I FIRST visited Marrakesh because even the name had a seductive blend of Arab and African culture – and, of course, the Crosby Stills and Nash Sixties classic Marrakesh Express was filling the airwaves.
Despite the passing years – that was three decades and more ago – I found myself unable to resist the pull of this ancient, pink-walled city. So succumb I did.
It is the timeless elements that draw you to Marrakech – its ancient souqs, striking mosques, famed palaces and, in Djemaa el-Fna square, a market place that thrives through the day and as darkness falls becomes an intoxicating kaleidoscope of colour, noise, aromas and much more besides.
It is a teeming place filled with snake charmers, dancing boys, fortune tellers, henna tattoo artist, acrobats, turbaned potion sellers, red-robed water sellers, astrologers, healers, Gnaoua drummers, story tellers, Berber musicians and food stalls – yes, amazing food stalls.
As dusk heralds the evening hundreds of street stall restaurants burst into life. The square is filled with the enticing aromas and flavours with which street food never fails to assault the senses – fried meats and fish, steamed snails, fresh vegetables and an incessant calling from eager stall holders. Few, if any places in the world can match Djemaa el-Fna’s vitality, energy and sheer vibrancy. A truly magical yet timeless place.
It may be just a few hours flight from Manchester’s Albert Square, but it may as well be a thousand years and world away In the souks you will probably lose your way – don’t get concerned, just look for La Koutoubia minaret or, maybe ask a shop keeper. You may have to sit and drink mint tea for a while and even determinedly resist buying a carpet or rug – but it is all part of the experience.
Remember, knowledge is priceless – and you don’t have it – so be prepared to ask and perhaps make a token payment, it is only polite. Top tip is to take a pocketful of small change to ease your way. If you are still not confident grab Lonely Planet’s Marrakech Encounter, a small book packed with facts – and that all-important map.
The souks are also where you take part in Marrakech’s favourite sport – bargaining. It is part of the game and is expected. The first price is not so much a guide, just a first step on what will be a long, entertaining journey toward a final price. Don’t on any occasion lose your cool, smile, it’s a game and the best bargaining ploy is to walk away – while smiling of course.
With Club Med having expanded its Manchester operations - the holiday company has 43 resorts which can be reached by direct flights from Manchester – Marrakech is three hours away and there is a choice of three locations in or close to the city.
I stayed at the all-inclusive La Palmeraie (termed by Club Med with some justification as a village). Just 20 minutes away from the city walls – it is the ideal base to visit Marrakech with a free, hourly shuttle bus – and you can take advantage of all-inclusive food and drink at Club Med’s Riad, on the edge of the square.
It is also a great base for trips further afield including the wonderful Atlas Mountains Club Med’s all-inclusive holidays truly all-inclusive – all meals, wines, beer, spirits, soft drinks, bar drinks and snacks available throughout the day and, should you be so inclined, there is a wide range of sports and spas.
The food and service is nothing short of five star. Each evening has different themed buffets with world-wide cuisines – exceptional fish and lamb dishes. There is of course traditional Moroccan food and the El Kebir restaurant offers a Moroccan evening complete with live music. Once each week, “The garden Party” is a special event. Dining tables and chairs around the lawn are decked in white table clothes and covers, while a few yards away an army of chefs prepare a barbecue of fine dining quality... and the wine continues to flow.
Village manager Michele Staino marshals a team, from bar staff to waiters, cleaners to gardeners, guest relations to reception, keen to be helpful. Club Med is strongly French – both Club Med and Marrakech history is the key there – but the welcome is international. On my visit English guest guide Joshua was always available with information and nothing seemed too much trouble.
There is so much to see in this part of Morocco and not all the Marrakech’s attractions are within the city walls or even Club Med village. Make sure to take the short taxi ride to the European quarter. One must see is Jardin Majorelle, designed by artist Jacques Majorelle which was brought back to its original glory by famed designer and stylist Yves Saint Laurent. The gardens surround you in a silky wrap of calm. It is as tranquil as the Djemma el-Fna square is vibrant.
Marrakech is marvellous, magic and really is unmissable.
A seven day luxury all-inclusive stay at Club Med La Palmeraie starts from £609 adults and £339 children – for departure on November 26, If booked before November 2.
If booked after November 2 prices start from £809 adult and £439 children – for departure November 26. Club Med’s all inclusive holidays flying direct from Manchester can be booked at 08453 676767, at your local travel agent or at www.clubmed.co.uk.
Further Marrakech city information: Lonely Planet – Marrakesh Encounter www.lonelyplanet.com.
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