Winning tip: Le Jardin Secret, Marrakech
This is a recently renovated garden on Rue Mouassine, dating back to the 16th century. It’s a perfect place to escape busy Marrakech, with an exotic range of plants and an ingenious water system created in the 11th century, fed by an aquifer. The Islamic garden is split into four sections, laid out to geometric rules established as early as the sixth century BC in the Persian gardens of Cyrus the Great. A perfect relaxing place to spend a few hours. The entrance fee is about £4 and there is small extra fee of about £2 to climb the wonderful old tower.
Cycle tour of Marrakech
A cycle through the medina was exciting – a steady hand and nerve were needed. The roads of the Ville Nouvelle and south Marrakech were a peaceful contrast, however. Our three-hour experience was organised through Pikala, which offers employment and training to local young people. We were guided by a young student originally from the Atlas mountains. Her enthusiasm and openness were a delight. We had various stops, including mosque gardens and a cafe for mint tea and pastries. A visit to see a popular public bakery, with the baker surrounded by shelves of rising bread under tea towels, was not something you would find on your own.
• Tours £19.50, hire a bike £6, pikalabikes.com
Readers’ tips competition: send a tip for a chance to win a £200 voucher
Every week we ask our readers for recommendations from their travels. A selection of tips will be featured online and may appear in print, and the best entry each week (as chosen by Tom Hall of Lonely Planet) wins a £200 voucher from hotels.com. To enter the latest competition visit the readers’ tips homepage
Royal stables of Meknes
The Heri es-Souani stables in the Unesco-listed northern city of Meknes, built by 17th-century ruler and Alawite dynasty founder Moulay Ismail and once home to 12,000 horses, offer an unexpected escape from the cacophony of the world outside. Famed for his excesses, the sultan created this vast, cathedral-like home for this beloved Arabian steeds. Read up on them first and then let your imagination do the rest. With the roof long gone, sunlight pours in, throwing the arches in to deep relief and creating ghostly shapes on the walls: pounding hooves and shrill whinnies punctuate the sultry air. It’s about an hour’s drive from Fes.
• £5.50, morocco.com
An Atlas mountains hideaway
After noisy Marrakech, Kasbah Africa – in a scenic corner of the Atlas mountains – was a blissful contrast, with a soundtrack of birdsong and a river rushing below. Stone-built rooms are rustic yet stylish, each with its own little terrace for soaking up the peace and the mountain views. The garden and pool are serene and gorgeous. We loved all the thoughtful touches, such as binoculars for birdwatching, a telescope for stargazing, books and DVDs and, best of all, a little wood-burner that staff lit for us at sunset each night.
• Doubles from £67 B&B, kasbahafrica.com
Hiking the Atlas mountains
Imlil village sits among mountains of almost Himalayan appearance and is the base for many beautiful day walks. Our favourite is to Tizi Mzik, a high pass with stunning views of Imlil valley and the surrounding snowy peaks. En route you walk through ancient Berber villages and terraces of emerald-green fields. On the pass, sweet mint tea can be bought from a tiny shack, and you can even arrange to have elaborate picnics waiting your arrival. We stayed at the cosy Dar Adrar (family room from £35 B&B: the charming proprietor Mohamed can arrange walking guides).
Camping by the beaches of Asilah
Asilah is a lovely little coastal town south of Tangier. Everyone knows Marrakech but Asilah will give you similar sights and sounds in a more pleasant environment. The 15th-century Portuguese-built medina is an art hub, scattered with wall murals that are painted over fresh by new artists every year. There is a street market heaving with fresh produce, and beautiful beaches. Camping Saada is a great little campsite on the edge of town. The owner was really helpful when our exhaust fell off. He arranged for a garage in town to weld it back together for a mere £30.
• Pitch for two from £6, campercontact.com
Chefchaouen – a city in blue
The northern Rif mountains city of Chefchaouen (pronounced Shef-sha-wen) is incredibly picturesque, with its rich blue buildings. Simply wander the winding streets and alleyways of the medina and you will soon leave the tourist crowds behind. A gentle 20-minute walk up to the Spanish mosque provides a fantastic view over the city. The tower at the kasbah (£5) provides a another great lookout, especially around sunset when the light is changing and the call to prayer rings out over the rooftops.
Fellah hotel, Marrakech
A lovely place a 20-minute taxi ride from the centre of Marrakech, on the flatlands between the city and the Atlas mountains. Fellah feels more like staying in a village than a hotel, with rooms and suites spread across a number of low-rise villas full of ornate metalwork and polished earth walls. It’s peaceful, friendly and beautiful, with delicious food, helpful staff and various spa treatments available. The hotel is part and parcel of the local community, a total breath of fresh air compared with some of the more monolithic hotel compounds nearby. We can’t wait to go back.
• Doubles from £52 B&B, fellah-hotel.com
The walls of Aït Benhaddou will be familiar to those who have seen Game of Thrones or Gladiator. It deserves to stand out on its own rather than being clumped in with nearby Ouarzazate. Visit early and walk along the river bed to capture the most spectacular photos in the morning light. Then wind your way up through the narrow streets past goat and donkey stalls to the top of the hill to look out at the amazing view. This is a Unesco world heritage site and deservedly so.
Rooftop views, Essaouira
The pretty rooftop terrace at Kameleon Cafe in Essaouira is a superb spot where you can sit alone in the morning with the smell of sea air and strong coffee, while the sounds of crashing waves and street clamour fill your ears. The rooftops of Essaouira remind me of the Mary Poppins chimney sweep scene; small scenes play out on each terrace and one can imagine stepping lightly across them, chasing the setting sun all the way to the fishing port on the edge of the old medina.
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