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OUR MOROCCAN TOP TEN

Whilst the major sites of Morocco are well known and well publicised, the following is a list in no particular order of our staff's favourite experiences, which you might consider as you plan your holiday:

 

Visit and Listen to an Old Lady who Lives in a Cave – Bahlil – Middle Atlas near Fez

Lady at BahlilWe were met by a frail great grandmother at the top of a narrow cobbled street outside of her cave.  Over cups of mint tea we listened to her tales about village, family and domestic life for more than an hour, translated by our guide Hassan.  To hear first-hand how she had lived and brought up eight children in a 2 roomed cave which had been her home for over 70 years was enthralling.  From the simple domestic chores, including carrying all water up a 15 minute walk from the communal supply, a task she does to this day, to the trials and tribulations of her children and their various relationships, it was an extra-ordinary experience.

Get a Lesson on Moroccan Cuisine - Taroudant

I love food and Moroccan food is high on my list of great grub, but I’m a hopeless cook.  Latifa was the ideal instructor for me – she had a great sense of humour, made things simple, and wasn’t strict on weights and measures.  In the early evening we managed to rustle up a wide selection of dishes, which we later ate with other guests, including a classic tajine and a number of less obvious but equally tasty other main dishes (the egg tajine was superb).  Amazingly, I’ve tried these again since I’ve been home, ignoring my cook books entirely, and I’m pleased to say I’ve remembered a lot of Latifa’s lessons and I can still produce a respectable dish or two.

Riding Through the Surf on the Atlantic - Essaouira

Riding the Surf in EssaouiraWe arrived at the stables in the morning and I was greeted by Erika and Omar, our hosts, as well as their menagerie of puppies, kittens and cats. The yard was beautifully clean with lots of different coloured heads bobbing over the stable doors to greet us. My horse for the day was Immouzer, a beautiful grey Arab / Barb who I could have taken home with me. We headed for the beach picking our way through Eucalyptus groves before crossing the sand dunes to see the Atlantic sparkling ahead. Our guide was fantastic, he held our camera and took pictures of us throughout the trek so we had loads to remind us of the day. As we turned at the far end of the beach I couldn’t resist a gallop in the surf. Immouzer sped up and slowed down on request, and was such an easy horse to ride that I forgot it was my first time in 10 years. I was grinning from ear to ear when I got back, and I can’t wait to go again.

Stay Overnight in the Atlas Mountains - Imlil

We walked up to our kasbah following a donkey carrying our luggage, a gentle half hour stroll away from the road up into a small hamlet up the side of a mountain.  My room for the night was simple, with a large bed covered in several rugs and an open fire, but the view from the balcony was stunning – stretching over the hamlet and the valley beyond.  Whilst my friends went for a wander around the neighbourhood, I rested in the sun on the huge rooftop terrace, which had an even more impressive 360 degree panorama.  I watched the sun go down and the shadows lengthen, with the only sounds being from animals and the evening chores of people in the hamlet.  After evening food, served in a fire-warmed room, I carried my candle back to my room and soon fell asleep under the calming weight of thick blankets.  Simply a phenomenal place to relax.

Visit a Local HammamHammam Tarifs

I hesitated by the entrance to the local hammam, down a back street in Marrakech, but a friendly smile encouraged me inside.  It didn’t seem to matter that I hadn’t got a clue what to do, as I was whisked through the changing rooms into the steamy interior.  My body didn’t know what had hit it for the next hour or so as it was scrubbed, soaped, doused and pummelled as I lay, sat and squatted in the various steam filled rooms.  It was a deep cleansing and taste of real Morocco that most visitors would never dare to try, and my body loved it.

Experience a Rural Berber Market - Azrou– Middle Atlas near Fez

Souks in Morocco are fascinating, with the intense colours, smells and sounds and hustle and bustle of everyday life.  In particular I love the open-air souk near Azrou, a typical Berber town in the northern Middle Atlas.  Tourists rarely visit Azrou, or spend time there, so the traders didn't focus on me as a foreigner.  I spent over an hour wondering at the organization of people, animals and fresh produce which allows every trader to maximise the amount he brings to the market.  Straw appears to tumble from the backs of lorries, goats are packed onto the roof-racks of transit-type vans, and chickens jostle for position in a jumble of crates.  Carrots are arranged in huge knee-high circles, luxuriant fronds outwards, succulent roots pointing inwards to the vendor who touts his wares from the centre.  There are walls of coriander everywhere you look, huge cabbages, peppers, aubergines, all in abundance and very cheap to buy.  It was a pity to visit without being able to return to self-catering accommodation where we could have prepared a feast, but the chance to look was a privilege.

