Author: Jessica C.
Date of Trip: June 2016
Day 1: Barcelona to Casablanca
We arrived in Casablanca from Barcelona (we were on a cruise the week before), but took a very long time to clear customs. The line was very long and inefficient. We met our driver, Tahar, and the first attraction he took us to was the mosque.
We went to see the mosque, called Housan II, to take a few photos. We were taking too long to leave the Casablanca airport, so by the time we arrived the mosque was closed. The outside was still magnificent, and the architecture was stunning. After this, we went to our hotel, Val D Anfa Hotel which is right along the ocean. The hotel was stunning and had a beautiful inside with pool. We decided to explore the area, which is called the Corniche. This is a hip and modern area with lots of restaurants, bars and nightclubs. We found a random restaurant overlooking the ocean and ordered fish Tagine and calamari. Both were fresh caught from the ocean. We wandered the area and stumbled upon a shopping mall. We arrived too late so the stores were closing, but the mall had modern brands like H&M and American eagle. We taxied back from the mall, which was only 1-2 miles, but that cost only 30 dirhams or about $3!
Day 2: Casablanca to Marrakesh
We left around 9am and drove ~3 hours to Marrakesh. We had a full day historical tour of Marrakesh. We started at the Majorelle garden created by Jacques Majorelle, a French artist. He left the garden after his death to the famous Yves Saint Laurent. We were going to walk around the medina (old city) but it was over 100 degrees. We luckily had our driver drop us off at each site. The sites were not far from each other, but the heat was unbearable. We went to see the Koutoubia mosque, which is the largest mosque in Marrakesh. We strolled thru the Jewish Mellah and walked though the spice square (rahba kedima). From here we went to see the El Bahia Palace and the Saadian tombs. The El Bahia palace has over 160 different rooms, but we only walked thru a few. The Saadian tombs comprise of about 60 bodies of the members of the Saadi dynasty. Every detail was beautiful and hand done. There were mosaics, paintings, and fine artwork all over the walls and ceilings.
We wanted to wander and shop the souks so we had our guide take us there. We began at the Djemma El Fna Square. The souks are covered overhead, so they were a nice retreat from the heat. The souks had everything. Fake designer goods, leather bags, shoes, handicrafts, meat works, jewelry, and wooden carvings. After wandering a few hours, we bought shoes, a wooden box, leather goods and random souvenirs for our friends and family back home.
Our guide walked us to our riad, called Riad Adore. It was tucked away but in the main area of the medina and close to souks. It is down a dark side alley, but there is a security guard hired by the few riads located in the alley. From the outside, the riads look plain and unassuming. Once inside, it was a beautiful oasis of powder blue and white washed walls. We decided to shop a little before our dinner, and met a family (father and two sons) selling leather goods and woodwork. They were super nice, so we bought a few things from them.
We had dinner at the upscale Al Fassia. This restaurant had traditional food and was decently busy for a Monday night. Most diners were tourists however. The food was heavy and salty but decent and edible overall. We had a traditional Moroccan soup, filo pastry dough filled with meat, spinach and cheese, couscous with chicken veggies and kabobs, and a fish Tagine
We wanted to explore the city later, so we stopped at the square, Djemma El Fna Square. We walked around doing more shopping. After this, we headed back to the hotel.
Day 3: Marrakesh to Skoura
We had our breakfast ready for us early. It was simple, just fruit, a fried pancake like, juice, coffee, and fruit. After leaving Riad adore, we drove thru the tizi n tichka pass road. We drove thru the High Atlas Mountains for panoramic views. We stopped at the Argan cooperative, which makes Argan products and is completely ran by women. We got to see the Argan oil extraction process and purchased Argan products.
We drove off the beaten road to Telout, and stopped at the kasbah Telout. We had a small private walking tour with our guide, riaad. He didn’t learn English in school, but it was so good! He can do the tour of the castle in elvish, Spanish, French, Arabic, Berber, and the local dialect. That’s amazing! This kasbah is hidden on a tiny road in a small village 20 mins outside of Tichka. The pacha (governor) named glaoui was the one who owned this kasbah. Since it’s the end of the tourist season (tourists season ends in may) we basically had the whole place to ourselves. The exterior is not too pretty, but the inside is splendid. It’s not a UNESCO heritage site yet, so all the money from the tours goes to renovations. The entrance fee is a mere 20 dirhams (~$2) which isn’t going to do much for repairs. We had lunch next to the kasbah, which consisted of a plate of vegetables cooked in various methods, beef, & chicken tagine. It was so much better than the expensive restaurant in Marrakech. The ingredients were all fresh and locally sourced. The tagine had a fig and date sauce for the meat that was incredible.
After lunch, we drove to Ait Ben Haddou which means son of the man named Haddou. This area is famous because many movies were shot here. Most of the people we met were all extras in the movies like Gladiator and Prince of Persia. Game of thrones season 4 was also filmed here. This is a UNESCO heritage site, so all the extra sets built for the movies had to be torn down afterwards. Our guide told us that it took like 30 days to build, 35 mins of shooting, and 25 days to tear it down. We wandered thru the Berber kasbahs. 8 families still live here, including our tour guide, Mohammed. He was kind enough to show us where he lived and we got to meet his mother as well! While wandering thru the maze of mud and brick, we walked past an artist who paints with organic colors. The blue is from indigo, yellow from saffron, red from henna. There is mint tea as well, it turns a darker color when heated. It was beautiful so I purchased a drawing and took a photo with the artist.
