Top 5 best excursions in Marrakech

At the foot of the snow-topped Atlas Mountains, Marrakech is a magical universe, a perennial favourite of many travellers. It is difficult to imagine visiting Morocco without experiencing Marrakech: the snake charmers and storytellers at Jemaa el Fna, the endless maze of the Medina, the seething and animated souks. The Red City has never lost its lustre as an exotic destination.

But while it’s worth staying around for a few days just to get into the spirit of the town, venture further afield and you will find many surprises. Take an excursion from Marrakech and you will experience the true spirit of Morocco: laid-back and hospitable towns and villages, fantastic food and memorable places to stay.

From galloping in the High Atlas to sitting out on the deck of a tent in the Sahara, here are some of our favourite outings in Marrakech.

Palmeraie

Excursion from Marrakech: Palmeraie

Dotted with luxury hotels and and stunning private villas, the Palmeraie is dubbed the Beverly Hills of Marrakech. This lush and cool palm grove, an oasis of freshness and serenity, is a mere 10 minute drive from the hustle and bustle of Marrakech.

Here you can enjoy quiet, lush surroundings resplendent with palms, bougainvilleas and tamarisks. The Palmeraie offers many relaxing activities, from camel-riding through the groves to a fantastic 18-hole golf course.

Lac Lalla Takerkoust

Day Excursion from Marrakech: Lac Lalla Takerkoust

A short drive from Marrakech on the road to Amizmiz is the Lake Takerkoust, locally known as Lalla Takerkoust. This natural lake stores the water that  trickles down from the  mountains and slowly feeds  into the rivers that flow into Marrakech. This is a favourite haunt for Marrakchis as an escape from the hectic city, perfect for a day’s outing or even longer.

Delight in the dramatic views and fantastic fresh mountain air. For the more adventurous, you can jet- and water-ski as well as kayak along the lake’s 7km-long (4 1/3-mile) shoreline

Atlas Mountains

Excursion from Marrakech: Mount Toubkal

The Atlas, Morocco’s most spectacular mountain retreat, hovers tantalizingly close to Marrakech. An excursion will take you deep into startling mountain-desert scenery and an authentic taste of Berber life, virtually unchanged for centuries.

Trekking is usually the highlight of any visit to Marrakech. You can opt for gentler walks at the foothill of the High Atlas, or head for the heights at Mount Toubkal – the highest mountain in North Africa.

Ourika Valley

Excursion from Marrakech: Ourika Valley

The Ourika Valley is a popular day trip from Marrakech that takes you through spectacular scenery to the foot of the High Atlas Mountains. Indulgence is walked off through reddish-brown mountains, walnut groves and mud-brick villages past waterfalls, canyons, ravines and gorges.

Highlights include the tumbledown Berber village of Setti Fatma at the head of the valley and Oukaimeden, Morocco’s only ski resort.

Agafay Desert

Desert Excursion from Marrakech: Agafay

If you would like to gaze at some sand dunes and desert, the Agafay desert is a good option. Just an hour’s drive south of Marrakech, it is an ideal trip for that Saharan experience without the need for that eight-hour drive to Merzouga or Zagora.

Stretching for miles, this semi-lunar terrain is free for exploration and makes a fantastic camel trekking or hiking destination. You can opt for a luxurious nomadic encampment with stunning views of the desert and the Atlas mountains beyond, or turf-free golf or disc golf using available clubs or Frisbees.

Marrakech Riad with Rooftop Swimming Pool

This week’s question is from Richard Timms:

I am planning on visiting Marrakech in mid-summer for a week and I am looking for a riad with a  rooftop swimming pool. Any suggestions? 

Marrakech in extremely hot in mid-summer with temperatures soaring into the forties. The blazing heat brings things to a crawl and many tourists would rather sit by the pool than venture outside in the scorching heat. If you’re treating your stay in Marrakech as a resort town then the riads with the best swimming pools for cooling off  is a must.   Better yet, a rooftop swimming pool is the perfect way to keep cool while taking in your surroundings.

Space is at a premium in most riads in Marrakech and you will find that the pools are fine for a dip but not big enough for a proper swim.

Here are our top picks of riads in Marrakech with a rooftop swimming pool.

Riad el Fenn

Riad el fenn Marrakech rooftop pool

This is one of the most stylish riads in Marrakech, owned by Vanessa (sister of Richard) Branson. This ultra luxurious riad is located at the heart of the Medina, just a five minute walk from Jemaa el Fna. The terrace has a good-sized plunge pool with magnificent views over the Koutoubia mosque and the Atlas Mountains.

