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Romantic Marrakech

Romantic <em>Riads</em>
Romantic Marrakech
Marrakech makes it easy to escape the familiar. From its maze-like streets that wind through the medina leading to who-knows-what treasures, to its magnificent tadelakt clad riads where the scent of jasmine fills the air, and marble-tiled courtyards surround jade coloured pools, from dazzling hammams where filigreed light pierces the ceilings, to candlelit restaurants where the air hangs thick with exotic spices, there's no more romantic city on earth.
Photo by Giovanni Mereghetti/age fotostock
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    Romantic <em>Riads</em>
    Romantic Riads
    Marrakech introduced the world to the concept of the riad: a boutique guesthouse in a converted townhouse. It's shut off to the world, with nothing but a brass-nailed door to hint at what’s inside. The focal point of each riad is an open courtyard that often features a garden. A handful of rooms surround it, providing an intimate home away from home. Decor styles can range from Moroccan bling to sleek and contemporary. The only downside to these comfortable havens is how difficult they can be to leave and explore the city.
    Photo by Giovanni Mereghetti/age fotostock
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    Sunset over the Medina
    Sunset over the Medina
    Exploring old Marrakech is fun, but the bustle of the medina can be exhausting. To recharge at the end of the day, head to the roof terrace of your riad to watch the sunset, particularly magical when there's still snow on the Atlas Mountains. As the sky blazes, murmations of starlings wheel overhead and the sunset call to prayer echoes over the rooftops; it's a magical time of day to sip on a mint lemonade, or open a bottle of local wine and soak up the atmosphere before heading out. If you're out and about, the rooftop at Nomad has wonderful views of the Atlas (no alcohol), or head to El Fenn for their excellent cocktail list and stellar views of the Koutoubia mosque.
    Photo by David Pickford/age fotostock
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    Horse-Drawn Carriages
    Horse-Drawn Carriages
    Marrakech’s most unique form of transport is the bright green calèche, or horse-drawn carriage. Rent one for an hour, or use one as a relaxing way to get from point A to point B; just be sure to confirm the price before the horses start trotting away. A good spot to pick up a calèche is south of the Djemaa el-Fna near the Koutoubia Mosque. Climb aboard for your own private tour of Marrakech, skirting the edge of the medina before visiting some of the gardens that dot the city. Some might find them a little cheesy, but it hands-down beats a taxi as a means to experience Marrakech.
    Photo by Sylvain Grandadam/age fotostock
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    Rejuvenating Garden Walks
    Rejuvenating Garden Walks
    In a city as fast-paced as Marrakech, sometimes you need to escape and reconnect with nature. At the Jardin Majorelle in the Ville Nouvelle you can relax among exotic plants and shaded lanes and visit the former studio of the late French designer Yves Saint Laurent. Closer to the medina you'll find beautiful, often overlooked gardens. The Koutoubia Mosque, the city's largest Muslim house of worship, is surrounded by rose gardens. Grab a scoop of ice cream from a nearby stand, and watch young couples and families pass by. Early evening is the most popular time to enjoy the promenade. And if you're near the Royal Palace, visit the 12th-century Agdal Gardens, where you can wander through groves of fruit trees.
    Photo courtesy of Moroccan National Tourist Office/www.visitmorocco.com
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    Escape to Essaouira
    Escape to Essaouira
    A day trip from Marrakech, the Atlantic fishing port of Essaouira offers respite from the big city. Its imposing ramparts surround a small medina, where you'll find whitewashed houses with bright blue windows. Noted for its carved wood and painted canvases, the town is an artists' colony for a movement known as Art Naif  – the Damgaard Gallery has a particularly strong collection – and you'll find several makeshift galleries at the Joutia market on a Sunday morning. Take in the ocean breeze on the vast sandy beach, perhaps stopping for lunch at Ocean Vagabond at the southern-most end, before strolling back and rewarding yourself with a nice cold beer on the roof terrace of the iconic Le Chalet de la Plage. If you want to stay overnight, Dar Adul (eclectic and arty) or Dar Maya (sleek and contemporary) are both excellent choices.
    Photo by Karol Kozlowski/age fotostock
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    Candlelit Dinners
    Candlelit Dinners
    Eating Marrakech’s street food is a fun, inexpensive way to experience the city, but sometimes the heart and the stomach crave a little more. Most good riads offer home-cooked dinners for those nights when you'd rather stay home and eat in your private salon. In fact, many of the best riads have intimate restaurants that are often known for their imaginative takes on modern Moroccan cuisine. Good spots to splurge on a special dinner for two include Royal Mansour for Moroccan and French fine dining, Le Jardin for casually romantic courtyard dining, Le Palace for something more glitzy and glamorous. For true romance, book a table at Pepe Nero, to indulge in exquisitely made Italian pasta or Moroccan pastillas under orange trees dancing with twinkling lights.
    Photo courtesy of Pepe Nero
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    Spas, Hammams, and Pools
    Spas, Hammams, and Pools
    Visiting a hammam, or public bathhouse, is an essential part of the Marrakech experience. You'll reach a new level of clean after a steam room scrubbing. Upscale hammams now offer the best treatments to entice the crowds of visitors seeking spa escapes, and many riads offer an in-house hammam for guests. Typical treatment options include Moroccan rhassoul (a mask of mineral clays mixed with herbs or rose petals), gommage (a scrub), body wraps, and different types of massage. Noted hammams with the full spa experience include the Royal Mansour for jaw-dropping interiors, La Mamounia for its glorious pool, and Bains de Marrakech for the experience at its most authentic. Do check though, to see what your accommodation offers before booking.
    Photo courtesy of La Mamounia
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    Essential Photo Opportunities
    Essential Photo Opportunities
    Marrakech's warm light and the rich red and pink ochers of its buildings make the city endlessly photogenic, but there are certain classic shots that every visitor should return home with, not least of which is the view of the Atlas Mountains from your roof terrace. Be sure to ask someone to snap your photo in front of the Koutoubia Mosque's minaret, at a street café as you enjoy a mint tea, and ambling through the Palmeraie on a camel as the sunsets behind the palms. You should also break out the camera when you're wandering through the exotic Jardin Majorelle, standing before the intricate tiles of the Bahia Palace or the Ben Youssef Medersa, and hanging out on the Djemaa el-Fna as its nightly theater springs into life.
    Photo by Sergio Pitamitz/age fotostock
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    Experience the Great Outdoors
    Experience the Great Outdoors
    To take advantage of Morocco's natural beauty, plan a day trip from Marrakech to the Cascades d’Ouzoud, North Africa's tallest waterfalls. Surrounded by the verdant Oued el-Abid canyon, they tumble 360 feet into the pools below. Go for a hike between March and June to see the falls when they're most dramatic. Just as accessible from Marrakech are the High Atlas mountains, where you can find the picturesque Berber village of Imlil. Wend your way through orchards to the Kasbah du Toubkal for lunch with a view, or stop en route at the palatial Kasbah Tamadot, which is owned by Richard Branson. If you want to stay closer to home, it's also possible to zip out to La Pause for lunch in the Agafay Desert (about 45 minutes from the city center), or book a trip with Marrakech Insiders, who conduct all their tours on a vintage motorbike and sidecar.
    Photo by Karol Kozlowski/age fotostock