London to Marrakech by train.jpg

London to Marrakech by train

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Fans of Morocco will be delighted to hear that Nicolas Sarkozy, the French president, has signed a two billion euro deal to provide a high-speed rail link between the Moroccan cities of Tangiers and Marrakech.

The 310-mile journey between the Mediterranean port and the southern city, with stops at Rabat and Casablanca, will take less than three hours compared with the current 11 hours.

‘Marrakech, Morocco’s ‘Pink City’, has been a Mecca for poets, artists and bon vivants for many years’
‘Marrakech, Morocco’s ‘Pink City’, has been a Mecca for poets, artists and bon vivants for many years’

The line is expected to be operational before 2015.

What’s more, by 2025 it should be possible to travel by rail direct from London to Marrakech. A feasibility study into a tunnel under the Strait of Gibraltar has been extended because of geological complications but is expected to be completed next year.

Spain and Morocco have already agreed in principle to the construction of a 14 billion euro 17-mile long tunnel from Punta Paloma, 30 miles west of Gibraltar, to Tangiers. The project has a target opening date of 2025.

The tunnel will be modelled on the Channel Tunnel but a spokesman for Lombardi, the Swiss engineering firm carrying out the study, said that the greater depth of the sea floor and softer rock would make this a more complicated project.

Magical Marrakech

Why wait until 2025 to visit one of the most popular destinations for autumn breaks? Marrakech, Morocco’s ‘Pink City’, has been a Mecca for poets, artists and bon vivants for many years.

Around 30 years ago, French designer Yves Saint Laurent started the 20th Century’s love affair with the city when he bought a villa in Marrakech. Nowadays, celebrities such

Koutoubia Mosque is a great landmark in Marrakech
Koutoubia Mosque is a great landmark in Marrakech

as P Diddy, Jean Paul Gaultier and Richard Branson own plush riads (typical Moroccan villas hidden away in the old quarter, which is where most visitors tend to spend their time).

A maze of long winding lanes and alleys, dim archways and cool courtyards, the Medina, or market, is the old city’s heart. Entrance is via the Djemaa el Fna, or ‘Place of the Dead’ – claimed to be the largest square in the whole of Africa. During the day, you’ll find a vast array of traders with stalls lining half the massive piazza.

At night, Djemaa el Fna comes alive with colourful Berber musicians and dancers, snake-charmers, fire-eaters, sword-swallowers and an exotic array of stalls selling snacks, sweetmeats and freshly squeezed juices. Once you’ve had enough of the hustle and bustle, escape to one of the cafés and restaurants that surround the square – perfect places to relax with a mint tea.

To the south of Djemaa el Fna are palaces, tombs and museums, while the souks stretch north. After five minutes of rambling around in these ancient markets, you’ll be totally immersed in another world, peopled by hooded craftsmen and brash salesmen imploring you to look at their goods. You’ll feel like you’ve stepped back in time to another century.

If haggling isn’t your thing, a good alternative is a museum or mosque visit. There are several good museums in Marrakech. At the Dart Si Said, the Museum of Arts boasts carpets and kilims, furniture and jewellery Nearby Maison Tiskiwin is a private museum in an elegant mansion, with exhibits that are similar to those at Dar Si Said, plus fabrics and clothes.

The Majorelle Gardens and Museum of Islamic Art, which is privately owned and maintained by Yves Saint Laurent, is an extremely tranquil place if the bustle of Marrakech becomes too much.

One of the most popular sites in Morocco is the Saadian Tombs, which houses 66 members of the Saadian royal family buried there together, along with a number of retainers and some much older graves. Within the mausoleum, the rooms are richly decorated, with magnificent domed ceilings, ornate plasterwork, intricate carving and marble pillars.

A must for any visitor to Marrakech is the Koutoubia Mosque, which dominates the skyline and is a great landmark when sightseeing. It is Marrakech’s tallest building, dating from the 12th century and was one of the earliest great monuments.

After a day of haggling and culture, why not dip into Marrakech nightlife, which covers everything from modern discos to belly-dancing. The medina provides traditional evening entertainment in the form of cafés, food stalls and street entertainment.

For more modern entertainment, several of the hotels have rooftop cafés overlooking the square, while a number of riads have been converted into upmarket restaurants and bars. Although Morocco is an Islamic country, alcohol is permitted inside hotels and restaurants.

PDM verdict: Only a couple of hours from the Algarve, Marrakech offers visitors a tempting taste of Eastern promise. We can arrange travel and an array of accommodation, ranging from great value modern hotels to five-star Riads.

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