Morocco: Travel Notes

morocco, camel

I’ve written briefly about our recent honeymoon, and today I wanted to post some highlights from Morocco for those of you interested in visiting someday. We were in Morocco for one week, and really should’ve planned to be there ten days (or more). We spent our time in two of the major cities, Marrakech and Fez, and then joined a very small tour heading out to the Sahara for a camel trek. During our brief time there, I feel like we saw a great deal of the contrasts the country has to offer — from bustling souks and markets to quiet, star-studded desert skies. Here’s a peek. 

Morocco, Dades Gorge
After talking with friends who had traveled there and flipping through guidebooks, there were many things I expected to encounter in Morocco: getting lost in the narrow, winding medina streets; the sweeping desert that’s unlike anything here in the States; the mint tea; the captivating city squares where tourists and locals collide in one big colorful flurry of activity. But then there were so many surprising bits that I didn’t expect to encounter: the  lush countryside on the way out to the desert with palm, olive and orange trees; the colonial gardens; the level of safety and comfort I felt while walking the cities, even alone (I’d read quite the opposite). At one moment I felt like I had it kind of figured out, and the next moment I’d realize I was just scraping the surface of an understanding of the people, the geographic features, the culture.

Morocco-FezStreets5

In general, we stayed at riads in the major cities, and I wouldn’t have done it any other way. Riads are traditional Moroccan houses or palaces with an interior courtyard. They are often smack in the middle of the medina (the walled-off old city center) but because the courtyard is “protected,” so to speak, with the small structure of the building itself, they’re most incredible, quiet refuges. Riads are generally quite small (usually 5-12 rooms, on average) and, like your typical hotel, range in price and level of amenities. Breakfast is usually included at the riad and consists of some combination of strong coffee, fresh orange juice, pomegranate seeds, a not-too-sweet spice cake, and thick yeasty crepes with jam and butter.

We really found that the best way to get to know a city in Morocco is just to get out and walk. While we did visit a few museums, gardens and cultural attractions, we spent most of our time walking the medina, people watching, letting ourselves get lost. The souks — or the open-air markets — span what feels like miles in both Marrakech and Fez and could easily take up a few days of your time. There are different souks for different goods (leather, spices, wood work) and they all have their own little neighborhood, so to speak. We brought home a new tea pot, some spices, and a few gifts.

Morocco-MarrakechCafePostcard

MARRAKECH: HIGHLIGHTS

To Stay:
Riad Cinnamon, the perfect landing spot for our first few nights in Morocco. This small riad is right in the medina, an old merchant’s house with a beautiful little dipping pool and a large rooftop deck. Gracious service and lovely breakfast.

To Visit:
Madresa Ben Youssef, an old religious boy’s school that was renovated in 1999. Gorgeous Moroccan tile patterns and intricate wood-carved windows and doors. You can amble in and out of the old classrooms and hallways.

Maison de la Photographie: This small museum is in an old riad and exhibits photos from 1870-1960. There’s a great old 1907 photo of the main square in Marrakech, Djemaa el-Fna, and a sweet portrait of a couple in the 1920’s. Highlight here, too, is their terrace cafe where you can have an espresso and look out on the city’s rooftops.

Marrakech Museum: This tiny little museum is worth a go if convenient (it happened to be 2 minutes from our Riad). Remarkable tile floors.

Majorelle Gardens: Lush and manicured gardens designed by the French expat artist, Jacques Majorelle in the 1920’s and 30’s. I’d  heard the cafe here serves a traditional Moroccan breakfast that’s not to be missed (we did miss it, sadly). Yves Saint Laurent bought the gardens in 1980 after becoming quite smitten with them.

Hammam Ziani: This traditional hammam (like a bathhouse or traditional spa) is located not far from the main square in Marrakech. Great steam/scrub/massage. Quite a different experience if you’ve never been — perhaps not for the modest or shy as you’re all in one large room (although they do separate men and women). When you start to fade or tire from walking around the city, this is an awesome, very reasonable fix.

To Eat:
Terraces des Espices: One of the better tagines we had while in Marrakech, but the real reason to go is the outdoor terrace and loungey booths.

Grande Cafe de la Poste: This cafe and restaurant in the Guliz neighborhood of Marrakech has a distinctly colonial feel and the perfect patio for cocktails or snacks (the restaurant inside is decidedly more formal). Guliz is very different from the majority of Marrakech (it has more metropolitan shops, restaurants, and newer construction).

