Day 1: Flight To Casablanca
Arrived at Casablanca airport after a surprisingly short flight, an intriguing plane meal of beef and prunes followed by a long wait through passport control , we finally met our guide Moha and our group; Laura, an Italian woman, and Mark & Tracy a couple also from Essex! Was surprised there was only the 5 of us, but I guess that meant that we were only going to get more attention and quality from the guide. We crashed as soon as we got to the hotel so that we were ready for the day ahead.
Day 2: Meknes
Our first stop was the Hassan II Mosque in the harbour, where we wrapped up in headscarves, took off our shoes and walked around the magnificent building (one of the only 2 mosques that non-Muslims can go into). After a historical tour we headed to Meknes, passing through the administrative capital Rabat where the King lives in one of his many grand Palaces. In the afternoon we went for a walk to the medina of Meknes, passing through souks and we ended up having dinner up on a terrace overlooking the main square, packed full of locals selling and bartering. Such a great vibe. It was today that we tried our very first local tagine – so nice.
Day 3: Roman Volubilis, Moulay Idriss & Fes
Day 3 started with a drive to Volubilis, where some of the most comprehensive and ancient ruins in the Roman Empire reside today. It was beautiful walking around, seeing all the fantastically intact mosaics, especially seeing white ibis and many storks nesting on top of the ruined columns. For lunch we headed to the to the shrine town and pilgrimage centre of Moulay Idriss, with houses and mosques set amongst two rocky outcrops. We had a fantastic guide for each of the tours and loved both places, especially the views from the top of the city – I even saw a falcon! After a fantastic lunch of local tagine, we headed to Fez for the evening. We learnt about Ramadan, and the need for fasting, how they can go without food for the whole of the daytime, but more importantly without water in this heat, in order to prove their devotion to Allah. It was incredible to learn how passionate Muslims are and how strong the religion is with their society and culture.
Day 4: Fez; city tour
Fez, the cultural capital, was fantastic, as if we were transported back in time. The streets were just as they were when they were built in the 8th century, it was just the loot in the souks that made it modern. We walked all day around the souks selling meat, to veg, to animals, to clothes, to shoes, to trinkets, to spices, everything you can imagine was somewhere in those endless souk mazes. We were taken to a pretty expensive place for lunch that I presume the guide was friends with and got some kind of commission, but still, for just 10 quid we got 3 huge course of spectacular food, so no regrets! After lunch we headed to the tanneries, where leather is stained in vats of strikingly coloured dyes with men just stomping and standing in these vats all day long. In the evening we enjoyed milkshakes and crepes as todays dinner was just so fantastic.
Day 5: Merzouga Sand Sea
It was a long drive today (11 hours including stops!) where we went through lush alpine slopes, to far distances of scrap, to mountain tops, to sand sea desert. A fantastic set of views I could barely keep up with. After some more great food and spotting some Barbary macaques we passed through Erfoud and on to Merzouga, where we arrived in time to see the sun setting over the vast expanse of rolling desert dunes. The hotel was fantastic and we were literally the only ones there. In 40oC heat, we immediately leapt into the pool, followed by some traditional mint tea and our first couscous meal. With the view of the Sahara just behind us I was truly in awe. This is what it was all about.
Day 6: Camel Trek & Desert Camp
With the 40oC heat, we decided to take the day off today and enjoy the pool. We rambled around the hotel, but it was too hot to barely move, so we soon headed back to the shade and the pool, although I did see a dung beetle which was cool. After enjoying another fantastic lunch we prepared ourselves for the ultimate camel trek into the Sahara desert. The camels were so much taller than I realised and I was a little scared at first, but as soon as we got on top of those bright orange sand dunes and looked on to more and more sand dunes into the distance all worry was behind me. The incredible landscape was breath-taking and I loved every minute of it. We got off the camels early so that we could climb a large dune and watch the sunset over the dunes. Then we hiked back to the camp that had been set up by our guides. We had a very yummy tagine again, and after gazing at the stars for a long while we headed to our sandy beds. We got little sleep at all as we appeared to have been hit by a mini sand storm in the night, so my sleeping bag was literally full of desert, as were my ears, eyes, nose and hair….great, but worth it nonetheless.