Riad el Fenn, Derb Moulay Abdullah Ben Hezzian, Bab El Ksour, Medina, Marrakech. Courtyard rooms start at £150 a night; suites at £290 in low season

Riad le Clos des Arts

riad clos des arts rooftop pool

A charming and very well managed small riad at the heart of the Medina. It is in located in the quiet quarter of Riad Zitoune Jdid, five minutes’ walk from Jemaa el Fna, and a few steps from Dar Si Said Museum and Bahia Palace. The roof terrace has a small plunge pool and a gazebo where guests can enjoy their meal.

Riad Le Clos des Arts, Riad Zitoune Jdid, Derb Tbib 50, Marrakesh 40000. Rooms start from £80 a night, breakfast included

Riad Catalina

riad catalina rooftop pool

A venerable eighteenth-century mansion converted into a guesthouse with enough fascinating architecture and charm to fascinate you for days. Just a five minute walk from the central Jemaa el Fna square.

The roof top swimming pool has an exceptional view of the Koutoubia mosque and the Atlas mountains beyond.

Riad Catalina, 21 Derb Abdellah Ben Hssaine, Marrakech. Rooms from £60 in low season. 

 Riad Viva

riad viva rooftop pool

A tasteful palace-style riad at the heart of the Medina, next to the Royal Private Palace and the famous Mamounia Hotel. 

The swimming pool at the large rooftop terrace has wonderful views onto the gardens of Hotel Mamounia and the roofs of Marrakech. There is also spacious seating areas and a custom made dining quarter that can be covered according to the time of year. 

Riad Viva, 107 Derb Sidi Mbarek | Sidi MimounMarrakech . Prices from £60 including breakfast. 

 

Ask us a question about anything Morocco Travel. We look forward to giving you useful advice.

Travel Tips to Essaouira

Essaouira means ‘little picture’, and the picturesque port town on the Atlantic coast never ceases to attract a growing number of tourists falling under its spell. With its honey-coloured stone battlements, neat whitewashed streets, colorful and roiling medina and wonderful beaches, Essaouira is the perfect respite from the craziness of Marrakech.  

Check out our top tips for travel in Essaouira. 

 

Essaouira Travel Tip: Where to Stay 

riad imik imik essaouira

Riad Imik Imik, a haven of relaxing tranquility in Essaouira Medina

 

Essaouira has evolved from hippy haven to aspiring surfers to a a chic and sophisticated destination.  There are now scores of riads, villas and boutique hotels to choose from. You also have the option of staying outside Essaouira. About 25 km south of the city lies Sidi Kaouki Beach, where you can stay in less expensive but truly fun and charming little retreats.

For a homely stay in the Medina, head to Riad Imik Imik. Imik Imik means “slowly, slowly” in Berber and this charming riad is just the type to value peace and tranquility with a range of areas to relax as a large group or solo reader. The charming German owner, Britta, who lives in the premises will host you in true Essaouira laid-back style with a wealth of information on what to see and do and put your feet in between. Each morning breakfast is served on the riad’s large terrace overlooking the Medina. From £55 for a double. 

For a more luxurious stay with that extra bit of class, the elegant and colonial l’Heure Bleue Palais is the most glamorous address in town. Rooms are cavernous, sumptuous and luxurious but it’s the suave common rooms – bar, library, billiard room – that make this elegant hideaway seem like a colonial home from home.. The extensive lounger-lined terrace and rooftop pool really wows, with breath-taking views over the medina  and the endless, white sweep of the beach. From £260 for a double. 

Another alternative to staying in Essaouira is the nearby Sidi Kaouki, a laid-back surfers’ hangout. The delightful Rebali Riads complex offers the privacy and space of a villa with the services of a boutique hotel, including restaurant, hammam, spa and tennis court.  Slap-bang on the beach with plenty of activities to indulge in, Rebali Riads is ideal for a family or group of friends. From £95, Essaouira is a 25-minute (£8) taxi ride away.

 

 Essaouira Travel Tip: What to Do

sunset essaouira

Sunset in Essaouira: Not to be missed!

 

Relax: The easy-going spirit lives on in Essaouira’s Medina. Get lost in the labyrinth of narrow whitewashed lanes and discover tranquil squares, quirky riads, sunny cafés, spice markets and artisans in tiny workshops.

Take in the View from the Skala: Join the locals and catch the sunset behind the picturesque stone ramparts of the historic port “The Skala de la Ville”.

Surf’s Up: Essaouira has carved out a reputation as a surfing, windsurfing and kite-surfing hotspot. Océan Vagabond is one of the better surfer hang-outs, with a beachfront café. You can rent surfing, windsurfing and body-board equipment and be taught how to use them. Wetsuits are recommended year-around.