Cuisine de Mona: Heidi told me about this Lebanese restaurant in the Gueliz neighborhood and while it was incredibly hard to find, the food was really fresh and delicious and Mona, the owner, sat down with us to chat about Morocco for the good part of an hour. We liked the vegetarian dishes here the best: great fattoush, hummus and tabbouli.

Panna: Right across the street from Cuisine de Mona, this gelateria was opened by an Italian man who moved to Morocco. Very special flavors, bright, modern atmosphere (unusual for Morocco). They have a flavor called “Italian cake:” get it.

Chez Chegrouni: Restaurant right on the square with a great terrace. The best harira soup I had in all of Morocco. Very reasonable.

Mamounia: When you can’t afford to stay at the fanciest hotel in town? You go and have a drink — which I would highly recommend here. The grounds of this hotel are stunning (we spent a good hour just ambling about) and they have a handful of different bars to choose from. Deluxe people watching.

Morocco, Fez

Morocco, Fez

Fez, Morocco, Rooftop

FEZ: HIGHLIGHTS

To Stay:
Dar Bensouda: I cannot say enough about this riad (pictured in the three photos above), and I can’t wait to return someday. It used to be the Iman’s palace, and was then a madrasa (school); five years ago it was converted into this rather majestic, very special riad with two sweeping tile courtyards, a beautiful pool with old palms, and a rooftop deck that overlooks the entire city and proved to be a very peaceful reading spot.

To Visit:
Peeping at the Kairaouine Mosque

Madrasa Bou: Intricate, quiet, beautiful tile work. We got here at a magical time right before the tourists swept in, and had a good half an hour to sit and enjoy the craftsmanship.

The Medina of Fes el-Bali (Old Fez): Tough to miss if you’re staying in the city center, I couldn’t stop marveling at how the medina and souks in Fez were noticeably different than in Marrakech and I couldn’t quite place why. The streets in Fez seemed wider, perhaps, and somehow more spacious and walkable (or maybe I was just used to the pace by that point). I believe vehicles aren’t allowed within the Fez medina streets, so it did feel calmer. If you pay attention, you’ll see craftsmen everywhere tucked away in corners and alleys working on leather and wood crafts or sewing clothing.

To Eat:
Cafe Clock: I’m not sure I’d seek out Cafe Clock on a future trip. It’s really largely geared towards tourists and expats, but it is in a central location right in the medina and does provide a nice break from the tagine, couscous and kebabs we eventually tired of. We had sandwiches, french fries and shared a milkshake and it all tasted pretty memorable at the time.

Dar Bensouda: We stayed in one night and had chicken tagine with olives, herbs and citrus at the Riad. We ate in the quiet courtyard sipping mint tea. They have really nice, traditional sweets for dessert, too.

camel, Morocco

Morocco, Ait Benhaddou

THE DRIVE TO ERG CHEBBI (SAHARA): HIGHLIGHTS

Erg Chebbi is one of the large dunes in the Sahara. The company we chose for our camel excursion was Camel Trekking, and owner Omar made it really simple and stress-free to coordinate logistics from afar. I will say that while the description of the three day trip online sounds packed and eventful, it is a really, really long drive to the desert. We’re talking about two very full, long days in the van. I hadn’t realized this for some reason, and would consider this when weighing how much time you have on your trip. That being said, the countryside was gorgeous and the Sahara was unlike anything I’ve ever seen — the perfect antidote to the bustle of the cities.

Dades Gorges Valley: This was some of the most beautiful countryside in Morocco, and my favorite part of the drive. One moment typical desert scenery and another surprisingly lush palm trees and rivers. The remarkable rock formations there are called “monkey fingers,” and all of the homes and structures are in muted shades of taupe or light pink.

Ait-Benhaddou: This old ksar is on the former caravan route and is, today, the home to many films set in the desert.

Ouarzazarte: From my understanding, this is akin to Morocco’s Hollywood, noted filmmaking location and the home of Atlas Studios.

Morocco, SaharaThe photo above is of Sam and I on our first day in the Sahara (Sam bought that cheche in Marrakech, and a few of the guys on our trip taught him how to wrap it. I called him ‘my desert Sam.’). Now that we’re settled back in with work and “real life,” I’m excited to start cooking and featuring some fall recipes on the site and there are some incredible new cookbooks out there for inspiration (like this one, or this one, or this one). At some point, I’d love to write about some highlights from our time in Italy, too (if you’re interested?). I hope you all have a wonderful week ahead (November!)

