Harriet Whiting explored Morocco with her sons. Plus five more suggestions for an October half term adventure.
Souks, Surfing & Seafood
Everyone warned us that Marrakech with our two boys, 5 and 7, would be crazy. But actually, it was craziness that we were craving. Something to shake up our routines and give us a warm blast of colourful culture. In fact, we were so keen for an immersive Moroccan adventure we decided to visit not only Marrakech but add on Oualidia, a coastal town by a lagoon, and famed city of winds, Essaouira.
The EasyJet flight from Gatwick to Marrakech is a trouble-free three and a half hours. With an almost unbelievable lack of hassle, we left grey old England behind and we were standing in the souk, hooded Berber men shuffling past, each tiny shop a trove of shimmering copper lamps, patterned rugs and woven baskets. As a mother of Harry Potter aficionados, there was magic everywhere. Stones that cracked opened to reveal crystals, secret boxes with hidden keys and pyramids of brightly coloured powders for potions. Behind carved doorways were hidden gardens, stuffed with ancient cacti. And always a patient Moroccan happy to tell us how it was made or where it came from.
The children could have wandered endlessly but thankfully for us, we had booked into chic Riad Kbour & Chou, a stylish riad located in a residential district north of the medina. Here a peaceful greenery-clad courtyard yielded a family of tortoises to play with and two gorgeous dogs who proffered their paws on arrival. The boys loved to run downstairs to pet the various animals while we enjoyed an Atlas Mountain-facing rooftop breakfast of freshly baked breads and pancakes, apricot jam and local cheese with fresh herbs. Even better were the evenings, where our ground-floor suite meant that a courtyard dinner a deux was easily achievable while the children slept. We happily worked our way through steaming tagines and velvety Moroccan red wine.
The wide-open lagoon and all-natural vibe at La Sultana, Oualidia was of huge contrast to the cacophony of Marrakech, just two hours away. This truly sensational hotel occupies an unspoilt coastal area, and its mere eleven suites add to the atmosphere of secluded calm. Our two-bedroom suite had a dual aspect view onto the turquoise-ribboned lagoon and a balcony with a jacuzzi. The lagoon is a magnet for birdlife and the stage for adventures such as our family surf lesson, hikes to a ruined castle and speed boat trips.
Proximity to the sea also had other benefits: fresher-than-fresh seafood including delicious crab and oysters. Service here is at extra-mile level, including friendly babysitters happy to take the boys for an explore while we were buffed and polished in the hammam.
Our last stop was at flower-filled Jardin des Douars, near Essaouira, a hip hangout for in-the-know parents who’ve caught onto the easy-going vibe, heated pools and flexible mealtimes. Here, tribes of kids formed instantly while parents hung back at the poolside bars and among the ochre-coloured buildings housing villas decorated in deep red and burnt orange tones. It was the antithesis of a resort and had no kids' club, yet had everything we needed for a family stay.
We also found adventure nearby. We drove through argan forests to discover an isolated waterfall by a giant sand dune, and the boys enjoyed the obligatory camel ride on Sidi Khaouki beach. We found Essaouira and its more manageable souk exotically pretty with its narrow alleys, where waves occasionally came crashing over, and the medina walls replete with cannons were perfect for a stroll. Sunset at rooftop bar Taros to watch the wind-whipped Atlantic Ocean blew out any residual cobwebs.
Driving back to Marrakech for our return flight, we passed by the majesty of the distant snow-capped Atlas Mountains, beyond which lay ancient Berber communities and the shifting tangerine-red dunes of the Sahara Desert. We’d only touched a fragment of Morocco – we knew we’d be back.
Real Holidays offer 8-day tailormade self-drives, including 3 nights at La Sultana, Oualidia from £5,346 for a family of four. Includes return flights to Marrakech and car hire. realholidays.co.uk 020 7359 3938
Looking to explore further? We like the sound of Families Worldwide's Fez & The Sahara tailored adventure, suitable for kids of 7+. Explore the Atlas Film Studios (where Gladiator and Asterix & Obelisk were made) and visit the fortified city of Ait Benhaddou before heading into the Sahara by camel for two night under the stars. End your trip in the buzz of historic Fez. From £1,545 adults, £1,285 children under 12. familiesworldwide.co.uk