Marrakech: It ain't half hot, mum

When Victoria Summerley decided to take her octogenarian mother to Marrakech, her friends doubted her wisdom. But after snake-charmers, souks and shopping, she'd proved them wrong

When I told my mother I was thinking of taking her to Marrakech, she was very excited. "Ooh, can we ride camels into the desert?" she asked. "Can we camp out under the stars? Can we go up into the Atlas mountains?" When I told my friends that I was thinking of taking my mother to Marrakech, some of them fretted. "But she's over 80," they said. "Do you think she'll cope?"

This irritated me. In Morocco, of course, you can be wrapped in five-star luxury one minute and bouncing along an unmade road the next. But there is also a sense, in today's youth-obsessed world, that exotic travel is off-limits to anyone over 40, or not on honeymoon. Anyway, we went.

We decided not to stay in Marrakech itself but about 25km outside the city in a hotel called Tigmi, in the village of Tagadert. Driving south from Marrakech, you leave the new developments of hotels and golf courses behind and head into countryside that looks as if it hasn't changed since ancient times. You see shepherds abiding in the fields and, in the distance, the occasional figure on a donkey makes its way across the hillside.

The road that was so rough that the taxi could have fallen into one of the potholes, never to be seen again. Surely we would find a building site full of rubble and scaffolding at the end? No, here was Tigmi, offering a cool green welcome after the dusty journey. Tigmi is converted from original village houses and has a seductive, rambling charm. It's full of nooks and corners, with staircases that lead to terraces furnished with cushioned divans and courtyards hung with bougainvillea and filled with birdsong.

Tigmi is a great place for an octogenarian, with friendly, helpful staff. Jean-Paul, the manager, wanders around chatting to the guests, accompanied by his little dog. It's a deceptively informal approach but watch him carefully and you'll see that he is ensuring that everyone is happy and everything is running smoothly. The food is excellent – fresh, simple salads and traditional tagines – accompanied by wonderful wine. It was so good that I couldn't really summon up much enthusiasm for trying any of the restaurants in town.

But Marrakech is magnetic. The first thing that hits you is the smell of roses as you come out of the airport. Roses, which are planted along many of the roadsides, seem to flower all year round in Marrakech. Then the city itself: a film set for one of those Agatha Christie movies with an A-list cast. This time of year is a terrific time to visit as the weather is bearable and the kaleidoscope of colour – the red of the city walls, the carpets in the souk, the endless rows of butter-soft leather babouches (slippers), the scarves, bags and pottery – shimmer beneath a crisp, blue sky like a cinematographer's dream.

The smartest hotel in Marrakech is La Mamounia. It's an attraction for tourists, too, because this is where Churchill liked to stay. It is sensational – as if Gianni Versace had been the set designer on Death on the Nile – but away from the leopard print and leather-padded cocktail bars and plush restaurants, the gardens offer a green respite from wall-to-wall sophistication. It's a wonderful place to have a cocktail.

It's this sort of contrast that makes Marrakech so vibrant. One minute you're relaxing in the tranquil gardens of a palace, the next you are haggling in the souk over the price of a scarf.

Ah yes, the souk. We cheated and hired a guide called Ahmed Ajni. Allegedly, the guides take you to their friends' stalls where one presumes they get a commission. I don't know whether this is true, but we wanted to buy stuff anyway (indeed, we both had a long shopping list). More importantly, my mother and I wouldn't have had the energy to get round the whole souk if we hadn't been with Ahmed. Cruising along casually in his wake was so much easier than fighting our way through by ourselves.

Souks are traditionally split up into sections: one for leather, one for silver, one for carpets and so on. You can see tanners at work and watch the metal-workers beat out their brass patterns with a kind of atonal syncopation.

The carpets are made in the outlying villages and despatched to the vendors, who serve you mint tea as they unroll rug after gorgeous rug in front of you. The Berber techniques that you see in Morocco involve knotting, weaving and embroidery, or sometimes even a mixture of all three.

I'd previously sat through a few of these mint tea routines in Tunisia, where the colours and designs are much more traditional – I've always found them a bit headache-inducing. At the Artisanat du Sud, owned by Hossni Ait Rammania and his brother Khalid, we were shown a wonderful selection of designs in the most gorgeous colours. I found myself falling in love with a monochrome Berber rug. Needless to say, it has now taken up residence in my living room.

