Travel: A week in Morocco

I traveled to Morocco mid February. My understanding of the country came from fictions by Paul Bowles, travel articles, the movie Casablanca. A friend pressed in my hands a contemporary tale, The Caliph’s House, a memoir by Tahir Shah (which I loved and recommend). Reading Shah’s story — invisible spirits, outrageous corruption — I thought, “I won’t have to live there, I’ll just be visiting for a week.”

What a week.

We began in Casablanca, a colonial city built by the French in the 1930s. In Shah’s book the port city is mysterious and charming. We didn’t find that: it seemed dirty and crowded. That said, our morning tour of its mosque, among the world’s largest, was a visual and cultural highlight.  

From there, we traveled to Volubilis for a tour of its Roman ruins. Never have I had so much access to such a large swath of antiquity. We walked beside mosaic floors, climbed among pillars and arches. A must for anyone going to Morocco.

On to Fez, where we checked into the Sahrai Hotel, modern hospitality set on a hilltop a ten minute drive from the old city. It was our favorite hotel: chic rooms, a pool and jacuzzi, a hip rooftop bar. 

In Fez I felt the journey really take off. First we visited Dar Batha, a 19th century palace turned museum. Lush gardens, mosaic walkways. From there we entered the El Bail market, which has functioned continuously since 800 AD. We visited weavers, carpet sellers, makers of leather goods. (Note photo of huge vats, where hides are dyed.) Our guide asked us to stick together, follow him closely and not stop — everyone wants to sell you something. He led us to his places where we could calmly buy textiles, carpets, leathers. (Yes, we haggled. It’s necessary and fun.) The next day we toured World Heritage site synagogues, the now public grounds of the Royal Palace and Art D’Agile pottery workshop. 

A scholar joined us at a Dar Anebar private dinner. We peppered her with questions about women and girls in Moroccan society, the importance of family, the Moroccan economy and culture. Fascinating. 

So many things surprised me: that there’s a green landscape of rolling hills and mountains. That they prepare (my least favorite) vegetables — cooked carrots and eggplant —in such a way that I served myself twice. That there is poverty but, seemingly, little homelessness because there is a surplus of substandard housing ( and family is paramount?)

From Fez, we traveled to Meknes for its market and ramparts, then on to Rabat, the nation’s capitol. We stopped for lunch at Villa Mandarine, which is also a small hotel. Its gardens, interiors, food and service would lure me back. In the afternoon we toured the remnants of mosque destroyed in an earthquake, now a city park. We walked the Kasbah of the Udayas, a 12th century walled neighborhood on the Atlantic Ocean’s Barbary Coast. There’s a reason movies are filmed there. 

On to Marrakesh! 

We had a garden lunch at La Paix. Then on to Yves St. Laurent Museum (a must) and its next door attractions, the Jardin Majorelle and its Berber Museum.

We stayed at hotel Le Naoura, which we liked for its close to the markets location and its pool. We can recommend dinner at Al Fassia.

In the morning we toured the 16th century Baddi Palace. Words fail me. Its scale is something I’ve never experienced. Lunch at Riad Lotus Privilege may have been our best meal. In the afternoon we shopped a souk, stopping at Maison du Caftan for clothing and Khalidoun Art for rugs. The next day we toured the Musee de Tapis. Splendid.

A day trip to the Atlas Mountains took us to a Berber tea ceremony and an outdoor lunch at Kasbah Beldi, which is also a resort. That pool…

Morocco dazzled me. By the end I suffered visual overload. It’s that rich. 

Please note: I would not have made this trip on my own. (I may in the future.) I traveled with a group of eight delightful Americans and shared rooms with Georgia Dent, my always up for an adventure sister in law. We had a professional, brainy guide (we adored him), a dedicated driver and his assistant who kept us hydrated and helped with luggage. Most of our (authentic, delicious) meals were pre-arranged. This was an Abercrombie & Kent tour sponsored by the Mattatuck Museum, handled by Largay Travel. One kerfuffle with Air Morocco. Other than that, a seamless trip. 


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