In December we headed to Marrakech for a week. We booked the week away with First Choice and had a Thomson package deal. It cost us under £200 each for flights and all inclusive accommodation.
Marrakesh vs Marrakech
You may have seen it spelled both ways and wonder which one is correct. Well…they both are! The official spelling is Marrakech although Marrakesh is considered the English spelling.
Russ Hill Hotel at Gatwick
With a 7.15am flight, I wanted to make sure that we had somewhere to stay the night before, as well as airport parking. We booked the Russ Hill Hotel with parking for 8 nights for just £54 with Holiday Extras. When booking, we could add a 3 course meal for just £10 each, which seemed like fantastic value for money, so we did! I was so impressed with Holiday Extras that we have already used them to book the parking for our next holiday!
Finding the hotel was easy – satnav was wrong but before we “reached the destination” according to the satnav, there were signs up directing us. Check in was easy, and we booked a taxi for 4am the following morning. Our room was quite far away and it was small! Everything you could need was there (kettle, tv and hair dryer) and whilst it was clean and the bed comfy, it was very basic. There was WiFi but only in the lobby.
Our “3 course meal” turned out to be an all you can eat carvery, and it was delicious! Everything was fresh, tasty and well cooked – so much better than I was expecting. There was only water served with dinner, which was disappointing, but for £10 I couldn't really complain. We'd brought some bottles of fruit juice and Pepsi with us! After dinner we moved the car into the long stay car park – there were plenty of spaces and we didn't park more than a 2 minute walk from reception.
As for getting some sleep…the bed was tiny! I doubt it was even a double, I'd say a 3/4 bed. That, combined with a 2.45am alarm meant that I barely slept. I eventually gave up at 2.30am and just got ready for the day.
Parking (8 nights) and room (for two people) cost £54 without food, £74 with food.
Airport and flight
This time we were flying from Gatwick's North Terminal, which doesn't have Nando's and therefore isn't my favourite. Our taxi arrived to pick us up early, and the taxi company had an agreement with Russ Hill Hotel to only charge £9 for the journey. We had checked in online so all we had to do was drop our bags off, but there wasn't even a queue. One thing to point out is that our boarding pass stated that hand luggage had a maximum size, but there wasn't a weight limit mentioned. My hand luggage was the heaviest of all our luggage – it had a laptop, iPad, DS, camera, a hoodie, clothes for our first day, about 5 books and 8 magazines…and we were told the limit was 5kg. I was really annoyed because it wasn't on the boarding pass although other restrictions were mentioned. Cue a mad shuffle of items and once it got to 6kg it was allowed – this is where it pays to be nice! I could have kicked up a fuss but it wasn't worth it, and I believe that because we were nice we were able to get away with that extra 1kg!
Duty free was okay…I was tempted by some Marc Jacobs Daisy Forever perfume, but seeing as it was only £2 cheaper than Boots, I decided against it. By now we had checked in, cleared security, scoured Duty Free and it was only 4.25am! We sat around for a bit and then decided that we needed some breakfast. Cue a trip to Wetherspoons for breakfast, which was great considering the early hour!
We were lucky enough to have a row of 3 seats for the two of us, so we could spread out during the flight. The flight was nothing out of the ordinary, although they were having a Black Friday sale on duty free goods, so I managed to get the Marc Jacobs perfume I wanted!
Morocco has a closed currency, which means you can't get Dirham outside of Morocco or take more than 1,000 Dirham out of the country. The good news is that the exchange rate is set by the government, so you don't need to traipse around looking for the best deal. Either exchange your currency at the airport, an ATM or at your hotel (lots of hotels have a currency exchange!). Our hotel was all inclusive, but we got ill so couldn't go to a few meals. This meant we saved money by not going on excursions but we spent a lot of money in the hotel store for plain food like Pringles! We converted £200 and got £100 back when we left.
