x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Marrakech, a child-friendly playground

Travelling with Kids For families there's no better place than Morocco. Where else in the world are children so adored?

It's been 10 years since I last walked the labyrinthine alleys of Marrakech's Thousand-and-One-Nights medina. I was childless then, leaving at home the woman who would later become the mother of my children, while I set off on a Moroccan adventure, alone.

Now I have returned, bringing my family with me. No longer light of foot, today I feel more like a super-tanker, one of those ships that needs half an ocean and three weeks to turn around. But travelling with kids, as I soon learn, can bring great rewards.

No better place for our first family holiday, I reason, than Morocco. Where else in the world are children so adored? We live in Spain, and the Spanish are good with kids. But Moroccans can make them look positively Dickensian in their attitudes by comparison.

My hunch that things will go well is confirmed on arrival when our taxi driver stops to distribute sweets to the local children as we pass through a village, leaving our elder boy enthralled by his act of spontaneous charity.

Our hotel is a hideaway in the foothills of the High Atlas, looking up towards the snow-capped peaks of Oukaimeden. Created by Englishman Stephen Skinner, the Kasbah Bab Ourika (www.kasbahbabourika.com) has recently been named by Fodor's as one of the 100 best hotels in the world. Perched on an outcrop of rock above the ice-melt waters of the Ourika River, it is a luxurious refuge, a place to disappear and leave the world behind. Exhausted parents are pampered and taken care of, while the energies of children are easily burnt off as they run around the gardens.

And there is inevitably someone at hand to help ease the tensions of childcare: a passing waiter playing magic tricks, a maid kissing our younger boy's hands, or Amanda, the hotel's unflappable manager, ensuring we have all we need and never fazed by our boys' attempts to wreck the place.

Two days in this mountain paradise feels like a week, so deep is the relaxation. Then it is back down to Marrakech itself. How will we fare in the packed streets?

The answer is, remarkably well. This is not buggy territory, so carrying both boys most of the way makes more practical sense, if a little tougher on the lower back. But these minor discomforts are more than made up for by the simple act of bringing them to the unashamedly exotic world that is Marrakech. The bazaar, the sight of dancers and snake-charmers in Jma el-Fna at dusk - all this, importantly, seeps into their imaginations and will form part of their visual and sensory landscapes in years to come.

Later that evening, as we sit drinking tea in a 500-year-old patio in the Riyad Edward Hotel, the boys asleep in our arms, I am already planning future trips here.

Morocco, I tell myself, is a place to return to again and again, savouring its many flavours as we ourselves change from children to adults, to parents.