Live out your travel dreams by meandering through Marrakesh

The city is a treasure trove of photo opportunities. (Shutterstock)
Updated 23 January 2018
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Live out your travel dreams by meandering through Marrakesh

MARRAKESH: There are some cities in the world that are almost impossible not to love. Think of Rio de Janeiro with its laid-back beach vibe and picture-perfect cliffs that plunge into the sea, or Tokyo, where futuristic technology, fresh seafood and fascinating history come together to ensure you always want to stay longer. Both are immediately enchanting. Marrakesh is not. But, with time, you’ll discover its attractions.
The majority of Morocco’s fourth-largest city is constructed from red sandstone, gaining it the sobriquet The Ochre City. It is naturally beautiful from afar, but up close, the dirt and disorganization, coupled with dangerous, traffic-heavy roads and street-hawkers as persistent as the flies that accompany your every meal, make it a hard place to drop your guard.
It is a city that can test your patience: hot, humid, dusty and with a constant din; a city where, when it comes to buying things — be it Berber rugs, Aladdin-style lamps or tanned leather backpacks — the word ‘no’ means ‘maybe’ and ‘maybe’ is all the indication vendors need to start bagging up whatever it is you dared sneak a glimpse at.
It is certainly not a destination for everyone, but those visitors willing to leave their first-world problems at the airport, spare some coins for the snot-nosed street urchins asking for help to buy a football, and embrace the mysticism that Marrakesh is most famed for, will be richly rewarded.
The nine-meter tall ochre wall that surrounds the labyrinthine medina consists of some of the city’s most impressive relics, including towering battlements and magnificent fortress-style doors. Inside, lush green gardens and a bustling Kasbah complement a collection of some of the finest Islamic architecture in the world, including the Ali Ben Youssef Medersa and the iconic Koutoubiya Mosque, which dates back to the 12th Century.
It is in the shadow of the mosque’s 77-meter minaret where the heartbeat of Marrakesh can be found: The sprawling Jamaa el-Fna.
To explore Morocco’s most famous open-air market is like stepping back in time — only the chained-up monkeys wear diapers these days and the tooth-pullers try to charge €10 for the privilege of taking a photo. The droves of tourists are diluted by the sheer mass of locals, creating an authentic scene largely unchanged since the plaza swapped public executions for more palatable forms of entertainment a few centuries ago.
By daytime, a sensory explosion reveals Moroccans huddled around Berber storytellers while serpents rise ominously from the dark depths of woven baskets to the tune of a charmer’s flute; soothsayers and slapstick shows noisily vie for your attention as henna artists reach for your arms and tassel-hatted water sellers clang their bells.
An evening stroll allows you to try your hand at a game involving a fishing rod, a doughnut and a crop circle of Coca-Cola bottles, but a tougher challenge lies amid the numerous pop-up restaurants. If you can pass through without succumbing to offers of steaming hot tagine or plentiful grilled meats you are either seriously strong-willed or have no sense of smell. Feeling especially brave? Try the street food on the northern edge of the square: boiled sheep’s head or spice-infused snail soup, perhaps?
On the opposite edge of the plaza sits the Souk El Bahja. Spread over three floors — the name translates literally as “The Up and Down Market” — here you will find everything from slippers to fossils, spices to argan oil. Haggle hard, but be aware that regardless of the price you settle on you can get your purchase for a quarter of the price outside the walled city.
While secluded riads (large houses built around central courtyards) provide a potential evening retreat and a steamy hammam can help you de-stress, the best way to escape from the mayhem of Marrakesh is to head for the Atlas Mountains.
A couple of hours outside of the city, the Berber commune of Setti-Fatma has stunning panoramic views and seven picturesque waterfalls. A shallow river runs through the middle of the town, prompting a series of Indiana Jones-style wooden bridges, while a few restaurants have set up tables in the middle of the water. Whether it is for novelty value or to keep the street cats away from your khobz, with a piping hot cup of mint tea in your hand and cold water running through your toes, it is here where you will likely, finally, be able to relax — at least until you remember you need to return your car to Marrakesh.


