It may be winter in the UK, but Marrakech – just a short three-and-a-half hour flight away – is the ideal spot for basking in some rays.
And while getting lost in the city’s medina, wandering through its palm-tree gardens and sharing mezze in the rooftop restaurants should all be on your ‘must-do’ list, you can now get a different perspective on this intriguing destination.
Adding an element of adventure to a sun-drenched weekend break is Insiders Experience – a new travel company which aims to take visitors off the beaten track and away from the usual tourist trails.
Led by locals, not only are its motorbike and sidecar rides unique but they are also personalised, via a questionnaire before your trip, so the result is a bespoke itinerary.
It’s early morning and our ‘insider’, Felix Mathivet, who has lived in the city for the past three years, is waiting for us outside of our hotel.
Born to French parents, and having lived in various countries throughout his life, including Malawi, China and Ireland, he is a natural globetrotter with an easy charm.
We’ve chosen to base our itinerary around a desert trip so it’s helmets on and into the sidecar. We head out along the Route d’Amizmiz, leaving the ochre city walls behind us. Ahead, the Atlas Mountains cut into the sky – which even in January is a bold, cobalt blue straight out of a paint-box.
The snow-capped peaks seem incongruous against the hot, dusty road we’re on, and soon the landscape becomes even more dramatic as it flattens out into the Agafay Desert.
After 20 minutes of a gusty ride – take sunglasses and wear something warm – we pull off into the small town of Tameslouht, known for its diverse artisan craft scene. Many of the handmade products are sold in Marrakech’s souks but are actually better showcased at cheaper prices in the town’s Friday market (gloriously untouristy, it’s worth a side-trip for the market alone).
Today it’s quiet, however, and local children wave curiously as we tootle past – the burnt-orange retro motorbike and sidecar a clear source of amusement.
We stop in a courtyard, punctuated by indigo and yellow-daubed archways, and take in the mountain views, while Felix chats to local resident Moulay Hafid. It turns out he lives in the nearby ancient Zaouia, a 500-year-old palace and religious school, which sits in the centre of the town and he agrees to show us around.
It’s a vast, crumbling place, with cavernous rooms leading off one another, broken up with courtyards and stairs to many different levels. The building has a long history of being home to eminent religious scholars, but these days it is only their descendent Hafid and his immediate family who remain.
A few of the rooms are richly furnished with Moroccan carpets, floor cushions and stunning stained glass windows, while others are deserted, flustered pigeons rising up as we pass through. It’s a rare insight into a world that would otherwise be hidden from view.
After sharing a pot of mint tea on the roof, it’s onwards to the desert and lunch in the great outdoors. We hare onwards, over vast swathes of the rocky desert, clambering over dunes to evermore impressive vistas.
Next stop is the Agafay luxury camp, a small village with stylised traditional tents, where you can sleep for the night overlooking the barren grandeur of the desert planes.
We’re just here for lunch, which is an endless array of freshly-baked breads and mezze-style dishes including zaalouk, a spicy aubergine, and taktouka, marinated peppers. Sweet pastries and fruit salad finish the meal, then it’s back on the bike, pit-stopping for photo ops along the route back to the hotel.
“I always try and give people more than they expected to get out of the trip,” says Felix. “I want to reveal the city as I discovered it: the side-streets you wished you had more time to explore, the forgotten corners and those live encounters with locals you’d miss otherwise. That’s what an insider is.” It’s Marrakech’s best-kept secret.