Morocco's colourful, pungent and frenetic centres are the perfect opposite to the vast expanses of pale, mystical desert and the rugged ridge of the Atlas Mountains. The main cities, built around their incredible marketplaces, have been hosting visitors for centuries, first on the great trade routes, then in thrall to the exoticism of the east, and of Africa.
There's so much to experience here, from assailing great mountains, to parasailing and learning to roll cous cous to learning to haggle for rolls of rugs. But whatever you do you'll need somewhere to relax at the end of the day, and the best places to stay in Morocco all offer that chance to unwind over a mint tea.
Marrakech promises romance and a touch of exoticism, but not everyone expects it to be so exhilirating! Its old souks, ancient and beautiful architecture, maze of streets and a whirlwind-like Medina experience like no other, qualify it for many a bucket list. Though if you're just looking for some winter sun you've also come to the right place. Either way, after your adventures getting lost amongst the colours and smells and crowds and dust you'll welcome some time being pampered in one of Marrakech's traditional hammams, or Turkish baths.
Fez, the old, and ancient capital, overwhelms the senses with its colour, noise and cacophony of smells. The medieval Medina of Fez, with its 90,000 streets and alleyways, is partly covered so you get some respite from the sun, but none from the spitting camels, menagerie of animals, and the entrepreneurial spirit of vendors. Pick through the nicknacks and you will find hidden treasures here - but remember that haggling is a way of life. Or just eat your fill from a wonderfully enticing spread of street food. Head to the madrases if you need respite. The tanneries and dying pits of Fez are also a fascinating place to visit, and of course this city has some of he world's most treasured Arabic architecture.
Essaouira spreads along a long sandy strip of Morocco's Atlantic coast, the kind of place you'd imagine Peter O'Toole's Laurence of Arabia riding in to off the desert. Definitely Moroccan, but with a European familiarity. What wouldn't work for the filmic Laurence is the backdrop swooping with windsurfers and kitesurfers. It's these active travellers who've helped protect Essaouira's natural charms from becoming over touristy. Today the busy medina is just as important as a market place as it ever was. This port is not just a pretty museum to a past life, it's still vibrant.
If you want the desert you might consider Ouarzazate, a quiet town at the base of the High Atlas mountains in Saharan Morocco, for a long time a waypoint for traders between Africa and Europe. But if you want to see our experience something of Morocco's Berber culture you'll need to journey into the High Atlas. Aït-Benhaddou, with its mud brick buildings is one of the best known of the tiny Berber villages which cling to these mountains - probably because of its World Heritage Status. Amizmiz is another well known town, this time it's probably because it has one of the largest Berber souks in the area.
If you've come to Morocco for adventure you'll also want the High Atlas mountains. Jebel Toubkal is probably the tallest of them: it's both one of the highest mountains in North Africa, and a very achievable summit - it can be done in two or three days.
Marrakech (Sidi Ben Slimane,)
A value chic riad in central Marrakech. Delightful creamy bedrooms, romantic terraces, spectacular city-scape views from the rooftop, a central courtyard pool, and revitalising hammam. Excellent prices, spotlessly clean, and romantic. Perfect for a couple or for big groups to rent the entire riad.
Simple but stylish rooms in a well-located and inexpensive riad over looking the Medina. Oriental rugs, wrought iron beds and rich cottons make up the truly authentic surroundings. Rooms look over the lovely inner courtyard where you are served delicious local food. Perfect, and without pretensions
With lots of space and plenty of privacy this is an informal understated place in the countryside not far from the buzz of Essaouira for couples to relax or big groups to congregate. Wide choice of spotlessly clean accommodation - catering for different numbers and budgets
Looming large on the horizon this impressive guesthouse caters for couples, families and large groups. Bohemian rooms are decorated in colourful palettes and chunky furnishings. There is a hammam plus massage and two pools. Great service in a palatial place with an informal atmosphere.
This old family house provides value for money considering the generously proportioned and elegantly decorated rooms, complete with four poster beds. Located in Fez medina there is an inviting roof terrace from which to enjoy panoramic views. Breakfast is served with lunch and dinner on request.
Fez (Quartier ziat)
One of the most architecturally impressive this French run riad enjoys an excellent location in Fez medina. A marble floored entrance leads to intricately tiled rooms, decorated in rich fabrics and dark cedar wood furnishings. A healthy Moroccan breakfast is served as well as dinner by arrangement.
Aroumd, High Atlas
A simple and charmingly rustic guesthouse perched in the High Atlas mountains above Imlil.
A wonderful, simple yet comfortable, guesthouse in the heart of the High Atlas. Magnificent scenery, exquisite rooms, respect for the community. The warmest of welcomes and an excellent base for walking or heading to the hills.
Luxurious Moroccan get-away off the beaten track on the Atlantic coast in Oualidia, secluded from the tourist hubbub. Classic Moroccan architecture meets spa idyll with a host of treatments and pools. We recommend for well-being, tranquillity, privacy and a beautiful coastline.
Luxurious hunting lodge turned hotel on the outskirts of Taroudant. Set amid extensive exotic gardens with superb views of the Atlas Mountains. Swimming pool and spa with traditional hammam. Beautifully kitted out suites and pavilions. Come here for pampering and serenity
Traditional kasbah in Skoura's Palmeraie, four hours from Marrakech, transformed into a luxury and spoiling retreat. 14 sumptuous suites & villas, plus hammam, large pool & plenty of activities including quad safaris or hiking. Tailor made excursions including private dining under the desert stars.