With the summer round the corner, you may wonder where is best to spend your summer holidays. If you have set your eyes on Morocco, well, you got plenty good reasons to. While the Sahara desert may be a little too warm this time of year, Morocco offers quite a choice when it comes to sites and activities, even in summer. Unspotted beaches and to-die-for sea food, imperial cities filled with secret palaces and Islamic architecture or the majestic Atlas Mountains home to the unique Berber culture and a trekker’s paradise. You may also want to see our article about Morocco for Families with Children .
[ACCOMMODATION OPTIONS ARE AVAILABLE AT THE BOTTOM OF THE PAGE]
And so we have imagined a tour that blends the sensory overload of the imperial city of Marrakech with a few days up in the Atlas Mountains and some relaxing time by the Atlantic beach, trying out some to-die-for sea food or simply enjoy the waves and unspotted beaches around Essaouira or Oualidia. Culture, adventure and plenty of relaxation time. Not necessarily in that order – that one is up to you. If you travel as a family, quite a few hotels accept children free of charge ( for all accommodation options please scroll down to the bottom of the page) and some even offer dedicated babysitting, if you want to escape for a tete – a- tete candle- lit dinner outside your hotel. We have adapted to the time of year and chosen guest houses with lots of character outside Marrakech with pool and lush gardens to guarantee the freshness and shade so crucial during those long summer afternoons… Yet close enough to quickly get dropped off inside the Medina and have a good bite of culture and/ or shopping. Up in the Atlas Mountains you can trek or hike around, get to know the Berbers and the children can get friendly with the local animals. Some places cater especially for them, such as Kasbah Tamadot where they can ride the resident mules, venture off on a Moroccan treasure hunt, participate in nature walks, go on a horse and cart ride or partake in Moroccan tea party, learn how to make delicious local dishes and splash around in the indoor or outdoor infinity pools. The Atlantic coast equally offers plenty of possibilities, from surf and kite surf to quad biking, fishing lessons, camel riding or simply swimming. Essaouira, if you want bohemian ambiance, a Medina full of character and camel or quad bike riding in the nearby dunes. Oualidia, if you are looking to get away from the crowds and just swim, relax and soak up the sun as the loudest sound is the lug and suck of the sea muttering as it turns over against the shore.
[Although tempting, we do not recommend including the Sahara desert in your tour of Morocco in July or August. Temperatures may soar over 40 degrees Celsius easily and there is no air conditioning in the tents, no matter how luxurious they may be. This July is also a time when most Moroccans will refrain from eating and drinking until 7- 8 in the evening with the occasion of the month of Ramadan. If you are really set on seeing the desert this time of year, the best compromise is being accommodated in a Kasbah by the dunes where you will have a camel ride inside the dunes very early next morning. Naturally, the Kasbah comes with a pool and air conditioning in the rooms.]
DAYS 1-2: MARRAKECH (if collection in Casablanca, forecast a 2 and a half hour transfer to Marrakech).
Your English speaking driver- guide will be there to meet you at the airport with a sign and swiftly take you and your luggage to your guesthouse. Once you have settled in and freshened up or gotten some rest, venture out in the afternoon and discover some of the sites the red city holds. Perhaps a good place to start is the Medersa Ben Youssef, a koranic school taking its name from the sultan Ali Ben Youssef, son of the founder of the city and architect of its impressive walls back in 12th century, still standing nowadays. Once through the doors, a symphony of zellij, marble floors and noble cedar wood awaits you. The first floor student rooms overlook the marble tiled patio and pool. Next door, the Almoravid Qoubba, the most ancient structure of the city, a small simple domed structure most likely used for the ablutions by the people praying in the nearby mosque. The nearby Museum of Marrakech is perhaps more interesting for its architecture, plaster honeycombs and intricate mosaic designs than for its collection of Berber rugs and objects, which are probably best found inside the souks. Where you are likely to end up getting pulled in sooner or later by mere fascination if not by shopping crave. And how can one resist ?... Dozens and dozens of hole- in- the- wall or otherwise expansive Ali Baba caves succeed each other, one more glittering than the other.
Further on, Maison de La Photographie showcases a unique collection of photos of Morocco taken between 1870’s and 1950’s, some of them by the French photography pioneers that regularly had to board the ships from Europe with a truckload of equipment. No formal museum ambiance here – second floor accommodates a small projection room where you can sit and watch the first documentary on Berber people and the roof terrace serves fresh orange juices and tagines, if not the best 360 degree- view terrace this side of the souks.
As lunch time approaches it is wise to return to your guest house, have lunch and snooze by the pool. Just before dusk, make sure to return into the old town to witness the most fascinating site in Marrakech, Jemaa El Fna , a fair best thought of as a mashup between a county fair and freak show… albeit with an authentic Moroccan overlay. The square mostly deserted during the day, suddenly comes alive at sunset with musicians, acrobats, snake charmers, witch doctors and food stalls as if they never left the place. This is the city at its most essential, a place where people from everywhere mingle, perform and people- watch. Among the snake charmers, acrobats, henna tattoos and various showmen/ charlatans, try to identify the story – teller counting century old tales to a crowd of hypnotized children and adults alike, a tradition perpetuated for centuries.
