Imagine a city where you can sip cocktails at sunset on a rooftop terrace as a smouldering sun sinks over distant mountains; where labyrinthine alleys lead you happily astray and where past and present collide to create a rich tapestry of life.
This is Marrakech, a potent, intoxicating city of souks, spices, snake charmers and hidden palaces, all of which rub shoulders with fashionable art galleries, achingly hip hotels and steaming hammams.
Marrakech brings the most outlandish travellers' tales to life. The pink city has waylaid desert caravans since the 11th century, as visitors succumb to the charms of its bluesy Gnaoua trance music, hypnotic calls to prayer and multi-course feasts.
Marrakech delivers an exotic and exciting taste of Africa and yet is only a few hours away from Europe by plane. Visitors often disappear down a maze of winding alleys and emerge days later, relaxed and refreshed from their stays in spectacular riads. These traditional courtyard guesthouses range from opulent, palatial oases to smaller, more intimate affairs but they all promise a snapshot of traditional life.
Adventure awaits in the medina (old city), with its fondouks (artisans' workshops) and seven zaouias (saints' shrines). Now a UNESCO World Heritage site, the medina and its souks (markets) have an enduring appeal. Here, donkey carts jostle for space and men dressed in floor-length djallebahs and veiled women go about their daily chores. One of the most arresting experiences in the medina is visiting the pungent-smelling tanneries, where the centuries-old tradition of turning animal hides into leather continues to this day.
Marrakech’s much-celebrated square, Jemaa el Fna, is also a must-see. Thronging with crowds every evening, it is filled with a dazzling, unforgettable spectacle: more than 100 makeshift stalls selling adventurous concoctions from vast cauldrons - steaming bowls of snails, sheep's head soup, fried aubergines, ubiquitous mint tea and spicy cakes. Meanwhile, musicians, fortune-tellers, dancing cobras, colourful water sellers, storytellers and acrobats are among those who enthral tourists long into the night.
Towering over the scene is the stately Koutoubia minaret, a template for Hispano-Mauresque architecture and a reminder of the importance of Islam to the lives of the city's residents. Other key attractions include palaces and elegant gardens but really the essence of capturing Marrakech is to experience it, rather than simply see it. Visiting a local hammam, or public steam bath, is an eye-opening experience and not one of the faint-hearted or shy.
Certainly, the city that lured hedonists and idealists in the 20th century now attracts fashionistas and trendy couples in search of luxury spas, chic bars and clubs. A fluourishing arts and music scene is also firmly stamping Marrakech on the cultural map.
Those who want to explore further afield should visit the bohemian, white-washed coastal resort of Essaouira or take a trip into the Atlas Mountains, home to Berber villages and an increasing plethora of soft adventure activities such as white water rafting and hiking.