Explore: Marrakech

Date Posted: 01/01/2013

Known as Europe's gateway to Africa, the Red City of Marrakech is a colourful and exotic destination where it's hard to believe you're only four hours from London.

Essential Sights

Djemaa el Fna: The pulsating heart of Morocco is the buzzing central square inside the medina, the name for the old fortified city. It's packed with stall holders, musicians, entertainers and snake charmers, and there are countless food stands at night. Next to the square is the souk, or market, a maze of alleyways where you'll find fantastic souvenirs. Be prepared to haggle and start by offering a third of the price.

Bahai Palace: The 19th century palace was built by a sultan and the home of his harem. Set in large gardens, its name means 'brilliance' and it was designed to be the greatest place of its times. The opulent building is famous for its decorative mosaics and painted ceilings.

The Koutoubia Mosque: A Marrakech landmark and a good focal point if you get lost in the souk! The 12th century mosque is the largest in the city and the intricately decorated minaret towers above the medina. Although visitors can't go inside, it's an awe-inspiring sight to visit the square outside and get a close up view of the mosque and its carved pink stonework.

Food & Drink

An enticing blend of Middle Eastern, Mediterranean and African influences, Moroccan food is tasty and varied. A classic dish is tagine, a slow-cooked stew is made in an earthenware pot of the same name.

Morocco is a Muslim country, however alcohol is served in tourist restaurants and hotels. For a local drink try mint tea, flavoured with fresh mint and plenty of sugar - very refreshing in a hot climate.

For cheap snacks there are numerous street vendors in and around Djemaa el Fna. Don't be put off as the stands cater for hundreds of locals and tourists and if you head for a busy one you can be sure the food is freshly cooked.

Where to Stay

•    Recently re-opened after a three-year closure for renovation, the palatial five-star La Mamounia is the ultimate retreat for a luxury stay.

•    Typical of the riads, or traditional town houses set around a central courtyard that have been converted into hotels, is Les Trois Palmier situated in a quiet street yet close to the main square.

•    A good value base is the modern Ibis Marrakech Palmeraie which has a free shuttle bus service to the city centre.

Best for Groups

Built in the 16th century as a burial ground for sultan and his descendants, the Saadian tombs lay undiscovered until 1917. To make the most of a visit to the grand and decorative tombs it is best to have a guide and the tombs can be included as part of a general half or full-day tour of the highlights of Marrakesh.

Many people are surprised to find lush botanical gardens in the city centre. The Majorelle Gardens were designed by the French painter of the same name and bought by fashion designer Yves Saint-Laurent in 1919. Packed with palms, cacti and rare plants, the shady haven is a peaceful spot where groups can take a break from sightseeing.

For a real taste of Marrakech group travel organisers can book a cookery lesson for their parties. There are classes at venues throughout the city and a typical morning will begin with a visit to the market to buy spices and ingredients followed by a class making a tagine and various side dishes. And of course, at the end of the morning there is a delicious lunch - prepared by your group.

Live Like A Local

Time your group trip to coincide with one of the annual festivals, such as the spring International Magic Festival, where illusionists and entertainers take to the streets. This year's event runs from 19th to 22nd March. Alternatively spot stars at the International Film Festival where last month's visitors included British actors Terence Stamp and Gemma Arterton. The 2013 event is on from 6th to 14th December.

The hammam is a traditional Moroccan ritual combining steam treatments and massage. Public bath houses in beautiful historic buildings provide a very authentic experience, however you may all prefer relaxing in a hammam at an international hotel or Le Bain Bleu, 32 Derb Chorfa Lakbir, which welcomes tourists.

Fact File

Journey time: 4hrs to Marrakech Menara Airport.
Currency: Dirham, which can only be bought in Morocco.
Best time to go: Spring and autumn when temperatures range from 20°C to 25°C, are best for sightseeing as in summer it can reach 40°C.

For further group travel information visit www.visitmorocco.com.

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