There’s no holiday harder to plan than a honeymoon. Usually the only time someone enquires about your holiday plans is when your hairdresser’s trying to fill an awkward silence between snips, but with honeymoons everyone you’ve ever met, ever, starts asking you as soon as you Instagram your engagement ring. And it’s not just the knowledge that people you haven’t spoken to since school will be stalking social media for the I-woke-up-like-this honeymoon selfies (because, let’s be honest, you don’t really care about that) – it’s the crushing weight of planning the relationship-defining trip of a lifetime. This is the holiday you’re supposed to remember forever, the one you’ll tell your potential future grandchildren about. It’s where you’ll source the souvenirs you’ll put at the top of your things-to-save-from-a-house-fire list. And to make it just a little bit more daunting, you’re supposed to pay for this epic adventure immediately after treating 150 of your closest friends and most I’m-not-sure-who-you-are-but-apparently-we-have-to-invite-you relatives to an open bar.
My husband and I battled all this (plus my self-imposed need to impress my fellow travel writers) not too long ago. We wanted something that felt extravagant but wouldn’t bankrupt us, somewhere that’d provide what my mum would call ‘an experience’ for the airmiles-fiend bride without too much culture shock for the groom, an American who didn’t even have a passport till I left Los Angeles for London and he realised he might not see me again without one. We went to Morocco and it was brilliant. If you fancy following in our gloriously happy footsteps, here’s our Moroccan honeymoon itinerary:
Stop one Dar Maya hotel, Essaouira
We landed in Marrakech, because flights from London to Essaouira are at inhospitable times (and that’s no way to start a honeymoon). A few goats-in-trees-spotting hours later, our charming driver – schoolgirl French was helpful here – had whisked us out to the windswept coast, where the tiny Essaouira medina meets the Mediterranean. A waiting porter schlepped our luggage through the labyrinthine streets to a door we were sure we’d never find unaided, and the kind Dar Maya staff took us in. The hotel’s a diminutive townhouse helmed by a runaway Brit who fell in love with Essaouira, and after our two night stay we couldn’t really blame him. From the rooftop hot tub we we watched waves roll in as the call to prayer echoed, and knew we’d arrived somewhere pretty intriguing. (We were, it turned out, able to find the hotel unaided. Essaouira’s very small and relatively chill, and an ideal first stop for North Africa beginners.)
Stop two Le Jardin des Douars, Essaouira
After eating ridiculously good food at Le Table by Madada, drinking ridiculously good cocktails at Taros and spending far too much time pointing out things we recognised from Game of Thrones (Essaouira is Astapor! You, too, can be Daenerys Targaryen freeing the Unsullied on the ramparts!), we made a solemn pact to return to Essaouira’s medina as soon as possible and then headed out of town. A 15-minute car ride was all it took to reach the rural wonderland that is Le Jardin des Douars. We rode camels on the beach, we rode horses on the beach, we soaked in our vast room’s magnificent green-tiled bath tub to heal our bruises from falling off horses on the beach… and we spent a great deal of time lazily swimming back and forth in the ‘calm pool’ (as opposed to the children’s pool, which is handily out of earshot on the other side of the site).
Stop three Dar Zemora, Marrakech
Our laziness continued back in Marrakech (laziness is a very good way to spend your honeymoon). If you’re after a laid-back life in Morocco, head for the Palmeraie, the palm-dotted enclave on the outskirts of town that’s all secluded stays and luxury hideouts. Our home-from-home, Dar Zemora, only has a handful of rooms, and ours – the Perla suite – included the entire rooftop as our own private terrace for dining, stargazing and sunbathing amid the brightly-potted cacti. The only reason we needed to leave our room was the pool (where the seemingly psychic staff provide mint tea and iced towels just exactly when you need them). If there were ever a hotel we could see ourselves returning to year after year, forever and ever, Dar Zemora is it.
Stop four La Mamounia, Marrakech
Remember that thing I said about us wanting something extravagant? La Mamounia is it. It’s the shiniest, blingiest, most luxurious stay in town, from the miles and miles of golden-studded burgundy velvet covering walls and ottomans to the rainbow of Goyard totes on the sun loungers flanking the glittering pool (and I mean ‘glittering’ literally: it’s lined with sparkly mermaid-scale tiles, and it’s amazing). The gardens are vast, the meals stomach-bustingly generous, and the Churchill Bar’s cosy booths pleasingly dark – after 45-degree days of North African sun, there’s no better way to end the night than sipping an Old Fashioned at good old Winston’s favourite hotel, with a jazz singer on sultry standards duty as your soundtrack.
Stop five Kasbah Tamadot, Atlas Mountains
Even the longest honeymoon has to end somewhere. We ended ours here, up in the foothills, with peacocks, a telescope and mountain views I still dream about. Our Berber tent suite was, I suspect, the fanciest tent you’ve ever seen, complete with a hot tub on the deck where no one could see you skinny dipping (unless the people in the village on the other side of the valley had binoculars and nothing better to do). Mule trekking sounds like a bit of a cliché, I know, but this is the landscape for it. I’m not even going to bother trying to describe the poppy-dotted fields and terraced distant hillside as we rounded the mountain in detail; you’ll just have to go and look for yourself. I realised much too late, I thought, that I should probably arrange something special for our final honeymoon night but enquired at the front desk anyway – a few hours later we had a rooftop dinner to ourselves, our personal waiter appearing and disappearing silently from God knows where whenever we needed him, and a troop of his colleagues appearing on cue to sing Happy Birthday and present cake to my husband, who’d earlier made me swear I wouldn’t make strangers sing ‘Happy Birthday’ to him but then forgave me because it was incredible. And then they stoked up the fire pit, handed us cosy hooded Berber robes, and pulled out a telescope so the birthday boy could look at planets. Magic.