Travel Desk: top Moroccan destinations, smart luggage and Machu Picchu
TOP FIVE MOROCCAN DESTINATIONS
The week-long Festival of World Sacred Music (fesfestival.com) kicks off in exotic Moroccan town of Fes on May 22nd. The town – with its labyrinthine alleyways and medieval old town – is worth a visit, but so are these Moroccan highlights:
Marrakech’s huge medina empties out onto the broad expanse of the Djemaa el-Fna, which really comes alive as the sun goes down. Hundreds of restaurant stalls, musicians, fire-eaters and other entertainers transform La Place into a halqa (street theatre) that has got top status from Unesco.
Every town has a medina, but none is quite as lovely as that of Chefchaouen in the northwest, about 100km south of Tangier. From the cobbled Plaza Uta el-Hammam and the Grand Mosque stretch the winding paths of the old town, climbing up a mountainside adorned with terracotta-tiled roofs and wrought-iron balconies wrapped in geraniums.
The most intricate of Morocco’s medinas is a medieval tangle of alleyways, hidden squares and souqs you will absolutely get lost in – but that’s the point. Mitigate your frustration by appreciating the delicate mosaics at your feet and the elegant Moorish designs above your head. When you want to come out for air, just follow the crowds or pay a small boy to show you the way.
Roman ruins, Volubilis
The best preserved archaeological site in Morocco, 70km west of Fes, was established by the Romans for Juba II and his wife Cleopatra Selene, daughter of Cleopatra and Mark Antony. Amid the elegant ruins are gorgeous mosaics. A new museum does a good job of putting the town in context. The ruins are best appreciated at sundown, when they’re a photographer’s dream.
The coastal town of Essaouira has long been the favourite spot of the discerning tourist, which means the bulk of them have ignored the equally beautiful Sidi Ifni farther down the coast. The Spanish returned their one-time Saharan slave-trading base to Morocco in 1969, so the wonderfully decaying art deco, blue-and-white buildings lining the dusty calles have retained much of their Iberian flavour. A terrific spot to chill out
Xi’an’s terracotta warriors are set to get new additions to their ranks as archaeologists have begun to excavate up to 1,500 more statues. The life-size army of 7,000 statues of warriors and horses was buried with China’s first emperor Qin Shi Huang in 206BC (he wanted an army to help extend his rule into the afterlife).
It was uncovered again by local farmers in 1974 and has since become one of the world’s most famous archaeological finds. Now Xi’an, which is four hours by bullet train or 11 hours by regular train from Beijing, is one of China’s tourist highlights drawing millions of visitors each year to the 56sq km mausoleum of Qinshihuang, the world’s largest underground burial site.
THE YEAR OF SMART LUGGAGE
The world of luggage is about to get a lot smarter thanks to the latest digital technology. Over the next few months, luggage manufacturers will be launching new “smart bags” that will allow owners to lock them remotely, track them via their mobile phones and weigh them without a scales. Mia Toro’s Planet Traveler Space Case 1 (miatoro.com; €615 full-size bag, €530 carry on), which will be available later this year, will have a biometric lock, global tracking, a bluetooth-controlled weighing scale and even an in-built speaker to get the party started. The Andiamo iQ carry-on bag ( andiamoluggage.com; €530), also hitting the market this autumn, will have a USB battery charger for your phone, a digital scale, remote locking system and anti-theft device. When it’s released this summer, Samsonite’s GeoTrackR will come in different sizes (€250-350) and all will be equipped with the LugLoc remote tracking device ( lugloc.com), which can be bought separately for about €60 (plus €6 for the mobile app) for use in your existing bag. The app comes with five free traces a year.
RYANAIR FASTEST TWITTER TRIGGER
Ryanair’s recently-found commitment to improving customer relations has seen the airline come out as Europe’s best in a recent survey of fastest Twitter responders. According to travel intelligence site Skift, Ryanair averages a response time of 66 minutes, ahead of Lufthansa (72 minutes) and KLM (93 minutes). Twitter – rather than the telephone helpline – has become the favourite tool of the frustrated passenger, and many airlines have responded in kind, recognising the potential for public shaming that comes if they’re seen to be ignoring their passengers.
Ryanair might be Europe’s best on Twitter, but they still have a ways to catch up with North American airlines such as American Airlines (which averages a 12-minute response time), JetBlue, US Airways, Air Canada, Delta and Southwest, all of which average a response time of less than an hour.
TIME ON MACHU PICCHU
The tourism infrastructure at the ancient Inca citadel of Machu Picchu is to get an overhaul in an effort to deal with overcrowding. A $43.7 million (€39 million) investment in the “re-conceptualisation” of the Unesco World Heritage site (named a New Wonder of the World in 2007) will result in a new visitor centre and timed access to the ruins, with groups of 100 allowed in every 10 minutes. Critics say the plan, to be finalised by 2019, will make overcrowding worse. Last year Machu Picchu averaged 3,200 visitors a day – in excess of Unesco’s imposed limit of 2,500 – but the new plan allows for up to 6,000 daily entrants.
GET AWAY AT HOME
The five-star luxury resort at Lough Erne ( lougherneresort.com) has a Stay and Play package from €148 per person sharing that includes one night B&B and a round of golf on the championship Faldo course. The Bridge House Hotel ( bridgehousehoteltullamore.ie) in Tullamore has a weekend package for €169 per person that includes two nights’ B&B, one dinner and reduced green fees at Esker Hills, Castle Barna and Tullamore clubs. Hayfield Manor (hayfieldmanor.ie) in Cork has a Gourmet Experience break for €220 to €300 per person sharing that includes two nights’ B&B and one four-course dinner in either the Orchids gourmet restaurant or Perrotts Garden Bistro.
MICRO GUIDE: SHANGHAI
STAY Magnolia Bed & Breakfast (36 Yanqing Rd, French Concession West; magnoliabnbshanghai.com; rooms from ¤100-185) A five-room luxury B&B in a 1927 French Concession home.
EAT Din Tai Fung (Xintiandì South Block, 2nd fl, Bldg 6; 10 dumplings ¥60) Superb xiaolóngbao – dumplings – that you’ll need a reservation to enjoy.
DO Qibao (2 Minzhu Rd, Minhang district; admission ¥45) This ancient village is only a metro trip away but it is a lovely alternative to the city’s overwhelming modernity.