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Off the beaten track in Morocco

Think of Morocco and it is the hustle and bustle of Marrakech, the wild and rugged coastline of Essaouira and the majestic peaks of the Atlas Mountains that spring to mind. North Africa expert, Serena, leaves behind Morocco’s better known spots, instead discovering the road less traveled and many hidden gems along the way.

As the world gets smaller, the need to travel to undiscovered places and get truly off the beaten track only grows. Morocco is of course known for destinations such as the frenetic and glamorous Marrakech and the tranquil and rugged Atlas Mountains. However, in a country so versatile and exhilarating it seems a shame to visit just one small area. On my recent trip to this awe-inspiring country, I had the opportunity to discover some of its lesser known gems.

Heading to the coast from Marrakech, passing through the dusty, rugged landscape, we stumbled upon an oasis of calm. Set on the lagoon of Oualidia in a forest of palm trees, La Sultana Oualidia is a beautiful boutique property which is perfect for couples looking for some relaxation. This area is famous for its birds, you can even spot flamingos here, so for keen birders it makes for the perfect destination. The hotel prides itself on its tranquillity and as such, the restaurant and spa are both set up wonderfully to evoke a real feeling of relaxation. The restaurant is set on the beach of the lagoon covered in swathes of cream fabric to shield you from the rays of the sun. For those who are serious about their seafood, this is the place to be. They catch their own fish from the lagoon and also the ocean beyond and will present you with their catch before preparing it in front of you.

If you are wanting to detox and explore, the hotel will arrange morning yoga and a detox breakfast before heading across the lagoon in a private boat for a walk along the beach and a private picnic lunch on the shores of the Atlantic. The staff are there for your every need and always greet you with a smile, making this hotel feel more like the home of your dreams.

After we tore ourselves away from the haven of Oualidia, we journeyed back to Marrakech to hop on the 30-minute flight to the desert. The Ouarzazate scenery was made famous by films such as Gladiator and Kingdom of Heaven but nothing prepared us for the beauty of Dar Ahlam. Just 40 minutes from the airport, located deep in the Skoura Palmeraie, this traditional and authentic Moroccan kasbah, made from mud and straw, may not sound too luxurious but the reality is quite different.

On arrival, you walk through the large ornately carved wooden doors into the kasbah, a cool and welcome relief from the heat of the desert. The rooms are all individually styled, and the hotel creates a sense of family. There is no formal check-in process, instead the manager greets you like an old friend, talks to you about the history of the building and hands you a drink in what feels like a friend’s living room, but far grander! There is no main restaurant here, instead private tables are set up in various different areas of the hotel. You could be under the olive trees for breakfast one morning, and in the shade of a secluded terrace the next. Either way, you will never eat in the same place twice and there is no menu, they will ask you what your preferences are and tailor a menu to you.

You will then sit down with your own personal guide who will create an itinerary for your stay just for you. You can be taken off into the dunes of the desert, located about 5 hours from the hotel, for a night under the stars in a sumptuous, private tented camp. Or, you can do as we did and hike through Skoura Palmeraie up to the top of one of the rocky dunes of the desert and ride a camel before being taken to the lakeside for an unforgettable private dinner. Surrounded by candle light, you can watch the moon rise, twinkling in the reflection of the lake and follow it home to bed.

If you ever felt like leaving (which we certainly didn’t!)  you will then head back to Marrakech and onwards. Remembering all the while that you have experienced a totally different side of Morocco, and loved every authentic bit of it!

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