We drove to our Riad, L’ma lodge, which was literally in the middle of no where. All the riads are very unassuming looking from the outside, but inside looks like heaven on earth. There is a swimming pool, trees, plants, flowers, and vegetables all beautifully planted and arranged around the area. Since we literally had nothing around us, we could only stay in the riad. It was nice and relaxing. We had a cold soup with the veggies from the garden and chicken tangine dinner. Mint tea was served after the meal as well.
Day 4: Skoura to Erfoud to Merzouga
We departed L’Ma lodge, and headed to the Amerhidil kasbah. This place is well known because it is featured on the 50 dirham note of Morocco. Our guide was energetic and cracked many jokes. He explained a lot about the architecture and reasoning behind some of the elements of the structure. For example, the steps up to the second floor were all different sizes. The first few steps, especially the first was high so the animals wouldn’t go up. The steps were all different highs to slow down enemies from attack. The entrance to the 2nd floor was also small so that you had to bend down to enter the room. This way someone could smack the enemy on the head if u were attacked.
We drove along the valley of 1000 kasbahs. The road had many, ranging from perfectly restored to crumbling ruins.
We drove to a rose distillery to see how rose products are made. We were told 1 liter of rose oil costs around $13,5000 dollars. wow!
We drove thru the Dades valley on the road to the Todgha gorge. It looks like the Grand Canyon, lots of canyon, rocks, and water. Instead of on top of the canyon however, we drove in the canyon looking up at the cliffs.
We stopped for lunch and had tagine again! We didn’t know we would be having tagine so many times!
From here we trekked to Erfoud, the capital of fossils. This area used to be covered by the ocean 300-400 million years ago! We toured a factory that digs up the fossils, prepares, polishes, and sells them. Most of the fossils were sea creatures, due to the area being in the ocean. We saw many fossils of jellyfish and different shell fish.
We continued on the road to Rissani and the village of Khemlia to visit the Sahara desert region. We drove thru the Sahara to the Merzouga’s dunes for the camel trek at sunset. The Merzouga camp was called Azawad luxury desert camp. We got to ride camels thru the desert to our camp in the middle of nowhere. Once at the camp, I was amazed. We were not “roughing it” at all. It was glamping (glam camping) for sure. Each tent had a bathroom with a flushing toilet and shower. There is plumbing that takes the waste to a well. The well is so deep, that we can fill it for almost 5 years without it being full.
We had a traditional dinner and had music played for us in the evening. We danced and also learned a little bit of drums and played with the musicians.
Day 5: Merzouga back to Ouarzazate
We woke up in the desert for the sunrise. It was pretty but hazy. We had a nice and peaceful breakfast overlooking the sand and miles of dunes.
From here, we went to hear the musicians of Kemlia in Merzouga. The group plays traditional Gnawa group music. It was nice to hear the traditional music and we purchased a CD to support them.
We drove towards Ait Ouzzine, which is a Berber village inhabited by 300 families. We visited the family of our tour company’s husband. Our company’s owner, Alicia, came as a tourist to Morocco and fell in love with her driver. She ended up staying here and started the tour company. We went to visit her husband’s family and met her husband’s sisters and brothers. We also met the children, which were adorable. The family invited us to drink mint tea and made us couscous for lunch. It was delicious! It was the best couscous we’ve had so far on this trip.
After the visit with the Berber family, we drove to the riad, Riad Dar Chamaa located in Tabount just outside of Ouarzazate. It was a mud brick and straw structure, not very authentically beautiful. It was plain but clean.
We tried to go find luggage to buy, since we shopped and bought way too much stuff. Haha. However, we stumbled on an antiques shop that also sold Berber made rugs. We were suckered in and purchased a rug for my room. The rug was made from silk and camel hair that was hand made from Berber women. It’s blue threads are dyed from indigo. Yellow is saffron. Red is henna.
We had dinner at the Riad, which was crepe with mushrooms in a carrot orange sauce, quarter roasted chicken with rice, and creme caramel. The creme caramel was so good!
Day 6: Ouarzazate to Marrakesh
Today we visited the Oasis of Fint. It’s a small oasis but many films were filmed here. After visiting this, we headed to Atlas studios where many Hollywood and international films were shot. It is the studio, so there were many fake props simulating locations such as Egypt, Rome, and China. A few famous movies were filmed here. It was very interesting to see all the “movie magic” that goes on behind the scenes. All the sets were made from plaster and Styrofoam. We toured scenes from very famous movies like the Gladiator. It seems like Gladiator, is Morocco’s claim to fame for movies. People are always excited to tell us how they were involved with the movie.
After touring Atlas studios, we began our journey back to Marrakesh. It takes about 4 hours from Ouarzazate.
Once at Marrakesh, we checked back into Riad adore and decided to explore on foot. We went to cafe Arab at the recommendation of our riad. It was decent especially for being in the touristy medina. From the cafe, we wanted to walk to the main square, Djemma El Fna Square and the worker at the Riad said it was a straight walk from cafe Arabe. However, all his “straight lines” were not. We had to turn twice to get to the square. At the square we went to just look for more stuff to buy (we are shopaholics). We walked back to the riad afterwards.
Day 7: Marrakech to Casablanca
Today we had a free day until driving to the airport. We started with the Ben Yosef madrasa, which used to be a Islamic college. It had lots of pretty tiles and colors. After this we went to the museum of photographie, just because it was close to the madrasa. From here, we headed back to Casablanca to catch our flight back to the USA.