Family holidays are a precious commodity – even more so when the ‘children’ reach adulthood and seemingly have far better things to do with their time than spend it with their parents.
But if you dangle a bright enough carrot they might just bite, and for this reason we chose Marrakech as the destination for a recent trip.
Lured by the fascination of a different culture and the mystery of the Medina plus, of course, a luxury hotel, free food and alcohol and wall-to-wall sunshine, our grown-up kids, aged 23 and 20, were really keen to come with us.
We stayed in the Palmeraie district, a 15-minute drive away from the Medina. Le Deux Tours is a beautiful, rustic boutique resort. Thirty-seven bedrooms are located in a series of traditional Moroccan villas, which are dotted around lush, wild gardens. Some of the villas have private pools. The tranquillity of the place makes it a welcome escape from the mayhem of the Medina and meant that our trip had the perfect balance of touring and relaxation.
A visit to the Majorelle Gardens owned by Yves St Laurent to see the magnificent cacti collection is a must. Majorelle is the name given to the intense, deep shade of blue paint that is used all over the city.
The gardens are in a smart area of town with a few lovely shops and cafes. From here we headed by taxi to the famous La Mamounia hotel for coffee on the terrace. We had a slight kerfuffle at the door when they initially refused to allow entrance to our son because he was wearing flip flops (it was 37 degrees). Moorish opulence and lavish gardens are the signature of this hotel, famously frequented by Winston Churchill who has a suite named after him.
We took a four-hour walking tour led by the extremely knowledgeable and engaging Mohammed, who is au fait with Jewish visitors to his city. He told us that only 200 Jews remain in Marrakesh, yet there are two synagogues. The Lazama Synagogue is open daily to the public and
is the prettiest I have ever seen, with a stunning blue and white tiled courtyard.
The building dates back to the 16th century. We also saw the beautifully preserved cemetery, which has whitewashed tombs and sandy graves, making it quite unique. This is the largest Jewish cemetery in Morocco but, despite its size, the graves have three burial layers.
Many famous and respected tzadikkim are buried here. Mohammed took us to the stunning Bahia Palace, where we saw many examples of beautifully restored Moorish architecture. He then steered us through the winding alleyways of the famous Medina, and we gloried in the rich colours of the clothes and shoes for sale, the smells emanating from the herbs and spices and the animated sounds of sellers selling and buyers bartering. Mohammed showed us the leather auction, with piles and piles of leather hides covering the floor; they all looked the same to us, but the artisans were haggling furiously.
It was tempting to relax by the pool at our hotel, but we took a day trip into the Atlas Mountains for lunch at Richard Branson’s famous retreat Kasbah Tamadot. He bought this magnificent residence for his mother when she fell in love with it on a trip to Marrakech and the whole family visits often. Previously home to an antiques dealer, it is filled with wonderful antiques and has been decorated in fabulous Moroccan colours and designs.
On the way, we visited a Berber village and market and saw the primitive way in which this tribe lives and shops. Many of them still live without hot and cold running water, electricity and heating and use mules for transport. My son had his hair trimmed in a makeshift barber in the market for six dirham (50p).
There are many glamourous, vibrant restaurants in Marrakech with nightly belly dancing shows and live music, but our favourite was Le Foundouk, a rooftop restaurant in the heart of the Medina where the entertainment is listening to the sounds drifting upwards from the lively streets below. Dining al fresco in the velvety warm night we feasted on tagines and pastillas ( traditional Moroccan sweet and savoury pie containing chicken/meat and almonds) and washed it all down with Moroccan mint tea, which is poured from pretty silver teapots into dainty glasses.
Best thing of all? Five precious days with my family in a place that suited us all.