Our hotel, the Riu Tikida Garden was absolutely stunning! After arriving we were handed a drink and sent to lunch. Eventually we were able to check into our room, to find that we had two single beds…oh. It was still a lovely room with a balcony! The hotel had three pools to choose from, but the water in the outside pool never got warm enough to enjoy the pool! The hotel had everything you could want – a selection of bars, three restaurants to choose from, a shop, currency exchange, atm and a spa. There was daily housekeeping too.
Despite being in Morocco, we experienced every type of food from pizza to tagines! There was something for everyone and I was surprised to find wine provided with dinner and bacon at breakfast! The food differed every day (despite Trip Advisor reviews saying it didn't) so on the days where we were well enough, we really enjoyed our food!
Visiting the medina
Although the hotel offered a free shuttle bus, we decided to go on a paid excursion which included a walking tour of the souks and medina, visiting a pharmacy and half an hour of free time to explore. The tour cost roughly £12 each – a tip here is to pay in Dirham and not Euros or Pounds as it works out cheaper to pay in the local currency.
The whole tour took around 4 hours, but there was no stopping until the end of the tour. Walking in that heat, through the souks and dealing with exhaust fumes made me really thirsty, but there was no time for a drink until the last 30 minutes! I found it really dirty and really difficult when scooters are trying to get past you on tiny streets. It was interesting to see all the stalls but it was a constant struggle to keep saying no to everyone. There wasn't even a chance to stop and shop on the tour!
At the end of the tour we were left in the “big square” to explore for half an hour. Someone else on the tour recommended that we enjoy some orange juice from one of the stalls…and it is here that everything went wrong.
Since the stall was covered with bottled water, and someone recommended it to us earlier, we thought nothing of having some orange juice. Tony had a full glass and I had a few sips – this is important!
We tried to explore the rest of the big square, but we were constantly hassled by people begging, asking to paint henna and otherwise trying to get money from us. What really surprised me throughout this whole holiday is that no one would listen to me – if I asked for something, if I was purchasing something or if I was simply saying no to them. It had to come from Tony.
That night, after our visit to the medina, we headed to dinner as usual and really enjoyed our meal. We headed back to the room and Tony was fast asleep by 10pm…which is very odd. I'm the one with the 10pm bedtime – Tony usually stays awake for hours after I've fallen asleep. I was still up reading at 11 when suddenly he shot up, ran to the bathroom and…the rest is history (you don't want the details!). This was on the Sunday night and he was up every hour with a visit to the bathroom.
The next morning I headed to the hotel shop to buy some immodium…only to find they don't sell it! I would have to visit a pharmacy, alone, in a country where I had struggled with people not listening to me. I made it to the pharmacy in one piece only to be faced with a French pharmacist who didn't understand English. Have you tried mimicking severe diarrhoea before? Because it is hilarious. I finally left with all sorts of medicines including some antibiotics that Google tells me is used for cows in England!
I spent Monday and Tuesday hanging out with Tony, making sure he was kept hydrated. He finally felt well enough to brave dinner on Tuesday night. I was really looking forward it to after looking after Tony for two days…but dinner was cut short when I became ill! Cue racing back to the room and two of us being ill. When we got home, Tony had lost a stone in a week. That's how ill he had been. On reflection, we think it was the orange juice in the big square. The delay in me getting ill coincides with the smaller amount of orange juice I had.
On our final night, Thursday, we were really excited to get home the following day! Someone new had arrived in the hotel and the room next to us had a smoker inside. Our room was filled with cigarette smoke that night and it sat horribly on our chest, which turned into coughs and colds for both of us.
If we had gone to Marrakech and just soaked up the sun and ate delicious food then we would have had a wonderful week! However, my insistence at us experiencing the culture (and visiting the medina) meant that we got so ill. I really struggled with people not listening to me and only listening to what Tony asked or said – it meant that we were often left in situations with someone demanding a tip because they hadn't taken notice of me saying “no”. I wouldn't complete dismiss Marrakech, but it definitely isn't for us. I am all about Orlando, but I am happy that we experienced somewhere new!