With party season firmly behind us and some of the coldest months still to go, I am not the only one considering escaping the UK for some much-welcomed winter sun. Just three and a half hours from London by plane (roughly the same time as it takes to get to Greece), there are multiple direct flights to Marrakech each day meaning it's pretty easy to get there. But despite the short trip, the diverse culture and landscape make it feel like you've arrived in a completely different world, for the price of a trip to Europe.
Where we stayed
Marrakech, also referred to as Morocco's Red City, is famous for its riad-style architecture which, for the uninitiated, is essentially a traditional Moroccan house designed around an interior garden or courtyard. Pretty cool huh? Riads are usually located within the old city (or Medina) walls, but if you want to stay somewhere a little quieter, you can opt for a riad slightly further out.
Finding the perfect balance between tranquillity and affordability setup is Atlas Widan - a boutique hotel located 10 km from the heart of the city. Founded back in February 2020 by Mustapha Amalik (who is also General Secretary of the Regional Council of Tourism in Marrakech), the hotel survived the pandemic and is now coming into its own.
The resort is set against the backdrop of the snow-capped Atlas mountains, the perfect location for kicking back on a pool chair and reading a new book.
Atlas Widan's strong gastronomy offering is one of the venue's highlights. Chef Abdul uses local, seasonal produce to create traditional Moroccan cuisine with a menu that also embraces elements of Mediterranean cooking. While breakfast is included in your package, I would strongly recommend the tea ceremony on arrival, along with ordering one of the hotel's couscous items (which also happens to be the national dish of Morocco).
There are plenty of spacious accommodation options to choose from depending on the kind of trip you're after. Solo travellers might opt for a Junior Suite (what I stayed in) which includes its own bathroom and mini seating area. Equally, the private villas are huge and even include their own pools, which is perfect for a group holiday.
Room rates at Atlas Widan start from 180€ (£159) per night for a Junior Suite. Premium Suites are also available for 240€ (£212) per night, along with Private Villas for 600€ (£529) per night. All the prices include breakfast.
Alternatively, if a hostel is more within your budget, there are a handful of options to choose from in the Medina.
What we did
First of all, I'm not a green thumb — in fact, I have successfully, yet tragically, managed to kill every single plant I've owned — BUT even I enjoyed the iconic Jardin Majorelle. Perhaps it's because the one-hectare botanical garden acts like a mini oasis in the busy city. Or, maybe it's the fact that the place is steeped in history, founded by artist Jacques Majorelle in 1923 before being subsequently owned and restored by Yves Saint Laurent and Pierre Bergé in the '80s.
Filled with cacti, countless water fountains and a cobalt blue villa, there's no shortage of 'grammable snaps here. Plus, if you're into fashion, you can also check out the Musée Yves Saint Laurent Marrakech right next door.
Of course, no trip to Marrakech is complete without the city's famous souks. The open-air markets are renowned for their atmosphere. The souks are bustling, loud, and seemingly endless, with the complicated layout resembling more of a labyrinth.
I thoroughly enjoyed wandering through the souks. My favourite shops were those offering locally made rugs and trinkets, perfect for any souvenir shopping you might want to tick off. As the souks are a tourist hotspot, there are a few things to keep in mind when you're there:
Stick together with your group, or with a guide - it's not the kind of place you want to get lost.
Arrange a meeting place with your group should you become separated.
When it comes to shopping, haggling is almost expected in this market, so you don't need to accept the first price you're given.
Keep your belongings safe/hidden to protect yourself from pickpockets.
Lastly, if you think you might want to do some shopping at the souks, make sure to take out some Dirham before arriving at the market, as most vendors don't accept cards and the ATMs nearby often have long lines.
If you're looking to lean into the wellness element of your winter vacay, a Hammam might be for you. This is a traditional spa style that has been around for centuries and locals tend to undertake the bathing ritual every week. Rather than using thermal water, Moroccan Hammams use steam to help cleanse the skin, kind of like a sauna, before the body is scrubbed down with black salt and then rinsed off.
Some bathhouses have enough space for separate male and female areas, or they will work on a schedule whereby men and women have different time slots.
Public Hammams typically require visitors to wear a swimsuit of some description, whereas private wet rooms (like the in-house Hammah at Atlas Widan) might work on a bottoms-only, or completely nude, basis. Regardless, it's best to check the conditions of your chosen Hammam ahead of time. And, as always, only do what you're comfortable with.
While I only visited Marrakech for a weekend, I'm already planning my next trip, when I hope to tick off a hot air balloon ride near the Atlas Mountains (Ciel d’Afrique has been offering this service in Marrakech for over 20 years) and potentially an overnight excursion to the nearby Sahara Desert.
Where to eat
DarDar Marrakech: A rooftop bar in the Medina offering high-quality Moroccan food and an impressive cocktail menu. Of course, the rooftop setting also lends itself to an incredible view of the city.
Comptoir Darna: An atmospheric, lively restaurant celebrating Moroccan and fusion cuisines. The best part? The venue also has belly dancing performances - dinner and a show!
The safest way to get around town is by booking a car, which was organised by our hotel reception, and is perhaps more necessary for those staying outside the Medina.
Other useful info
While I personally didn't feel unsafe at any point in my trip, it's not unheard of for solo travellers (especially women) to have different experiences. Wherever you're travelling, the same fail-safe rules always apply: keep your valuables somewhere safe, practise common sense, and always have an emergency contact's details on your person at all times.
Here are a few additional tips I picked up along the way for anyone looking to travel around Marrakech:
Be mindful of what you wear (loose clothing that covers arms and legs is recommended)
Respect the local culture and customs (e.g. avoid public displays of affection)
Only book activities (including tours) through official travel companies
Drink filtered water (and ask for drinks without ice)
Ask for permission before taking someone's photo
For more information on how to make your trip as safe as possible visit SmartTraveller, where you can find up-to-date security information and an explainer of local customs to know about, as well as the Moroccan National Tourism Office.
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