Travel to Morocco

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A country with many unique facets, geographically a part of Africa, so close to Europe it sometimes seems to be a distant cousin of Spain, and a culture of indigenous berbers, Muslims, and Arabs, Morocco has many faces.

Having visited Morocco years ago I was able to see this widely diverse country with cultural richness, grand history, and the people's struggle between the pull for modernity and the desire to follow Islamic reform and religious calling. A country with magical Aladdin-esque cities full of medinas, bazaars, and snake charmers, to the tiny villages in the arid mountainous regions, to the grand Sahara desert, Morocco is fascinating. Morocco is like a tree whose roots live in Africa but whose leaves breathe in European Air. {a metaphor by King Hassan II}

There are two ways you can get to Morocco. You can either fly from London or various other destinations, usually landing in Casablanca and taking a small aircraft to your destination. Or if you're already in Spain you can take a boat across the strait of Gibraltar which will take you from Algeciras, Spain to Tangier. That being the most popular route, there are also other ferry options from France or other mediterranean spots. Usually the first stop on your Moroccan adventure will be Marrakech. This walled berber city full of fabulous palaces, weaving alleyways, and roads all surround the place Jemaa El-Fna at the heart of the city.

In Marrakech you walk everywhere, since the streets are so crowded or narrow it is the most reliable form of transportation. As you wander this mesmerizing dusty city you will become captivated by the souks and the medinas. The souks, or bazaars, of Marrakesh are by far the most spellbinding in the Maghreb (or North African region). Selling a wide range of goods from fabric, to jewelry, to leatherwork, basketry, and spices, you will lose yourself in the maze of amazing goods. As you wander through these old narrow streets you may smell the rank odours of the tanneries, where they dye animal hides making them porous and colorful for the leather-workers. If you have the opportunity go to a tannerie and witness this incredible craft, you must, but make sure you bring something to cover your nose.

At the center of Marrakech lies Place Jemaa El-Fna. This extraordinary square is the symbol of the city and represents many of Morocco's cultural aspects. In the mornings you can visit the large market where they sell fresh squeezed orange juice, a variety of foods, confectionary, and gelato. Meander around the square and see snake charmers, men with monkeys, fortune tellers, and true Moroccan locals partaking in their daily rituals. If you want to go beyond the ramparts and visit other parts of Marrakech, go to the Palais El-Badi, a luxurious old palace that was one said to be one of the wonders of the Muslim world. Composed of material from around the world, Italian marble, Irish Granite, Indian onyx, and gold leaved details around the 360 rooms. this is a sensational site.

 

Travel to Morocco

Travel to Morocco

One of my favorite places in Marrakech was the Jardin Majorelle. Famous for its stunning garden and being the home to Yves Saint Laurent, its an oasis-esque paradise. The luxuriant garden surrounds the bright blue home that is adorned with zellij tilework and art deco attributes. Visiting Majorelle was a lush breath of fresh air in comparison to the dusty, amber colored Marrakech streets. Another little slice of heaven is La Mamounia. This hotel complex is legendary and once was the palace of a Sultan in the 18th century. Visited by Winston Churchill, Richard Nixon, Orson Welles, and many other famous faces, this site remains one of the most special in Marrakech. Now a gorgeous garden, moorish style hotel, and series of bars and restaurants visit La Mamounia for a sunset drink. All over the city are Riads, or traditional moroccan houses or petit palaces with an interior courtyard garden. Renovated into hotels these Riads are the best and most authentic places to stay when visiting. Riad Dixneuf La Ksour is a lovely Riad with a modern twist. Very reasonable for its chic and subtle ambiance, this riad is perfectly located and will be wonderful for any Marrakesh adventurer. Another great place to stay, with a slightly higher price point, is Riyad Al Moussika. Beautifully adorned with colorful mosaics, this historic hotel is very special. Regardless of where you decide to stay, Marrakech offers dozens of Riads at any price.

 

Travel to Morocco

Travel to Morocco

Dining in Marrakech is endless. Choose from dozens of bistros, modest street stalls, and classic restaurants. If you like tajine ( a spiced stew with either fish, chicken, or lamb) and couscous you will be in heaven! The most mesmerizing and truly fantastic restaurant in Marrakech is Yacoute. Take a horse-drawn carriage through the winding alleyways, to this restaurant. It will drop you off in front of a small yet beautiful door, and you will be taken to the rooftop of this old Moroccan building. There you will have drinks under the stars as you listen to traditional moorish music. Next, you will be escorted to the courtyard where you will sit in the lush garden, and enjoy your five course meal, which is truly authentic and unique. This restaurant and experience was magical and a must when in Marrakesh.

