July 20, 2021
July 23, 2023
July 20, 2021
July 23, 2023
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Day 1: Marrakech

After a smooth flight to Marrakech we arrived with no transfer driver to meet us which is becoming a bit of a habit. The sun was shining so we didn’t really mind. It was an immediate assault on our senses when we were dropped in the middle of the medina at rush hour; an intoxicating mix of exotic fragrances, rushing mopeds, vibrant red ochre buildings amidst a chaotic melee of people & donkey carts. The kids look slightly shell shocked. We checked in to our beautiful riad and headed to a rooftop restaurant for dinner accompanied by the echoing sound of the muezzin calling residents to prayer. We feasted on tagines, mojito mocktails and fabulous nutella briouates for dessert. We were huge fans of Morocco already.

Day 2: Marrakech

We enjoyed a leisurely rooftop breakfast before heading out into the twisting alleyways of the medina which would confuse even a compass. Google maps has no place here. Founded almost a thousand years ago, Marrakech is one of the great cities of the Maghreb, an intoxicating mix of dusty squares, terracotta riads and lofty minarets. We’d hired a local guide (the lovely Aziz) to make the best of our time here.

Our first visit was to the beating heart of the medina, Djemaa el Fna square, to inhale the hustle and bustle of acrobats and conjurers, henna ladies and food stalls. Afterwards, we dived head first into the souks to haggle over spices, teapots, sweet fried bouchnikhas, babouches (leather slippers) and Berber rugs. We watched the silks being dyed and were ‘persuaded’ to buy a cactus silk scarf in fine indigo blue. Note to self: need to firm up my ‘no’ technique. We visited the former university of Ben Youssef Madrasa (our favourite stop of the day) with its intricate carvings, courtyard pool and ornate mosque then on to the Dar el Bacha Museum with its exquisite courtyard gardens, orange trees and hammam. Afterwards, we perused the old pharmacy purchasing argan oil, herbal extracts for high blood pressure and a fine blend of fifty spices (none of which we actually needed) with our final visit of the day to the breath-taking Bahia Palace with its intricate marquetry, riot of tilework and zouak.

To rebalance our chakras after an exhausting day, we retreated to our riad to drink sugary mint tea in the cool, tranquil courtyard until the outside world seemed like a distant memory.

*Important Note: we kept a wide berth of the snake charmers and monkey handlers at Djemaa el Fna square as a huge amount of cruelty is involved with these practices. Please never engage with these people.

Day 3: Marrakech

After breakfast we hopped in a taxi to Jardins Majorelle located outside the medina walls. This botanical garden was designed by modernist painter Jacques Majorelle and bought and renovated by French artist Yves Saint Laurent in the 1980’s. It contains a psychedelic desert mirage of 300 plant species from five different continents. At its heart lies the electric-blue art deco studio surrounded by high cactuses, popping pink bougainvillea and mosaic encrusted fountains.

We have to admit, the gardens were very beautiful but we found the number of tourists and the restricted one-way path to be frustrating. Also, no matter how fast or slow we walked we always seemed to be behind the most annoying Instagram blogging couple. After an hour or so we gave up and headed across the street for lunch.

The rest of the day was spent lounging in our riad courtyard before heading to Atay Café for the most fabulous sunset view of the Marrakech skyline. Tomorrow we move on, heading east towards the desert.

Day 4: Ait Ben Haddou & Dades Valley

We were picked up by our fabulous guide, Omar, who would be with us for the next four days on our quest to discover the Arabian Nights. It was a long winding journey over the Tizi n'Tichka mountain pass stopping at the remote Telouet Kasbah with its stunning mosaics before an extended stop at the most notable kasbah on this old caravan route, the UNESCO listed, Ait-Ben Haddou. A beautifully set fortified town, the red mud-brick façade of Ait-Ben Haddou conjures up images of biblical settlements and battling Persian armies. It is the setting for Gladiator, Lawrence of Arabia, The Mummy and the Game of Thrones. We explored the tiny alleyways accompanied by a local Berber proudly playing his Ribab and met a local artist who showed us how he made his artwork using green tea & saffron. We also got to see the gladiator arena being resurrected for the upcoming filming of Gladiator II.

