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They say March comes in like a lion and goes out like a lamb. This year, March has come in like a lion and gone out like some kind of lion-velociraptor hybrid. With a bunch of late-season storms walloping parts of the U.S. and others shivering through an extended cold spell, it’s easy to forget that spring has officially arrived. While you’re waiting for the weather to catch up with the season, close out March in Africa, where more manageable climates, majestic beasts, arid deserts, and stunning architecture await those with an adventurous spirit.
I spent a good deal of time researching places to stay in Marrakech before my April visit. Deciding between a more traditional riad (think small palace with a courtyard) or a larger hotel/resort outside the city’s Medina or old town is a major consideration. Since my friends and I stayed several nights at the Palais Namaskar, a fantastic destination resort in the nearby Palmeraie region, I wanted a more traditional experience in Marrakech, preferably in the Medina, where mud brick ramparts enclose winding narrow streets packed with shops, food vendors, mosques, and homes.
My pick is La Villa des Orangers, which I wholeheartedly recommend. This Relais & Chateaux property strikes the perfect balance between traditional riad and full-service hotel (such as La Mamounia and Le Royal Mansoor), offering a decent-size swimming pool, onsite restaurant, gym, and hammam/spa. There are also several stunning libraries and sitting rooms with fireplaces. Read more
If you want to stay at one of the most outstanding resorts in the world, consider a trip to Morocco for at least two nights at the Palais Namaskar (aka “The Namaskar”), which truly deserves “six stars” for going above and beyond any five-star property in every way. If you’ve seen the movie Sex & The City 2, imagine the palace in Abu Dhabi where Carrie and the girls stayed. It’s that impressive.
Two friends and I had the good fortune of spending a few days at this luxury property, the latest to crop up in the desert-oasis Palmeraie region (technically part of Marrakech), when it opened in April. Read more
OK, I know that Morocco may not be on the top of everyone’s bucket list. In my case, I had several friends fly over for my birthday celebration in Paris, and then three of us decided we wanted to go somewhere more exotic. Since I had already been to several places in North Africa and the Middle East, but not Morocco, I quickly honed in on Marrakech, the country’s most popular destination for good reason: It has luxurious places to stay, excellent food, a friendly population, good nightlife options, and a number of noteworthy cultural sites. (It also has good connections from Paris, about three hours away.) Read more
How’s this for some V-Day love: Gay tour operator Out Adventures is releasing spots on five of its top exotic group trips for a ridiculous discount. If you’re a couple traveling together, it’s BOGO, baby (Buy One, Get One Free), and if you’re a single, it’s 40% off — all told about $1700 in savings! That’s a lot of extra spending money once you get to India, Morocco, Peru, and Turkey. And all you have to do to qualify to buy is show a little social media amour in return. Read more
Wine regions have long provided the perfect backdrop for romantic endeavors. Visiting is an inspiring way to get a lay of the land, the grapes, and the locals. Plus, these regions typically have a wealth of romantic accommodations – think chic boutiques, luxury castle accommodations, and wine-inspired bungalows. Herewith, six of the world’s most stirring vino-producing areas:
Morocco is a provocative spot and a tip-top choice among honeymooners, yet few travelers think of wine when they think of this Muslim country. It’s time to reconsider: Morocco produces more than 40 million bottles of wine a year and employs 10,000 Moroccans in this booming business.
Alas, my stint as the Romantic Getaways blogger has come to an end: After 90-plus blogs, I am giving up this weekly freelance assignment to take a full-time job. But I want the romance to live on, so I thought I’d list a handful of my Ultimate Romantic Getaways must-dos – each with two suggestions, one a splurge and the other a steal. I hope you’ll find the time to get away soon and enjoy some of the places I’ve loved writing about.
Enjoy a Private Jacuzzi Rendezvous
Splurge: If you want to feel like you are the only two people in Venice, stay at the Bauer Il Palazzo, and book the private rooftop Jacuzzi (shown above at left) for one hour just before sunset. You’ll get champagne, strawberries, and 60 amazing minutes to soak in the sexiness of La Serenissima – and each other. Rates start at $853/night (private Jacuzzi bookable at an extra charge).
