in a Tangeine.