Morocco: Land of Contrasts



Our trip to Morocco was the fortunate brainstorm of two of our children who wanted to go on a family trip with us. We pondered several destinations before our son Michael suggested Morocco where he had spent a summer during college. So Morocco it was! The first stop was Marrakech, followed by a two-day trip through the Atlas Mountains culminating in an unforgettable night in the Sahara desert, then another day through the mountains to Fez and finally Tangier. In all, we spent 16 days there and It remains one of our favorite destinations. We've dedicated separate posts to the Sahara and to Fez and the Atlas Mountains. We went in April and we had perfect weather the entire trip.


I researched and booked the flights and hotels myself, but booked our three-day excursion through Morocco Excursions.


We all came from different parts of the US, so we met in Marrakech. Paul and I flew into Casablanca and spent a night there, hoping to be able to see a little bit of the city. Unfortunately, my suitcase didn't make one of the connections, so much of our time was spent talking to the airline, then finally going back to the airport to retrieve it once it arrived (for some reason there wasn't an option for it to be brought to the hotel). Fortunately, though, it arrived before we had to leave! We took a train to Marrakech and enjoyed being able to see some of the country on the two-three hour trip.


Marrakech



A city of about 1 million, Marrakech, like other Moroccan cities, is a blend of old and new, traditional and modern. Founded in the late 11th century, it’s also known as the Red City thanks to the abundance of red sandstone used for walls and buildings. The old city is a rabbit warren of alleys in the souk, or market, lined with stalls selling everything from brightly colored clothes to silver to spices. Truly a treat for the eyes and nose!


Jemaa el-Fna is a bustling square filled by day with snake charmers, monkey antics, fortune tellers and sellers of goods of all sorts, and by night a huge outdoor food court. Stand after stand of grilled meats and vegetables tease you with their tempting aromas that hover in the thick air. I feel that I didn't spend enough time taking it in. I guess that means I have to go back!


What these photos don't convey is the wonderful aroma in the air!

What I didn't know before we went to Marrakech is that it's home to many storks. They were once considered holy and are abundant all over the city, but especially in the vicinity of the El Badi Palace. As it turned out, our hotel, Riad Badi was adjacent to the now ruined palace, so we had a bird's eye view (pun intended) of our feathered neighbors. We spent a lot of time engrossed in the nesting culture of storks; it was fascinating.



The Majorelle Garden (Jardin Majorelle)


Jacques Majorelle was a French artist who, after experiencing Egypt, fell in love with the Islamic world and made his home in Marrakech in the first half of the 20th century. The two and a half acre garden is an oasis amid the hectic comings and goings of Marrakech and an easy and relaxing visit. Majorelle blue comes from the rich and distinctive color throughout the garden.


The other colors in Marrakech are pretty spectacular, too!


More photos from amazing Marrakech. The stop signs are merely a suggestion.


Daily errands...


Be prepared for scenes like this in the souk...


Riad Badi - Marrakech

We were fortunate to stay in the equivalent of five-star hotels. But they’re anything but typical hotels. While there are many Western-style hotels in Morocco, we opted to stay in dars and riads. A riad by definition is a building that surrounds an inner courtyard. The courtyard usually has a pool or fountain and is a quiet refuge after a day in the souk. ‘Dar’ means house. They’re usually very small; the most rooms any of hotels had were seven. Our rooms were exquisite and we were able to choose the room we wanted. The bathrooms were usually decorated with beautiful ceramic tile. No detail was overlooked. All three of our riads/dars had rooftop terraces. Since the April weather was warm and perfect throughout our stay, breakfast was served every morning on the terraces. Breakfast usually consisted of yogurt, fruit, wonderful Moroccan bread, crepes, fresh orange juice and coffee or tea.


In Marrakech we chose Riad Badi, owned and run by a delightful French couple who had abandoned corporate life in France to resettle in Marrakech. Its six rooms are each distinctive and comfortable. They served us breakfast on the roof terrace and made a delicious dinner for us in the courtyard on our last night. It was a 5 - 10 minute walk to Jmaa el-Fna.




Tangier

Tangier is a busy and mostly modern port city on the northern coast of Morocco. On a clear day, it affords a view of the Rock of Gibraltar which is only about 60 miles north across the Straight of Gibraltar. Modern high-rise apartments and office buildings abound outside the walls of the old city to give it a distinctly European feel, very different from Marrakech and Fez. The souk, while exotic and interesting, is smaller than those of Marrakech or Fez.


This is the Grand Socco (Place du Grand 9 Avril 1947), a bustling square in the modern part of Tangier. We ate dinner overlooking it.



Dar Chams Tanja - Tangier


In Tangier, we chose Dar Chams Tanja, a lovely dar in the old city at the edge of the souk overlooking the sea with a view of the Rock of Gibraltar.

Enjoying some Moroccan wine and snacks on the roof terrace.


The view of the Rock of Gibraltar (to the right) from our dar.


The One that Got Away

I wanted to get to Chefchaouen, also known as the "Blue City" due to its blue washed buildings in the old town. It's only about 70 miles south of Tangier, but time wasn't on our side. I'd love to go back to Morocco, so we'll plan to see it next time!


Top Tips
  • Morocco is a gem; spend a minimum of two - three days in Marrakech and a minimum of one - two days in Tangier.

  • Be sure to have dinner at Jemaa el-Fna; you won't regret it!

  • Spend plenty of time at Jemaa el-Fna during the day, watching the comings and goings of locals and tourists. You can watch from one of the many cafés above the square for a bird's eye view.

  • Let yourself get lost in the maze of alleys off the square and take a good camera!

  • Be prepared to bargain. It's not the most intense bargaining we've experienced, but they expect you not to accept the first offer.


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