Marrakesh, the once imperial city located in West Morocco, is bursting at the seams with culture, beauty and history.  On a walk around the city, one will be encapsulated by the sights, sounds and smells of the vibrant souks, breathtaking gardens and the bustling streets of the Medina. Morocco is the fourth-largest city in Morocco, and with a short three hour flight departing from Dublin. Morocco has never been as accessible to the Northern Irish Traveller. 

With such a short flight, Marrakesh is ideal for those seeking to witness a glimmer of Moroccan’s finest hospitality. Morocco is ideal for a city break - where travellers can spend three or four days exploring Marrakech and experience the vast and vibrant culture of the city. Or perhaps a longer stay would be of interest? Marrakesh is the best of both worlds. While days spent in the Medina are jam-packed with sightseeing and experiences, Moroccan Spa retreats and relaxation activities are renowned. Many hotels offer a vast and sought after spa service - Argan Oil is a Moroccan staple after all! 

Departing from Dublin, the journey to Marrakech went without a hitch. A smooth airport process on both ends, and it was time to begin my Moroccan Journey. Arriving late, roughly around 11 on the Sunday evening, the first port of call was the hotel to rest ahead of a jam-packed itinerary the next morning. While one might expect 11 o’clock on a Sunday to be the prime time to wind down, the expanse of M Avenue was thriving. M Avenue is the cosmopolitan hot-spot of Marrakesh, lined with culturally-enriched dining options, prime shopping hubs and cafes for a mid-day pick me up. Located at the top of M Avenue is the Meydene, an innovative and contemporary gallery. M Avenue is the beating heart of the area, a modern hub of arts and nightlife while paying tribute to the culture of the Kingdom of Morocco.  

Staying in the Mövenpick Hotel Mansour Eddahbi Marrakesh, my accommodation was right in the heart of M Avenue and located only a short distance from the Medina. The hotel was breath-taking, offering top-class comfort and excellent facilities. Once I had absorbed the extravagant and opulent decor of the Movenpick, it was time to make head to the room to prepare for the next day of adventure. 

As dawn began to break, it was time for my second day in Marrakesh to get underway. Both an early and exciting start, the first stop on our journey around (or above) Marrakesh was the Ciel d’Afrique Hot Air Ballooning hub which was roughly a half-an-hour drive from Marrakesh’s main square and M Avenue. Before hitting the heights, myself and the group enjoyed a pre-flight breakfast. To maximise our Moroccan experience, our meal was an authentic Berber Breakfast, a culinary delicacy which derives from the indigenous population of North and Sub-Saharan Africa. The Berber Breakfast consisted of flat-breads, olive oil, jam and honey along with a serving of Morocco’s speciality mint tea. 

Following breakfast, excitement began to brew as we filled out our ‘boarding passes’ for the Hot Air Balloon, where the team at Ciel d’Afrique took us through an in-depth safety briefing and some general rules for our ballooning experience. With the safety briefing completed and our boarding passes given to the trusty team, the action was well and truly underway! Stepping into the basket, the pre-flight jitters did begin to muster for the initial take-off. However, with the trusted guidance of our balloon captain, Daniel, any apprehension or anxieties were put to rest as he explained the aerodynamics and safety of the balloon. All nerves quashed and the adrenaline coursing through our veins, it was up, up and away for the group as we took off for the high skies overlooking Marrakesh. 

Within minutes of first taking off, the balloon pushed through the clouds and we caught a glimpse of the world-renowned Moroccan sun-rise, blazing radiantly just above the clouds. Truly a sight to behold. With the balloon continuing to climb high into the sky, I took in all the sights and sounds of this once-in-a-lifetime experience. 

Due the typical warm climate and clear skies of Morocco. It is extremely rare to experience going above the clouds on one of these balloon rides. In-fact, Daniel informed us that roughly it only happens five times throughout the year. An extra addition that made our experience hot-air ballooning in Morocco all that more amazing. 

With my head in the clouds-quite literally, the experience continued to get better. Myself and the group were treated to the sight of numerous hot-air balloons joining us in the clouds, a simply spectacular sight. The disappointment of heading back down from the clouds was swiftly soothed by the sights of Marrakesh. Drifting low, I caught glimpses of the surrounding area including farms, villages and a brief glance at the nearby Jbilet and Atlas Mountains.

Sights of the Kutubiyya Mosques’ tower peeked over into the sky-line of the area. 

The Hot Air Balloon Experience lasted around four hours total, including time spent travelling out to the hub, enjoying breakfast and taking in the surrounding area during an hour long flight in the air. Upon landing, the team at Ciel d’Afrique provide each high-flyer with a certificate signed by the flight pilot, Daniel. A great keepsake to document your time floating above the African Horizon.

Two feet planted firmly back on the ground, the group headed for a tour of Marrakesh, with locations including the Medina, the Souks, and a tour around the grounds of the Kutubiyya Mosques’. Returning to the centre of Marrakesh, our tour of the once-imperial city began in the Medina. The Medina is a vibrant epicentre of the Moroccan lifestyle.  Street performers and traders’ markets line the area, with the main attraction being the labyrinth of souks that wind down streets and alleyways of the main area of Marrakesh. Walking through the streets, you are overcome by the colours, scents, and aura of the town. Enriched with a vibrant and vast culture, it’s almost imperative to head into some of the market stalls to take a browse around the Berrad teapots and the colourful tagines.  The souks are filled to the brim with beautiful trinkets that pay homage to the rich culture of the city. 

Located just a short distance from Marrakesh’s Medina is the Kutubiyya Mosque. With intricate and poignant architecture, the 70-metre tower of Kutubiyya Mosque can be seen across the expanse of the city.  Built during the 12th century by the Almohad Dynasty, the name ‘Kutubiyya’ derives from the Arabic word for bookseller. This name details the history of the area, when up to 100 booksellers would set up shop at the entrance to the mosque and surrounding greenery.  Entry to the mosque is off-limits for non-Muslims, however a walk around the grounds is well worth it. Just beside the mosque is a collection of historic ruins and cisterns with a nearby garden with aromatic orange trees and beautiful fountains. 

Later that evening, it was time to wander down the luxurious expanse of M Avenue to Meydene, an interactive cultural centre. Walking around Meydene, the displays of traditional Moroccan Dance alongside the demonstrations of Morocco’s spirit acts as a gateway to explore Morocco’s history. Visitors can experience a contemporary gallery while witnessing the transformation of Morocco and Marrakesh. After a few hours of enjoying the innovative exhibit followed by a beverage on Meydene’s rooftop bar, a standpoint which gives you a fabulous view down the glistening expanse of M Avenue. It was time to reflect as my trip to Morocco came to a close. 

Allowing the warm light of the Moroccan lanterns guide me back to my hotel, it became evident that a day trip around Marrakesh is not nearly enough to explore the depth and beauty of such a city. Filled to the brim with culture, history and a splendour of stunning sights to see, there has never been a better time to embark on a dazzling journey to Marrakesh.

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