My mother loves turquoise, so Ahmed led us to a shop like a cross between a jeweller's and an antique stall. While she tried to decide between various necklaces composed of chunks of the sky-blue mineral, I admired the ornate perfume bottles and inlaid boxes.

Ahmed, who seemed to possess an encyclopaedic knowledge of, well, everything, and spoke faultless English, helped her choose. Indeed, he was far more patient than I was.

The souk lies behind the main square in Marrakech, the Jeema el Fna, which is known for its snake-charmers, fortune-tellers and musicians. They provide a non-stop cabaret from early evening onwards amid a smoky melee of stalls selling mint tea, soup and barbecue.

It's not a particularly attractive place from an architectural point of view, but if you like people-watching, it's a must. My mother was fascinated by an old man with a tray full of teeth. "Where do you think he got them from?" she whispered. "And who on earth would want to buy one?"

We decided to round off our day with another energy-saving excursion, a ride in a horse-drawn carriage, or caleche, around the narrow alleyways of the old medina. I thought it would save us walking, but I reckoned without my mother, who is a keen horsewoman. She would only take a carriage drawn by horses she felt looked properly cared for, so she insisted on inspecting all the caleches first. There were hundreds of them. You can use a caleche like an ordinary taxi, or take a tour, as we did. It cost us around 250 Moroccan dirhams (£19).

Travelling with your 80-year-old mother, I found, had its advantages in Morocco. Everywhere we went, we were treated with great courtesy and consideration. Indeed, the most difficult thing about Morocco was not whether my mother could cope, but how to sum up our experiences while avoiding the usual clichés.

How did I manage to come back with a carpet, when I am a veteran of north African carpet shops and have always sworn I would never succumb? How did I get that lantern in my suitcase? How did I manage to spend so much money? I can only ascribe it to a kind of magical charm that this city exerts over all who visit.

 

Travel essentials

Getting there

VFB Holidays (0800 171 2160; vfbholidays.co.uk) offers a four-night break in Morocco from £623 per person, including half board at Tigmi and easyJet flights from Gatwick, plus transfers and a half-day private, guided tour of Marrakech.

Marrakech is served by easyJet (0843 104 5000; easyJet.com), British Airways (0844 493 0787; ba.com) and Royal Air Maroc (020-7307 5800; royalairmaroc.com) from Gatwick; by BMI (0870 607 0555; flybmi.co.uk) from Heathrow; and by Ryanair (0871 246 0000; ryanair.com) from Stansted.

 

Staying there

Tigmi, Douar Tagadert el Kadi, Route d'Amizmiz, Region de Marrakech (00 212 524 48 40 20; tigmi.com).

 

More information

Moroccan Tourist Office: 020-7437 0073; visitmorocco.com

The Independent travel offers: Discover a world of inspiring destinations

Life and Style
“What is it like being a girl?” was the question on the lips of one inquisitive Reddit user this week
News
peopleDave Legeno, the actor who played werewolf Fenrir Greyback in the Harry Potter films, has died
Arts and Entertainment
Armando Iannucci, the creator of 'The Thick of It' says he has
tvArmando Iannucci to concentrate on US show Veep
Life and Style
beauty
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Sport
Luis Suarez looks towards the crowd during the 2-1 victory over England
transfers
Life and Style
Swimsuit, £245, by Agent Provocateur
fashion

