Morocco Impressions from our trip in September 2014
We flew from Munich nonstop to Marrakesch on Royal Air Maroc. Stayed three nights at Riad Limouna at the edge of the Medina. We really loved the Riad, especially the friendly and competent help from Simo who made us feel totally at home in the hotel and in Marrakesch. Highlights in Marrakesch:
- Marrakesch museum and Medersa Ben Youssef – interesting museum and historic school building give you a great idea of traditional life and architecture (museums are located quite close to each other and have a combined admission ticket);
- Association Amal – an NGO that helps prepare women for employment in the hospitality sector. They have a restaurant and offer tajine cooking classes with a tour of the facility. We cooked vegetable tajine and had a yummy chocolate cake to top it off. Wonderful people doing a great job. Go there! (Print a map to show the taxi driver since they all don’t know where it is.) Here’s their contact information: amalnonprofit (at) gmail.com and here’s a link to the Association Amal on Trip Advisor.
- Jardin Majorelle – about 15-minute walk from the Association Amal. Amazing garden supported by the Yves Saint Laurent foundation. The cafe looked quite nice.
- Dar Najat Riad Dinner – almost all riads (small hotels, generally renovated city palaces) will cook dinner for you if you ask. You need to order in advance and specify your menu. We ordered the Moroccan salads and lamb tajine at Dar Najat (a short walk from Riad Limouna) and they were fantastic. A lovely evening on the roof terrace. By the way, the food at Riad Limouna was also excellent!
- Walking around the markets and souk – this is really fun and interesting. I was a little surprised by how many tourists there are and never felt unsafe (although I was always careful). We really enjoyed the small square with the spice market and had a nice simple meal at Cafe des Espices overlooking the square.
Trip to the High Dessert
We planned to take an overnight trip to the dessert, but unfortunately the road was closed due to a rainstorm. There are many tour operators offering similar tours (check the Trip Advisor or Lonely Planet pages!). We chose Morocco Desert Tour which offered a reasonable price and provided quite good information.
Most of the tours seem to book you into hotels/campsites and hire independent drivers to do the actual tour. Our driver was Mohamed Elabdellaoui (+212 667 291 025) and he had a very nice land cruiser and was excellent. After waiting about an hour at the closed road, we decided to go instead to the seacoast city of Essaouira. Both Mohamed and Morocco Desert Tour were very helpful and accommodating even though their tour changed from three-days to one-day.
Many guidebooks I read before our trip suggested that Essaouira was not especially interesting. We found the opposite! The historic city is quite small and therefore very manageable. It is relatively calm and quiet – especially compared to Marrakech! You can swim in the sea on the very nice beach and the food was excellent. Some highlights:
- Riad Malaika – we stayed in this riad and had dinner one night. I can truly say it was one of the highlights of my year. Wonderful people, fantastic food, comfortable and pleasant. I would go back to Morocco just to stay here and have dinner. Truly exceptional.
- Souk Laghzal Fish Market – the Riad Malaika manager recommended we go to a fish market off the main street for lunch. Here you can go and pick your seafood, then bring it to the adjoining restaurant (actually they bring it). Then the restaurant cooks the seafood (also providing water, chips, salads, etc.). It’s picnic style, but really fresh and good.
- Beach – there’s a very nice beach right outside the city wall for swimming and relaxing.
- City wall – they charge you to visit one section of the city wall, but there is another section that’s free (Skala Nord). It’s a great place to watch the sunset. There’s a fantastic restaurant nearby called Umia ([email protected]).
We only stayed a day and a half, but I’d go back again for a relaxing vacation in Morocco.
I travelled to Morocco to attend a conference in Casablanca, so, unfortunately I did not get to see very much of the city. We walked through the Medina one evening, but compared to Marrakech, Fes and even Essaouira, it was not very interesting.
In the Medina we had a very nice experience typical for our experience in Morocco. We were lost and two young girls (12 years old) came up to us and started talking. Then they took us where we were going. They talked about their school and learning English, etc. When we tried to give them a small tip they would not take it and instead gave Christa a homemade bracelet of threaded beads and told her she was a very beautiful women. What a pleasant memory to take home!
Christa visited the Hassan II Mosque and her photos are fantastic. I was able to take a tram ride on the city’s new tram system and we had a very nice conference dinner, but that’s about all I can say about Casablanca. It’s a huge city with all the problems that entails. To me the other cities we visited were more interesting (for tourists).
We took the train from Casablanca to Fes. We took the train three times in Morocco and each time it was excellent. We travelled first class – which all the guides recommend (it’s not really expensive and much more comfortable).
In Fes we stayed at the Riad Dar Guennoun which is located in the historic Medina. We had a wonderful dinner of Moroccan salad and vegetable tajine on their roof terrace. The food and hospitality here were also excellent. Highlights in Fes:
- Walking tour of the Medina – the Riad dar Guennoun arranged a walking tour of the Medina with Mohammad. He grew up in the Medina and was a fantastic tour guide. He showed us all the sights and made us feel totally at home. He also took us to some shops etc, but quickly realised that we are not big shoppers and the whole negotiation process is not my cup of tea! The tour was supposed to be half a day, but we went from 10 am until 4 pm. Having a personal tour guide was new to me and next time I would be more clear about stopping for a coffee and eating etc. We just got carried away and so were really hungry at the end of the tour.
- Tannery – one of the main sights in Fes are the historic tanneries. They still make leather here and it’s fascinating to see the workers doing such hard physical work in the hot sun. The tanneries are surrounded on a couple sides by multi-story shops, you walk up to the top floor where there is a viewing terrace overlooking the tanneries. Then you walk thorough the sales rooms on the way down and are encouraged to buy something. Of course this is total negotiation territory, and remember, they are much better at the game than you are! But, in the end, the negotiation is part of the trip, so be prepared, use any tricks you know, be prepared to walk away, and set a budget limit.
We took the train from Fes to Rabat (the capital of Morocco). In Rabat we stayed at the Riad Dar El Kebira, which was OK, but not extraordinary. We were disappointed because we were expecting more for the 120 euros/night (more than we often pay in Europe!). Amazingly they even charged us 4 euros for a bottle of water which would have cost 30 cents at a shop, and which every other Riad we stayed at gave us for free. It wasn’t bad, but I can’t really recommend it.
In Rabat we walked around the Medina and in the old fortress. They were nice, but by this time we were tired from our travels and all we had seen, so I can’t say we were very ambitious tourists. We had dinner in a very nice place called La Flouka de Jean-Pierre on the riverside promenade. The restaurant serves seafood and it was very tasty.