For an exotic yet affordable weekend adventure less than four hours from London, it doesn’t get much better than Morocco.
From the dramatic snow-capped peaks of the High Atlas Mountains, to the sprawling sandy dunes of the Sahara Desert, Morocco has a radically diverse landscape seemingly made for those seeking adventure.
We were an urban dwelling couple looking for an alternative weekend break on a fairly shoestring budget that wasn’t just another European city break. Morocco seemed the perfect option to escape from London for a short adventure, with flights costing approximately £40 to £65 each way depending on the season.
We flew directly to Marrakesh, which is a fascinating place to visit. Exploring the bustling ancient Medina and souqs is a bit like disappearing down the rabbit hole in Alice in Wonderland. The narrow lanes draw you deeper and deeper into the souqs. Expect to get lost a couple of times.
After a couple of intense bartering sessions (try to pay half the asking price of goods) where I picked up a sturdy handmade leather satchel for around £20, we headed to Djemaa el-Fn Square for a glass of piping hot sweet mint tea and steaming Tagine to soak up the festival vibe.
Exploring the bustling souqs is a bit like disappearing down the rabbit hole in Alice in Wonderland
Food stalls pop up at sunset, making the square a great spot to watch snake charmers, acrobatic performers, dancers, Henna artists and food sellers all put on a good show, before we crashed out for the night in a traditional Riad.
We stayed at Riad Al Faras, a quiet oasis of calm amongst the hustle and bustle and included a great breakfast of freshly baked bread, fruit and local coffee.
Fun though Marrakesh is, as outdoorsy types we wanted to explore the wilderness and visit the desert. We booked a two-day trip with Discover Morocco, which included a camel trek, visit to the Atlas Mountains and world heritage site – Ait Ben Haddou Kasbah, a traditional Berber village.
With even more minimal gear (the camels have to carry everything you bring, so travel light) we headed to the desert for a night under the stars. It can get a bit nippy at night so bring a warm jacket and beanie – I slept wearing mine.
There are loads of tour operators hawking for business in Marrakesh, but it’s worth booking before you go to save time and often get a better deal.
Prices range according to luxury. We didn’t think having a shower in the desert was essential or environmentally very friendly, so opted for a more basic package. This included transportation from Marrakesh, a camel trek and meals.
Be warned, travel in Morocco isn’t the quickest, so prepare for a long journey through winding mountain roads and up and across the High Atlas Mountains.
Be warned, travel in Morocco isn’t the quickest, so prepare for a long but breathtaking journey through winding mountain roads
On the flipside, travelling by road is one of the best ways to enjoy the changing landscape and explore traditional Berber villages on route.
We spent a night in Zagora desert, which is the gateway to the Sahara desert and main town of the Draa Valley.
To break up the eight-hour road journey, we stopped to wander in the High Atlas Mountains and explored, the Kasbah, where several films, such as Gladiator, Time Bandits and Lawrence of Arabia were shot among others.
Zipping along winding roads and hairpin bends at breakneck speed (not for the faint-hearted!) we passed breathtaking beautiful landscapes.
From the rugged and dramatic peaks of the Atlas Mountains, which were still covered in snow, to sweeping palm tree groves and staggering mountain ridges, the route follows Morocco’s longest river the impressive Draa river, which cuts through the Atlas range.
Arriving at Zagora just before sunset, we felt a little travel weary, but soon perked up when we were greeted by a horde of slightly grumpy camels.
If you’re used to horse riding, getting on a camel may not feel daunting, however when you’re perched on top of a huffing and puffing camel the ground seems a long way down.
My camel, I called him Bill, and I soon bonded – despite an amusing moment when my saddle slipped and I ended up on the side of the camel to the amusement of our nomadic guide.
Once I was reseated it was a magical way to cross the desert and see the fading light across the rolling dunes.
After a butt-clenching two-hour ride, we arrived at our camp for the night. These nomadic camps are built for tourists, yet when the lights go out, we saw one of the best views of the night sky I’ve ever seen – with constellations and shooting stars lighting up the sky.
After a welcome mint tea, we tucked into a delicious bowl Tagine and stacks of flatbread before settling down to listen to traditional nomadic music.
Later on, drifting off to sleep under a heavy scratchy blanket, with the noise of camels wailing in the background it did feel as though I couldn’t have been further from modern urban life and off the beaten track. Amazing, when we’d only left home a mere 24-hours before!
We chose the two-day desert tour with Discover Morocco, which included a camel trek, visit to the Atlas Mountains and trip to a traditional Berber village for £55 per person including transport, dinner and breakfast.
British Airways flies to Marrakech from £55 each each per person.