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When we think of Africa we tend to concentrate on the big safari type holidays and these can be very pricey. But we can all get to Africa cheaply and easily and enjoy an immersion into a completely different way of life by hopping on a flight to North Africa. It's a lot closer than you think. Flying over Marrakech over the great red dusty plains and the huddle of ancient buildings it is immediately apparent that you are about to land in a new, enticing continent. Staying in a Riad in the Medina is a wonderful way to plunge straight into the marvellous colourful chaos, but if you choose this option, be sure that a guide is there to meet you at the airport. It is well-nigh impossible to navigate through the maze of tiny alleyways without one. Riads are traditional Moroccan homes, based around a central tiled courtyard and with a roof terrace area to take advantage of the cooler conditions at this height. The design is perfectly suited to the climate, and many have been beautifully renovated and restored, taking full advantage of the sumptuous furnishings and decorative influences of the Moorish heritage. Breakfast is usually included in the tariff and this is a unique selection of pastries with the ubiquitous, refreshing mint tea.

The huge square of Djemma el- Fnaa is the focal point of the old fortified city and whilst it bustles at all hours it really comes to life at night-time, when it becomes a mesmerizing circus of food stalls, performers, snake charmers, henna tattooists, storytellers, horse-drawn carriages, monkeys and more. It is like 1001 Arabian Nights especially as the call to prayer sounds out from the mosque. The food here is especially tasty, cooked to order, and served at makeshift tables in the midst of all the action. Freshly squeezed orange juice is a must have. In the warren of lanes around this arena, the souk stays active well into the evening hours; some walkways are covered and seem to lead into an Aladdin's Cave of ever-expanding small rooms and little squares, every inch packed with goods for sale. From embroidered slippers, to rugs and lanterns, spices and silks, bags and belts, chickens and vegetables, just about anything you could think of is here to be haggled over and negotiated down in the time honoured fashion.

Outside the Medina, a more modern city prevails, with many interesting excursions possible. One of the most visited in the Yves Saint Laurent garden at Villa Majorelle, an exquisite oasis of palms and bamboo, and a haven of respite on a hot day. There is a wonderful café here, spraying out scented mist to refresh the fevered faces of the diners, and the newly opened museum on this site gives a fascinating back history to the country and its history. Out on the horizon, the craggy peaks of the Atlas Mountains beckon, home of the Berber tribes, and alluring for serious walkers and climbers. Then, behind them, lie the vast stretches of the Sahara Desert. To be able to combine all this diversity into one holiday is just a small but captivating introduction to all the many pleasures and possibilities that a trip to Morocco can provide.

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