Below are some of the highlights as well as some of our challenges during our journeys through this interesting country:
The Morocco Experience
Susan and I spent many days in the cities at the souks and bustling medinas. Shops overflowed with nuts, dates, and spices. Butchers displayed camel and cow heads, incense lingered in the narrow streets and cats were to be found on every corner in every shop and every street!
Discovering the Sahara Desert to me is a one night experience. Prepare yourself for a long drive. From Fez to Merzouga we drove a good 8+ hours, which included a lunch stop along the way and one quick stop at a kasbah. A highlight included the Merzouga Desert Camp, where we rode on camel back for just under an hour as the sun set, arriving at camp in time for chilled bubbly. The evening’s entertainment included a local band. We danced, ate good food, and took some time to let our star studded surroundings sink in.
Leaving the desert back to Marrakech we drove to the village of Hamlira (also known as the village of black people), who are from all over Africa and now call Morocco home. We were entertained by their music and even bought the cd! We broke up our journey in the small town of Quarzazate at Dar Ahlam, a restored traditional 19th century Kasbah. Such a magical little oasis and a welcome break between Merzouga and Marrakech. We enjoyed the heated swimming pool and our enchanting candlelit dinner. You never eat in the same place twice here, they surprise you for every meal- it is truly stunning. They treated us to a hamam (sauna followed by an hour massage). Locals enjoy a hamam every weekend both the men and the women. It’s a nice tradition and perhaps that’s why their skin is so lovely, or could be the argan oil that you find everywhere, even on the dinner table.
Driving to Marrakech you take the route of a thousand Kasbahs. These Kasbah’s are fortified tribal villages built by the Berbers hundreds of years ago out of the mud-clay of the riverbanks. They are all along this route so honestly if you catch a few z’s for a few you are sure to see more when you wake!
The Berber Culture
Berbers are hard workers and to us westerners, life seems very hard. They all take care of each other- children rarely desert the family. Some live a nomadic lifestyle, incredibly simple. One village we visited sold honey to locals who passed by (poured into used cold drink bottles). They are happy people and even after being integrated into society many have a longing to return to their nomadic way of life.
We stayed in a variety of accommodations from high end to more traditional riads. On all our “educational” trips we try experience not only the luxury accommodations but also the more funky, off the beaten path lodgings. Our favorite hotel in Fez, Palais Faraj, sat high up on a hill overlooking the medinas below. The rooms were bright and airy, great restaurants were available, and it was a great base from which to explore the city. In Marrakech we just loved La Sultana, set in the heart of the medina, a traditional riad style hotel but with all the bells and whistles. You can sit and have a sundowner, enjoy a great meal and yet you are surrounded by the local buzz and happenings of daily life including the beautiful sound of the Muezzin calling the faithful to prayer from the top of the minaret. My take away with regards to accommodations is that Morocco offers such a variety but choosing wisely is key as many of the traditional riads miss the mark, they are a little cold inside in terms of architecture and furnishings. We visited so many on this trip and certainly came away with some of our all time favorites.
If you want to shop, you can get everything from leather bags and shoes, jewelry, and more. Insider tip: We asked our guide to take us to the local stores outside of the medinas, where we found items of a much higher quality.
Our motto has always been that the trip is as good as the guide and nowhere does this ring truer than in Morocco. Spending hours driving from one location to the next, you need a guide that brings the country to life, understands where you are coming from and speaks English well.
I found the driving days to be quite long between cities. Depending on where you choose to visit, you really need to understand the driving time from one city to the next. Be prepared for long days in the car.
I try to mostly eat vegetarian and found this extremely challenging in Morocco. Tagine dishes are the local specialty. Get ready for lots of couscous, chicken, beef, and vegetables (zucchini & carrots) prepared tagine style. We found the higher quality lodgings provided a better variety of food than the local hotels where I occasionally got to satisfy my palate.