After you explore the many things Marrakech has to offer, you can rent a car and driver and drive through the Ouarzazate Valley to the desert. With tiny little villages to explore, mysterious berber culture, and some of the largest mountains in North Africa, this drive is worth it and will give you a taste of rural life in Morocco. Somewhat eery and desolate, reminiscent of the movie Babel with Brad Pitt, the oases and stark lifestyle is bewitching. While here you will visit Ait Benhaddou, where they filmed Lawrence of Arabia, and many other Hollywood hits. This kasbah village is one of the most spectacular sights of the Atlas.

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After a day or two drive you will finally reach Merzouga, a small Saharan oasis which is famous for its location at the foot of the Erg Chebbi Dunes. The Erg Chebbi dunes are extremely tall at 820 feet sprawling 19 miles. The first site of these dunes are absolutely spellbinding and unreal. You feel as if you've entered a dream, as these dunes will just hypnotize you with their stature, color, and rippled texture. It is hard to book a hotel in this region, because during the winter months floods constantly occur so particular lodging maybe closed. The best thing to do is arrive and book a hotel on the spot.

Once you arrive after your long drive, you will be welcomed by your hotel with a cup of mint tea. Ironic they would give you tea when it is over 112 degrees out, but supposedly the heat of the tea cools your body rather than something cold which will contradict your bodies temperature. Here at the hotel you can arrange a camel trek to take you into the Sahara and spend the night in the desert. Enjoy your sleep in your cool air-conditioned room, and wake up at dawn to climb up to the top of the dunes and watch the sunrise. The colors of the sand change as the sun rises and the endlessness of the dunes is somewhat haunting. After you watch the sunrise, you will begin your 3 hour camel trek into the desert. It is a necessity that you are fully clothed, and wear something around your face because when the wind picks up the sand can sting your skin and you can easily burn due to the high UV rays. Hours after trekking you will arrive at your tent caravan and settle in under your rug tent. Enjoy a traditional Moroccan meal, listen to vibrant music, and dance under the stars with your Berber crew. It is still so hot late at night, that you can bring your shrunken mattress outside of your tent and sleep right on the sand, to get the cool desert air on your face. This is an absolutely incredible experience that you will never forget.

After the glorious Erg Chebbi, you can continue your drive up north to Fes. On the way you must stop at a little town called Ifrane. As you enter this town you feel as if you've entered a little European mountain village. Here you can enjoy food at little cafes, see the King's summer residence, and journey 2 miles outside of the town to the Cascades des Vierges, a series of magnificent waterfalls. Also in Ifrane, you can get a variety of European cuisine, coffee, and pastries which might be a nice change from Moroccan tajine.

Travel to Morocco

Travel to Morocco

The last destination on my list is Fes. The most complete medieval city in the Arab world, Fes is a historic haven and Morocco's capital of history, spirituality, and religion. With beautiful labyrinthine streets, intricate architecture, all tightly woven within its defensive walls, Fes is wonderfully charming. Fes medinas are filled with souks which are so amazing to explore because they are so compact and really emphasize the locals lifestyle. You witness the Moroccan men selling their goods for their livelihood, the women covered from head to toe silently make their way through the crowd, and every aspect of their daily ritual.When in Morocco you have to visit a Mosque, and Fes is home to one of the most special mosques. Karaouiyine Mosque is one of the oldest and brilliant mosques in the Western Muslim world. It also beholds the first university to be ever established in Morocco. If you're looking for a mix of Moroccan flare and quaint chicness I recommend staying at Riad Fes. A very design focused, lovely Riad, at a very good price point Riad Fes will enhance every aspect of your stay. Another beautiful hotel that is ideal for sunset drinks and dinner is the Sofitel Palais Jamai. Originally a palace that was transformed to a hotel in 1930, Jamai is modern luxury in an old moorish palace. If you're planning to stay in Fes for more than a couple nights, a great option is to rent your own Riad. Very reasonable, these rental riads are stunning, and offer you your own private oasis in the bustling city of Fes.

 

HIGHLIGHTS OF MOROCCO

Marrakech

Jemaa El-Fna Square | markets, snake charmers, local food stalls

Souks

Tanneries

Palais El-Badi

Jardin Majorelle | Yves Saint Laurents home and garden

La Mamounia Hotel | www.mamounia.com

Riad Dixneuf Ksour | http://www.dixneuf-la-ksour.com

Riyad Al Moussika | http://www.riyad-al-moussika.com

Yacout Restaurant

Ouarzazate Valley

Ait Benhaddou | Kasbah Village

Merzouga

Erg Chebbi Dunes

Camel Trek

Ifrane

Cascade des Vierges

Fes

Souks

Karaouine Mosque & University

Riad Fes | www.riadfes.com

Sofitel Palais Jamai | http://www.sofitel.com/gb/destinations/morocco/luxury-marrakech-city-guide.shtml

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Wander Travel Live
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