A return to Morocco was long overdue for me: I used to go frequently, often popping over to Marrakesh for a romantic weekend away with my wife, as well as indulging in longer trips across the country. Then we had children, which put our travelling on hold a little – until recently, when we thought we’d get back in the travel saddle. At four and one years old, our daughters would cope admirably, right?!
Fortunately they did: it was a blessing that the Moroccans love kids so much, and the girls really opened doors and broke the ice for us, whether it was meeting the owners of another, gorgeous, characterful Marrakesh riad, (small, converted townhouse hotels) or charming stall holders in the souq into lowering their prices further.
I got to make a speedy one-night trip over the Atlas Mountains and down to Zagora to sate my love of deserts; I absolutely love the juxtaposition you get down there of palm-filled valleys next to blasted, fractured desert scenery, with vast ancient fortresses crumbling atmospherically on the skyline. My wife headed up to the mountains for a day and was blown away by the quality of some of the mountain retreats that have sprung up in recent years: well worth considering for the “relaxation” element of your holiday.
We finished the trip in Essaouira. I’d not been for several years and feared what the advancing tide of tourism might have done to the place: the impact has been mixed but I would say positive overall. Whilst the market stalls are more extensive than ever, the quality of the goods on sale isn’t as high as it was: there are still some gems, but there’s a lot of tat as well. The hotels are fantastic, there’s a lovely range of riads, boutique hotels and resort hotels (including some country estates slightly outside of town). The beach is busy, packed with kite surfers, and there are some good restaurants along the seafront now. And the heart of the city, with its stunning ramparts and working fishing harbour remains as charismatic and atmospheric as ever.
So what did we learn from our return to Morocco? It definitely retains its appeal, and the quality and quantity of good, small, owner-run hotels has improved. If you’re travelling with young children, then the riads are not necessarily the best choice of accommodation as they’re intimate places usually without a swimming pool. So it’s one of those occasions where sacrificing a bit of character for a larger, resort hotel with extensive facilities is a good plan. For me though, I definitely came away thinking that it was a superb destination when travelling with the family, and I think the girls really enjoyed their first exposure to an exotic and alien culture!