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MoroccoFebruary 4, 2008 By: Judy Bernhardt Travel Agent
Hotels and activities in the must-see cities of Marrakech and Fez
THE MOROCCAN NATIONAL TOURIST OFFICE is working hard to reach its goal of 10 million tourist arrivals by the year 2010. Building and refurbishing hotels are main strategies in attracting more visitors. Morocco's "Vision 2010" mission is being aided by the addition of 115,000 hotel rooms.
Fueled by billions of dollars from private investors in partnerships with the Moroccan government, new planned resort communities are springing up and major infrastructure improvements are under way throughout the country. U.S. visitors to Morocco increased 20 percent in 2006, and the tourism board hopes that number will continue to rise.
Major hotel groups, including Four Seasons and Mandarin Oriental, are planning properties in Marrakech, a popular tourist area in the foothills of the Atlas Mountains. The newly opened Octogone Terre Resort and Spa (800-915-4012, www.octogonehotels.com) is attracting a lot of attention, especially in the luxury market.
With the earth (in French) as its namesake, Octogone Terre was designed to be completely environmentally friendly and make optimal use of its natural elements. A "green philosophy" is evident throughout the property, from sustainable building materials and furnishings made from local Moroccan materials to the use of homegrown produce in the restaurants to light and water conservation and recycling programs.
The Princess Villas are perfect for couples traveling together, as each is composed of two separate suites that open to a common grand living room, terrace and private area. It's an ideal combination of space and privacy.
For affluent families, the Royal Villas are the best bet. They feature four bedrooms, four full bathrooms, kitchen, living room, study, dining area and garden. Some also have a private pool.
One of the more popular experiences at the hotel is the Moroccan feast served in a traditional Berber tent. At the spa, book the Nomadic treatment, which includes a traditional hammam bath and scrub, massage and facial. There are four treatment rooms; reservations can be made at reception on the day of arrival.
In the reception area, clients also can book day trips, including trekking in the mountains; a full-day city tour; excursion to the ocean by private vehicle, complete with picnic lunch; and camel rides in the desert. For shoppers and browsers, the hotel can arrange for a private tour of the souks (markets) in Marrakech.
Private butler service can be arranged for the suites. All rooms can be booked through the GDS; commission is 10 percent. Contact Assistant General Manager Mohamed Lamarti, at 011-212-24-33-4060, [email protected], for VIP clients.
Farther north, in the sacred city of Fez, the Sofitel Palais Jamai (www.sofitel.com, 800-SOFITEL or 011-212-35-63-4331) was built in 1879 as a palace for the Jamai family. Its Moorish-Arabic style was left intact when it was converted into a hotel in the 1930s, and the Sofitel is still one of the top accommodations to be had. In the 1970s a five-story wing was added. The rooms and suites offer a perfect blend of modern comfort and traditional Moroccan decor. The Al Fassia Moroccan restaurant boasts some of the finest cuisine in the city.
Fez is the oldest of the Imperial Cities, and travelers can spend days exploring its souks, medina (ancient quarter) and historical sights. The hotel can arrange for day trips to an authentic Berber village, golf at the nearby 18-hole course, visits to the Moulay Jacob hot springs (only 20 minutes away) and private guided shopping trips.
Book one of the 19 suites, seven of which are in the old building and thus are more traditional and ornate in style. For the ultimate in luxury—and spaciousness—book the Prince Suite, the largest in the hotel. It has three separate rooms, including two large sitting rooms, one of which can be used as a meeting/dining room. There is also a private entrance for celebrities and VIPs.
General Manager Denis de Schrevel ([email protected], 011-212-35-63-4332) can be contacted for VIP guests. Commission is 10 percent.
Royal Air Maroc (www.royalairmaroc.com/Marchand/Us/Home.jsp, 800-344-6726) is the only carrier that flies nonstop to Casablanca from New York. The flight is seven hours, which is shorter than flights to some European capitals from New York.
The airline codeshares with Delta, making it easy for travelers to connect from feeder markets such as Atlanta, Dallas, Seattle, Los Angeles and Boston.
Last summer, spurred by rising demand, the airline increased its New York service to 10 flights per week from JFK. In late 2008, the carrier will introduce the 787 Dreamliner, making Royal Air Maroc the first airline to serve North American passengers with the highly anticipated, technologically advanced aircraft.
Royal Air Maroc has also introduced a family-friendly frequent flyer program in which one account is set up for a family and miles from any family member's flights go into the communal pot. It's an easy way to rack up points quickly and efficiently.
Royal Air Maroc celebrated its 50th anniversary in 2007 and will be even more important in the next few years in helping Morocco meet its Vision 2010 goal. The airline operates an extensive domestic network and serves points in North America, Africa, Europe and the Middle East.
Laurette De Moro, an Albuquerque-based outside agent for Worldview Travel, has been selling Morocco for 13 years. Her idea of a perfect Morocco itinerary is as follows: "I have clients start with two or three nights in Fez, staying at the historical Palais Jamai hotel. In Fez, I arrange for my clients to visit the mosques and the old market.
"On the way to Marrakech, I have them spend one night in a Berber village in a traditional Berber tent, which includes dinner with the Berbers and a camel ride in the Sahara at Merzouga. Then down to Marrakech, used as a base to fan out to the Dra valley, Ouarzazate for the camel market and Essaouira, an old Portuguese outpost along the ocean.
"In Marrakech," De Moro says, "visits include the Menara Gardens, Koutoubia minarets, Saadian tombs, Bahia Palace and the Jemaa El Fna Square. I also include a visit to the Ourika Valley, with tea with a local family and a visit to the local market. Then a donkey ride to Kasbah Toubkal, a tour of Essaouira and an early-morning visit to Ouarzazate for the camel market.
"In total, I plan for eight nights, but it should be longer for those clients who have the time to give them a good feel for this fantastic country."
She notes: "Like in many countries, the southern parts are almost always the most interesting."