Marrakech is simultaneously a place I wouldn’t rush back to and definitely worth experiencing. On the main thoroughfare by our riad – a typically eccentric kind of hostel, where the hosts were overwhelmingly helpful despite playing terrible MOR hits on panpipe recordings most of the time – the dusty, narrow streets featured cages crammed with crouching chickens, motorbikes weighed down with multiple occupants and people approaching us every few minutes.
Sometimes locals asked for dirhams or offered us hash or tat, and while they were rarely aggressive (possibly because of the city’s dependence on tourists), there was a discomforting need for assertiveness which may not sit well if you’re the sort of reserved type who hesitates to dismiss a cold caller.
Their city is spectacular and bewildering. The mosques and big buildings are majestic and it’s fun getting lost in the endlessly meandering patchwork of souks. You’ll never go hungry: bread and sweet tea for breakfast, hearty tagines for lunch, pizzas and salads are all little more than £1, and it’s always worth getting an upstairs seat in restaurants for the best views over the blazing, hooting main square.
In such an intense place, the mountains are the perfect getaway: we went to the ruined main bus station and, having been assured that the tariff was £60, then £50 and finally £35 for a trip to Atlas Mountains (just feign walking away if you don’t like the price), took a two-hour taxi journey through the countryside and winding villages to get to the vast outrocks.
Having a drink on a sofa by a river and then making the slightly perilous journey a few hundred metres towards the summit is a cracking adventure. We also found a bar, implausibly, showing Arsenal-Spurs halfway up – Moroccans are football-mad, and if you love the game make sure you go to the old stadium (https://www.facebook.com/
Slightly tired of all the gentle pestering and musty paths, we sought out a spa for our final day. Some of them go down unwelcoming alleys and are the subject of theft accusations from online reviews, others look incongruously palatial and have suited door staff in front of revolving doors. With a certain measure of luck we found Les Jardins de la Medina, a fairly untypical hotel where they just let us in for a swim and lunch for £40 each, which was a steal compared to the £100-plus we were quoted everywhere else (they also do spa treatments).
Other things: Jardin Majorelle is a beautiful, arty idyll of a botanical garden. If you drink, take bottles of wine or spirits – only supermarkets in the new town shopping malls and a few corporate hotels sell overpriced beer. And if you exercise, prepare for a respiratory challenge: traffic is everywhere and the air is thick.
March 2016: Easyjet flights £80pp return. Riad Massin (firstname.lastname@example.org