We chose the Riad Asna (booked through Travel Republic along with the excellent easyJet flights, Manchester airport car parking and transfers) because it looked good value for money and offered half-board accommodation. We weren't disappointed. Although owner Veronique has only been there for a few months, she has already stamped her personality on the riad that is located close to the Bab Doukkala mosque and also the bus station. It's a 15/20 minutes' stroll to the Jemaa el Fna (through fascinating markets/souks) and also to the new city (Ville Nouvelle) outside the Medina walls. Just off a busy street - although entirely peaceful - the riad is an oasis of calm and even the roof-top terrace (with sunbeds and chairs/tables) is a quiet place to relax in the sunshine, the only interruption being the regular 'call to prayer' from nearby mosques.
The ground floor features a small plunge pool (not tried in early March!) and the internal decor helps to create an airy and spacious feel even though the rooms (all on the ground and first floors) are compact. They are all air-conditioned (again, not necessary when we went) and I imagine that this would be very welcome in the height of summer. Continental breakfast is served either in the courtyard, on the terrace or in the first floor dining room and comprises fresh bread, jams, yoghurts, freshly-squeezed orange juice and coffee/tea. There's also a warm local pancake provided which is a highlight of the meal!
Once again, our evening meals were excellent and whether one opts for a succulent chicken or lamb dish cooked in a tajine or one of the other dishes on offer, the quality is top-class and includes a starter and a sweet. Veronique has a small wine cellar from which she will sell you a bottle of local wine for around £16/17 and the quality is surprisingly good too.
Marrakech itself is a manic place, ideal for both a long weekend or up to a week's break. We went on a couple of trips (booked through Veronique's favoured travel agency) and the cost was competitive.
Our day trip to Essaouira was enjoyable as the Atlantic coastal town is visually attractive and we enjoyed the slightly less frantic souk and medina. It is, however, a long drive (we were on the road for more than 3.5 hours each way) although this may be reduced when the dual carriageway is finally completed all the way from Marrakech. You'll stop for refreshments en route and your driver will also take you to an Argan oil cooperative where very expensive culinary and cosmetic products are on sale.
Our best trip, however, was in a Toyota Land Cruiser 4x4 to three valleys in the nearby High Atlas mountains. The journey is incredibly spectacular and the roads are truly amazing as they cling to the sides of mountains with awe-inspiring views/drops unprotected by barriers of any description. The spring melt from the snow-capped mountains had wrought havoc with the road surface/foundations in places and the journey would have been virtually impossible without a suitable 4x4 vehicle. However it was enjoyable if nerve-wracking in places and we enjoyed lunch in the picturesque Ourika valley. It's worth pointing out that neither driver had any English to speak of so you may well need to utilise any French that you may remember from school!
Overall, we had a brilliant week in Marrakech. Amy found that the constant wolf-whistles, comments and invasions of her personal space were trying to say the least and a couple of comments were highly unpleasant as was the 'groping' that she suffered on a couple of occasions. Most people are charming however, although one is constantly reminded that the locals appear to be on a constant mission to relieve you of any money that you may or may not have! The constant shouts of 'cheaper than Asda/Primark' get more than a little wearing, while being grabbed by restaurant touts and sales people isn't pleasant.
We ate in several restaurants including the Terrasses Alhambra in the Jemaa el Fna and the Cafe Arabe which is within a 10-minutes' stroll of the riad. The former is good for a snack lunch (with an excellent view of the square, but no alcohol) while the latter is a fantastic (but not cheap) place for a quiet drink at the bar or a really good gourmet lunch/dinner with all the trimmings.
Marrakech isn't for everyone - but it's a fun place to visit and it's still possible to buy bargains in the souks although with the value of the £-sterling, it's not the cheap break that it once was. When flying out, remember that the duty free outlets only accept the local currency for Moroccan wine, although there are other smaller shops that take Moroccan dirhams.
- Official Description (provided by the hotel):
- Riad Asna: Another way of life respectful of the culture and tradition of this wonderful country, another way of living in Marrakesh.Absolutely quiet and friendly, reserved to lovers of marvelous places. It is a place where the traveler is a unique person, a special guest for this address of charm. Here, the secret is the well-fare of our guest. ... more less
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