In its elements...Morocco
by Selling Travel Editorial | 27 January 2021
You can feel the release of eight months of pent-up stress and uncertainty as we take our quad bikes up to their maximum speed of 50mph along the deserted beach, sand and sea glistening all around us. Back at our starting point, everyone is beaming.
"I felt so free," exclaims one of our group, most of whom are travel agents. "It was as if I’d left all my worries behind me."
The atmospheric port city and resort of Essaouira is the starting point for 20 miles of unspoilt beaches, where as well as quad-biking you can horse-ride or take a surfing or kite-surfing lesson.
All these activities are available courtesy of the family-run Ranch de Diabat and the Ananas Kitesurfing school, which had just reopened at the time of our visit in mid-October. Their joy in welcoming back customers and showcasing this gorgeous stretch of elemental coastline was palpable.
Moroccans are a famously warm people, but lockdown and anti-Covid measures have truly bought that to the fore.
Essaouria is the perfect place for a seaside break on a two-centre holiday in Morocco. Just two-and-a-half hours west of Marrakech, it has a charming old town, picturesque 18th-century seafront ramparts and delightful places to stay for all tastes.
Just north of town, out on its own, the Sofitel Marrakech Lounge & Spa Hotel is as hedonistic as the name suggests, with playful contemporary decor, shimmering outdoor pools and gourmet dining with both maghrebi and international cuisine.
Better for those who like to be in the heart of things, thanks to its location in Essaouria’s medina itself, the Heure Bleue Palais riad – part of the Relais & Chateaux group – has cosy, romantic rooms and suites around a colonial-style courtyard.
Many of the dishes we savour on the terrace restaurant feature organic local argan oil, better known as a beauty product. The regional forkbeard fish with candied quince is a revelation, as is the tiramisu using the Moroccan equivalent of Nutella.
Heading back towards Marrakech, about 25 miles south-west of the city we hang a right into the Agafay Desert.
Agafay is a great alternative to the Sahara for those on limited time or aren’t keen on the eight-hour drive and mountain passes. It unfurls several hundred acres of white dunes that provide an outdoor playground for more quad-biking, mountain-biking and sunset camel rides through hidden Berber villages.
Traditionally-clad Berbers welcome us to the Agafay's remarkable Inara Camp, with its luxury tents and a sparkling gem of a swimming pool surrounded by loungers.
Here, after feasting by candlelight on tajines made from home-grown ingredients, we dance around a campfire under a sky heavy with planets and stars to the sound of hypnotic drums and chants.
The musicians loose themselves to the cadence, but this is no mere performance for visitors but a genuine paean to the glories of nature and human connection. As cosseting as the tents are inside, this is the kind of place where you want to stay up late and get up early: the kind of place where you feel free. Another early-morning awakening is equally worth it – to go up above the Moroccan desert in a hot-air balloon.
Also based about 40 minutes from Marrakech – but this time to the north – the experienced firm Ciel d'Afrique takes us floating over Berber villages, farms, oases and gorges as the sun rises up over the mountains (sunset trips are also available).
With 15 of us in a single basket, it feels like an act of insanity, but up in the air, our nervousness is replaced by an almost unearthly sense of peace and timelessness. We feel literally untethered from the earth and all its current troubles.
Marrakech Airport, handily located less than three miles from the city centre, is a beguiling, ancient imperial city, with its lush gardens, buzzing souks and luxury hoetls with their range of pampering options.
We spend a sybaritic couple of nights in the Four Seasons Marrakech, a haven of calm in this often-hectic city by virtue of its vast grounds dotted with lime, orange and olive trees and festooned with colourful flowers.
It will soon see the addition of Four Seasons Private Residences as part of M Avenue, a new half-kilometre ‘garden avenue’ being built next to the hotel and also featuring Christiano Ronaldo’s Pestana CR7 hotel and an array of shops, restaurants, cafés and art galleries.
Other hotels we experience are the super-high-end Amanjena, the first Aman resort on the African continent and the place where David Beckham celebrated his 40th birthday; La Mamounia, a regal palace-hote; The Pearl (shortly to become the Nobu Hotel Marrakech); and Sofitel Marrakech Lounge and Spa with its alfresco area perfect for social distancing.
Clean and safe
Which brings us to COVID 19. This felt a very safe trip. Notes: my temperature was taken each time I went into a hotel and restaurant and the wearing of face-masks in the streets – but not on the beaches – was strictly adhered to.
With the regulations for individual countries ever-changing, travel agents can keep up-to-date with the current travel information at gov.uk/foreign-travel-advice, and the tourist board’s own Coronavirus guidance page at visitmorocco.com.
Book it with... Explore
Explore offers an eight-day cycle Morocco - Atlas to the Sahara trip for over 50s from £925. Clients will experience camel riding in the Saraha in rural Morocco and cycle through the vibrant Red City of Marrakech.
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