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

20150401-IMG_2562

20150331-IMG_2482Within the medina

20150331-IMG_2488

20150331-IMG_2505

20150331-IMG_2509

20150401-IMG_2533

20150401-IMG_2545

20150402-IMG_2766

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

20150331-IMG_2496

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

20150401-IMG_2561Tale of two cities

20150401-IMG_2558

20150403-IMG_2771

20150402-IMG_2767

20150401-IMG_2549Baadi Palace

20150401-IMG_2552En route to Majorelle Gardens

20150401-IMG_2582

20150403-IMG_2819

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

20150401-IMG_2510

20150403-IMG_2774

20150401-IMG_2515

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_2516

image1

20150401-IMG_2517

20150401-IMG_2519

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

20150401-IMG_2527

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.

20150402-IMG_2606

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_2619

20150402-IMG_2624

20150402-IMG_2628Breathtaking sunrise over the Atlas Mountains

20150402-IMG_2671Morning routine in a local Berber home

20150402-IMG_2674

20150402-IMG_2676

20150402-IMG_2679

20150402-IMG_2683

20150402-IMG_2684
20150402-IMG_2686

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.

20150402-IMG_2691

IMG_1664

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

20150402-IMG_2721

20150402-IMG_2711

20150402-IMG_2715   20150402-IMG_2724   20150402-IMG_2712

20150402-IMG_2728

20150402-IMG_2740

20150402-IMG_2750  20150402-IMG_2749

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_2797

20150403-IMG_2799

20150403-IMG_2816

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

20150403-IMG_2801

20150403-IMG_2796

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.

20150403-IMG_2820

20150403-IMG_2821

20150403-IMG_2839

20150404-IMG_2867

20150403-IMG_2842

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

20150404-IMG_2854

20150403-IMG_2840

20150403-IMG_2833

20150403-IMG_2828

IMG_1819  IMG_1815
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!!!!

Stay

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!

Eat

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.

TTN

*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.

Advertisements