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Magical moonlight in Morocco

For an ultimate romantic break, Harriet Mallinson finds that candlelit dinners beneath the stars in the stars in the Sahara are hard to beat

Three-course lunches served by a personal waiter in a blossom-filled almond grove, candlelit dinners under the stars in the Sahara and a refreshing glass of local wine on a roof terrace overlooking the city of Marrakech…

This is exactly the kind of Hollywood movie-style indulgence I enjoyed in Morocco.

I knew the North African country was a popular honey-moon destination but I hadn’t bargained for quite how magical and romantic it would be.

Dar Ahlam translates from Arabic to House of Dreams and there has never been a truer name.

The five-star, all-inclusive establishment prides itself on the theatrical, from the atmospheric entrance procession through dark corridors dimly lit by candles to the ever-changing surroundings.

La Sultana, Marrakech

What might be a room furnished with a plain wooden table one day could feature three covered with tablecloths the next, with golden plates and huge, elaborate candlesticks worthy of a cathedral warmly lighting the space.

Rather than offering a set restaurant with a menu, guests never dine in the same place twice and no meal is the same everything is a (very wonderful) surprise.
The first night, following a dip in the large delightful pool, my boyfriend and I were shown by a waiter to a small building that could have been the priest’s apothecary in Romeo and Juliet: it was filled with pots and wicker baskets of fresh herbs. The scent of rosemary, lemon balm and mint filled the candlelit room while ground spices were piled high in clay pots.

If only I’d been in costume it could have been a scene from a historical drama - this was definitely my kind of hotel.

We were served a delicious pumpkin soup with sourdough bread followed by roasted chicken and lentils all infused with the spices and herbs that surrounded us.

Lose yourself for hours in Morocco's Souks

Next day we took bicycles into the surrounding oasis and spent the morning peddling round among the palms in the hot sun. We lunched in an almond grove. The trees were in full bloom and their delightful small pink and white flowers were glorious under the bright blue sky not to mention positively bridal when petals fell confetti-like in the breeze.

The ruins of a deserted town added to the already stunningly romantic backdrop. I felt like I was starring in a Taylor Swift music video.

Our very own dining table was set up in a clearing where we were served a divine three-course lunch (oh lord, my waistline). The hotel really did think of everything even providing straw hats.

But the highlight of our stay was the night we spent in Dar Ahlam’s luxury desert camp.

After a four-hour drive I found myself more in the middle of nowhere than I’ve ever been in my life. But this didn't stop the hotel providing an astounding level of service. Our tent featured a large double bed (with hot water bottles), a bathroom and living space.

We watched the sunset, lolling on cushions at the top of a sand dune, with gin and tonics - but the best was yet to come. After dark, waiters brought out lanterns, dotting them along the sand to lead the way to dinner over the adjacent dune… and the sight when I crested the top was spellbinding.

The dramatic Atlas Mountains

Flickering lanterns seemed to fill the valley, lighting up the ochre sand. In the middle of it all was a table set for a formal dinner for two next to a roaring firepit, endless stars above us. Romantic beyond belief!

The next day we made our way back across the Atlas Mountains to Marrakech. Here we stayed at La Sultana Marrakech, just moments from the royal palaces, museums and souks of the city.

Intricate wooden carvings, decorative archways, alcoves with plump silky cushions - just wandering around the hotel was a voyage of discovery. The terrace on the top of the building was perfect for a crisp glass of wine at the end of the day exploring the city, the call to prayer from the nearby mosque filling the evening air.

I admit, my time in Morocco infuriated all my friends back home who were following me on Instagram. I insisted I didn't want to gloat - but who am I kidding?

First published in the Mail on Sunday -  November 2017

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