Spring breaks: Postcard from Marrakesh

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The Independent Travel

Tho hundred minutes' flying time from London, and it felt as though we'd stepped back a century. No burger chain in sight, and no designer clothes shops (apart from a Louis Vuitton at our hotel, the luxurious La Mamounia). The allure of Marrakesh is encapsulated in the main square in the medina. Snake charmers, musicians and magicians jostle for space; nearby, the narrow lanes of the souk are lined with stalls selling beautiful marquetry boxes, silver teapots, jewellery, leather and beaded slippers. The air is filled with intoxicating smells – some wonderfully rich, others not quite so pleasant.

James, our two-year-old, loved the noise and everyone made a fuss of him. We ate in one of the many restaurants that surround the square. As the sun went down over its terrace, the lights came on and the sprawling market took on an even more magical atmosphere.

Every Moroccan city once had a central focus such as this, but the advent of television brought an end to the tradition elsewhere. Tourists continue to flock to Marrakesh, however, and the locals continue to profit from them.

The Avenue Mohammad V district is full of shops selling goods at fixed prices (no haggling required!) and of slightly better quality than can be found in the souks. There are also several large artisan boutiques. And wherever you are in the city, five times a day, you hear the Muslim call to prayer.

After surveying the grounds of the Moroccan king's residence, we went to the Menara gardens, with their 150-year-old pool and pavilion. The tranquillity of the surrounding olive groves are a welcome respite from Marrakesh's hot, sticky summers; the waters themselves are filled with huge grey fish, waiting for stale bread to be thrown at them.

Having warmed to our driver, Mohammad, we took him up on his offer to take us into the Atlas Mountains the next day, paying 500 dirhams (£30) for a seven-hour excursion. The route passes olive tree groves and stretches of empty desert. As the road begins to climb, it winds past villages populated by Moroccan Berber tribes. According to our guide, Berber women do all the work in these villages whilst the men talk "business", which seems to involve sitting around talking and smoking illegal substances. Lee, my husband, immediately wanted us to sell up and move out here. Clearly, Morocco has something for everyone...

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