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Morocco

By Kathryn Irons , 18 November 2016

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After encountering the inevitable school holiday mass exodus at Gatwick early on a Sunday morning, we arrived promptly at the altogether more palatable environs of Agadir. Agadir is a good choice for a sun and sea destination as it is warm yet tempered by the Atlantic sea breeze, perfect for a family holiday. Such benefits bring the Marrakechis to Agadir at this time of year, (helped greatly by a new motorway linking the two cities in only 2hrs 30mins), thus escaping the heat of Marrakech in summer.

Easyjet fly direct into Agadir and the Sofitel Hotel offers a gentle introduction to Morocco for a few days before moving onto something a little more extravagant, perhaps. Only 1 hour from Agadir, Taroudant is easily reached and you really feel away from the traditional European haunts in earnest. This is what I really loved about Morocco overall, that enjoyment of sensory overload that a long or mid haul holiday brings, creating new feelings and experiences at every turn, yet we were only a 3 hour flight from home!  

Taroudant is often called the "Grandmother of Marrakech" because it is a scaled down, slowed down town that resembles Marrakech with its surrounding ramparts. The Dar Zitoune is on the edge of the city as is the highly recommended, exclusive Gazelle d'Or , within easy reach of the laid back medina (in comparison to the buzz of Fes or Marrakech) and is an oasis hidden behind a rather humble facade. Once you enter the building there is a wonderful Berber dome roof in the reception and you amble into the lush gardens to relax and unwind with excellent food, service and a large pool.

Monaime the Manager is a charming chap who we have known since the opening in 2005 and we enjoyed a wonderful dinner as the sun set. He even invited us to a Moroccan wedding that very night in the town. We had to politely decline as we were working early the next morning of course! To experience the true Morocco, excursions can be arranged into the Atlas Mountains; however there is some hiking involved so it is better suited to those who enjoy trekking.

We proceed up to Essaouira, encountering wonderful coastline along the road that hugs the Atlantic shore and bustling market towns en route, where our driver would stop for mint tea on the side of the road and our guide would recount old stories. These moments not pencilled into your itinerary are the ones that always stick the firmest in the mind it seems. I had always been fascinated by Essaouira firstly because of Orson Welles’ wonderful Othello filmed here back in the early 50's and also because it has all the vowels in its name, those Portuguese eh! Essaouira has a long stretch of sandy beach, but this place is known by all Moroccans as the Windy City, which has made it firm favourite in the world surfing calendar.  This wind is most welcome in the summer from the terrace of the L'Heure Bleue Palais Hotel which remains the top place to stay in town.

The service at the L'Heure Bleue is wonderful, the rooms well equipped and the hotel centres around a wonderful internal courtyard. The Portuguese influence is no better preserved than on the promenade where local fisherman offer you the catch of the day in simple restaurants. You pick your fish and they grill it for you simply with a tangy Moroccan salad bursting with tomatoes and coriander, bread and a slice or two of lemon. It didn’t feel a million miles from being in the Ribeira in Oporto as we tucked into some of the freshest sardines you could hope to eat. Essaouira will be without doubt a highlight to any Moroccan itinerary; it’s the best coastal choice, it’s the compact, organised, genuinely Moroccan medina, the friendly local people and the excellent seafood.

So on we went with our new driver as we embarked on the next phase of our grand tour in his air-conditioned 4x4 which was most enjoyed as temperatures tipped the scales in Marrakech! Having never been to Morocco before, Marrakech was always going to be a real highlight and it didn’t disappoint. There is so much to see and do in Marrakech you can’t fit it all in to a short stay, but I would highly recommend one of our expert English speaking guides to bring that famous medina to life for you. The guide really helped us as we uncovered wonderful spice markets, and of course Kirker's hand-picked collection of Riads in the heart of the medina. The Riads are all very attractive. You would think I would have to say that, but we saw plenty of others and I can see why we feature the ones we do. They are small, charming authentic Riads offering something for all tastes, with excellent food and hospitality. Particular favourites of mine were the beautifully renovated Kniza, full of creature comforts and stunning Islamic style. The property has been in the same family for years and Monsieur Bouskri's warm smile as he brings you wonderful meze plates for a light lunch is indeed a most welcome sight after a full days sightseeing. And for something a little more authentic, the Riad Noga is a charmingly restored Riad. However my favourite hotel was the Villa Des Orangers where we stayed. It oozes class and style; I was imagining opening a hotel myself on the way to the desert and copying all their ideas! An excellent spa, only 27 rooms in a group of 4 interconnecting Riad buildings with a choice of pools.

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