Our guide to Morocco
Visit a country where Arabia meets Africa, where the bustling souks of Marrakech are overlooked by the majestic snow-capped Atlas Mountains. Morocco is a place where at every corner you find something totally mesmerising – each time you wander through a souk you will experience something new and something that will spark a thousand stories to tell your friends when you get home. By traveling with Scott Dunn, we can help bring those experiences to life and take you to places where Morocco unfolds in all its color and beauty before your eyes.
Morocco is only a 3 hour flight away, and provides you with the shortest flight to a totally different culture and climate. A host of airlines now fly to Morocco, with Marrakech being the main entry point. British Airways and Easyjet fly daily from Gatwick, and direct flights are also available from Heathrow, Stanstead, Luton, Bristol, Manchester & Birmingham.
There are over 800 riads in Marrakech of all shapes, sizes and quality – so choosing the perfect riad for you might seem a little daunting. Luckily we have seen many of the best, so here is our helpful guide. The riads are all located in the Medina, or old city of Marrakech. There are no motorable roads within the Medina, which is a collection of alleyways containing colorful souks that lead to the main square, Djemaa El-Fna. Generally, you are met on the edge of the Medina and taken by foot to your riad, which upon arrival via a small alleyway, will just look like an assuming yet ornamental door. You will walk through the door into a different world – a divine inner courtyard which is a place of calm and serenity seconds from the hustle and bustle of the Medina. Most have wonderful rooftops where you can have meals or relax. Some have small ornamental swimming pools (although most are really small), and often riads are no more than 10 rooms.
You need to work out what sort of style of riad you want (traditional, modern, art-deco, large or small) and where you want to be. Our favorite is Riad Farnatchi, which blends old and new and is run by a charming English couple. If you like the traditional style, then try Riad Kniza. For those who like an Art Deco feel consider the sublime Villa Makassar. For foodies, Maison MK or Maison Arabe take pride in their cuisine, and both offer exceptional cookery courses complete with a shopping trip into the Medina to source ingredients. A perennial favorite is El Fenn with its expansive rooftop area and bigger swimming pools – an eclectically designed riad, only 3 minutes from the main square. If you prefer a larger riad that is moving towards more of a hotel experience, think about Villa Des Orangers or La Sultana. If you want a contemporary design, look at the UOVO riad collection.
Relaxation in the Marrakech Palmeraie
The Palmeraie hotels are located about 15-30 minutes outside the Medina, and offers far more space, larger pools and grounds – ideal to put your feet up and relax, but giving you the chance to dip your toes into the hustle and bustle of the Medina, but return back at night for a glass of wine in your palm-fringed paradise. Our pick is Dar Zemora, a 9 bedroom retreat with a delightful garden and pool. At the top end, consider Amanjena or Ksar Char Bagh. A relatively new hotel, Palais Namaskar, is about 40 minutes from the center, and has amazing views over the Atlas Mountains. The Selman is also new to Marrakech – a modern Moorish palace built in style with 21st century conveniences. If you like a villa experience, do try Ezzahra Villa – sleeping up to 18 and ideal for a celebration with a group of friends or family.
Traditional hotels in Marrakech
La Mamounia was once the grand dame of Marrakech, and is still a great place to visit, even if just for a drink in their Churchill Bar. The new ‘uber’ hotel in Marrakech is the Royal Mansour, where you get your own riad located within expansive grounds, on the fringe of the riad. The Four Seasons is again just outside the Medina and ideal for families who might want more facilities than a traditional riad, such as larger swimming pools, a kids club and a wider choice in the restaurants.
Things to see, do, eat and drink in Marrakech
Marrakech is about exploring, (and generally getting lost) in the Medina. The array of souks are all divided into specific sections that specialize in a different product. Ensure you visit the main square around sunset when the place comes alive with people. There are historic sites such as the Palais el-Badi, Dar Si Said or the Saadian Tombs. Day trips are easily organized to the Atlas Mountains (1 hour drive) for trekking, visiting local Berber houses and horse-riding. A great way to see them is on a balloon ride early in the morning, or an hours private helicopter flight. We arrange expert specialist guides who can take you around the city.
Marrakech is also becoming known for its golf and a number of excellent courses have been laid out in the Palmeraie. Our favorites are Al Maaden, Assoufid and the soon to be open Doomaine Royal Palm Marrakech.
At night, Marrakech is full of amazing restaurants and places to drink (generally outside the Medina). We always provide our guests with our sought after restaurant guide before they travel and will make reservations.
Combining Marrakech with the Atlas and the coast
Many guests want to do something a little more than just Marrakech. Our ideal itinerary is to begin by having a riad experience in the Medina, head to the Atlas for a few day at the divine Kasbah Tamadot, drive across to the coast to stay at La Sultana Oualidia, the best property on the coast, or a stay in Essaouira, before returning to the Palmeraie for some relaxation, or a last minute dash into the souk to pick up some shopping.
For the more intrepid guests, why not get further into the Atlas Mountains with a stay at the more rustic Kasbah du Toubkal or Village de Toubkal. There is also the remote Azzaden Trekking Lodge, and we can even organize an ascent of Mt Toubkal.
As everything we do at Scott Dunn is totally customized, anything is possible depending on how long you have. A combination of just Marrakech and the Atlas, Marrakech and the coast or perhaps only the Medina and Palmeraie – it is your choice!
Morocco is an ideal destination for children who might want that first dip their toes into a totally different culture. From snake-charmers in the souks to camel rides and walking through traditional Berber villages, Morocco has all the experiences to totally inspire them. We have a suggested itinerary combing Marrakech, the Atlas and Essaouira which brings all this together into an amazing family adventure.
A family adventure to Morocco
How far is it to combine with the Desert?
We are asked this quite often and in truth, those great Saharan dunes you have always imagined are a long drive away from Marrakech. The ‘desert’ around Marrakech isn’t really a desert, more of a barren scrubland that is still fairly beautiful, but isn’t the true Sahara that you might expect.
So how do you get to the real deal? The dunes of Zagora are 5 hours south of Ouarzazate, which is 4-5 hours drive from Marrakech. The dunes of Merzouga are 8 hours south of Fes, and about 4 hours from Ouarzazate. You can fly from Casablanca or Paris to get to Ouarzazate, or fly into Fes and do the route all the way to Marrakech (which we love). Private Cessna aircraft can get you Ouarzazate, or a private helicopter can take you to directly to the desert. It does mean long drives, but it is worth it!
If you really want a desert experience, but don’t fancy the drive, then do consider Jordan, Oman or the UAE which gives you dramatic desert experiences, but with far less driving to get there.
Morocco in style
Morocco has slowly been opening some exceptional hotels, often in dramatic locations far off the beaten track. Dar Ahlam is located in Skoura, accessed by driving over the Atlas Mountains from Marrakech and also offering a private desert camp in the dunes of Zagora. Kasbah Tamadot is Richard Branson’s Atlas Mountain retreat, and a real favorite with Scott Dunn guests. Back in Marrakech, you can’t really look past Amanjena in the Palmeraie or Royal Mansour in terms of exceptional places to stay. We offer a suggested itinerary that uses private helicopters to cut down the driving time and access places like Dar Ahlam.
Tailormade itineraries to Morocco start from as little as £1,195 per person including flights and a range of experiences.