“Ten days, ten cities, thousands of miles and endless memories!”
Holiday makers are sold holidays based on what the destination has to offer. Be it excursions and adventures, beaches, cultural and history or even shopping.
And then there is Morocco… something for everyone and then a bit more.
We travelled through Morocco in ten days; covering 10 cities, thousands of miles, experiencing all nooks and crannies and making hundreds of memories while we were at it. It left us knackered and irritable towards end but oh boy what a journey it was. This was mainly because of the hundreds of miles we travelled in such a short space of time. Right, my first advice for anyone wanting to do a similar itinerary to us would be to stretch out your visit and do it in at least 14 days (unless you are as bat-shit crazy as we are!).
Given the amount of time and the distance we had planned on travelling in Morocco, we decided it was the best way forward to be driven around rather than driving ourselves or falling back to public transport. But then again, if you want to drive around and have the time for it, Morocco is not hard to navigate and the traffic is not as bad as some of the other places we have been to (especially when travelling between cities).
While planning for the trip, I quickly realised that hiring a driver in Morocco would cost an arm and a leg (and a bit of the nose)!). This is something I did not expect at all, as hiring drivers in some of the other countries has been substantially cheaper. So I had assumed that it would be the same in Morocco: bad thinking!
That aside, hiring Rachid our chauffeur to show us around was an amazing idea. After all, Rachid made the trip worth while and some of our special memories consist of Rachid’s generosity and humble demeanour.
I came to know about Rachid the chauffeur through Instagram. Not shy of interacting with people either from behind the keyboard or in person, I came across Claudia’s Instagram page, I sent her a message. One discussion led to another and I ended up with Rachid’s details and Claudia’s recommendation.
Day 1: Marrakesh
We were rather impressed with the airport experience. The queues were not horrendously long as one would come across in UAE or Qatar. The airport was clean and spacious, and one could tell that it was a fairly new facility. There are money changers near the baggage carousel, which we thought was conveniently located rather than outside of the terminal building.
We had arranged transport from the Riad we were staying at so were quickly ushered to the our vehicle by the driver (who was stood with a sign and our name on it). A riad is a traditional Moroccan house (or palace) with an interior garden, or courtyard (typically with a fountain/water feature). The one we stayed at was called ‘Riad UTIOPA’ – it can be found on bookings.com. We paid around £60-£70 but we think it was completely worth it as it’s very central, clean and provides great hospitality. The riad looked like it had been built around a swimming pool, with the swimming pool being right in the centre of the courtyard. As an option breakfast was served around the swimming pool, which was simply fabulous.
The main square, Jemaa el-Fnaa:
Here they sell the most AMAZING orange juice we have ever tasted! It’s so good and around 50p per glass. The ambience and the culture really is quite visible in this part, although I personally felt that there were far too many tourists there and preferred walking around the souks. The Main Square gets busier towards the end of the day with a lot more tourists gathering around.
What not to do!
- As you’re roaming around looking at the wonderful stalls, make sure not to take pictures of the dancing snakes and monkeys as the owners/handlers will pester you for money.
- Also the ladies who apply the henna can be very aggressive as they grab your arms. Be firm and say no if you don’t want to have Henna on. You need to be mindful of allergic reactions, as the henna may have been ‘tweeked’ with colour enhancing chemicals, which might not do your skin any favours.
The Saadian tombs in Marrakech date back from the time of the Sultan Ahmad al-Mansur. The tombs were discovered in 1917 and were restored by the Beaux-arts service. The tickets to see the Tombs were cheeeeap. They were around £1 per person and so worth it. Lots of photography opportunities and amazing architecture. Not to forget the history.
The Koutoubia Mosque (Kutubiyya Mosque) is the largest mosque in Marrakesh, Morocco. It is quite central – but to be fair, all over Marrakesh pretty much is within walking distance! The mosque is a wonderful place to have a little break and you can even go inside to offer your prayers if you are muslim. Upon entering the mosque, the custodians or worshippers may ask if you are muslim; and if you are, you are greeted with a great warm welcoming smile. This is an amazing feeling and gives you the feeling of being part of something bigger, greater… a beautiful feeling.
Day 2: Marrakesh
‘The Majorelle Garden is a twelve-acre botanical garden and artist’s landscape garden in Marrakech. An archaeological museum, it contains the Islamic Art Museum of Marrakech’. The more we walked around, the longer we wanted to stay. I don’t think photos do it justice as it really is so beautiful. The plants and the pond make the garden truely enchanting and mesmerising.
