By Kathryn Romeyn
This stunning African country is a bucket list must-see.
If you’re paying attention, you’ve probably noticed you’re hearing about Morocco a lot lately. That’s because the culturally rich, culinarily delicious and naturally stunning country is on a lot of radars, especially honeymooners’.
And for good reason: The landscape offers a lot of diversity, and the hotels (many are what Moroccans call riads, transformed from a palatial estate with central gardens) are not only stunning but offer a great value. It’s a great entry point into Africa—both French and Arabic are spoken primarily—for those who haven’t been but who want to get a bit exotic on their honeymoon.
Morocco is absolutely different from a private island honeymoon where you simply book a flight and a villa and hang in the sun and sea for the rest. Morocco requires planning and organization. But certainly don’t spend your own time on all the minutiae: Experiential travel outfitter Scott Dunn exemplifies the ideal—their team of experts in the North African country builds bespoke journeys for each couple, based on your particular interests and desires, and you literally won’t have to worry about a thing while on the ground. It’s the best way to soak things up—and there’s a lot to soak up.
Flying into Morocco oftentimes means landing in Casablanca, and whether you’re starting your romantic adventure with a night or wrapping it up on the way home, the seaside Four Seasons Hotel Casablanca—note they don’t serve alcohol, though their teatime is filled with enough decadent goodies to make you forget about booze—starts you off on a stunning start. It used to be Marrakech was the center of all tourism, but things are shifting, and if you skip out on the north you’re missing out on some of the most magical parts of the country.
Fes, for starters, is a city of wonderful contrasts. It’s has the world’s largest and oldest medina, in which you could easily get lost if not following the porter to your spectacularly styled riad or from there to a vibrant and playful six-course dinner at the elegant, intimate Nur—Mexican-inflected modern Moroccan menus change daily, inspired by the best local ingredients collected each morning. “Streets” can sometimes be just a foot and a half wide, and you’ll only see donkeys while wandering the medina maze; if you book a private tour (Scott Dunn handles this) you’ll have the best success, gaining both knowledge about the culture and history alongside exposure to new flavors and features you couldn’t find otherwise.
In Fes, pronounced not with a Z sound but a snakelike S, it’s all about the riad, and somehow despite maintaining a Moroccan feel, each is totally unique from the last. Riad Fes, a Relais & Chateaux boutique property, is a prime address, perfect for couples who appreciate chic, intricate design and mouthwatering cuisine (there’s also a Zen pool and gorgeous wine bar). Palais Amani, meanwhile, is all sumptuous Moroccan rugs and impeccable tile work, carved wood and stained glass; the 17th century structure boasts a new rooftop eatery and cooking workshop space. For an endless supply of curiosities, try Karawan Riad, featuring curated antiques and Instagrammablevignettes in its romantic rooms and intimate spaces.
Another can’t miss of the north is the Blue City, officially named Chefchaouen. (You’ve probably seen it on IG.) Imagine Santorini if instead of white it were coated in all shades of blue. The effect on this 15th century town is magical, and lovers could spend an entire day wandering the twisting passageways hand in hand, taking photos along the way. Book a top-floor room at Lina Ryad and spend sunset on the terrace, watching the hot oranges of the sky meet the peaceful blue hillside. Active types can also hike to the Akchor waterfall a 45-minute taxi ride away.
Of course, Marrakech should figure into any honeymoon for at least a day or two. Besides cute rooftop restaurants in the busy medina such as Nomad and Cafe des Epices, there is lots of shopping from the medina (make sure to bargain: start by offering less than half of the quoted price) to boutiques like 33 Majorelle, across the street from the famous blue gardens and just-opened Musée Yves Saint Laurent Marrakech, both well worth a spin. The bustling city offers plenty of attractions—Maison de la Photographie is a cool stop, and Villa des Orangers (a Relais & Chateaux spot, too) in the medina has an Eden-like quality aided by African decor, a large pool and impeccable food.
Still, one of the best parts of Marrakech is just outside its terra-cotta walls: a slew of incredible hotels that seem to exceed five-star, which in their beautiful ways kill any motivation to go explore. Royal Mansour, commissioned by the current king, ensconces its guests in 53 gloriously decorated individual riads—picture breakfast in cuddly bathrobes beside your private third-floor rooftop plunge pool—and has a totally dreamy spa.
Amanjenaputs a coral-pink tadelakt and teal tile spin on Moroccan style, with graceful arches, high ceilings and a supreme sense of privacy. It’s the place to go when you’re a bit run down by all the activity. And to feel like royalty head to La Mamounia, the grand dame of Marrakech resorts, with expansive gardens, multiple buzzy restaurants, and gorgeous rooms that are far fancier than anywhere else you’ve experienced (it’s also a popular wedding venue). Don’t miss an authentic Moroccan hammam while you’re in the city.
Although you can take a day trip to the High Atlas, honeymooners should seriously consider a few days, staying at Sir Richard Branson’s idyllic Kasbah Tamadot, a luxe mountain hideaway that’s truly picture-perfect. Suites and tents are all one of a kind and vibrant (just wait until you see the bathtubs), like the Berber’s smiles and their goods sold in these parts and the locally inflected food served. Hiking should definitely be part of any itinerary here, since these truly hills come alive when you’re in them.
Another easy drive from Marrakech is to charming Essaouira, a blue-accented fishing village whose beach is full of camels and horses ready to ride as surfers and windsurfers play in the rolling aquamarine waves. Shop here for Berber jewelry, rugs and wooden decor with less pressure—and a little less aggressive bargaining—than in Marrakech, and dine on mouthwatering meals for half the price (the French-ish Umia for the best food in town, La Table for inspired seafood, Silvestro for authentic Italian, and Vagues Bleues for lobster lasagna).
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If epic, bucket-list experiences are what you’re after, your romantic Morocco experience is not complete without a stint in the Sahara desert. The drive is long and rather arduous in parts (tip: Hire a driver unless you’re super adventurous), but couldn’t be more worthwhile. Azalai Desert Lodge provides a warm, paradisiacal midway point to rest, lounge by the pool or in daybed under palms, and prepare for the trek to their Desert Camp in the spectacular dunes, by car and camel. (There is no WiFi, and if you’d like wine, bring your own.) Just a couple dozen miles from the Algerian border, the small collection of tents is tended by a gracious staff who will bake you Berber bread in the sand and disappear when not serving delicious treats so that you’ll feel like you’re the only two people on earth, under the sparkling blanket of stars. And isn’t that the point of a honeymoon?