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Sensational Morrocco - A personal Travel Blog by Tania Hird Designs and HairFlair Aus

Updated: Jul 9, 2023



Day 1. Casablanca to Fez


After arriving at Casablanca Airport early in the morning we met our driver Mohammed. An unusual way for us to travel but worthwhile in our opinion as we had never travelled to a North African country before with its different religion, culture and way of life. When I did the sums it wasn't more expensive than paying for a few of the lengthy transfers between places we wanted to visit, enabled a bespoke, jampacked itinerary including all the sites I wanted to visit and we had an informative driver who shared his own insights and an air conditioned car to work in with Wifi in a country not even zoned for Telstra day passes !



Casablanca, has an old Medina but not one as ancient as Fes nor as beautiful as Marrakesh so our plan was purely to visit the Hassan 11 Mosque before continuing on our way !


The Hassan 11 Mosque

The Hassan 11 Mosque is an impressive must see. With the Tallest Minaret in the world and the third largest size after Mecca and Medina, the mosque was built in 1987 and took only 6 years to build - 2000 tradesmen and builders worked in 3 shifts day and night, 7 days a week to perfect this modern masterpiece. The roof opens, the floor is heated and the floor glass fills with water for special occasions. Designed by a French architect using Moroccon materials ( except the Venetian chandeliers), it is both stunning and humbling. One feels overwhelmed by the spirality of this place. With an internal capacity of 25,000 and additional prayer space for 80,000 outside, it can fit the entire capacity of the MCG on Grand Final Day - Amazing !!

*Don’t miss the guided tour run by the Mosque which will also take you to the ablution rooms below & no need to wear a head covering - its not required !


Marrakesh - The Red city

A 2 1/2 hour drive takes us to the “Red City” of Marrakesh and it’s seriously red! The colour derives from the iron in the soil and so every building, pebbled boulevard and wall bears this colour. From the first moment, we are spellbound. The crowds, the pleasant temperature, the artisans producing their wares, amazing mosaics, herb towers and fortified red walls, all the beauty and even the busyness makes Marrakech magical. Before retiring to our hotel we venture to El Fen square, an enormous square on the edge of the Medina and the hub of Marrakesh Old town. Its Vivid, dirty, but lively with Snake charmers , story tellers and entertainers. Its just as you expect from the movies.

* Don’t Miss a mint tea in a rooftop cafe so you can people and activity watch from the rooftops


Day 2 Full day Marrakesh

One of the 4 imperial cities of Morocco, there is much in Marrakesh to show of History and Royalty, however we begin the the 20th Century at the spectacular Yves St laurent Marjorelle garden & museum as the queues only get bigger throughout the day and they are substantial !


Jardin Majorelle

Just one and a half kilometres from the Medina you will find the Yves Saint Laurent Museum and the Jardin Majorelle. The spectacular @jardinmajorellemarrakech is an oasis of diverse cactus, bamboo, fountains and plants forming what once was the gardens and private villa of firstly Jacques Majorelie ( of “Majorelle Blue” fame and then of iconic @yves_saint_lauent_ and his partner Ivette Berge ! A haven of serenity, cobalt blue and the final resting place of YSL, it is now run as a not for profit by the Berge foundation supporting the education and bettering the life of Morrocan people. A special place not to be missed 💕


Grand Al Badi Palace

El Badi Palace is a ruined palace located in Marrakesh, Morocco as most of its detail was removed to build the new palace. However, its still worth a visit particularly to show the enormity of and layout of the Moroccan family palaces, the sunken internal gardens and to imagine it in its prime which is made easy by the use of a digitally reconstructed video on site. It was commissioned by the Sultan Ahmad al-Mansur of the Saadian dynasty in the 16th Century.


El Bahia Palace

I highly recommend this palace, because of the peace and beautiful mosaics that you see everywhere. Wander from room to room to enjoy the spectacular woodwork, carvings and mosaics and then move on to the courtyards with their mosaic tiled floors. El Bahia was constructed for the Crown Princes' servant, who rose the the rank of Prime Minister due to the education, teachings and opportunities he was afforded as the Crown Princes companion. A brilliant rags to riches story and beautiful home.


Saadien Dynasty Tombs

Make sure you visit the nearby Saadien Tombs, the funeral complex of the Saadien kings and queens. The lines are always long however the intricacy of the carvings and mosaics are exquisite and well worth a visit. Taj Mahal Vibes.


Ben Youseff school for architecture & Mellah Jewish quarter

This spectacular Koran school has been recently renovated and reopened . The intricately carved woodwork, plaster carvings and central courtyard make this hidden Gem a must see. Climb the stairs to see the study rooms of various sizes. You can picture the children as they pass the narrow corridors with Koran in hand.