Camel Riding in the Desert - Mergouza

Camel Riding at MerzougaNever a lover of animals with hooves – in fact pathetically terrified of them – I expected to be cowed by the challenge of a ride on a very tall dromedary. However, something exotic and appealing about these creatures made me determined to conquer my fear.  Therefore I allowed myself to perch on the padded hump, grip the handlebars for dear life and brace myself for the lurching as the beautiful blonde camel rose to its feet: a bit scary but so grateful they have the grace to kneel. Once settled in to the rhythm of the animal’s gait, I began to enjoy and congratulate myself. My sortie took me across the desert near Merzouga in the late afternoon, with lengthening shadows, soft padding of the animals’ big feet in the sand and rising full moon being enough to distract me from any discomfort. Mohamed, our guide, trudged silently ahead of the camels as the last vestiges of civilisation disappeared from view.  On arrival at the camp in the desert he disappeared into his private tent and proceeded to cook the most delicious tagine I have ever tasted. The silence of the evening was broken only by my partner practising his mint-tea-slurping technique, and our night’s sleep was enhanced by a comfy mattress and many layers of cosy blankets. My children were entranced by my story and amazed by my bravery.

Explore the Endless Alleyways of Fez

I thought the Medina of Fez was amazing. It is a maze of literally thousands of alleys accessible only on foot or by donkey, and is reported to be the largest intact medieval city in the world. Although it is a city popular with tourists, I didn’t find the majority of it touristy. Our guide Hassan led us through the labyrinth of alleys putting Morocco, Fez and its sights into context in the world while discussing issues such as the recent significant depopulation of the medina by the authorities due to the risk of collapsing buildings. To follow a map here would be impossible, even if a detailed map of the alleys existed, so Hassan was vital to find the sights we wanted and also stopped us being mown down by a donkey or 2. I think a day getting lost there by yourself could also be fun and interesting, but you couldn’t count on finding anything you wanted to. We finished at the ruins of the Merenid tombs surrounded by leather drying in the sun, and looked down on the city and spotted the Kairouine mosque and tanners’ quarter and other sights we passed earlier. I though I’d got my bearings by the end but don’t ask me to describe how to get to the Nejjarine museum of wood – it's down an alley or two.

The Majorelle Gardens – Marrakech

Majorelle Gardens MarrakechBeyond the medina walls in Marrakech, down an unassuming side street in the new town lies the Majorelle Gardens, a botanical garden designed in 1924 by the French artist Jacques Majorelle. After years of neglect after the artist’s death in 1961, it was bought by the couturier Yves Saint Laurent and Pierre Bergé in 1980. Restored to its former glory, and more, this is a delight for gardeners and non gardeners alike. An Oasis that’s cool in both the climatic and cultural senses, it has an amazing collection of palm trees (over 400 varieties), yuccas, water lilies, jasmines, bougainvillea and over 1,800 species of cactus gathered from around the world, all in a hard landscape of rockeries, pergolas and walkways painted in bright blues, yellows and orange. The gardens also house an Islamic art museum in a blue workshop which contains items from the personal collection of the restorers including ceramics, textiles, jewellery and woodwork from across the Islamic world, the East and Africa. There is also an area dedicated to the engravings of kasbahs by Jacques Majorelle. For an experience that is a world away from the vibrancy of the Medina see the Majorelle Gardens and leave time for lunch in the vegetarian restaurant, it is first class!

Trekking in the High Atlas

Our guide, Mohamed, picked us up from our accommodation in Marrakech in the morning and we were soon amongst the towering peaks of the High Atlas. The white tipped caps still glistened with the last of the winter snow and I was surprised at the amount of meltwater flowing through the village streams. Imlil was gorgeous, so much greener and fresher than I expected, the terraced slopes covered with ancient walnut trees providing dappled shade. As we trekked up through the scattered villages on to the rocky slopes the scenery opened up all around and Mohamed pointed out the names of the various peaks and different birds whilst my son hunted for lizards. Taking everything at our relaxed pace I was surprised at how far we had walked, returning in a full circle stopping only at one of the delightful corner shops so sweet stocks could be replenished. Dinner was well earned and delicious, sitting gazing at the sinking sun and listening to the water below I felt a quiet calm descend.