After passing Ouarzazate we travelled up to the beautiful Dades Valley with its steep cliff walls and lush valley floor overflowing with date palms, almonds, olives and figs. Our kasbah for the evening was in a fabulous setting but with the strangest soup we have ever tastest. It had three ingredients, pasta, lentils and tomato ketchup and was like eating papier-mâché. We discreetly poured it back into its cauldron and there were numerous supressed giggles when the owner asked how we enjoyed the soup and Michael proceeded to shake the salt pot at him.

Day 5: Sahara Desert

Our breakfast faired a little better with pancakes & fresh fruit. We were now on the ‘Road of 1,000 Kasbahs’, an old trading route from Marrakech to the Sahara Desert. We headed first to the Todgha Gorge passing endless oases and palmeries until the crystal-clear river burst through the deep ravine. The approach was breath-taking, as though the doors of heaven were about to close before you (a destination that the policeman who fined our guide for not stopping quickly enough clearly wasn’t heading).

After Todgha Gorge, it was the long final push to the desert with the landscape becoming more barren and inhospitable by the mile. We arrived at our luxury desert camp just outside Merzouga via a 4x4 and after a welcoming mint tea we were off on our camel trek up the sand dunes for sunset. Burt, Colin, Clarence, Tommy & Clive were our camels and all behaved impeccably apart from Burt who tried to fling Michael into the nearest cactus bush on descent.

In the evening we enjoyed a three-course dinner (chicken tagine yet again) with a campfire and traditional music from our guides. We joined in on percussion and contributed our own English anthem of Sweet Caroline although this didn’t go down as well as we’d hoped. We were joined by a German family (a lady with the rhythm of a pigeon according to the kids) and two guys from Portugal. It was a magical, memorable experience that we will remember forever.

Day 6: Sahara Desert to Ouarzazate

We hit the dunes early for our sandboarding expedition before the heat of the day kicked in. We scampered up the largest dune we could find with a mediocre success rate of 3 out of 5 for staying upright (Frankie & Michael being the face planters of the morning). Afterwards we headed back to our camp to meet Omar for our return journey to Ouarzazate via the markets at Rissani where we could purchase amongst many things an ornate balcony, fly-strike dates or an actual camel’s head.

On our long journey back, we passed caravans of wild camels before lunch at Nkob at a beautiful restaurant overlooking the palmerie below in the Draa Valley. On arrival in Ouarzazate, we chilled out by the hotel pool before heading to the Atlas Film Studios where we explored film sets for Gladiator and Games of Thrones. Sadly, there was no sighting of Pedro Pascal in full costume. In the evening we enjoyed a wonderful home cooked dinner of soup (flashback sweats!), chicken tagine (oh my lord, not again!) and a divine apple tart (a glimmer of hope!)

Day 7: Ouarzazate to Imlil

This morning we had an actual lie-in with a 10am pick-up. This meant time for a swim and a leisurely breakfast on the terrace – bliss. Today we journeyed back over the Tizi-Tickha pass and south to Imlil in the High-Atlas Mountains. We stopped at a mountain top café for lunch - a fabulous, simple tuna salad. We arrived in Imlil to be met by our mule luggage transfer (definitely a first for us) which we followed up the winding dirt pass and across the stream to our riad which had the most spectacular terrace view where we were served fresh mint tea on the lounging sofas.

