Bon Voyage: Marrakech & Atlas Mountains, Morocco

Back in the fall, my mom and dad decided they wanted to take one more trip to see us before we moved back, but instead of coming to London, they wanted to meet somewhere new.  It was going to be my 30th birthday present, as well as a birthday present for my dad.  Woo hoo! Pulled by the promise of warm weather and sun, we persuaded Mom that Morocco would be the perfect spot for our family rendezvous.

Stepping off the plane in Marrakech into 80 degree weather with crystal blue skies, leaving the cold and drizzle of London far behind, we knew we made the right call.

Mom & Dad had spent the previous week in other areas of Morocco, and we joined them for the last leg:  three nights in the madness of Marrakech and two nights of relaxation in the high Atlas Mountains.

Over the next few days, we covered all the major sites in Marrakech, explored the souks in the medina, and took breaks in the quiet comforts of our riad, lounging by the pool under the orange blossoms…

20150331-IMG_2478Koutoubia Mosque, Marrakech’s most famous symbol


20150331-IMG_2482Within the medina







20150331-IMG_2493Bahia Palace–built in 19th century by the Prime Minister and named after one of his wives


20150331-IMG_2500Ben Youssef Medersa, a Quranic school, founded in the 14th century

20150401-IMG_2561Tale of two cities




20150401-IMG_2549Baadi Palace

20150401-IMG_2552En route to Majorelle Gardens



The medina and the streets can be overwhelming, hot, and crowded but with most riad-type hotels offering a calm oasis within walking distance of the main areas, you can easily escape when you need a break.

20150331-IMG_2474Villa des Orangers




On our first evening, we made our way to Jemma al Fna Square which becomes a carnival of story-tellers, dancers, and snake charmers as the sun sets.





20150401-IMG_2526Dusk over Jemma al Fnna Square, view from Le Marrakchi


Little did Dad know, but we had a birthday surprise for him up our sleeves.  On his birthday eve, we asked him if we would be willing to meet us in the lobby at 6:30 the next morning.  Always up for an adventure, he quickly agreed, and we even invited Mom (who was in on the surprise) for good measure.

We were driven 45 minutes outside of town and were greeted with this view at our desitnation.


It didn’t take dad too long to figure out what we were up to when our hilarious guide, Hamid, started inflating our next ride.



20150402-IMG_2628Breathtaking sunrise over the Atlas Mountains

20150402-IMG_2671Morning routine in a local Berber home






Landing safely back on terra firma, we enjoyed breakfast at the home of a Berber family and toasted to the start of a great birthday with fresh mint tea.



On our way back into Marrakech, we had one more surprise stop to make–The Palmerie.  Turns out dreams can come true…



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We had a nice walk/trot around the lush Palmerie–about 20 minutes is all you want and need on a camel–before heading back to the hotel for a much needed rest before spending the afternoon shopping around town.  I’d highly recommend Marrakech by Air for the sunrise/morning excursion.

The following morning, we packed our bags, waved goodbye to Marrakech and drove about an hour up to Asni, a small town in the Atlas Mountains.  We made it in time to explore the weekly market.  The men, who primarily do all the food shopping, swarm in, haggle, and load up their donkeys with the weeks’ provisions.




20150403-IMG_2805Food stalls, where you can have your meats and tagines cooked while you do your shopping.



20150403-IMG_2810The ‘parking lot’ at the rear of the market.  

After the market, we made our way a little further up the mountain to Kasbah Tamadot, a sprawling home that was bought and completely restored as a small hotel in 2002.  We stayed here for a very enjoyable two nights and didn’t do more than eat, hike, and relax.  Despite some chilly and foggy weather on our last day, it was perfection.






20150404-IMG_2858Berber village along our hike where we enjoyed tea at the home of a friend of our guide.





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After five fun-filled days, we parted ways with my parents and returned to London, bringing many memories and the sun (but not the heat) back with us from Morocco.  It was an amazing trip that will stay in our Top 5 for a long time to come.  Thank you Mom and Dad!!!!


Villa des Orangers in Marrakech was fantastic.  The service was some of the best we’ve ever hard, and with 27 rooms, the size was perfect.  Very comfortable bedrooms, plenty of common areas to lounge in (the pools are beautiful), and breakfast and lunch, served wherever you would like around the hotel, are included in the rate.   A true oasis in the heart of the city.

Kasbah Tamadot is Richard Branson’s heavenly retreat high up in the Atlas Mountains, about an hour from Marrakech. With just 19 rooms and 8 Berber tent-suites, it is another intimate stay with service, food, and comfort that would be hard to beat.  The grounds are extensive with beautiful views of the Atlas mountains and plenty space to explore.  Definitely a splurge but highly recommend!


Tagine, couscous, and lots of mint tea! Traditional Moroccan high above Jemma al Fnaa Square at Le Marrakchi.  Ask for a table by the window so you can see the action below.  Touristy, but good food, attractive dining room, and not overly priced.  Pre-dinner drinks on the terrace at La Mamounia followed by a break from Moroccan at Catanzaro, an Italian place serving simple pizzas in the new town. It’s very popular with the locals and a reservation is needed (though we got one the same-day).  A wonderful and full-on birthday dinner in the garden at Dar Moha. Traditional Moroccan set menu with a modern twist, pool-side music entertainment, in a beautiful 19th-century riad and former home of Pierre Balmain.


*The airport is about 20 minutes outside of the center of town.  Pre-book your taxi or a driver via your hotel so they will know exactly where to go.

*Within the souks and medina, there are very few street signs.  Most streets will lead you back to the Jemma al Fna square, but you need to be ready to get lost or hire a guide for the day to show you around.

*Bring plenty of small change, people do not help for free.  Expect to pay a few Dirham to anyone who helps with directions, takes a photo of your, or lets you take a photo of them (especially in Jemma al Fna sq)

*Moroccans eat on the later side with most restaurants not serving until 7pm.  8:30 or 9pm is a standard time to book.

*Bring hand sanitizer and don’t eat foods that would have been washed in water (lettuce, etc) and not cooked.  No one in our group got sick, and we were eating some salads by the end of the trip, but best to be safe.

*The Moroccan Dirham is a closed currency, meaning you can’t really exchange it back into your home currency, so only take out what you think you’ll need.  We didn’t have trouble finding ATM’s and could use credit cards in all restaurants.