I recently spent a week traveling in Morocco with my family. Here are a few highlights which include Marrakech, The Agafay Desert and Essouria which is a beach town.
We began our adventure in the city of Marrakech which I do recommend. Marrakech is a historic, lively city with thriving markets. The people are incredibly kind and giving and we were always met with smiles. The Marrakech of the past known for aggressive and pushy sales people is no more. If you believe you would be intimidated or feel at risk while in Marrakech lose those inhibitions and take the city in its fullest. On the day following our arrival we had pre-arranged for a local guide (Moulay) to help navigate the city. This was hands down a GREAT decision and one you will not regret should you plan a trip to Marrakech. Moulay delivered far more than just a tour. Having grown up (literally) in the souk, he offered inside perspective that one could not experience otherwise. We experienced the majesty of the city, the culture and the local warmth of the people from a local perspective. We wandered with our guide through the most remote areas of the market visiting local merchants, restaurants, bath houses, craftsman and street buskers. The Souk is bursting with locals attempting to make a living …if you give back the kindness you will capture a lot of memories that you might otherwise miss. It’s not easy to fully describe our day but we learned about the local government, the markets and how they have changed and what has not changed. We learned details about the Muslim religion that we did not know. It was a magnificently broad and intimate education not just about the market but about all things Moroccan. Again, if you don’t have that “local knowledge” you will miss most of the show. (feel free to reach out to me for contact details on our guide). In addition to our day in the souk, which was the highlight of Marrakech, other things to experience in Marrakech are: A Cooking Class at Maison Al Arabe- kids are welcome!, A Hamman at Maison Al Arabe, YSL Gardens, Bahia Palace, Le Beldini Country Club
From Marrakech we headed out to the Agafay Desert, roughly a one-hour drive from Marrakesh. Some people chose to visit Agafy for a day trip however we chose to do an overnight stay at a tented camp, which I strongly recommend. We were unfortunate to have a rare encounter with rainy weather but despite the rain, the stay was truly memorable. There are a few luxury tented camps in Agafay. We stayed at Scarebo However another popular option is Inara Camp. We pre-reserved a family tent which was oversized had carpeted floors with a sitting area including a fireplace, sleeping area and a bathroom with a hot water shower and toilet. You are not cramped for space and the beds and linens were very nice.
Included in the nightly rate for the tented camp is dinner. In the warmer seasons, dinner is served under the stars. However, due to the rain, our dinner was served under a candle lit dining tent that offered a warm cozy vibe with a local musician/guitarist which was lovely. It was a memorable evening and I would strongly recommend doing an overnight in Agafay vs. the few hour trip. We woke up to clear skies and the grandeur of the open Agafay desert with the snowcapped Atlas Mountains in the distance. After breakfast and a bit of hiking in the rocky dunes we were off on a two-hour quad / dune buggy tour where we got up close and personal with local sheep herders, some small towns and a lot of vast bone-dry earth. The scenery is spectacular and if you have kids, they will surely enjoy the dune buggy adventure! Other activities include camel rides, star gazing, hiking and just simply relaxing. I highly recommend this for ONE NIGHT (you don’t need a second night) if you are in Marrakesh.
Essouria (beach side town)
Essouria is roughly a 2hour 30-minute drive from Marrakesh due west and is located on the Atlantic Ocean. Like Marrakesh, the town is centered around the old walled city (Medina) where you will find tons of shopping and food. There are many great little streets with cool shops and restaurants. It takes a bit of research to find the great spots, but the adventure is fun, and the experience is worth it. While we were there we did a day in the Medina and a day at the beach where my son took surf lessons while we chilled. There are horses, camels and dune buggies to ride at the beach. The beach restaurants are very beach side experiences. You won’t find white table clothes here, but the service and food are both very good which combined with a bottle of white wine makes for a great afternoon.
The town is amazing and if you visit during warmer months and enjoy the beach it might be worth two or more days. A couple of recommendations: Taros Café Rooftop for sunset drinks and dinner at La Table by Madada (a must).
My family and I loved Marrakesh on so many levels. We toured gardens, parks, museums, the city streets, the old city, the desert, the beach and never tired of the sights, sounds and smells. There are donkeys on the highways being passed by Range Rovers next to an entire family crammed onto one single motor bike!
The Royal Mansour -This property represents great value by relative standards. All the rooms are massive, multi room suites with pools and large entry courtyards. The Kingdom of Morocco developed and owns the property about 8 years ago. It is located just inside the medina. The King commissioned all the best old world artisans to create every detail of the property and did a stunning job of replicating old world hospitality with all the modern conveniences.
The staff to guest ratio is enormous and I doubt many properties have similar horsepower running the joint. What is so interesting is that all of the staff move about the resort through a series of behind the scene underground corridors and tunnels so they are rarely seen.
The swimming pools, spa and restaurants are off the charts on virtually all fronts. I would go so far as to say if you are an ultra-hotel snob it is worth a trip to Marrakesh just to take it in. We toured the property, including the massive gardens and had lunch by one of the pools after seeing a couple rooms and much of the common space. The food on offer was diverse and marvelous and the service and décor were as good as it gets. Just to give you a sense for the menu there was everything from traditional Moroccan Tangine to Sushi to burgers, to pasta. And the deserts would make any French pastry chef asking for baking tips.
Four Seasons Marrakesh – The property is located about 10 minutes to the Medina (old gated city) and probably 15 minutes from the airport. The hotel has a traditional Moroccan style with all the modern amenities. There are two very nice restaurants, a family pool and an adult only pool, teen club, kids club, a great gym, tennis courts and a luxurious spa. It’s a great retreat from the hustle and bustle of being in the medina when you would like to also enjoy some sun and relaxation in between seeing the sights of a marvelous old city. Service is excellent and it’s a great option when traveling with kids.
L’Heure Bleue Palais -Our only disappointment with Essouria was that we chose to stay at L’Heure Bleu, which has a great location just inside the Medina but the property is overdue for an upgrade. The property still boasts a Relais & Chateaux badge but I have to say the place could use an update. The rooms were fine and the breakfast was fine and the bedding was fine and the pool area was fine and the internet was awful but the showers were great….so you decide based on your priorities. There are other hotel options located outside of town that I might decide to stay otherwise.