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Morocco: Exotic and enjoyable

Morocco: Exotic and enjoyable

Our World | On 08, Sep 2011

Having recently returned from a holiday in Morocco, I thought I should make comment on my experience (as it included the new Four Seasons and my first trip to Essaouira), and, more importantly, it challenged my perceptions once again.

We use Morocco, particularly Marrakech, regularly for incentive events. Its exotic, yet only 3 hours away from the UK, it’s got an almost guaranteed climate (although choosing August for a holiday there was an interesting decision on our part!). On an incentive, we tend to trot out the old faithful’s, which whilst tailored to make them very special for our guests, rarely change that much. We are also normally in the safe hands of tried and tested partners to make our events successful. So for us, on our own, intending to drive and see more of the country, it was an eye-opener.

I feel slightly spoilt whenever I travel personally or professionally, I can ask our partners for advice and help…they probably shield us a little. This time I looked at guidebooks, on the net, asked around etc. I was informed that I should expect a lot of scamming attempts, people that do nothing for nothing, and (as it was Ramadan) little to do during the day. I was also told that the country had one of the worst road systems (for deaths per 1000) in the world!

So off we headed for our 3 centre, 9 night holiday to steaming hot scamsville!

The BA flight from Gatwick was on time, full, short and pleasant enough. Our unassisted arrivals experience at the airport was a tad slow, but without incidence. A car met us to take us to the vast Club Med Palmeraie, which turned out to be two hotels in one. The larger, more family friendly 4 star Trident hotel, and the smaller, 5 star Trident Le Riad.

We were staying at Le Riad and it was lovely…always with one eye on using hotels for groups, this is a hotel that I will put forward when appropriate. We had a lovely pool, it was ‘all inclusive’ and we just chilled for a couple of days (when I say ‘chilled’, I probably should say ‘relaxed’…it was 43 degrees after all!). We had no impression of Ramadan as we could eat and drink without feeling the need to hide our stash from view. We hit the town one day, and went out for dinner one evening, and again, apart from calls to prayer, no Ramadan restrictions at all.

The people we met were charming and certainly persistent in trying to convince us that we needed to buy sinks, bags, dead things and so on…and with such wit.  Apparently the new catch phrase is “cheap, like Asda price”. We of course did our bit for the Moroccan economy.

We hired a beaten up 4×4 for a journey through the mountains to Agadir, for our next stop… The journey was uneventful, the new road was fantastic (car launch clients take note), and everything I had read about driving standards turned out to be true! I guess the drivers were fatigued due to a lack of food and drink, but my goodness, did you need your attention to be 100%! We witnessed 3 on a bike, cars going the wrong way on the new highway, zero lane control, police speed checks every few miles (scarily, police with spike ‘stingers’ to throw in the path of a speeding car if required!).

We reached our destination, which was cooler, but really rather dull. Agadir was almost destroyed in the 70′s, I believe they re-built it, but if Morocco has an armpit, this is it! Our 3 days there were mainly spent on the road to Essaouira; a medieval fortress city located on the windswept Atlantic coast. I loved it; it was tourist friendly, with a great surfing beach, good shopping, tiny narrow alley-ways and some nice Riads and larger hotels. Again, no Ramadan restrictions were in force. It is now on my hit list for a long weekend visit, a bit like Morocco’s version of Tarifa, really casual and easy going.

We headed back to Marrakech and the brand new Four Seasons for our last 3 nights. The hotel was running at 12% occupancy, it was new, low season and Ramadan (although it should be said that Club Med were running at over 90% occupancy). This hotel had all the hallmarks of a great Four Seasons…amazing staff, service and facilities. It lacked atmosphere though, the pools were empty (but with a 45m lap pool for adults only, who needs lots of people). The fixtures and fittings were wonderful, well executed and sumptuous, however, it had a number of teething problems – plumbing in particular. I see this hotel as one to watch, in about 6 month’s time, it will be up there with the very best – but a word to the wise, expect to pay through the nose for food and drink (dearer than the best restaurants in the city).

So that was my holiday experience in Morocco; I’m left enthused about continuing to sell the destination to the events market. I found the people charming and funny, hotel stock is getting better and better and air access is also improving. Do expect to be hassled a bit, do expect ‘exotic’ smells and sights, do expect a lot of noise and dust, but keep an open mind, you might just enjoy it.

Chris Clarke