Marrakech is on the move with the impressive new Royal Palm Marrakech hotel, while there are fresh ideas in cuisine and design, says Vicky Mayer on a recent visit to the city
Valet Walking. No, I’d never heard of it either. But a trip to Marrakech is full of surprises and one night in the safe hands of my ‘walker’, I was led through a labyrinth of streets to a restaurant I would never have discovered. Genius.
This great new service was just one of the many pleasures of a week long trip to the city that’s been famous since the 60s as the perfect destination for a weekend of winter sunshine. But modern travellers are beginning to realise it’s also the perfect place for a week’s vacation, with plenty of cultural sights to delight you.
Whilst weekend visitors choose to stay in the city’s many riad hotels, those with a few more days on their hands should head out into the nearby desert to experience the delights of the impressive new Royal Palm Marrakech, which lies 12 kilometres outside the city and offers guests a real taste of modern Morocco. Situated in its own large estate, the hotel is built on a grand scale with sumptuous rooms decorated in beautiful fabrics and colours dominated by Moroccan tradition. The Atlas Mountains provide the perfect backdrop to this impressive hotel, which boasts 135 suites, four top-end restaurants, a Clarins spa, two pools and its own golf course. Yet despite its grandeur, it always manages to feel surprisingly intimate with service that is second to none.
A mini bus runs regularly throughout the day to the city so you can choose whether you want to visit day or night. At dusk Jama Al-fana, the city’s largest square, comes alive with street stalls offering delicious dishes and local entertainers wowing the crowds. Enjoy the spectacle from one of the many rooftop bars but don’t linger too long – the real Marrakech lies down the winding streets surrounding the busy square.
Amidst the hubbub of the craftsmen selling their wares we took refuge in Le Foundouk, an elegant bar and restaurant located in one of the most hard to find corners of the city. Housed in an old riad, the restaurant has a fine rooftop bar that comes alive at night. Like many eateries in the city, the cuisine is heavily influenced by its French origins so don’t be surprised to find yourself ordering a tagine closely followed by a tarte tatin.
It’s easy to dismiss Marrakech as just souks and riads but if you scratch deeper you’ll find Modern Morocco in many unexpected corners. The area around Majorelle Garden, Yves Saint Laurent’s spectacular city house, which is painted to dramatic effect in cobalt blue, boasts designer shops and cafes that give Shoreditch a good run for its money and it’s here you’ll find the city’s sharply dressed thirtysomething crowd.
Whilst modernising rapidly, Marrakech is still managing to hold on to its unique traditions and culture and this intruiging city has got me hooked. I can’t wait to go back.
Words Vicky Mayer
Stay 5 nights at the Royal Palm Marrakech in a Junior Suite on a Bed & Breakfast basis including Economy Class flights with British Airways and private hotel transfers from £838 per person sharing.
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