Marrakesh and Essaouira
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A 70th birthday treatA milestone birthday is a chance to embrace your age and celebrate in style and a perfect excuse to treat a much loved aunt to a spoiling mini break. In honour of my Aunt Jeanette's 70th birthday I chose Morocco as that perfect combination, close enough to Europe (just a 3 hour flight away) to be easily accessible yet exotically different. EasyJet have fares to Marrakesh and Essaouira that start from just £18.99 (one way including taxes) so if you book early enough you can be sure of a bargain and splash the cash instead on some top notch accommodation.
Riads are enormously popular but tend to be located within the medina. The latter can be a bit overwhelming, the alley ways confusing and often cobbled and potholed, with access generally only on foot. Many riads only have narrow staircases and no lifts, although it may be possible in some to book a downstairs room. You don’t have to stay in the medina. The great thing about Marrakech is that everything is within easy reach of not only the airport but Jemaa el-Fnaa (the main square and Medina). Our hotel, The Four Seasons was just 4 km (minutes away) and an oasis of calm to get back to. The Four Seasons needs no introduction, the 5-star award winning luxury international hotel chain is known the world over, not only for its quality of service but all the little touches and attention to detail and that's before we even get on to the food. The hotel is designed as a lush garden sanctuary (the 40 acres are run as a gated resort, so at all times you feel very safe), it never feels crowded and there is no shortage of sun-filled spaces to relax in. Two swimming pools frame a jaw dropping fountain courtyard and I loved the fact that one swimming pool is adults only. I'd also recommend the resort's hammam. In Morocco, spending time in a steamy hammam is a centuries-old tradition. The experience is all about water, moving from various hot and cold plunge pools to the humid warmth of the hammam itself. However, if you suffer from a heart condition it's advisable to opt instead for one of the many treatments on offer or a calming massage.
Dining wise, we made the most of the balmy evening temperatures, eating al fresco and for a special birthday treat and some true Moroccan specialties headed to another of Marrakesh's top hotels, The Royal Mansour. Nestled inside the ancient walls of the city, Yannick Alleno, the much-garlanded Michelin starred Parisian chef, has created in La Grande Table Marocaine a stand bearer for Morocco's culinary reputation. It was a truly unforgettable dining experience, bold flavours and unusual pairings, we started with sh'hiwates or Moroccan-style vegetable salad followed by the restaurant's signature dish, shoulder of lamb slow cooked at a low temperature to give it a unique melting flavour.
There's no doubt that getting lost in the Medina is half the fun of a trip to Marrakesh and when it comes to shopping, you'll be spoilt for choice. There are all manner of gifts to buy. Whicker bags covered in sequins, decorated and painted mirrors and bargain jewellery would all make great Christmas presents for a grand-daughter, whilst other popular items include Moroccan leather babouche slippers, tiny glasses to put tea lights in, leather belts and hammam towels. Do not buy in the first shop you see, be sure to bargain and keep your wits about you, we were frequently in danger of being mowned over by motorbikes navigating the narrow streets of the souk or a bicycle going at top speed. You'll be offered super sweet tea at every corner but the best way to stay hydrated is to drink plenty of water.
Don't overfill your day but if there is one other highlight and must do in Marrakesh, then it would be a visit to the Majorelle Garden or more commonly known as Yves St Laurent's garden. My aunt and I loved this enchanting spot, a symphony of light and colour filled with exotic flowers and alive with birdsong and the murmur of fountains.
Essaouira, Morocco’s seaside city is easily combined with Marrakesh (just over 2 1/2 hours away by road) or as a destination in itself, there are now direct flights from London, Luton with easyJet or do as we did, fly in to one and out of the other. Most people come to Essaouira for the wind and boy is it windy, for this is a town where the trade winds blow and has been attracting wind surfers and water sports enthusiasts for years. It's also been attracting the likes of Jimi Hendrix, Frank Zappa, Cat Stevens, it would appear all my aunt's idols, she was in heaven, making merry in all their old haunts. For me the charm of Essaouira was the fact that it hasn’t been entirely taken over by tourism, the vibrant fishing harbour is just as busy as it always was and the medina is as important to locals as it is to tourists. Yes, there are camel trips a plenty and although the idea of a camel ride might sound romantic, it's not at all comfortable and not something I'd recommend.
Life is all about creating memories and in Marrakesh and Essaouira I'd been able to give my aunt some particularly colourful ones, the rose pink walls of the ancient city in Marrakesh, the blue shuttered houses of Essaouira, Jeanette loved it all and is now looking through Silver Travel Advisor for ideas for her 80th!
Petra travelled with Classic Collection.
EasyJet flies year round directly to Marrakesh from London Gatwick and to Essaouira from London Luton.
For luxury short breaks and holidays Silver Travel Advisor recommends Classic Collection Holidays.
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