Attend a Festival: The town hosts an array of music festivals – a classically based Alizés festival every April, an exuberant jazz and world music festival Gnaoua in late June, and a gypsy and flamenco-based Festival of the Atlantic Andalusias in October.

Take a Cookery Course: Take a cookery class at the excellent l’Atelier Madada cookery school, attached to the swanky Madada Mogador Hotel. Start with a guided tour of the souks and make your way to mastering the art of tagine, couscous and briouates.

Enjoy a Hammam: Head to Hammam Lalla Mira, the oldest traditional public bath in Essaouira for a session of a good-value gommage followed by argan oil massage. 

Around Essaouira: Essaouira has a lot more to offer than just the town itself. Take a day trip down south to Sidi Kaouki or up north to Moulay Berzektoun to enjoy the wild beach and blustery winds of Morocco’s top surfing spots. The sleepy Berber village of  Diabat, just south of Essaouira, was made popular by Jimmy Hendrix in the 70’s. You can take a horse-riding lesson, ride along the beach or  join a trekking tour at Ranch de Diabat

 Essaouira Travel Tip: Where to Eat

essaouira grills

Essaouira Outside Grills: Great food experience

 

The outdoor fish grills at the port is one of the best food experiences in Essaouira. Just pick from the fresh catch of the day, agree on a price and then watch as it’s grilled. Eat with simple salad and plenty of baguette.

The newly opened Umia restaurant in the Medina is proving to be a popular haunt. Fantastic fusion of French and Moroccan flavours in a relaxed atmosphere. Book in advance to get a table. 26 rue Squala, +(212)5 24 78 33 95. 

Elizir is another favourite. The decor is Seventies retro, with design classics and an array of souvenirs and memorabilia dotted around. The cuisine is a fusion of Moroccan classics with an Italian twist, a legacy of the 9 years the Moroccan owner spent in Italy. About £25 for two.  

The most sophisticated dining in town is at l’Heure Bleue Palaix. Talented young head chef Ahmed Handour conjures up perfectly cooked French cuisine with distinctive local flavours, served in a Moorish-baronial dining room or outside on the patio.

 

Essaouira Travel Tip: Where to Drink

taros cafe essaouira

Taros Cafe Essaouira: Great spot for a refreshing drink!

 

Despite its popularity with tourists, Essaouira isn’t the hottest place for watering holes. However, there are a few select places (most doubling as restaurants) where you can enjoy a drink.

One of the most atmospheric bars in town is the Taros Café, a meeting place as much as a café. Live music plays in the evening to a mostly surfer and hippy crowd and the rooftop is the place to be seen. Cocktails from £3.

For something more sultry, try the hip Le Patio, a candle-lit restaurant with a great bar. You’ll need to buy some tapas to sit and drink.

 

Essaouira Travel Tip: Where to Shop

rafia craft essaouira

Shop for Rafia Products in Essaouira

 

Start with the souks which provide for a terrific, small range of shopping experience. Tuesday nights are busiest with the locals and you’ll find everything from vibrant rugs hung on every wall or to buy silver jewellery and patterned metal lanterns. Look out for ceramics and rugs, which are particularly beautiful.

Essaouira is well known for its wood products. You can visit the woodcarving workshops at the Skala de la Ville for a great selection of bowls, boxes, knick-knacks and furniture. You can even custom order items.

Another star product of Essaouira is its raffia products, woven from the fibres of the doum palm. Rafia Craft (82 rue d’Agadir, Bab Marrakech +212 524 78 36 32) has some of the best, designed by an Italian and exported to Europe.

Essaouira is also an artists’ hub and there are several galleries dotted around town selling works by local painters. Our pick is the long-established Galerie d’Art Damgaard (Avenue Oqba Ibn Nafia +212 524 78 44 46)  with well-curated displays of work by the best artists in town. The gallery also sells books on regional art and culture and has an annex studio.

 

Essaouira Travel Tip: Getting There

 

There are no direct flights to Essaouira from the UK. The best way is to fly to Marrakech, the nearest airport.

There are regular, direct flights from London, Manchester and Birmingham Airports operated by British Airways, Royal Air Maroc, Easyjet, Ryanair and Thomsonfly.  

Essaouira is 110 miles from Marrakech and takes about two and half hours by “Grand Taxi” (around £50 one way). 

Another popular alternative is flying from Paris. There are four weekly direct flights to Essaouira, operated by Royal Air Maroc and Transavia.