Imlil sits in a breath-taking setting in the heart of the Atlas Mountains surrounded by apple, walnut and cherry trees with a crystal-clear river running along the valley bottom. Farmers in fezzes tend the verdant steps of crop terraces, replete with barley, turnips and chilli. It is like something out of a children’s story book. Many visitors are in town to tackle Mount Toubkal, the tallest mountain in Morocco at 4,167m but we were very happy to view this from afar. We were here to enjoy the culture, the cooking and the mules! After 2 hours of downtime (= wi-fi catch up) we emerged back into the outside world for our next serving of chicken tajine. We had a busy day coming up tomorrow…

Day 8: Ouirgane Valley

Today we headed further into the Atlas Mountains on our unique Berber experience. We had arranged to spend the day with the lovely Said along with x5 mules with their dolefully long ears and colourful patchwork saddles and x5 muleteers. We met in Ouirgane to start our journey up the valley via the x14 Berber villages that shared the valley’s irrigation system. The sun was shining and the views of the cultivated fields and mountain ridges were soul-stirring. It reminded us very much of the Sacred Valley in Peru. Echoes of prayer floated down the valley as small flycatchers flitted through the juniper trees. Behind us endless olive groves reached back across the desert towards the medinas of Marrakech.

We spent two hours riding through the mud-hut Berber villages sharing polite exchanges with the villagers and the flurry of cockerels that avalanched down a hill. Eventually we arrived at the family home of Said nestled snugly in the mountain range for our Berber cookery class with his mum Fatima. We watched her heating cooking pots on the outdoor earth ovens, sticking dough to the side to make bread and had a very brief tour of the homemade x2 person hammam. It was a simple life, as far from luxury as you could possibly get and it was truly marvellous.

We then picked vegetables from the garden, preparing them for our tagine whilst our muleteers dozed (they were on Ramadan). Whilst our tajine was simmering gently over hot coals in a room shared by a commendably restrained donkey, we fixed our beverage using loose-leaf green tea, several sprigs of mint, a jug of boiling water and enough sugar to sweeten the Strait of Gibraltar. The resulting meal was fabulous - turmeric chicken, paprika, potato and preserved lemon served with fresh mint tea. A feast for kings!  

Afterward, we headed back down the mountain on our trusty mules whilst our muleteers left us to free-range the Moroccan countryside. We got back to our riad in time for a lamb tajine dinner (with the unfortunate return of the pasta lentil soup!). Today had been our favourite day of the trip so far, and as good a use of our travel time and money as I can possibly think of.

Day 9: Imlil to Essaouira

We enjoyed breakfast on the terrace overlooking the Atlas Mountains before the mule transfer to our awaiting taxi. This was our final winding drive over the mountains before the straight as a pin road to Essaouira. We arrived in Essaouira to our paradisical hotel, reminiscent of the Hanging Gardens of Babylon with the most inviting pool and outdoor restaurant - a tiny slice of heaven. We had done a huge amount of travelling over the last x8 days so it was time to wind down and relax.

Our afternoon consisting of swimming, lounging, drinking smoothies and eating fabulous food. To repeat in the evening…

Day 10-11: Essaouira

A wonderful lie-in followed by breakfast in the garden - fruit, pancakes, croissants, eggs and coffee. We were joined by an emboldened army of bees clearly intent on taking repossession of their honey. The kids hit the pool for the rest of the day setting tumble turn records whilst we relaxed in the sun.

In the late afternoon on Day 10, we headed to Essaouira Medina with its beachy tones of blue & white. Essaouira has long been a favourite among hippy revellers (Jimi Hendrix and Cat Stevens both hung out here in the 1960s) and is a very chilled place to browse around the souks. We resisted the urge to buy tagine pots and souvenir camels and headed into the melee of the food market where carts of oranges, dates and olives trundled past. After two hours of wandering, we headed to the Italian restaurant in the heart of the medina to satisfy our craving for simple wood-fired pizza.

On Day 11, following another lazy day of relaxation, we headed to the dunes for our sunset quad bike safari. The kids were looking forward to being unleashed on motorized beasts for a spot of dune bashing and I have to admit it was an epic trip - barrelling up & down the sand dunes and across the deserted stretch of beach (save for a camel and a yoga lady) with excellent exfoliation along the way!  We all had an absolute blast with big, fat grins from ear to ear providing the perfect end to our fabulous trip to Morocco.

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