Diving in at the deep end is no excuse for shirking the style stakes

Sport
German supporters (left) and Argentina fans
world cup 2014Final gives England fans a choice between to old enemies
Arts and Entertainment
A still from the worldwide Dawn of the Planet of the Apes trailer debut
film
News
peopleMario Balotelli poses with 'shotgun' in controversial Instagram pic
News
A mugshot of Ian Watkins released by South Wales Police following his guilty pleas
peopleBandmates open up about abuse
Sport
Basketball superstar LeBron James gets into his stride for the Cleveland Cavaliers
sportNBA superstar announces decision to return to Cleveland Cavaliers
Sport
Javier Mascherano of Argentina tackles Arjen Robben of the Netherlands as he attempts a shot
world cup 2014
Arts and Entertainment
The successful ITV drama Broadchurch starring David Tenant and Olivia Coleman came to an end tonight
tv
Travel
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
Sport
Four ski officials in Slovenia have been suspended following allegations of results rigging
sportFour Slovenian officials suspended after allegations they helped violinist get slalom place
News
14 March 2011: George Clooney testifies before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee during a hearing titled 'Sudan and South Sudan: Independence and Insecurity.' Clooney is co-founder of the Satellite Sentinel Project which uses private satellites to collect evidence of crimes against civilian populations in Sudan
people
Arts and Entertainment
Balaban is indirectly responsible for the existence of Downton Abbey, having first discovered Julian Fellowes' talents as a screenwriter
tvCast members told to lose weight after snacking on set
Life and Style
More than half of young adults have engaged in 'unwanted but consensual sexting with a committed partner,' according to research
tech
Life and Style
A binge is classed as four or more alcoholic drinks for women and five or more for men, consumed over a roughly two-hour period
tech
Independent Travel Videos
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Amsterdam
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Giverny
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in St John's
Independent Travel Videos
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    Sales Manager (Fashion and Jewellery), Paddington, London

    £45-£55k OTE £75k : Charter Selection: Major London International Fashion and ...

    Volunteer Digital Marketing Trustee needed

    Voluntary, reasonable expenses reimbursed: Reach Volunteering: Are you keen on...

    Java Swing Developer - Hounslow - £33K to £45K

    £33000 - £45000 per annum + 8% Bonus, pension: Deerfoot IT Resources Limited: ...

    Corporate Events Sales Manager, Marlow,Buckinghamshire

    £30K- £40K pa + Commision £10K + Benefits: Charter Selection: Rapidly expandin...

    Day In a Page

    A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting

    A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

    Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting
    Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

    Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

    In the final part of our series, Chris Green arrives in Glasgow - a host city struggling to keep the politics out of its celebration of sport
    Out in the cold: A writer spends a night on the streets and hears the stories of the homeless

    A writer spends a night on the streets

    Rough sleepers - the homeless, the destitute and the drunk - exist in every city. Will Nicoll meets those whose luck has run out
    Striking new stations, high-speed links and (whisper it) better services - the UK's railways are entering a new golden age

    UK's railways are entering a new golden age

    New stations are opening across the country and our railways appear to be entering an era not seen in Britain since the early 1950s
    Conchita Wurst becomes a 'bride' on the Paris catwalk - and proves there is life after Eurovision

    Conchita becomes a 'bride' on Paris catwalk

    Alexander Fury salutes the Eurovision Song Contest winner's latest triumph
    Pétanque World Championship in Marseilles hit by

    Pétanque 'world cup' hit by death threats

    This year's most acrimonious sporting event took place in France, not Brazil. How did pétanque get so passionate?
    Whelks are healthy, versatile and sustainable - so why did we stop eating them in the UK?

    Why did we stop eating whelks?

    Whelks were the Victorian equivalent of the donor kebab and our stocks are abundant. So why do we now export them all to the Far East?
    10 best women's sunglasses

    In the shade: 10 best women's sunglasses

    From luxury bespoke eyewear to fun festival sunnies, we round up the shades to be seen in this summer
    Germany vs Argentina World Cup 2014: Lionel Messi? Javier Mascherano is key for Argentina...

    World Cup final: Messi? Mascherano is key for Argentina...

    No 10 is always centre of attention but Barça team-mate is just as crucial to finalists’ hopes
    Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer knows she needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

    Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

    18-year-old says this month’s Commonwealth Games are a key staging post in her career before time slips away
    The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

    The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

    A future Palestine state will have no borders and be an enclave within Israel, surrounded on all sides by Israeli-held territory, says Robert Fisk
    A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: The German people demand an end to the fighting

    A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

    The German people demand an end to the fighting
    New play by Oscar Wilde's grandson reveals what the Irish wit said at his trials

    New play reveals what Oscar Wilde said at trials

    For a century, what Wilde actually said at his trials was a mystery. But the recent discovery of shorthand notes changed that. Now his grandson Merlin Holland has turned them into a play
    Can scientists save the world's sea life from

    Can scientists save our sea life?

    By the end of the century, the only living things left in our oceans could be plankton and jellyfish. Alex Renton meets the scientists who are trying to turn the tide
    Richard III, Trafalgar Studios, review: Martin Freeman gives highly intelligent performance

    Richard III review

    Martin Freeman’s psychotic monarch is big on mockery but wanting in malice