Offering lively souks and miles of golden coastline, Morocco is an appealing destination for a sun-drenched and out of the ordinary family break.
utside the tree tops are reddening and the temperature is cooling. Trips to the park are no longer lingering, sun-baked affairs, but rather a bracing opportunity for my toddler, Josh, to crunch his scooter through heaps of dry, auburn leaves whilst I admire the beauty of the crisp sky and the bronzed tree tops.
At home, it’s time to give the sand and water table one last wash, before packing it into the garden shed, it’s a cold abode until next Spring. Josh helps to pick the last green tomatoes, to ripen on a bright windowsill. I check to see if last winter’s fleeces still fit.
What I do not do, however, is feel gloomy. Yes, the evenings are darker and the trees will soon be shrugging off their golden manes. But there is still time for one more blast of heat and sunshine. Ice-creams, buckets and spades. Not in the UK, but in a short-haul, affordable, family friendly destination: Morocco.
Three years ago, when I gave birth to Josh, my husband and I were in the midst of a Foreign Office posting to Morocco. It was a beautiful posting: with our adored new baby snuggled into his Maxi-Cosi, our trusty Landrover covered hundreds of miles from sea-shore to mountain retreat.
As an avid social networker, I was conscious that Josh and his little friends were spending fun, warm mornings in his splash pool; whilst glum updates about the dreary weather were regularly tweeting their way over from England. October half term in Morocco was – and still is – characterised by fine weather and T-shirts.
Here are my top choices for a family-friendly, sunshine break in Morocco:
Essaouira is a magical white-washed port which is situated on the North Atlantic coastline. This windswept walled-town is an enchanting place: oozing quaint art galleries, French-style cafés and medina stalls laden with inspiring Moroccan arts and crafts. Essaouira is known for its luminous light, salty harbour and a generous sweep of golden coastline. Essaouira is a laid back town: even the most rumbumptious of tots is bound receive a warm welcome from the locals, and will have acres of clean, sandy beach and promenade on which to ramble and roam.
Not to miss is a visit to the quay at sunset, to welcome in the fleet of little fishing vessels as they dock and bring their catch ashore. The bustle of activity, seagulls swooping and cawing, sea breeze blowing, banter amongst the fishermen, is an image that had us mesmerized.
The best way to access this quiet paradise is to fly to Marrakech, hire a car, and drive the simple and scenic two hour journey towards the coast. We stayed in the Sofitel Essaouira Medina and Spa, which presides grandly on the seafront esplanade. It has a richly Moroccan flavour; from the opulent red façade, through to the traditional pastries and mint tea that we were offered on arrival. The outdoor pool is stunning and warm, and I’d recommend a trip to the spa to indulge in a traditional ‘argan’ oil massage.
This hotel is a family friendly option: it boasts a private beachside playground and is a short, five minute stroll to the Medina. The rooms have balconies which look out to sea: a romantic option for a room service supper once your little tot is happily tucked up. Rooms are priced from £129 per night.
Marrakech is the best known of Morocco’s cities for good reason: it is an overwhelmingly ambient and picturesque place, where every sense is challenged. It is encircled by dramatic, often snow-topped mountains.
A visit to the thronging Djemaa el Fna square – the beating heart of this town – will have your toddler’s eyes on stalks: colourful entertainers jostle with cobras and monkeys to the thrum of drums and music. Wooden wagons are heaped with mounds of oranges and fragrant spices. Within the warren-like streets of the Medina you will be able to barter for traditional Moroccan wares, where canny shopkeepers have tailored their goods to a Western sense of style.
We stayed in the Terre Resort and Spa, a five star retreat located seven miles outside of Marrakech in the Palmeraie Desert. The prices here are credit-crunch friendly, from £112 per night for a Junior Suite. The resort is a calm, Arabian styled hideaway, set attractively amongst gardens of luxuriant grass, palm trees and white pebbles. The long, azure pool was very inviting, and we were assured by the hotel’s twinkly eyed manager that; “…all the English guests swam this morning…” At the Terre Resort, the tasteful accommodation is laid out in little chalets in the gardens. Our suite featured opulent long, golden drapes and an enormous pink bed.
Tangiers has a unique location and history – set on the Straits of Gibraltar, it is Africa’s main gateway to Europe. In the early 20th century it was a glamorous, international city, the playground of the rich and famous, and has drawn many artists and writers. Today, it is a bustling port town, with more than a whiff of the salty Mediterranean. Its elegant façade is past its best, but its shabbiness retains a grandeur which harks back to Tangier’s glory days.
On a clear day you can see the striking outline of the Spanish coast. You can whizz across the Straits by ferry, relatively quickly and inexpensively, for a fun day out in Spain’s Tarifa. Otherwise, the beach is vast and reasonably clean and it is possible to enjoy a camel trek across its fine, fair sands.
We stayed in the El Minzah Hotel, which was established in Tangier’s heyday. The El Minzah is rich in Moroccan atmosphere but also retains the comfort of a gentleman’s club. Breakfast in the sunny, leafy courtyard is a particular treat. The El Minzah’s spa is set amid lush, Mediterranean gardens. I still dream of a particularly tender fish supper eaten by flickering candlelight in the gardens, alongside the still, pretty swimming pool. At the time of our visit, I was several months pregnant and happily aware that although sumptuous and grand, the El Minzah was also very family friendly. Double room rates are from £124 per night.