Morocco’s cultural capital, Marrakesh, is famous for its colourful souks and frenzied vibe, but it’s actually the perfect destination for a chilled-out detox break. Leave the maze of markets behind and find magical gardens and steamy hammams. You’ll also be treated to a welcome dose of winter sunshine as temperatures rarely fall below 22C.
For starters, I decide to make like a local and check out a hammam, a traditional bathhouse. Marrakesh’s medina has a deluge of reasonably priced hammams, most of which can be found in luxury hotels and riads.
Set right in the middle of the hubbub of the old town, the ISIS spa is a haven of tranquility, filled with candles and trickling fountains, to enhance the feeling of calm.
As I’ve never been to a hammam before, I’m not sure what to expect, but I soon discover that it’s an intensive bathing and scrubbing experience. To begin with, I sit and steam for about 20 minutes then my skin is rubbed down with a detoxifying mud mixture. I’m then led to a table where I lie down and am given a no-holds-barred scrub by a local lady (hammams are single sex) with Morocco’s ubiquitous black soap, before being washed down and treated to a soothing massage. I leave feeling completely rejuvenated with silky-soft and super-clean skin.
Fancying an escape from the dust and mayhem of the city, I take a cab 6km south of the medina and travel down a dirt track to Beldi Country Club spa, an ideal spot to get away from the crowds. Surrounded by flowers and cactus gardens, this spa is very much a case of East-meets-West – a blend of Moroccan hammams and modern influences. I enjoy a blissed-out massage using scented oils of my choice.
Beldi feels a million miles away from the whirl of snake charmers and leashed monkeys that can be found in Marrakech’s central square Djemaa el Fna.
If you’re a fan of spas and Sex And The City, the second movie was filmed at the soon-to-open Mandarin Oriental Jhan Rahma Hotel. Its spa will be Morrocco’s biggest.
After being scrubbed and kneaded to perfection, I head to the Majorelle Gardens, once owned by Yves Saint Laurent. I’m greeted by a tranquil labyrinth of exotic plants, towering palms and flowers set against a striking backdrop of bright blue and yellow-painted fountains, tiled floors and buildings, all in the traditional Moroccan style. Designed by French artist Jacques Majorelle, who went to live in Morocco after the First World War, the gardens contain an eye-popping 300 species of plants from five continents.
After all that relaxation, I finally feel ready to head off to the souks for some shopping.
The art of souk shopping
Post-spa, hit the souks, located behind Djemaa El Fna, a riot of spices, bright fabric and interior accessories. In order to get the most out of the experience, there’s a certain art to souk shopping.
You have to haggle
You don’t need to go backwards and forwards on the price, just walking away brings down the cost dramatically. Other discount ploys are to say you’re a student and from Africa or Eastern Europe, or show the exact amount of money you’re willing to spend.
Expect to be hassled
If you’re a woman, especially a blonde one, the sellers won’t leave you alone. Expect calls of, “Kiss, kiss me, beautiful girl” and offers of camels.
What to buy
Rich in vitamin E, Argan oil is said to reduce wrinkles and scars, as well as relieving rheumatic pain. The so-called miracle oil is available at herbal shops in the souk. Beautifully painted and terracotta-glazed ceramics are great value for money, as are tagine dishes if you fancy cooking up the Moroccan stew when you get home.
You will buy something you don’t need
Souk shopping is irresistible. You’re bound to return home with some lime green babouches (slippers), a gaudy lantern and a large packet of tea leaves.
WHEN TO GO: Winter is warm and summer is mega hot.
GETTING THERE: Royal Air Maroc (020 7307 5800; royalairmaroc) offers flights to Marrakech from Heathrow or Gatwick from £162, including taxes.
GETTING AROUND: Taxis, but set the fare before riding.
VISAS: Aussies and Kiwis don’t need visas. South Africans do.
CURRENCY: Dirham. 1 GBP = 13.8 MAD.
LANGUAGE: French, Arabic and Berber.
GOING OUT: A beer is about 25 MAD.
ACCOMMODATION: Grab a room in a riad for 180-300 MAD a night. Rooms at the Beldi Country Club (beldicountryclub.com) start from €160.
GET MORE INFO: marrakech.travel
– Shila Sultana