As the lack of sunlight began to induce mild symptoms of Seasonal Affective Disorder, a friend came up with an escape plan out of the cold. “Do you want to go to Marrakech?” she enthused. Did I? I started to ask around and suddenly it seemed that a lot of people had already been, but reviews were somewhat mixed.
Then, all of a sudden, it was featured on Made in Chelsea. Or at least a swimming pool and restaurant purporting to be in Morocco were. So is Marrakech worth it? And is there any way to avoid the patronising Made in Chelsea cliché?
Here’s a quick summary of the advice I was given…
Top five things to do
1. Make the most of an alcohol, hangover free, holiday. Drink as much mint tea as possible, relax on a rooftop terrace and smoke shisha. Don’t forget to visit a Hamaan (like the Alhambra Bains, which are reportedly very good). They're cheaper than any you'll find over here and are a beautiful way to relax.
2. Stay in a riad; cheaper and more private than hostels. Marrakech is a well-trodden tourist route though, so recommended, quality hostels aren’t hard to come by.
3. Go for a wander. Take advantage of being up early without a hangover and visit the beautiful Yves Saint Laurent Majorelle gardens, and generally soak up the rays and the atmosphere. Head to the bazaars and haggle your way to a few bargains.
4. Eat (or cook) something new. Try the Place Jemaa el Fnaa, as you can eat en masse easily and it is very reasonably priced. There is plenty of entertainment in the square at night, monkeys, snakes, music and whatever else you want. Alternatively, Riad Kniza offers cooking classes – it's a great way to sample the amazing food on offer. If you don't have time to take a class, at least try a tagine, and make sure to bring lots of argan oil home.
5. Branch out from Marrakech. Essaouira (two hours by bus) is a cross between a very, very small provincial South of France village and a strange Moroccan hamlet. The Atlas Mountains are also easy to reach without a guide. Todra Gorge is in the east of the mountains and is incredible. Ait Benhaddou is out of this world, especially if you're a history fan. It's a C9 Kasbah and is among the best preserved you can find. Take advantage of the sand and go Camel Trekking. Stay overnight if possible and get a berber to guide you. Whilst you’re at it, watch the sunset from a dune. There are some of the world's highest dunes only an hour's trek into the Sahara and the view is beyond anything you can imagine.
Top five things to bear in mind
1. Go with guys. Of all the advice I was given, this was repeated by every single person I spoke to (male and female). Creepy dark alleys, cat-calls and more aggressive approaches will put a downer on your stay if you’re not used to them
2. Keep your hands in your pockets when walking around Jemaa el-Fnaa. Locals will grab your hands, draw ridiculously rushed hennas on you and demand money.
3. Avoid the tanneries – I’m told they stink.
4. Ditto with the meat, unless you have a hardened stomach.
5. Souk guides. If you really need directions, pop your head into a restaurant or shop and get them to point (never lead) the way. Even if they offer a 'free guide', chances are they will still demand a hefty fee at the end.
If you manage all of that, I’m assured that you'll never want to leave.
Thank you to Rosalie Jones, Claire Simmonds and Neil McKenna and for providing information for this article.