THE WEEKEND: Darling Marrakech is Morocco’s bohemian jewel, a soulful city surrounded by sand, anchored by an ancient Medina and crowned by the sultry peaks of the Atlas Mountains. Just three hours from the UK, there is no comparable weekend-worthy escape as bewitching, or as bonkers. There are hotels and then there is Le Royal Mansour. This vast estate functions like a miniature kingdom where guests are considered royalty. Just a 10- minute drive from the airport, expect VIP treatment as soon as you touch down, courtesy of Royal Mansour’s fleet of Bentley SUVs, one of which will whisk you to what I reckon is Morocco’s finest hotel.
THE STAY: Maximalists rejoice! There’s nothing subtle about this hotel (except the service).Replacing rooms and suites are 53 extravagant private riads set in a maze of winding alleyways and fragrant gardens designed to echo traditional Islamic village life. Each of the three-storey residences celebrates Moroccan craftsmanship– zellige tiling, intricately carved custom furniture and hand-woven fabrics – and comes adorned by a rooftop plunge pool and fire place. Up there, take in the views and listen to the soundtrack of the daily calls to prayer. There’s also a spa, pool and art classes in the garden studio.
THE FOOD: Michelin-starred chef Hélène Darroze has recently replaced Yannick Allénoas culinary director for the hotel’s restaurants: La Grande Table Marocaine for north African cuisine, and French brasserie, La Table. Her first foray outside of Europe, Darroze’s menus offer the chance to taste her terroirs-driven French cuisine: tarte friande, langoustine raviolior a rich Saint-Honoré patisserie. More Michelin magic comes from Massimiliano Alajmo. The youngest chef in the world to earn three stars, his menu at the hotel is an homage to Venetian fine dining with dished like grilled squid and smoked coconut milk.
WHAT TO DO: The medina is the city’s historic heart – a must visit, no matter how many times you’ve been to Marrakech. Get lost in the rose-tinted ramparts then explore the tangle of souks and quissariat (covered markets).Haggle for brass lamps, technicolour babouches and vintage kelims. Nervous about driving a hard bargain? Don’t be. Word has got round that tourists prefer a softer sell, and shopping is no longer the or deal it once was. When you’re done in the labyrinth, squeeze past pyramids of rainbow spices and piles of entrails en route to Jemaa el-Fna square for a refreshing mint tea in a rooftop café.
The hipster areas of Gueliz and Hivernage showcase the city’s progressive eye, with art galleries, concept stores and tagine-free eateries, such as the Aussie-inspired small plates atPlus61, a favourite with locals. On a scorching day try a stroll through the Jardin Majorelle, or head west to the Bahia Palace in the Jewish Quarter for a lesson in the tenets of Islamic architecture and design. Marrakech’s location at the foothills of the Atlas Mountains offers easy active escapes – cruise into the desert for lunch at the Terresdes Etoiles glampsite, hike through atmospheric Berber villages or conquer the peak of Mount Toubkal, North Africa’s highest summit.
Book Marrakech yourself
Inspiring Travel offers a three-night stay at Royal Mansour from £2,339pp, based on two sharing a Riad Superior on a b&b basis. This includes return economy class flights from London Gatwick and private transfers. Visit Inspiringtravel.co.uk or call 01244 729749