Next day, you may want to wander inside the opulent Saadi Tombs , but not before entering the gardens of 19th century Bahia Palace, an epitome of Islamic art of the era and residence of the grand vizier. Uncovered by chance in 1917, the nearby Saadi Tombs hold the remains of the sultans responsible for the last golden age of the city, the 16th and 17th century. The Carrara marble stands witness to the wealth of the dynasty and so do the nearby ruins of the Badi palace, the most extraordinary building of its time in North Africa.
Late afternoon, you would perhaps care to have a cocktail or coffee on the terrace of the legendary La Mamounia hotel , also home to the most romantic gardens in Marrakech. Dinner can be had back at the guest house, although it would be a shame to not try at least one of the many superb restaurants in the new town, whether you prefer Moroccan or French, Italian or Asian food- our staff is always on hand for suggestions and booking.
DAYS 3-4: ATLAS MOUNTAINS ( IMLIL/ ASNI)
Escaping the hustle and bustle of the city, your tour of Morocco will take you through lush countryside and Berber villages at the foothills of the Atlas and then up into the mountains. Maybe not as dense as the ones in the Middle Atlas, the forests of the High Atlas provide sufficient shade to make them a heaven for trekking and create their own climate where temperatures rarely exceed 30 Celsius. A mere one hour trip from the city, you will arrive at your guesthouse to leave your luggage and sip a mint tea while taking in the views.
In Imlil, at 1800 meters high, you are blessed with some of the best views and trekking routes south of Marrakech. You can choose to tour the mountains by foot up to the local waterfalls past Kasbah Toubkal , a couple of hours walk and stop for a coffee taking in the jaw- dropping view from their roof terrace. Or, if you are more serious about your trekking, we can arrange the services of a local guide which will adapt to your level. Furthermore, you can choose to spend a night in a gite ( cottage), at over 3000 meters altitude and descend the next morning back to the village. Once the night has fallen and you’re having dinner, the only soundtrack is the song of the cicadas.
If you didn’t have enough trekking the previous day, today is the time to catch up. Or you may choose to let your driver- guide take you on a driven tour of the surrounding area, whether it means having tea in a local Berber house, discover the nearby still waters of Ouirgane or Lalla Takerkoust lakes , freshen up under the waterfalls of Sidi Fatma in the Ourika Valley or visit the 12th century mosque of Tinmel . Whatever your choice, make sure your camera is handy and the battery full as the day will be filled with great photo opportunities.
DAYS 5-6: ATLANTIC COAST (ESSAOUIRA/ OUALIDIA)
A 4 hour trip from the Atlas Mountains (3 hour drive) from Marrakech, the Atlantic coast is quite popular in the summer with locals on holidays, but you can still manage to find wild beaches if you know where to look for. Essaouira, once Morocco’s main port was most importantly famous for being the exit point of all the gold, feathers, ivory, ostrich and slaves coming from across the Sahara along the caravan routes and exported into Western Europe and United States. Jews, Arabs, Berbers and English were sharing the profitable trade and left behind a very cosmopolitan, yet laid back town with fortified walls and bastions, white washed houses and dozens of art galleries. Centuries of trade, plunder, slavery and empire have left their prints here.
The Europeans came back two centuries later albeit not as traders, but as art gallery or Riad owners, seduced by the farniente ambiance and all- year- round sun. No longer a best- kept secret and recently added to the very select UNESCO world site list , Essaouira still feels like you travel in time to, perhaps, Mykonos or Ibiza of the 1970’s. At night, it is as eerie as a tiny Fez and perfumed like a shell of Zanzibar by cinnamon, cats, fish and the ocean. Nearby dunes are ideal setting for riding a camel or a quad bike, while the strong wind attracts an all- year- round crowd of surfers and wind surfers. Although the best spots for swimming are south of it, the beach in Essaouira is worth an evening walk to take in the sunset or have a horse ride. Accommodation can be arranged within a charming Riad or out in the countryside.
If you want to keep away from the crowds, Oualidia is your best bet. On the way to El Jadida, this remote fishing village, built around a wide lagoon midway up Morocco’s Atlantic coast, is a quiet, slightly out-of-time place. For much of the second half of the 20th century, the Moroccan bourgeoisie decamped here in the summer on their weekend holidays, eschewing the urban fug for their modest white-and-blue vacation houses. Today, well-heeled Moroccans come for the clean air, the tranquility and the best oysters in the country, which are served tableside on the terrace at L’Hippocampe or the opulent 12- room Sultana Hotel . The most you can do here, besides leaving the world behind, is wander, stare and beachcomb or take a boat ride around the lagoon.
Dreamers: MAISON DES OLIVIERS/ JARDINS DE ZYRIAB – DOUAR SAMRA – DAR LIOUBA/ RIAD BAOUSSALA
Privilege : LES DEUX TOURS/ DAR SABRA – DOMAINE DE MALIKA – MADADA MOGADOR
Divine: KSAR CHAR BAGH – KASBAH TAMADOT – LA SULTANA OUALIDIA
Rates: starting from 915 € ( 755 £/ 1265 $) per person for a 7-day tour sharing a double room.
Rates include: private (sole) use of the English fluent driver- guide & modern air- conditioned Toyota 4x4; boutique hotel accommodation for 6 nights; 6 three- course- meal dinners and 6 breakfasts for 2 persons; airport or hotel pick- up/ drop- off; refreshing drinks inside the vehicle all along the itinerary; admission fees to all local sites and attractions; 24 hour travel assistance; gasoline and highway tolls; transport insurance, VAT and visitors tax.