Day 7: Todra Gorge; walk
We woke up early for sunrise and hopped back on the camels before the sun got too intense. We said goodbye to your four-legged friends and reverted back to motorised transport. Retracing our steps through Erfoud, and heading toward the dramatic Todra Gorge, a spectacular gash in the hills that surround Tinerhir. The region is dotted with deserted kasbahs, palmeries and mud-brick villages which made some excellent photos. The hotel was situated over a river and had an excellent view. In the evening we headed on a walk to the gorge, it was beautiful g along the river, fruiting trees, plantations, and quaint Berber villages. The gorges were immense and as rich orange as the sand dunes.
Day 8: Boutaghrar; Atlas Mountains
From Todra we headed to Dades Gorge, along the Road of a Thousand Kasbahs, and later along the Rose Valley to a gite in Boutaghrar, a family home where we were to spend 2 nights. Before dinner we went out for a hike up to a plateau that overlooked the entire area; spectacular. The Berber house/gite was simple mud and brick blending into the landscape. We ate home cooked food and it was fantastic!
Day 9: Boutaghrar; walks
Today was tough; we headed out at 8am for a 16k hike around the mountains. We followed rough mule tracks and stopped for a couple of hours in some shade for a scrumptious salad picnic lunch. It got so hot after lunch that the walk heading back was hard. But Moha took us on a route through patches of shade and even through streams so we could cool down a bit. Seeing as I haven’t been to a gym in a year, I was pretty proud of myself for being able to do it, and most importantly I enjoyed it. We saw so many locals along the way, walked through little kasbahs and met some mules, it was a great day and really gave us a feel for life in the Atlas for Moroccans.
Day 10: Ait Benhaddou
Carrying on along the road of 1000 Kasbahs, we headed to Ouarzazate where we visited a chemical factory to see the biggest exported goods of the region – rose water. We visited a Kasbah and film studio to see lots of set props from Asian temples to Egyptian palaces and Moroccan souks, it was fun. There was even the entire city set from Kingdom of Heaven. When we got to the hotel, we had the most fantastic view from the pool, and also the restaurant of Ait Benhaddou. This collection of kasbahs placed perfectly on a hill is probably the best-preserved in the country. With its dramatic walls of red earth, slit windows and crumbling towers, it is a magnificent example of a traditional stronghold, and subsequently chosen as a location for Hollywood films such as Lawrence of Arabia, Jewel in the Nile and more recently Gladiator.
Day 11: Marrakech
I was sad to leave Ait Benhaddou as it was so beautiful, but I was excited because although it was nearing the end of the trip, we were on our way to the exciting Marrakesh. We crossed Tizi-n-Tichka, the highest of the three mountain passes (2260m), which cross the dramatic High Atlas. It was yet another extraordinary transition as we descended again across the barren slopes of shattered rock on the southern side give way to green valleys as you descend from the treeless summit.
Once we got to Marrakesh we were amazed by the alleyways, souks, stalls and markets. We were left with a free afternoon, so using a map from Moha, we decided to go on our own adventure. We headed to Badil Palace, ruins of an old palace not guarded by storks as sentinels. We then headed towards the medina, stopping for cocktails on a fantastic terrace bar, and then onto dinner at another terrace restaurant with the most amazing views of the city. When the sun was going down we went to the main square. This was a hive of activity, packed full of stalls and sellers, with a mass of cobras, monkeys and birds of prey on display in between. We decided to head to yet another bar terrace looking over this magnificently lit up square and enjoyed ice cream sundaes.
Our hotel room was amazing too. It was like a traditional Moroccan home style, but more like a royal palace style, plus after an issue with the air con we got upgraded the second night, so we were very happy indeed.
Day 12: Marrakech; city tour & souks
On our last day we got to full explore the city of Marrakesh. We walked from the hotel, through botanical gardens towards Koutoubia mosque, a central icon that can be seen for miles around the city. After that we received a tour of the Parliamentary palace of Badir. It was beautifully decorated with mosaics everywhere, and interlaced with lush plant life. Following this we headed to the souks where again individual trades and crafts are concentrated in one street or area. Here we practised our haggling skills, where we bought traditional pillow cases, a camel leather pouf and some traditional Moroccan slippers. ON top of this we bought an excellent array of local nuts and dried fruit that really was a treat. After all this and we headed to the Saadian tombs, a previously secret area behind a mosque of the most ornate tombs you have ever seen.
At the end of the day we met up with the group for one last time and enjoyed a traditional Berber meal of chicken & pigeon pastille (sprinkled with sugar) and it was delicious! We got to watch the sunset over the city from the restaurant terrace which really was the perfect end to such an amazing trip. I will never forget how much I loved Morocco.