Travel: A Taste of Arabia; Marrakech Has to Be One of the Highlights of Any Visit to Morocco - Especially If There's a King in Town. Steve Jones Let His Senses Guide Him to the Exotic North African Kingdom
Byline: Steve Jones
OUR timing couldn't have been better. The police officers looked unusually smart, the airport arrivals area spotlessly clean.
Minutes later we were told why - the King was in town.
His Majesty King Mohammed VI, Morocco's monarch since July 1999, was visiting Marrakech, something which we took to be a reasonable sign.
After all, if he thought it was worth the effort, what had we to worry about?
Well, in truth, absolutely nothing. For whether the Sovereign is there or not, Marrakech is unquestionably one of the north African kingdom's must see venues.
And regardless of what you might have seen or heard about the place beforehand, there's just no substitute for going there and experiencing the real thing.
Quite simply it encapsulates so much of the country within its old city walls, a microcosm of the rich diversity of life that is modern Morocco. But how to take all this in during the course of a long weekend's break?
The short answer is don't even bother. Your senses would be overwhelmed before you'd even got a quarter of the way through. No, much better to prioritise a few things and, if time allows, go with the flow with whatever then takes your fancy. Trust me, you won't be disappointed - and nor will you lack for choice.
A couple of points are worthy of early consideration. Don't try to keep to a timetable which is run with military-like precision, while a bit of homework on those aspects that you are interested in will pay great dividends.
Initial impressions count for a lot, so Marrackech, in common with the more urban parts of the country, is an intriguing mix of culture and architecture reflecting Morocco's Arab and Frenchhistory. The people are friendly and approachable, while virtually all human - and animal - life is on view if you look for it hard enough.
Not for the locals some of the niceties of so-called civilised Western society, so if dirt and dust, hustle and bustle offend your sensibilities don't say you weren't warned.
With that in mind, the Grand Square and the Souk are the main focal points of the old city. The former boasts an extraordinary range of live entertainment, most of which is best seen - and experienced - from dusk onwards.
As for the latter, truly it is like entering another retail world.
Forget everything you've ever done on previous shopping trips and brace yourself for something completely different.
In many respects it's like venturing back in time, such are the neo-Dickensian conditions in which some people work. The image is all the more striking when you consider that a good few of them are actually little more than children.
Yet the range and quality of goods is impressive, don't be afraid to haggle - the locals are almost offended if you don't - while those who are of an ambitious culinary nature will think they've died and gone to herbs and spices heaven such are the fantastic selection of both onoffer. …