Initially, the glamour and buzz was all about being in the medina — the old quarter of the town. Buying a central riad — a traditional Moroccan house — meant the exotic passions of an open-air interior courtyard and cool, thick walls offering an oasis from the summer heat, with the souk on your doorstep.
However, the daily drama of constant crowds, donkeys, bikes and motorbikes swooping around blind corners soon overpowered the faint-hearted residents, who retreated to the flat plains of olive groves and dusty palm trees outside the centre. Developers began to build generously sized luxury villas hidden in exquisitely colourful gardens within 30 minutes of the medina, and five-star hotels soon followed. Four Seasons, Aman, Mandarin Oriental: they all chose out-of-town locations.
"The medina is beautiful and historic but very claustrophobic," said Tim Buxton, a project manager from Epsom who has lived in Morocco for 14 years. "There is an amazing experience to be had there, but nothing is better than coming back to your peaceful villa, sitting by the pool in the sunshine and enjoying views to the mountains."
Space and privacy in the Ourika Valley
Buxton recently completed a small development at Bab Adrar, 30 minutes south of the city in the Ourika Valley, for a British couple. Peter and Caroline Roberts, from North Yorkshire, bought 16 acres to build their own house and have added a further seven three- to six-bedroom villas, all in private grounds. Five have been bought by British and French families, with the remaining two still for sale. The elegant properties have high ceilings and quality finishes typical of the best Moroccan craftsmanship with smooth, polished walls and tiled, vaulted ceilings. The gardens, only two years old, are loaded with bougainvillea, rosemary, lavender and jasmine, and there are clear views to the often snow-capped Atlas Mountains. All villas have private pools and staff quarters and there is a communal clay tennis court, gym, hammam and security.
The smallest of the houses on offer, Dar Tourtelle, is newly reduced from £639,500 to £554,380 including its excellent furnishings, with annual maintenance of about £4,000. Peter and Caroline Roberts currently operate it as a rental property, with a typical weekly price of £1,700 fully staffed, from December to June. Alicia Pasley-Tyler, of rental and sales agent Aylesford International, says: "Villas in Marrakech have fallen less in price than budget apartments or riads since their 2007 peaks. They are 20 per cent down on average and it is villas most Europeans want to buy at present.
"The best villas provide space, peace and privacy within half an hour of a well-served international airport that is three and a half hours from London."
Time to play a round on Assoufid golf estate
According to national land registry figures, year-on-year sales of villas in Morocco jumped by 40 per cent in the second quarter of last year, and the city offers several out-of-town golf estates. Assoufid is one of the most exclusive, a 280-hectare golf development seven miles south-west of Marrakech centre. Kuwaiti investors have taken over this project from its original developers and plan to build 80 large, high-spec villas around a mature, desert-style golf course.
"Marrakech is becoming a golf destination, with six courses open and a further six under construction," said Guy Maxwell, director of golf at Assoufid. "Marrakech's climate means the season is particularly long."
Assoufid will have a five-star Rocco Forte hotel and spa, golf clubhouse and driving range and three- to eight-bedroom freehold villas in large, extremely private plots. The resort will provide 24-hour security and full property management. Prices start from £1.63 million.
Egbert and Anne Veldman bought a villa at Assoufid off-plan in 2008 and since 2010 have divided their time between Marrakech and Barnes in south-west London. "The city is very international and social with opera and theatre," said Anne, 60. "The climate is wonderful and summer evenings are magical. We love to entertain. Our roof terrace takes up to 50 people and our son, Michael, had his 21st birthday party here."
Assoufid and Bab Adrar: through Aylesford International (020 7349 5100; aylesford.com).