The Souks

You shouldn’t miss the Colour, vibrance & an incredibly hardworking community of artisans, dyers, embroiders and sellers that make up the Souks. It truly is an education in how life was before machinery and a community of individuals who find happiness and satisfaction in their family, friends and religion. That’s worth thinking about and defiantly worth viewing.

* Don’t miss : Acquainting yourself with different artisans. The dyers will show you how earth pigments can change colour with other minerals, the tanners, how leather is prepared and cut, and the dressmakers diligently sit there making their one kaftan a week by hand. We found the Fes Medina preferable for true artisan hunting but both are a hive of chaotic activity and well worth a visit and shop. Always haggle ( it's a sport to them ) and don’t pay more than something is worth to you !!


Special Places to Eat & Stay Marrakesh

  • Don’t miss: The Spectacular Mamounia Hotel- whether its for a drink at the bar or buffet lunch by the pool, This impressive Hotel was favourite to the likes of Churchill, Yves St Laurent and more recently Kim Kardashian but it is the spectacular gardens that blew us away. Vast acres of grass, paved walkways, orange trees, olives and cactus, this was once the gardens of royalty and feels every bit of it !!

  • Stay: Almaha Marrakech & Spa for a warm family run Riad where you choose your dining spot and generous rooms, Maison Arabe for a detailed old worldly experience or Marrakesh Sultana for something a bit more fabulous . All serve excellent food and cater to your every whim

  • Drink : El fenn The new Richard Brandon Virgin Hotel for a stunningly gorgeous rooftop view and people watching


Day 3 High Atlas Mountains

Firstly the drive is spectacular so make sure to leave some time to stop for photos


Guided Walk of Mt Toukbal to Asni

This was hands down one of my absolute favourite experiences in Morocco and if you love hiking, enjoy spectacular scenery of soaring peaks, sensational coloured dirts owing to the phosphates & iron in the soils, cascading waterfalls and experiencing culture and yesteryear, its absolutely for you. We hired a Berber guide to take us to Asni, the highest village in North Africa which I would absolutely recommend, both for their explanation of the mountains, flora and fauna, making sure you don’t get lost ( there are no signposts!) and to explain to you the Berber way of life and customs. You feel like you’re in a time warp and have gone back hundreds of years. Aqueducts are used to irrigate the crops of walnut, apples and cherries in an efficient and well organised manner, the friendly Berber people looking up from their ploughs or weaving of carpets. Truly a peak into another culture and time I felt very humbled to share. Electricity was only introduced in 2011! A bucket list must for anyone venturing to Morroco.

* Don’t Miss : Having mint tea or dinner in a traditional Berber House.

* If you don’t like hiking stop off at Moulin Brahim to see a traditional Berber village and Kasbah on your way back to a Marrakesh!

  • Special place to Stay or eat : Kasbah Tamadot. Kasbah Tamadot is Sir Richard Branson's magical retreat in Morocco's Atlas Mountains. This 28-bedroom hotel in a restored Kasbah ( old fort) is perched at the top of a valley with views up to Mount Toubkal and over to some of the traditional Berber villages that dot around the region. If the views are not enough, this Kasbah has been restored to perfection. From the stunning library & games room in a Berber tent, to the outdoor terraces and restaurants, spectacular gardens and pool, this destination is somewhere you should not miss if the bank balance allows it and maximise the time you have. There is a Berber kitchen where fresh bread is made traditionally all day and is open for sampling, wood fire to table, there is a small zoo of camels and mules for a guided ride to the surrounding villages, there is tennis, croquet, gorgeous Berber sun tents underwhich to relax and to generally feel like Royalty. Bus tours are available from Marrakesh for lunch if you are unable to stay. Great fact : When the Kasbah was established, Eva Branson set up schools for all the villagers, not just the staff of the Kasbah and now all of the staff are Berber. Eva Branson has continued to educate women in the area and to support their learning of weaving and old customs so that these incredible talents are not lost - Hat off to her, that impresses me greatly!

