EliteVoyage Marketing Director Stephen Bailey returns from Morocco with insight into where to go, where to stay, what’s really worth it and where to avoid.
Morocco is a cultural adventure with spectacularly diverse experiences, from vibrant cities to mountains, beaches and desert.
I was surprised at how Morocco so easily contradicted its negative stereotypes. Travelling with my one-year-old daughter I discovered a destination that is welcoming to every type of visitor.
And with so much to do, Morocco is where everyone can enjoy a unique holiday filled with unique experiences.
The Accommodation Experience in Morocco
Hospitality is central to Moroccan culture. Artisanal design is part of everyday life. These two elements mean accommodation in Morocco is an experience, an authentic immersion in the destination.
Royal Mansour and La Mamounia offer a palatial luxury and space in a more central location, almost in the heart of Marrakech.
For grand palatial hotels with lots of space and privacy, Marrakech has an array of outstanding options. I recommend staying at one for a week, with different experiences throughout the stay.
The Oberoi Marrakech is a great example of an international brand hotel being truly reflective of Moroccan style and culture.
I loved my stay at the Oberoi, in a villa with a private pool. The courtyard is mind blowing, a replica of a famous Marrakech madrasa, built over three years by over 200 artisans. The gardens are modelled on the Alhambra in Granada, Spain.
Service was outstanding, thanks to the great communication between their team. Most staff members knew us by name, before we met them. When the first ten staff you meet address you by name, it gives such a positive feeling for the rest of the stay.
Oberoi Marrakech is an ideal place to relax. Yet the location makes it perfect for daily adventures too. I highly recommend it for families.
Experiencing a Riad
Another option I really enjoyed is staying in a traditional family riad. These are boutique properties, usually with only a few rooms, located inside an old city medina.
Such a central location in a pedestrianised zone means the rooms are less spacious. The atmosphere and style is more like staying in a family home. And Morocco has some beautiful homes!
It felt like I was sleeping in a real Aladdin’s Cave, every object hand-collected by different family members. It was quirky, original, a genuine insight into life lived inside an ancient medina.
Riads are not as luxurious as the palatial hotels, but I definitely recommend trying the experience for a couple of nights. Relaxing on the riad’s rooftop at sunset, overlooking Marrakech medina, absorbing all the sounds and smells, was an unforgettable experience.
Different Places to Explore in Morocco
This was my second visit to Morocco and there are still many places on my Morocco bucketlist.
Marrakech is an obvious starting point because it’s such a distinctive and different city. Plus it’s central to other destinations and an easy transport hub. A week here would only just touch the surface.
Marrakech is one of Morocco’s four imperial cities. I liked two others. Fes is the biggest, a baffling chaos of life on narrow cobblestone street. It’s the world’s largest pedestrianised zone and I loved it for a few hours, although it’s certainly not for the faint hearted.
Meknes is smaller, calmer and the most artisanal city in all of Morocco, a country famous for its artisans. It’s also less touristic and a very calm medina experience.
Overall I don’t recommend Morocco for a beach holiday. Sure, there are beach resorts and a long Atlantic coastline, but there are better beaches in many other countries.
What’s nice in Morocco is combining the cultural adventure with a short stop on the coast.
Taghazout was a real disappointment for me, a brown beach offering very little privacy or exclusivity, backdropped by chain hotels which don’t reflect Moroccan art and design. It’s the country’s upcoming destination and for me it was the least authentic.
I much preferred Essaouira, a vibrant and historic town at the heart of many unique music cultures. Exploring the medina was lovely, and then there’s a 10-kilometre beach offering a more classic summer holiday vibe.
Desert and Mountains
Much of Morocco is the Sahara Desert and it is very easy to explore the sand dunes. Trips by helicopter depart from Marrakech and Fes, which enables maximum use of your time.
Small private camps operate inside the sand dunes, where you can enjoy a completely exclusive experience. They are beautiful and traditional, dominated by handmade rugs, lanterns and Saharan trinkets.
Although they’re completely off the grid and impossible to find without a guide, they do have en-suite facilities and all the comforts needed for a night in the desert.
I recommend 24 hours in the desert as the experience changes with every hour, from sunset colours to starry nights and the stillness of dawn.
Hidden among the Atlas Mountains are a number of superb properties, such as Kasbah Tamadot, part of Virgin Limited Edition. My experience was that these are a mix of riad-style hospitality with boutique hotel grandeur, in breathtaking locations.
There’s great hiking and climbing to enjoy, you can visit local villages and meet Berber people, plus have experiences like hot air balloon rides above sand dunes and mountains.
Small Moroccan Towns
Often the most beautiful travel experiences are in places that are difficult to locate on a map. Morocco has dozens of such places.
The most impressive for me is Chefchaouen, a mountain town where everything is painted blue. It’s an Instagram favourite and I did notice a huge uptick in tourism since my previous trip in 2014.
Taroudant and Ouarzazate weren’t as visually appealing, but like Chefchauen they were very authentic and inviting towns. It really felt like I was part of Moroccan life, just hanging out in the medina every evening.
Your Morocco Holiday
Morocco feels like a summer holiday, outside of summer. It’s a place where so much is possible, and whatever you choose the experience is unique and eye-opening.
Morocco can be an explorer holiday, especially if you have time to visit five or six destinations.
Or it’s a relaxing one-week holiday with family, spending time around the pool and half days trying new experiences.
Or it’s a shopping weekend meeting artisans and going deep into the souks.
Or it’s an adventure in nature. Surfing, hiking, camel journeys into the desert: Morocco feels like a constant discovery.
Most of all, Morocco is a destination that will really surprise you. It’s remarkable to explore a country that’s so authentic and different to Europe, so close to home.