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As desert-lovers ourselves, we've been scouring our Big Short Break destinations to come up with the ultimate short break desert experience. Now, dear reader, we think we've cracked it with our Sahara helicopter safari.
Aug - Jul
Introducing our Sahara helicopter safari, combined with a stay in possibly the finest luxury hotel Morocco has to offer. A word of warning, this trip is not for the faint of budget, but for anyone time-pressed and wanting an incredible 'trip-of-a-lifetime' desert experience, this is as good as it gets.
While everything is - as always - completely tailor-made, we recommend the following. On arrival into Marrakech Airport, you are met and taken across to the onsite helipad from where a private helicopter whisks you over the beautiful Atlas Mountains to the hugely romantic Dar Ahlam Desert Camp. Don't let the word 'camp' put you off, though - this is the dictionary definition of glamping, and as far removed from sleeping in a Millet's tent as it's possible to get without being in an actual building.
The camp is deep into the nearest dune sea (rather than scrub desert) to the UK, the vast Sahara that stretches out southwards from the town of Ouarzazate, and is so remote that to drive there from Marrakech would take the small matter of eight hours - hence the heli-recommendation.
There are just ten beautifully designed and decorated tents, kitted out in the same style as the luxurious rooms at Dar Ahlam, the desert camp's sister property near Ouarzazate. We probably only recommend one night at the camp, but that should be magical enough thanks to the location and onsite staff, who can arrange for a romantic candle-lit private dinner in the dunes (ideal for anyone planning a proposal), massages in your tent, or a dawn walking tour to understand more about desert life.
After a day and night to remember, we recommend driving (or helicoptering again if you're really pushing the boat out) back to Dar Ahlam proper to experience a night or two of serious kasbah luxury, before heading back (again, by 4x4 or heli) to Marrakech where you can extend your stay with another night or more in one of the many slick riads in the medina before flying home. Few trips will score higher on the 'what did you do at the weekend?' boastability scale.
Part of the exclusive Aman Group of hotels, the Amanjena is situated three miles from Marrakech on the edge of the Palmeraie - an extensive oasis of palms and olive trees.
The Angsana Riads collection is comprised of six riads - Bab Firdaus, Blanc, Lydines, Si Said, Tiwaline and Dar Zaouia, the latest addition to the Angsana family – each as exceptional as the next.
Dar Zemora is a boutique country house-style hotel set in the leafy surroundings of the Palmeraie, just outside Marrakech.
This hotel is the creation of two professional photographers, and fuses cutting-edge design with a historic Moroccan framework.
El Fenn is a stylish boutique hotel located next to the Bab el Ksour – one of the gateways to the bustling medina of Marrakech and only five minutes’ walk from the main square, Djemaa el-Fna.
Located in the heart of the medina, next to the Musée de Marrakech, the Riad Capaldi is perfectly placed for guests wishing to immerse themselves in the Moroccan lifestyle, shopping and sights.
Originally designed as a private home by an award winning British hotelier, Riad Farnatchi is a charming boutique hotel in the central Medina district that retains the intimacy and character of a private home, while having all of the facilities, style and service of a five star boutique hotel.
There are now so many riads in Marrakech that it’s become our stated aim to sift through them all to find and offer only the very best – the most stylish, the most luxurious riads in the whole city. It was a tough job, but somebody had to do it.
Dating back to the 18th Century, Riad Kniza is a charming boutique riad.
Located on the edge of the Souk in Marrakech’s labyrinth of alleys, Riad L’Orangeraie is one of the city’s most charming and well located riads.
Recently voted amongst the best hideaway hotels in the world, Jnane Tamsna is a collection of five luxurious villas on a peaceful, nine-acre estate in the heart of the Palmeraie, the huge expanse of date palms just outside Marrakech.
A five-star luxury riad in Marrakech, Villa des Orangers is a member of Relais & Chateaux and has a prime location in the medina, just a stone’s throw from the bustling Djemaa el Fna square.
La Sultana, opened back in 1998, was the result of a long partnership with the historical monuments organisation and the vision of an excellent interior designer, and remains one of the best places to stay in Marrakech.
We normally advise first timers to Marrakech to stay in the magical maelstrom of the medina, but for repeat visitors wanting a bit of peace and calm, or those travelling with children, then there are places outside the city walls that are well worth consideration. One such hotel is the recently opened and fairly magnificent Selman, located on the road leading to the Atlas Mountains just 10 minutes from the city walls.
The Royal Palm Marrakech is one of the new luxury resorts springing up within striking distance of Marrakech. While we still recommend first-timers stay in the medina, of all of the out-of-towners, the Royal Palm has possibly the most going for it.
This traditional Kasbah, on the edge of the desert in southern Morocco, has been authentically and artistically restored and still manages to feel like a private home.
Riad Maison Bleue is a stylish boutique riad created from three neighbouring houses and the perfect balance of traditional and contemporary furniture just a few minutes walk from the Bab Bou Jeloud or Blue Gate entrance to the famous medina of Fez.
Much of the charm in visiting Fez is to experience a city much unchanged since medieval times; but even the most history thirsty traveller would presumably want the whole Middle Ages thing to stop at their door of their hotel. Fortunately, in Riad Fes they can retire to one of the finest riads in Morocco, let alone Fez.
Tucked away down a narrow medina lane behind gold-studded doors, you’ll find this intimate five-star palatial riad; a true oasis amid the hustle and bustle of booming Fez. Newly renovated, Palais Amani retains its original 1930s art deco feel, spiced up with Moroccan design and smoothed over with the latest mod-cons.
Bab Ourika sits like an eagle's eyrie at the apex of the Ourika Valley, with spectacular views of the mountains, river valley and nearby Berber villages.
Perched on a rocky outcrop at the foot of Jebel Toubkal, North Africa’s highest peak, the former fortress of Kasbah du Toubkal is the most atmospheric place to stay in the High Atlas Mountains.
Kasbah Tamadot was bought by Sir Richard Branson during preparations for one of his famous ballooning expeditions in the late 1990’s, and opened as a luxury boutique hotel in 2005.
Located in the foothills of the Atlas Mountain range, the Capaldi is a friendly and comfortable hotel located in nine acres of olive groves just outside Marrakech.
Kasbah Toubkal is one of our favourite places to stay in the Atlas Mountains, but the beautiful mountain landscape surrounding the Kasbah demands closer exploration on a trek, and this is where Kasbah Toubkal’s Azzaden Trekking Lodge comes in to its own.
A boutique hotel that comprises of just six riad style villas, Rebali Riads has the best of both worlds, and its location in Sidi Kaouk to the south of Essaouira is fantastic.
The Palais Heure Bleue is a riad hotel in the coastal town of Essaouira.
As with any self-respecting riad, however central or busy the location, once you are through the enormous and ornate doors, Villa de L'Ô is a haven in the heart of Essaouira.
La Sultana lies just 112 miles from Marrakech and Casablanca, sitting on the banks of the Oualidia lagoon, famous for its oyster beds and flamingos, and with views of the Atlantic Ocean lapping on the sandbanks, its setting is quite simply spectacular.
I have travelled with Original Diving and Original Travel on several different occasions and the service received has been consistently outstanding whether diving in Asia or taking a Safari in Africa.
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