Souks made for eclectic Christmas gift-buying and usual daytime temperatures of 16-20C make Marrakech an ideal winter getaway.
Where to stay:
The Moroccan King’s sublime Royal Mansour hotel in central Marrakech treats guests as visitors of HRH; the VIP treatment starts at the airport where you’re whisked past the queue for passport control into a private lounge for a cold drink, while your papers are processed. Opened in 2010, the hotel is a result of King Mohammed VI having commissioned 1,000 artisans to make a showcase of Moroccan craftsmanship: every centimetre is testament to the artistry of the mosaicists, wood sculptors and plasterers. There are 53 two-storey guest riads among twisting tree-lined paths. Staff top up personalised, gold-inscribed stationery and pots of dried fruit, moving between riads via underground passages.
Royal Mansour’s three restaurants are overseen by twinkly-eyed 3-Michelin-star French chef Yannick Alléno. Loud live music, waitresses dressed in traditional silks, and candlelight drew us to La Grand Table Marocaine where spinach and orange blossom foam salad enthralled us, but royal pigeon pastilla was the highlight (matched with excellent Moroccan wines). There’s also La Table restaurant, where you can eat indoors or in a peaceful garden, and the Grand Table Francais, Alleno’s French-style fine-dining room.
Jemaa El Fna Square is famous for street food. Feeling brave? Take a seat, ask the price and order. Harira soup is a Moroccan must-try, as is fried fish, kebabs, or perhaps stewed snails or sheep head for the truly daring. At Le Tobsil restaurant (00 2125 2444 4052), in the medina, guests sit on two levels around a courtyard, taking in live gnawa music (blues/Arabic fusion). Book and come hungry for the set menu of aperitifs, endless meze dishes, pastilla, tagine, couscous, fruit, mint tea or coffee, and pastries to finish. In the city’s bakeries, look out for the local special-occasion cake, m’hancha, a coiled ‘snake pastry’ made with almond paste, orange flower water and cinnamon. Take home saffron and spices from the souks, eating street-sellers’ roasted nuts as you go.
What to do:
Visit Maison de la Photographie to see historic photos of Morocco (maisondelaphotographie.ma), and the Majorelle Gardens (jardinmajorelle.com), then head back to the hotel for the amazing spa. Start in the hammam, where you’ll be scrubbed from head to foot, before reclining in the blissful relaxation area.
One-bedroom riads start at around £678 per night, including fast-track airport service and private transfers (royalmansour.com). The Christmas celebration package includes Christmas dinner, a hammam, Christmas tea and more from £2,195 for two, B&B, for 3 nights. Return flights from Gatwick to Marrakech cost from £50 (easyjet.com).
More info: visitmorocco.com
olive magazine podcast ep72 – Morocco with John Gregory-Smith
This week on the olive magazine podcast, we have a special chat with food and travel writer John Gregory-Smith to celebrate his new book, Orange Blossom & Honey, and his magical Moroccan recipes.