Experience the vibrancy and vitality of Morocco and the luxury and tranquility of the Royal Palm Marrakech in equal measure
Words Catherine Hales
The very word Marrakech has the exotic, mysterious ring of a faraway place. Yet what makes it a perfect holiday destination is its proximity. From London, the flight takes a paltry three hours and 40 minutes, from miserable, rainy Gatwick to sunny, exotic Morocco; from black and white into colour – and no time difference, so no jet lag. Ideal for those longing to escape spring or autumn in England, March and September are the best times for almost certain sun but no excessive heat.
So, taking all these positives into consideration, why would anyone hesitate? There seems to be a notion that Marrakech is not a relaxing place to go on holiday. The depiction in popular culture of the medina in particular is one of tourists being assailed on all sides by carpet vendors and snake charmers whilst mopeds roar past, donkeys bray and chickens are violently expelled into your path. And while this is accurate up to a point, it’s certainly not the whole picture.
The key is to choose the right hotel, where they have the experience to help you navigate the markets – a real retreat, a port in this sometimes stormy city. That’s where the Royal Palm Marrakech comes in, a short 20 minute drive from the centre, so guests have great access to the sights and sounds of the markets, but can return to an oasis of calm. This contrast is one of the things the Royal Palm excels in. The stunning grounds with their ancient olive trees, as well as the titular palms, the undulating grassy knolls of the golf course and expanses of water give it a lush feel, while the best view of the snow-capped Atlas Mountains can be had leaning over the side of the main pool, cocktail in hand.
Elements of Moroccan culture and style are subtly incorporated throughout the interior, with bright mosaic tiles adorning the walls, twinkling lanterns dangling from the ceilings and exquisite carpets covering the marble floors. Of its three restaurants, Al Aïn is the prettiest and boasts an authentic Moroccan menu, with sheep’s brains for the bold and flavoursome tagines for the less so. Al Aïn also has a unique selling point: the entire restaurant is run by women, from the head chef, Meryam Diane, to the servers bringing out the dishes.
Tear yourself away from the pool or the fabulous, white-walled spa and the souks are a must-visit. A far cry from the UK’s homogenised high street, or the same old international chains in every capital city, the medina really is a place to find one-of-a kind-treasures and yes, bargains. Carpets are a no-brainer and most reputable sellers are able to ship the bulky rolls to save you lugging them around all day or adding extra kilos to your baggage allowance. It is a shopping experience like no other, sipping mint tea while enthusiastic vendors gabble in a mixture of French and English and unfurl countless rugs of all hues and sizes. Two other items that are really worth the haggling are leather bags and Berber silver, but to find the real gems you have to go deep into the winding maze of shopfronts and stalls. Seven hours fly by in a blur but it can be as exhausting as it is exhilarating. At the end of the day, the best feeling is knowing you can wash off the dust and dirt in your giant bathtub before heading to the bar for a cocktail, taking it out onto the terrace and listening to the strains of a live band floating through the air. A perfect ride on the Marrakech Express.