Desert dreaming: a second home in the sun

BUSTLING markets, scorching heat, exotic dress and fantastic food. It is hard to believe that the almost otherworldliness of Marrakesh is just three and 35 minutes away from London. Charl Ackerman, a London-based property developer with Aylesford International, uses his home in Marrakesh like many do their country home: “I often fly out on weekends. You can just pop over for the weekend. Even only going for two days feels like a holiday.”

While there have been flickers of political turmoil in Morocco, it has not caught alight in the same way that much of North Africa and the Middle East has. The Foreign and Commonwealth Office is not advising against travel there and with British Airways (BA) and BMI launching new flights there this week, Marrakesh still looks like an appealing spot to buy a second home.

Big property developers have been on to this for a while. The Aylesford International residential golf resort, L’Amandier property development and the headline-grabbing Baglioni resort (interiors designed by Jade Jagger) were all launched in the last few years. These guys aren’t just going on a hunch. Morocco’s (comparatively) liberal monarch talked about his “Vision 2010” in 2002, where he committed to increasing tourism from 2.2m to 10m in 2010. He achieved it and is now aiming to double that number again by 2020.

Perhaps the most important facet of the King’s success was allowing budget airlines to fly into Morocco. Flights now total over 100 a week and are increasing fast thanks to the new BA and BMI flight paths from Gatwick announced this week.

The King’s liberal values are encouraging tourism too. Attitudes towards alcohol and women are relaxed. While the locals often abstain from showing flesh or sinking booze in the evenings, it isn’t outlawed or frowned on. Ackerman says: “The liberal values, the low cost of flights, food and entertainment are making the area more and more attractive to tourists.”

Great news for those interested in buying a property to rent out. James Price, of Knight Frank’s international office, thinks buyers have noticed these advantages: “Prices have kept pace with European economic recovery. Buyers are taking a little more time to decide, but I think that’s a positive development.”

Ackerman cautions buyers to look for good quality places though: “Buying cheap is often more expensive in the long run. Using a slightly more expensive, established developer is really worth it – you know you aren’t going to be cheated.” Properties with a pool, good air conditioning and a great view are always in demand, he advises. Getting a place with a substantial plot of land is also a good idea too.

Just think, when some City workers are crawling along the motorway on Friday night to their second home in the British countryside, you could be flying to the exotic world of Marrakesh to yours.

MARRAKESH | MUST SEE PLACES

Djemaa el Fna: Marrakech's central market place is the liveliest place in the city, where you'll bump shoulders with locals and travellers alike. Haggle at the stalls, check out the snake charmers, buy colourful spice and consider what the apothecaries have to offer.

The Hammam: No trip to Morocco is complete without a visit to a traditional bathhouse. You can do as the locals do at the Hammam el Bacha on the Rue Fatima Zohra (the historic part of the city) or lap up the luxury of La Maison Arabe in the centre of town.

The Souks: Getting lost in the maze of central souks north of the Dejemaa el Fna is great fun (and quite easy to do). The narrow alleys lead onto narrower ones, before spreading out into little open squares. These areas are great for practicing your haggling skills.

Atlas Mountains: For fresh air and calm, get out of town and pay a visit to the nearby mountains. The best way to explore is at the Kasbah du Toubkal at the foot of the Atlas’s highest point, Jebel Toubkal. They even run a 4x4 day excursion to show you around the tranquil scenery.