Steal: Every suite at Excellence Playa Mujeres, an adults-only all-inclusive located on a white-sand beach just outside Cancun, Mexico, has a private Jacuzzi with both indoor and outdoor access. Plus, the décor is contemporary chic, with polished marble floors and a dramatic four-poster bed. The beach and the meandering freeform pool may beckon, but the top spot to relax à deux is just steps from your bed. Rates start at $375/night, all-inclusive.
The clock is quickly ticking, but all you lovebird procrastinators (or maybe you’re just spontaneous) still have 19 days to book a last-minute Valentine’s Day getaway. The big day falls on a Monday this year, making it perfect for a long weekend. My inbox has been flooded with possibilities – from great deals to extravagant splurges. Here are 14 packages worth perusing:
1. Cities Across North America: The “Magnifique Romance” package at Sofitel (www.sofitel.com) – which includes accommodations, chocolates, flowers, champagne, and room-service breakfast – is available throughout North America (Montreal, New York, Washington, D.C., Philadelphia, Miami, Chicago-Water Tower, San Francisco, Minneapolis, and Los Angeles) with rates starting at $140/night if booked by February 13.
2. Riviera Maya: Ceiba Del Mar Beach Spa and Resort, located on Mexico’s Caribbean coast just south of Cancun (shown above at left; courtesy of Ceiba Del Mar Beach Spa and Resort), has a four-night “Romance Experience” package that includes accommodation in an oceanview suite, a champagne cocktail welcome, a private candlelight dinner for two with a bottle of wine, and a 50-minute couples massage, from $1,440 for four nights.
In Morocco’s Imperial capital of Fez, nearly a quarter of residents still live in the bustling Medina, Fes el Bali (Old Fez). The city is a mecca for artisans and tradesmen. It’s packed to the gills with artisan shops – silk makers, tanneries, carpenters – and souks selling their beautifully crafted items like leather handbags, brass lanterns, ceramics, and intricately carved wooden wares. Wander around the different quarters and souks and shop as you go. Less ostentatious than Marrakech, Fez doesn’t have as many glitzy hotels or designer riads, but it does have a few excellent choices like the Sofitel Palais Jamai. It’s hard to beat the exceptional spa or the Medina views from the terraces here. Book a room in the old palace wing which dates back to 1879 and boasts Moorish majesty and Medina views. There are three restaurants on property serving international and Moroccan fare but the kitchen will essentially prepare anything you like (if your stomach is a little uneasy after a few too many tagines, the kitchen is happy to create a simple dish like grilled chicken with rice). The spa, though pricey compared to local neighborhood hammams, is excellent, with a royal setup that includes zellige and tadelakt finishes, a geometric pool with massaging jets that come from all sides and above (to reach the top of your shoulders and neck), hammam, sauna, and several treatment rooms. One could easily relax here all day.
Now through fall, book your stay and recieve a $50 resort credit good for use at the spa, restaurant or bar. Rates start from about $213/night. Visit www.sofitel.com or call 800/763-4835.
Marrakech is one of those mystical places long beloved by eccentric socialites, writers and rock stars – a city of “heat and madness” infused with the soothing aromas of rose water and orange blossoms and the sweet flavors of mint tea and almond milk. And for culturally curious couples, it is deliciously, deliriously romantic – just seven hours by air (with a connection in Casablanca) from New York or an easy add-on from a European city such as Paris or Madrid.
The most indulgent way to experience this quixotic, pink-hued city is to stay at La Mamounia (shown above), the circa-1923 luxury hotel on the edge of Marrakech’s throbbing medina that re-opened last September after a three-year, multi-million-dollar facelift by celebrated interior designer Jacques Garcia. The result – a lavish kaleidoscope of Moroccan-meets-Deco décor – is an inspired, French-infused playground for anyone with 1,001 Nights fantasies. Read more
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