MARRAKECH has become a really popular winter sun destination, with easy flights from Dublin. Here are five places, from rooftop cafes to museums, that you shouldn’t miss …
In these dark winter days, we crave sunlight and warmth. But that doesn’t have to involve a long-haul flight, or even a beach holiday. Marrakech is just three and a half hours away from Dublin, and the airport is ten minutes from the city centre. It’s a perfect temperature this time of year (like a warm early summer’s day here), it’s not expensive (dinner for two for around €30), and there is so much to see and do, you’ll be planning your next trip immediately. Your first evening feels like stepping into the opening scene of a Bond film: everything is strange, fast, colourful, in-your-face, surprising and intoxicating. It’s ancient and modern all at the same time. And it’s the most sensory place – the scent of smoke, oranges, grilling meat and leather fills the air. There’s so much to see and do in Marrakech, but here are five places to start:
1 THE EXPERIENCE: Hammam Moussine. My favourite experience in Marrakech was a visit to a traditional hammam or washhouse. This particular public hammam (separate men’s and women’s) has been in action since 1562, as a communal place to wash. A full body scrubbing with black soap is followed by a purifying Rhassoul mud body mask, and a no-frills hair wash (think buckets of water over your head), leaving your hair and skin supremely exfoliated and cleaner than it’s ever been before. Massages are available too. It’s not glamorous, but it’s clean, efficient and invigorating, and the real thing. The best €15 you can spend in the city. Open from 5am until 11pm.
2 THE ICON: La Mamounia hotel has it all: history, an unstuffy grandeur, acres of lush gardens filled with orange trees, the biggest outdoor pool you’ve ever seen, wonderfully warm and helpful staff – and prices to match. But a walk around the gardens is free, and a welcome peaceful haven after the madness of the souks; Winston Churchill used to come and paint here, and everyone from Doris Day to Hitchcock hung out here. Have a cocktail (or cigar) in the bar named after him, or invest in a treatment in the superlative spa.
3 THE RESTAURANT: There are countless great rooftops on which to while away afternoons with sugary mint tea, a tagine or some mezze, and Nomad is a stylish modern venue that feels Conran-esque – the manager wears a navy suit and trainers, and straw hats are provided to shield you from the sun. There are four floors – head up to the top terrace for panoramic views over the lovely, lively Rahba Lakdima spice square, neighbouring rooftops and the Atlas Mountains beyond. Go for a selection of mezze, including humous, good bread and dips.
4 THE MUST-VISIT: Jardin Majorelle is another oasis within the city. Created by French painter Jacques Majorelle, it was restored by Yves Saint Laurent and his partner Pierre Bergé, who bought it in 1980; Bergé gifted it to the city when the designer died. The flashes of vivid indigo blue, now known as “Majorelle blue”, are incredibly striking against the lush greenery. Don’t miss mint tea in the sunny courtyard, and the YSL “Love” gallery of his prints. The Berber museum on site is also worth seeing for the extraordinary jewellery.
5 THE STALL TO KNOW: Having spent days trawling the souks (anticipate endless and persistent – though good-natured – hustling), I decided that this stand was the best for buying babouches. La Babouche d’Aicha, at No3 Kissariat Drouj Semmarine in the heart of the souks, was our favourite spot for buying the signature Morroccan slippers. They’re ubiquitous in the souks, in every different colour and pattern you could imagine, but this stand offers fair, fixed prices and, importantly, no pressure to buy (a rarity in this shopping arena).
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