 

 

 

 

Comments

  1. Rachel Q

    It's such a joy to see your pictures and hear your travel musings. I have been dreaming of a trip to morocco for a long time, and hearing about your experiences only makes me want it that much more. When I am able to go, I will definitely follow your recommendations. Thanks!

    1. megang

      I'm so glad you enjoyed the post, Rachel. I hope you make it there one day, too! ~Megan

  2. sarah | little house pantry

    Looks like an incredible trip! Morocco has been on my list to visit for a while - now I really need to get planning. It was fun to follow your instagram and now hear the stories. Thanks for sharing!

    1. megang

      Hi, Sarah- Thanks for following along! It was great fun to share with family and friends and readers on Instagram .... Hope you have a great week, ~Megan

  3. Rachael

    Yes! Italy highlights!

  4. Ashlae

    I've been waaaaiting for this! I'm heading to both Marrakech AND Fez at the end of the year, so hopefully I get to scratch more than a few of these places off my list, especially Madresa Ben Youssef. :)

    1. megang

      Yay, Ashlae! You guys will love it. So much color and hustle and newness. Glad you liked the post; xoxo

  5. teryll

    Thank you so much for sharing! Would love your Italy notes too!

    1. megang

      You got it, Teryll!

  6. Francesca

    This one's been on my list for a while - even if just to stay in a riad! Looks like you had a great ride of exploration and eating. My kind of trip :)

  7. Marta

    It's kind of a shame that I never made it to Morocco, since I live so close by, in Portugal... But your last two posts and your instagram feed got me bursting with curiosity. I will be fixing this very soon!

  8. Manju

    Morocco has always been on my list to travel. This post just makes me want to book my tickets right away. We are hoping to go to Spain, Portugal and Morocco sometime next year. I will use this post as a guide on things to do! :)
    Love you book - Whole Grain Mornings. I am in fact, hosting a giveaway of your book on my blog to celebrate one year of restarting my blog after a long break. I am hoping it inspires others as it did to me :)

    1. megang

      Oh that's awesome, Manju! So glad you're enjoying the book. Have a great weekend, ~Megan

  9. Kristel

    Fun to read this! I just got back from 5 weeks in Morocco yesterday and saw most of these things but sadly missed a few. Glad you had a great time!

  10. Laura

    Thank you so much for the inspiring post and gorgeous photos. I have been thinking about going to Morocco for a while and I do hope your account of the experience you had will bring the dream another step closer to me, as you have shared so many excellent tips.
    I would also like to thank you for publishing the fantastic cookbook which I have been using for more than a year now. It has most certainly made many weekday mornings and weekend brunches well worth remembering for a long time! Thanks to you my approach to breakfast foods has widened significantly.

    1. megang

      Hi, Laura-
      I'm so, so glad to hear you're enjoying the cookbook + thank you for taking the time to leave a comment here. Yes, Morocco was amazing; I hope you get a chance to visit. ~Megan

  11. Kasey

    Your honeymoon looked INCREDIBLE, Megan. Gosh, I'm dying to get to Morocco.

  12. Kristel Wyman

    Good to meet you last night! See, I told you I knew your blog! (See comment above!)

    1. megang

      Good to meet you, too, Kristel! So fun to connect and chat about Morocco. Have a great weekend, Megan

  13. Sandra

    Your list of location is very good for a trip in Morocco, tx

  14. Morocco desert tour

    Great and genuine pictures of Morocco and its Sahara desert. Thank you for posting

  15. Morocco tours

    Nice blog ,Thanks for sharing with us your amazing experience in our lovely country :)

  16. Marrakech Travel

    Great blog! Awesome & useful information, thank you so much for sharing your amazing experience in Morocco!

  17. Morocco camel trekking

    Ohh what a wonderful article with so much infos and amazing pictures about Morococ, thumbs up and thanks for sharing this blog

  18. Morocco

    Morocco really is addictive isn’t it? You go once, you fall in love with the place and you find yourself coming back every time you can. Absolutely gorgeous country and perfect travel destination. Just one more reason to go to Morocco,

  19. Morocco

    Ohh what a wonderful article with so much infos and amazing pictures about Morococ, thumbs up and thanks for sharing this blog

  20. Marrakech

    amazing travel experience and notes , did visit Essaouira and Blue Kaouki Beach ?

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