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Closer Than You Think: Marrakech, Morocco

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Sunset in the Jma el-Fna, Marrakech.

So you'd like to go somewhere new and different — exotic even — but without the hassles and expense of a long trip? Well, you don't have to fly 18 hours, set aside three weeks and spend thousands of dollars to experience a surprising destination. There are incredible and affordable locales six hours flying time from the US. These are cultures completely unlike home, places where you can spend a week or even a long weekend and return with a sense of having been somewhere very different and refreshing. Done right, none of them will break the bank. Here's the first in a series of  amazing places that are closer than you think.

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Jardin Majorelle.

Marrakech, Morocco

Flying Time: About 6 hours from JFK
The Destination: Hugging the northwest coast of Africa. Morocco is where the Middle Ages and the 21st century meet. You arrive in Casablanca but if you're smart, you'll take the short hop down to Marrakech, the soul of all things Moroccan. With the snow-capped High Atlas mountains in the distance, this oasis is a paradise of lush gardens and a maze-like Medina. It's also a chic getaway for the Euro-fashion crowd, many of whom stay in converted "riads," walled houses that have become stylish hotels in the  Medina, the heart of the city. As you wander the labyrinth lanes of Marrakech, you'll discover a trove of Berber carpets, silver and pottery, as well as veiled women, and men in djellabas, the traditional hooded robes. For a respite, wander through the dreamy Jardin Majorelle, a garden designed in the 1920's and later owned by the late Yves Saint Laurent.


Exotic Essential: Sunset in the Jma el-Fna, the center of Marrakech. This vast open square is a remnant of the Middle Ages, a place where snake charmers serenade cobras, touts carry monkeys on their shoulders and cartwheeling dancers perform. Traditional storytellers, fortune tellers with henna-patterned hands and water sellers festooned as court jesters work the crowd.

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Riad Zolah.

Where to Stay: Riad Zolah is a six-room luxury (by Moroccan standards) riad, with spacious, high-ceilinged rooms, king size beds, lavish furnishings and even iPod stations. Rates start at 1900 drh ($227)  for two and includes daily breakfast and transfers.

Getting There: Royal Air Maroc and Delta have non-stop service between New York and Casablanca. In May, roundtrip airfare from JFK to Marrakech on Royal Air Maroc runs about $1,000 per person.

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