Gili Lankanfushi: A gourmet getaway in the Maldives

Updated 19 May 2018
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Gili Lankanfushi: A gourmet getaway in the Maldives

  • This island resort is the perfect destination for foodies and sun-worshippers alike

DUBAI: The Maldives is one of those destinations that nature has bestowed with an embarrassment of riches. And what nature has given, numerous resorts have taken and perfected with their ultra-luxury offerings. Which is what makes choosing exactly where to go that much more difficult. And while each island has its own special charm, anyone seeking a gastronomic experience should look no further than Gili Lankanfushi.

This intimate resort, located a 20-minute speedboat ride away from Male airport in the north Male atoll, is home to just 45 over-water villas. Everything on the island ¬— and beyond, as several of the villas are perched on stilts offshore — from the villas to the restaurants and the spa, is done up in a rustic-chic style, making for a pared-back, but still luxury, setting.

The inviting villas, complete with direct access to the crystal clear lagoons; curated collection of activities including snorkeling and sunset cruises; and Insta-perfect spots — think idyllic hammocks swinging between drooping palms — are temptation enough for tourists, but it’s the gourmet offerings that make Gili Lankanfushi a must for gourmands. And with a sustainable ethos at its heart — much of the food is created using local fish, and produce from the resort’s own organic vegetable garden — you can feel good about yourself while you’re eating too much.

We’d recommend taking the Gili Tasting Journey as soon as possible after your arrival. It takes you through the island’s main dining destinations for a teaser of what each has to offer, through a mini course and beverage at each, led by the resident sommelier Fabrice Blazquez who colors the evening with enjoyable banter.

A typical evening could start with canapés at the over-water bar, the perfect sundowner spot, before moving on to the spectacular underground wine cellar, built around a tree trunk that washed up during the 2006 tsunami — a great example of how this sustainably minded resort works with the environment, rather than imposing on it. This intimate space boasts organic features and pebble floors (you’re provided heated foot pads, as everyone is expected to walk around barefoot around the island, in line with their ‘no news, no shoes’ policy) which, combined with the modernist glass and metal, make it feel as though you’re walking into an art installation.

Here you can try intricate creations such as octopus with mango salsa, and beetroot jelly with goat’s cheese mousse, after which you are led into the leafy surrounds of the organic vegetable garden. As the sunset casts a magical glow over the rustic wood ‘leaf table’ you can sample some traditional Maldivian smoked fish snacks.
You then make your way to Fini Foni, a cute ice-cream parlor which, for this tour, offers foie-gras macarons. The evening ends with sushi and sake at specialty Japanese restaurant By The Sea.

The breakfast offering, too, is superlative. And best enjoyed beachside. The morning buffet offers a range of regional delicacies, including Mas huni (tuna and coconut served with flatbread), while the a la carte menu features eggs to order — we’d recommend the Maldivian spicy omelet with tuna and curry leaves. Alternatively, keep it light and healthy with fruits, smoothies, and detoxifying spa beverages.

Personalization is key to the Gili Lankanfushi experience. Each guest’s stay is managed by a private butler, resulting in bespoke dining experiences. The island is dotted with picturesque spots perfect for romantic meals, whether a gazebo tucked away in the tropical jungle, a secluded slither of beach, the outdoor jungle cinema, or the tiny One Palm island just offshore. Pick your spot and a personal chef cooks up a three-course meal of your choice for a magical experience.

Or, if you fancy staying in and enjoying the plush décor of your villa, just order in and chill. Unusually for a resort, ordering in-villa doesn’t cost a premium. Try dinner on your upstairs terrace, after which, weather permitting, you can even sleep out under the stars.

And once the guilt sets in, there are plenty of water-based activities — diving, fishing, surfing, sailing, waterskiing — to help you work off a few pounds.