  • Don’t miss the trek to Asni with a Berber guide and or the 1 hr mule trek to the local village to see how the Berber people live

  • Consider driving the route to Moulin Brahim back to Marrakesh if you haven’t been to a Berber Village


Day 4 High Atlas Mountains to Arafay Desert

Given Moulin Brahim is a similar topography to what we had already seen we enjoyed the pool, gym and breakfast before heading back to Marrakesh via the Arafat dessert. True, its not the Sahara and if you have an extra night and don’t mind the 12 hour drive there and back you can take a guided tour to stay in a Berber tent in the Sahara via Ait Ben Haddou ( another Kasbah) and Ouzarante where many films such as Laurence of Arabia and Gladiator were set. We opted for a camel ride in the Arafat dessert instead, just 45 minutes south of Marrakesh. A rocky rather than sandy desert you still experience a landscape of undulating dunes that disappear into the horizon, an oasis and of course you can ride a camel or quad bike and take that "must have" photo. Cheesy - absolutely, but an experience nonetheless and a perfect opportunity to laugh at oneself !

  • Note: There is an option from Marrakesh for Dinner and a Camel ride and show in a Bedouin tent in the Agafay Desert if that takes your fancy.


Day 5 Rabat - Fez .

Rabat

Rabat, the capital of Morocco since 1912, is a large, clean and orderly city which feels quite european as a lot of it was built by the French during its colonisation. Even the interiors of the old Kasbah have a Mediterranean look and vibe with their lime white houses, blue roofs and doors and cobblestone streets. Rabat is not often included on itineraries around Morocco but in my opinion its worth a stop if you can fit it in if only because of the contrast it poses to the other major cities in Morocco and of course being the Capital . I did love its small and less “frenetic Kasbah.


Kasbah des Oudaпas

The Kasbah des Oudaпas is worth visiting in Rabat because its distinctly different to all others and is fairly small and manageable. Dating back to the 12th century, this ancient medina area is truly “Mediterranean Island” style. The complex comprises a labyrinth of blue, white-washed houses & lanes with romantic blue doors everywhere. I didn’t realise how much I like Moroccan doors until I look at my pics of Rabat !! With sprinklings of Synogogues and Mosques throughout and its position right down to the sea it is a lovely way to spend an hour or two.


The Hassan Mosque and Mausoleum of Mohammed V

Much of the old medieval city of Rabat was destroyed by the Portuguese during raids in the sixteenth century. The once exquisite Hassan Mosque is sadly just ruins now but it is still well worth a look. On the day we toured there, the King was visiting his grandfather’s grave so it was shut to the public but you can see all the columns which comprised this once second largest mosque in the Islamic world and also the adjacent Mausoleum of Mohammed V which is a spectacularly carved Mausoleum created to thank this King for his services.


Royal palace

The Royal Palace complex in Rabat is immense. You are not allowed to enter any of the myriads of palaces owned by the King in Morocco but you can enter the grounds to see the enormity of this place. The complex holds gardens, staff quarters, military buildings, an immense mosque and the Palace itself.


Day 6 -Fez full day

Fes

We took a guided Tour of Fes believing it a better way to ensure we gained the history of this once royal city of Morocco ( There are four Imperial cities) We were overwhelmingly thankful that we did. Hands down, the Fez Medina is the most winding labyrinth we have ever been to and the most frenetic. Smells, tastes, noises, busyness – nobody here is spared and I hate to think how we would have navigated it alone.


The Chouara Tanneries

You will know you are approaching the Choara Tanneries by the pungent smell that starts to permeate the air. By the time you reach them, someone will offer you mint to combat the small and to encourage you to come to their rooftop terrace from which you can view this incredible trade. At the Chouara tanneries leather is tanned by hand using the traditional method. In the first sets of vats lime and pigeon droppings are used to remove the fur. In the second, the workers stomp over and over on the bare sks.. It is ins in large vatloud, dirty, the sun is burning, and how they ever get the smell from their bodies I don’t know. Perhaps one gets acclimatised over time ….


The Medersa Attarine

In many Moroccan cities, former Koran schools are among the most beautiful sights – Like in Marrakesh, the Medersa Attarine Koran school does not disappoint. With its wonderful mix of Moroccan tiles, mosaics and carvings and a calm, tranquil atmosphere.

Note: We preferred the Ben Youssef Koran school in Marrakesh if you only visit one.


The Souk

The Fes Medina is the oldest in the world and the biggest area of vibrant chaos I’ve ever encountered. At first glance, the Fez medina looks like a single, all-encompassing souk. However, the individual souks are – at least to a certain extent – structured by themes. Sometimes fruits and vegetables are for sale, sometimes it’s handicrafts (e.g. lamps and accessories), sometimes spices. I particularly loved watching the carvers create their magnificent doors, arches and roof carvings, the dressmakers sewing their Kaftans and the weavers creating their tapestries and poufs. If you are in the mood for a shop there is something here for everyone to take home.

Our tip: Don’t forget to negotiate! In Morocco it is customary to pay about half or a third of the dealer’s starting price

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