Moroccan weekend jaunts
Who doesn’t need a weekend break to get away from it all? In our opinion, Moroccan riads (old palaces and townhouses) provide the perfect base for relaxing as well as exploring city souks.
Fiona’s ideal places to stay
Riad Noga, a ten-minute walk from the main square in the heart of the old Medina, offers seven richly decorated ensuite double rooms with air conditioning/heating, and some with telephone. In typical riad style, the rooms are all situated around a central courtyard graced with tumbling bougainvillea and orange trees. The dining room has a vaulted ceiling and the verdant roof terrace offers panoramic views. The green-tiled swimming pool is solar heated and there are plenty of private terraces for reading or sunbathing.
Maison D’Arab, situated in the shadow of the Bab Doukkala Mosque, is a former restaurant and veritable legend that offers some of the finest accommodation in the Medina. Seven gorgeously decorated rooms are set around two flower-filled patios. Some have a fireplace; others offer split-level accommodation — and even your own private rooftop Jacuzzi. The restaurant offers superb Moroccan and international a la carte dining. A ten-minute drive (by regular shuttle bus) takes you to the swimming pool set in an oasis of calm and tranquillity.
Dar Les Cigognes (House of Storks) stands opposite the gates to the Royal Palace. A former merchant’s home, it was recently turned into a beautiful little hotel by celebrity architect Charles Boccara. All five bedrooms and ensuite bathrooms are different and draw on the rich cultural heritage of Moorish art and decor. The lack of a swimming pool is more than compensated for by the superb attention to detail in the rooms, which are quite unique. An attractive courtyard with fruit trees and fountain provides a peaceful place for relaxation.
Dar Mimosa offers superb accommodation set in an extraordinary garden on the outskirts of this coastal fishing village. Built and run personally by its French owner, who often cooks the guests’ dinners, this magical little hotel has just four two-roomed villas with private gardens, and four double bedrooms, allowing no more than 24 guests at any one time. The decor is memorable, from striking blue and white-tiled bathrooms to ochre and blue walls, traditional furniture and antique paintings. Lunches may be taken around the mosaic-tiled pool; dinners are served in one of the many private salons dotted throughout the main house or in your private villa. Dar Mimosa combines the best of an elegant ambience with a relaxed atmosphere for a really memorable stay.
La Maison Bleue was built in 1915. This fabulous old Moroccan house has 12 rooms and suites and a delightful roof terrace situated just a few minutes walk from the busy souk. The rooms are packed with exquisite antiques and have mosaic-tiled floors, chandeliers, luxurious curtains, brocaded sofas and four-poster beds. Dinner is a memorable four-course extravaganza with musicians, candlelight and running fountains to serenade the evening. The rooms have some modern luxuries — television, hairdryer and mini bar — but otherwise are delightfully old fashioned.
Kasbah Agafay offers unforgettable views across Berber Villages, the Atlas Mountains and olive-grove plantations, yet is only a 20-minute drive from the centre of Marrakech. For those who dream of escaping to an 18th-century castle fort, this special kasbah is a unique retreat, perfect for a holiday or honeymoon to remember. Fourteen suites are set around six private riad-style courtyards, each with imaginative decoration, Moroccan artefacts and antiques, yet with all modern amenities. There are also four large suites in traditional tents with private terraces, king-size mosaic baths and four-poster beds made from old Nomad beams. The kasbah offers traditional and international cuisine, a large mosaic-tiled swimming pool, a floodlit tennis court and an open-air aromatherapy spa.
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Fiona’s travel tips
DON’T MISS: Dahabiyas, small boats taking 4-6 people — the ‘boutique’ option for Nile cruising.
FOR THE ACTIVE: A dawn climb to St. Catherine’s Monastery in the Sinai or trekking with mules in the High Atlas.
TOP TIP: Morocco used to have a reputation for being a place where visitors got hassled. This has changed hugely. Now you might even have a ‘Monty Python’ moment: “Come on, ask me to buy a carpet”!
BEST TIME TO GO:
Morocco: September to May
Libya: Spring and autumn
Egypt: September to March
Egypt: 5 hours (direct)
Morocco: 4¾ hours (direct)
“Morocco was great – just as diverse and interesting as expected. All the excursions, transfers etc. worked perfectly and everybody was friendly, efficient and helpful. The Riad Kniza is a beautiful oasis in Marrakech and the Kasbah du Toubkal is truly spectacular. Probably the most surprising thing about it was the amount of snow!”
The Margetts family, Morocco
“It went superbly well thank you. The riads in Fez and Marrakech were very good and I am glad that I had the experience but I found them a little confining and will go for hotels next time. The establishment at Skoura was wonderful as was the walking from Kasbah du Toubkal although I found the ambience in the Kasbah somewhat institutional. I shall be going back, take it that you have a very satisfied customer.”
Barry Northrop, Morocco
“The kindness of our driver, Mahjou, is what we remember about Morocco, he enabled us to integrate with the local people, and he was and is, without question, the finest of men. The knowledge that he has of his country and the customs and wares of all the different cities that make up that beautiful land, is phenomenal."
The Korner family, Morocco
“This was a very last minute break to find some real relaxation and perfect warm sunny weather, it worked totally.”
Lois Fonda, Morocco
“Holiday went well and we had an excellent drive guide. Places you chose for us to stay were excellent!”
“All in all we loved the timeless ambience of the medina, stumbling across picturesque alleyways and shops, wandering down to the port each day to watch the fishermen unload their silvery sardine catch from gaily decked trawlers and walking along the beach before the sun went down.”
Mr and Mrs Graham Bell, Morocco
“Generally we were really impressed by transfers and how smoothly all arrangements worked.”
Mr and Mrs Graham Bell, Egypt
“So spoilt being met on arrival, charming staff in the riads and guides – especially our driver.”
Mrs Sarah Rising, Morocco
“I have to say straight away that our trip really did exceed expectations. All the arrangements went exactly to plan and we very much enjoyed our experiences of the country, the people and the food. Our guide was excellent and all the organisation that went into our trip and trek was first class. Many thanks for your help in making it such a success.”
Pat and Cicely Roche, Morocco, Mt. Toubkal Climb, September 2011
“We were nervous about travelling to Morocco, it’s the furthest we have ever been away from home. However the arrangements and the accommodation were amazing, and we loved the experience. The overall experience through Far Frontiers Travel was absolutely fantastic.”
Helen Metcalfe and family, Morocco, April 2011
“I just wanted to thank you again for organising such a superb holiday. It's easy today to organise holidays by surfing the internet, but I am just so glad we booked with you. You stuck to our budget and created a fabulous, memorable itinerary for our family of four kids. We met other people en route, covering roughly the same ground, but felt confident we had the better deal – you had found us stylish, family-run hotels, and booked brilliant, appropriate activities with the best local organisations. You also paced the holiday perfectly for the age and stage of our kids. Thank you. I would not hesitate to book with you again.”
Lucy Thomson, Morocco, July 2011