Marrakech might be just a three-and-a-half-hour flight from London, with no time difference to mess about with, but it’s also a city that retains a glorious sense of exoticism and mystery.
The ancient medina, for example, is overwhelming and chaotic, and you will get lost in it. The main square, Djemaa-El-Fnaa, is full of odd sights: snake charmers, traditional water-sellers and kooky magicians all trying to earn a dirham or two. And you can see why it’s nicknamed the Garden City – with its lush, botanical green spaces, such as Jardin Majorelle or Le Jardin Secret, perfect for seeking out shade in the long, sun-drenched days.
Where? Maximalist heaven, Royal Mansour is no ordinary hotel. Owned by Morocco’s King Mohammed VI, it was built so he could showcase the rich artisanship of Morocco’s craftsmen and women. With no budget set, its opulence knows no bounds. Designed to replicate the alleyways and houses of the ancient souk, but, granted, without the dust and the noise, guests stay in their own private riad, complete with butler and roof terrace. Shady paths wind through scented gardens and everywhere you look there’s enough exquisite detailing to make you swoon with envy.
The stay: As well as the ornate public spaces, the sumptuous white-on-white spa (a dream for every Instagrammer out there) and the three highly regarded restaurants, the news for this year is the just-opened Le Jardin. The new area is made up of manicured gardens – think towering date palms, blooms of jasmine and olive-tree groves – and a new pool area with luxury poolside pavilions. At its heart is the Le Jardin restaurant, Michelin-starred head-chef Yannick Alleno’s fourth eatery at the resort.
The food: Focusing on the ancient technique of ‘slow cooking’ on coal, the celebrated chef has devised 60 new dishes for Le Jardin, which also touch on modern, raw food trends. You sit outside under shady palm trees – the open kitchen in view – and can expect everything from sashimi to the standout Black Cod Saikyo Yaki. For something extra special, however, dress up and book La Grande Table Marocaine. This specialises in traditional Moroccan-style cuisine albeit elevated to something far beyond a humble terrine. Start with the sh’hiwates – a fiesta of mini salads and freshly baked breads – and follow with the signature Royal Mansour Seafood. The sharing dish for two looks big enough for 10, and it arrives tumbling over with lobsters, inkfish and clams as well as the largest prawns you’ll ever see.
Ask about: Marrakech’s new Yves Saint Laurent Museum is a must. It showcases the work of the famous designer and has on display thousands of articles of clothing, including Le Smoking tuxedo, and haute couture accessories. The sprawling space also houses a bookstore and terrace café.
And after that? Explore the scenic Atlas Mountains or the wide expanse of the Agafay Desert, found on the outskirts of the city. Insiders Experiences offers bespoke motorcycle tours with a local expert. You travel on the back of a bike or in the sidecar and the itineraries are all flexible, offering a thrilling way to discover the hidden side of the city.
Need to know: Stay at Royal Mansour from £780 per night including breakfast. (royalmansour.com). Admission into the YSL Museum is approximately £20. (museeyslmarrakech.com/en). The Desert Ride with Insiders Experiences costs from approximately £230 per sidecar. (insidersexperience.com).