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The Road to Marrakesh

In the souk in Marrakesh.

Hopping on a plane for a city break has become one of the most popular getaways for the British. There are endless cities to choose from within reach of a short haul flight, but none will lead you to a more exotic destination than Marrakesh, the travel capital of Morocco.

The imperial city of Marrakesh is colourful, vibrant, aromatic and intoxicating in every way. The dramatic cityscape has a backdrop of the snow-capped High Atlas Mountains, while the city centre features the most stunning architecture and its bustling souks will draw you into another world. Travelling to Marrakesh gives a taste of Arabia without the long haul and with all the comforts of high quality accommodation.

Marrakesh is famous for its historic mosques, souks, riads and gardens. Within the ancient red walls of the medina, which marks out Marrakesh’s religious and cultural centre, a maze of medieval-like streets lead to the city’s heart, the Djemaa el-Fna Square, simply one of the most fascinating squares in the world.

A walk in Djemaa el-Fna Square will lead you to all the visual treats you associate with Marrakesh: street performers of all kinds, including jugglers and snake charmers, delicious food stalls and sultry souks. The atmosphere is as colourful as the buildings and people that inhabit the square once evening falls.

The biggest and most elaborate of the mosques inside the medina is Koutoubia, which has come to be known as the city’s principal landmark. The red stone mosque was first built in 1147, but demolished and rebuilt in 1199 because it was not correctly aligned with Mecca. As with all mosques, entry is not permitted for non-Muslims, but the Koutoubia is nonetheless a gathering point for tourists.

To the south of the medina is the Kasbah, or the royal quarter, with the king’s palace and two former royal residences: the ruins of the once magnificent El Badi Palace and the 19-century Bahia Palace with tranquil gardens, fountains and a shady courtyard.

While there are many modern and luxurious hotels in Marrakesh, nothing beats staying in a riad in the heart of the medina. Riads are traditional Moroccan houses with an interior courtyard garden. The riads in the medina have been lovingly restored and include all the mod cons of a hotel, but with bags more ambience. These are usually run as boutique accommodation and make a refreshing change from a large and often impersonal hotel.

Spring and autumn are the best times to explore Marrakesh, with temperatures averaging 20-25C. During the summer, it becomes stiflingly hot, with temperatures exceeding 40C, but in wintertime, the city can feel the cold. It’s also best to avoid April unless you want to risk the chance of encountering a sandstorm.

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