by Avril O’Connor
Morocco is one of those exotic places that most of us dream about visiting. In the past because of its ‘in’ destination status its been very expensive particularly during the peak season which is basically our winter – when temperatures are more agreeable.
So at the end of our summer I looked around for somewhere warm but not long-haul and Morocco came back onto the agenda. But would the weather still be decent in September I contemplated? Needless to say I should not have worried as temperatures were in the 40s and locals told me the week before it was even hotter touching 50.
I was attracted by the exotic architecture of Marrakesh, against the beautiful backdrop of the snow-capped Atlas mountains.The pink city of Marrakesh is one of the great cities of the Maghreb, (Africa west of Egypt and north of the Sahara) in an oasis setting.Beyond the city are dramatic gorges, valleys and sculpted sand dunes.
As a lone traveller, although I was drawn to the wilderness I thought it wise to stay in Marrakesh as this was my first visit. I was surprised by the huge choice and availability and costs of hotels – in part I conclude due the political instability in many of the countries in this part of the world.
So the choice of where to stay was mainly between the boutique hotels in the medina – but you more often than not will find yourself surrounded by squalor and poverty as soon as you walk outside the door or the newer package style hotels in the ‘zone touristique’. Unless of course you have opted to stay somewhere outside of Marrakesh in the Atlas mountains.
I chose a hotel in the ‘zone touristique’ with an excellent spa – my only mistake was picking one that does not serve alcohol, probably the only one in the whole of Marrakesh I am told! There were few Europeans, mostly holidaymakers from other Arab countries, and most of the ladies were burins in the 2 pools. Luckily there was a French Carrefourr supermarket down the road in a European-style shopping mall with all kinds of food and drink on offer.
Marrakesh is a city of contradictions – extreme poverty on one hand and Ferraris roaring down the road in the new upmarket Hivernage district where there is a huge European style mall surrounded by eateries and bars aka the Buddha Bar. Then in the medina you can sit above the hoards and watch the whole world unfold – food stalls belching smoke, some men with monkeys in pampers who were trying to get the tourists to hold them for money, the beggars, hawkers and people going about their daily lives.
The best thing about my hotel – the Mogador Palace Agadal was the spa, in which I aimed to try a different treatment daily. The were all excellent treatments and relatively inexpensive compared to UK spas. The cost per night for a huge room with a king-size bed and a balcony leading onto gardens was 392 euros (£336) for 8 nights without meals including 10% VAT
The traditional harman experiences focus around exfoliation – getting rid of tired and dead skin – and is a great rejuvenator, leaving skin like velvet. The exfoliation is promoted by using ‘black soap’ which is made of olives and eucalyptus. We found the one below on sale at Amazon for £19.97 with an exfoliating glove and a 100% pure cold pressed Argan oil to soothe the skin afterwards.
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I tried two difference massages – the Tonique (30 mins, 400 MAD/£32) and the well-being (60 mins, 600 MAD/£50). The Hamman Royal in which I was scrubbed with the black soap…and a naked from the waist up lady who threw buckets of water over me. (60 mins, 400 MAD)
There were two huge pools at this hotel – one with a DJ blasting music all day and another quieter one, plus an indoor pool. I ate outside of the hotel aside from one breakfast which was ordinary.
I really did not see that much of Marrakesh, but know I would like to go back to learn more about the culture and people. There are the mountains for one, where you can trek by foot or camel or jeep caravan as well as hot-air ballooning and a nearby lake for water sports.
Morocco is currently great value for money and if security worries you – as it did me when I went – I felt very safe. All the hotels and public buildings have security screening, there are plenty of police and the taxi drivers mostly all speak English. And if you don’t know you way around they will come and pick you up from the same place they left you as they all have mobiles!
Here is a selection of very beautiful Marrakesh hotels which are all currently on special discounted offers: