For me, Marrakesh offers the richest cultural feast that you can have within four hours of the UK by air. This ancient trading post has long had an exotic ring to it, and it is now "a vital call on the glitteratis' grand tour", according to the Daily Mail. Here are our top tips for a city break to Morocco.
Stay in a riad
No matter how many restaurants, swimming pools and bars a 5-star, all-inclusive hotel might try to tempt you with, in my book the absolutely non-negotiable part of any trip to Marrakesh is to stay in a riad. These traditional Moroccan guesthouses, set around an interior courtyard or garden, offer total respite away from the hectic medina. They take the idea of boutique hotels to a whole new level -- individually decorated rooms, lounges to chill out in, sometimes a rooftop pool -- and you'd never know it's all there as they're often hidden behind a solid oak door and look totally anonymous from the street.
Street food by night
Djemaa el Fna is the central square in the medina (walled city) and by day it bustles with acrobats, snake charmers and orange sellers. By night, row upon row of street food vendors set up shop, selling snacks ranging from couscous, seafood and stuffed vine leaves to pastilla -- a crispy pie that manages to be both sweet and savoury, consisting as it does of shredded slow-cooked chicken under a crunchy layer of toasted and ground almonds, cinnamon and sugar. If you'd rather eat in a more traditional restaurant, choose one with a balcony that overlooks the square -- the lights, smoke and general clamour after dark make for a magical experience.
Bargain-hunting in the souks
Get lost in Marrakesh's labyrinth of souks, to the north of Djemaa el Fna. This network -- alleyway after alleyway -- of tiny retail shops gets more interesting the further in you venture. Every section has its own speciality: carpets and textiles in one, spices in another, and cotton, clothing, shoes, kaftans and blankets in a third. Come prepared to haggle.
Step back in time in the tanneries
Be warned, it doesn't smell pretty. However, the tanners have been in Marrakesh since the city's earliest days -- and it would seem that their methods have changed little since then. You'll see vats of pungent liquid and the rainbow shades of leather that they produce.
Morocco is rightly famous for its hammams and two of the best-known high-end versions in Marrakesh are grand old Dar Karma and Les Bains de Marrakech. Expect to be sloshed with water, scrubbed within an inch of your life and then sloshed down again. Your skin will come out like silk.
Musée de Marrakech on Place Ben Youssef is housed in the converted Dar Menebhi Palace, built in the early 20th century. Check the website for the latest on the regularly changing exhibits. The building is a draw in itself -- set around a grand tiled central court. The former hammam is now an exhibition space in its own right.
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