Time Out has vacation ideas for Dubai expats, including a Marrakech travel guide, with things to do on your holiday, hotels, deals and flights to Morocco
Time Out Dubai staff
Think of Marrakech and you’re immediately transported to the souks. The almost tangible heat, the rich smell of spices and leather, flashes of brightly coloured materials and the hustle and bustle of winding passages. Marrakech lies between the snow-capped Atlas Mountains and the baking Sahara, making it perfect for a city break.
Culture and art The most famous building in Marrakech is the Koutoubia Mosque. It is visible from far away as the minaret standing at 77m is the tallest point in the Medina. Although non-Muslims can’t enter the mosque, tourists still gather to view the building from outside. For more history, head to Bahia Palace, while for culture lovers there’s the Douiria Mouassine museum.
Shopping is obviously key in Marrakech, so enjoy some bartering and explore the souks in the walled medieval city and visit the main square of Place Jemaa el Fna to see the street performers. For a relaxing end to the day there are many traditional hammams throughout the city.
Wander in the gardens Although there’s not a huge amount of green space in Marrakech, the gardens at La Mamounia are beautiful and well worth a visit. The hotel was founded in 1923 and was known for its glamour, with patrons including Winston Churchill and Princess Caroline of Monaco. The gardens at the famous hotel span eight acres and are named after the 18th century Crown Prince Moulay Mamoun, who was given the gardens as a wedding present from his father. Take a leisurely stroll around the gardens, which are packed full of fruit trees, flowers and 100-year-old olive trees. Admire the amaranth, agave, Madagascar periwinkles and Barbury figs and breathe in the scents of the blossoms. The bougainvillas are a particular highlight, sprawling and vibrant. Sometimes the hotel has art installations around the gardens, too.
Stop off for a drink at the Pavilion Bar, next to the swimming pool, which also serves light bites including excellent seafood. If you want to cool off and escape the sun, the Winston Churchill bar inside is dimly-lit, fiercely air-conditioned and an ideal place for an afternoon or early evening drink. Peckish? Take afternoon tea at Le Menzeh.
If you’re looking for more flowers, plus palms and cacti, visit the Jardin Majorelle on Rue Yves Saint Laurent. Admire the pools filled with water lilies and vibrant blues throughout. One of the most popular places in Marrakech, it took French painter Jacques Majorelle nearly 40 years to complete the gardens. Nearby there’s also a museum filled with Berber jewellery.
Dine on Moroccan cuisine You’ll find Le Tobsil by wandering down a passage in the souk and through a secret door. The restaurant serves a set menu of local cuisine in a candlelit setting. La Maison Arabe also serves traditional Moroccan fare in the romantic setting of its patio and pool area, with twinkly lights, fountains and an abundance of flowers. The hotel also boasts a cooking school, if you want to take home some skills and inspiration.
Further afield For those seeking somewhere cooler, travel up to the Atlas Mountains. Take a day trip for amazing views, waterfalls and Berber villages. Or grab your hiking boots and go back to nature.
If you’re in need of a beach break, travel 200km to the coastal El Jadida, a port town that has an old fort to explore and a much quieter beachside vibe. For a resort-stay after your city break, the Mazagan Beach Resort operated by Kerzner International, which Atlantis and One&Only also come under, boasts an 18-hole golf course, 7km beach, eight restaurants, a dedicated kids’ area and horse riding on the beach.
Where to stay
El Fenn While in Morocco, take the chance to stay in a riad, which is a traditional house with an interior courtyard or garden. At El Fenn, you’ll find huge rooms and a great rooftop perfect for a dip in the pool and a spot of lunch. There is also a collection of artwork at this luxury riad, which is co-owned by Richard Branson’s sister. It’s just a three-minute walk from Place Jemaa el Fna and the Koutoubia Mosque. www.el-fenn.com
Riad Flam A quaint riad in the Riad Zitoun Jdid district in the Medina, this is a calm spot away from the hustle and bustle of the souks. Each room is decorated differently with a traditional theme. Enjoy mint tea on the roof terrace overlooking Marrakech. www.riadflam.com
It takes about 11 and a half hours from Dubai to Marrakech via destinations including Frankfurt, Zurich and London, and it’s a similar situation from Doha. From Abu Dhabi it’s around 12 hours with one-stop with Etihad.
Much of Marrakech can be explored on foot or by bicycle, though buses and taxis are widely available, especially in the hotter summer months. The “petite taxis” have a meter, can only take three passengers and are restricted to urban zones. Check to ensure the meter is working before embarking on your journey. A “grand taxi” has a fixed price, can take up to six passengers and can travel out of urban zones. There are also horse-drawn carriages called caleche.
If you’re looking to escape the Gulf sun, Marrakech is also hot in July and August, with temperatures reaching 38°C, so choose a late summer break if you want cooler weather. If you do go in the height of summer, many places offer a discount, just make sure to choose a riad with a pool to cool off, and pack plenty of suncream.
What's happening The summer hosts a National Popular Arts Festival with music and dancing, plus a parade of 500 performers, though dates are yet to be confirmed.