The Ben Youssef Madrassa and Mosque:
This is a mosque in the medina quarter of Marrakesh, named after the Almoravid Emir Ali ibn Yusuf. It is arguably the oldest and most important mosques in Marrakesh.
The first floor boasted the living quarters for people associated with the mosque and madrassa back in the day. One can see the old wooden staircase in the rooms, and peep through the windows down on the mosque courtyard.
Okay, so you see the outfit I am wearing right here? Keep this outfit in mind as I tell you a tale that will stay with me forever. It is my fondest memory from my trip to Morocco.
So the day we visited Ben Youssef, it was a Friday. Friday is also known as “Jummah”, where Muslims a compulsary congregational “Friday prayer” (ṣalāt), just after noon instead of the Zuhr prayer. Muslims pray ordinarily five times each day according to the sun’s sky path regardless of time zones.
Being in a muslim country meant that I had the luxury of being near a mosque at all times. Hence, I did not want to miss the opportunity to say my prayers. As you know, I don’t wear a Hijab, but I was carrying a scarf in my bag. So I quickly found a small little corner and put my scarf over my head before I went into a nearby mosque. The locals were staring and wondering what on earth was going on, why a ‘foreigner’ was attempting to put a scarf over her head and heading towards a mosque. Anyways, so off we went to a local mosque near Ben Youssaf Madrassa to say our prayers. Men and women offer prayers separately in a congregation, in line with which, the women were sat in their designated area in the mosque. The entrance to the mosque was through gates that were busy and congested. I eventually made my way through to the womens’ section… but I had not expected all that was about to happen.
As we were running fairly late, the Mosque was extremely busy. The women’s section was absolutely packed out, which meant that I had to tip-toe my way to a small space. My anxiety was overtaking my thought process and I quickly sat down and began fidgeting with my belongings. I looked around at all the locals and felt them staring at me – the only foreign looking girl. Feeling awkward and out-of-place, I began trying to distract myself by reminding myself of why I was there.
As I did that, I felt a light pat on my back. Ignoring it at first and thinking it was someone bumping against me due to the confined space we were in, I eventually turned around to find a lady who had been trying to attract my attention.
It was an older woman with beautiful sparkling eyes and the biggest smile, gesturinng me to follow her to the back of the rows and rows of women. I was confused and thought I had done something out of the ordinary to attract this lady’s attention. Having realised that she wanted me to sit next to her by the wall at the back, I was somewhat relieved but rather curious. I hurried over to her and felt that in doing so, I was no longer in the limelight.
It was clear that she had realised I was uncomfortable and was wanting to help. As I sat down she smiled at me and I smiled back. She then touched her Abaya [“cloak sometimes also called an abaya, is a simple, loose over-garment, essentially a robe-like dress, worn by some Muslim women] and pointed to me. Because we both could not speak the same language, we tried to communicate with hand gestures. I then explained that I did not have my abaya. At this point, I felt ridiculous for turning up to a mosque and felt completely out of my comfort zone. While all of this was going through my mind, the lady who had ushered me over had asked another woman sat in front of me to give me her spare Abaya. As the Abaya was handed over to me, I put it on without any hesitation and thanked both women. Full of nerves, I even had to ask the woman to help me put it on! Anyways, I eventually offered my prayers and hugged the lady and thanked her for her kindness.
This experience was so surreal. I felt so connected to my faith and humanity at this point. Some may think and argue that the woman was judgemental and forceful, but she really wasn’t . She meant well and I could tell it in her eyes that she felt so happy that I was there. Despite my clothing and the fact that I had nail polish on, she didn’t judge me, nor suggested that I should not be there. She merely offered her kindness to me, for which I will be forever grateful.
This example of acceptance in Islam is something the rest of the Muslim world is specific can learn. Tolerance is something that is taught widely in Islam but there are great shortcomings that one comes across in practice.
Day 3: Marrakech – Dades gorges
Ait Ben Haddou:
We headed off bright and early, 9am to be precise (LOL!). We drove through valleys and gorges with views of the Atlas mountain range (tizi-n-tichka). After a tiring 4 hours drive, and we arrived at Ait Ben Haddou. We were told that lots of hollywood films were filmed here; including the likes of The Gladiator and Inception.
Meet Rachid and his parents!
Ah, this was the best surprise ever! Just before heading to our hotel, Rachid asked if we would like to eat food at his family home. We were a bit hesitant at first and asked if it would be okay to pay towards the food. We were told that we were guests and his parents would be offended if we offered to pay for the food. Of course we said yes the food experience that entailed was just WOW!
Okay, so by this point me and Ahmed were contemplating and somewhat regretting paying Rachid so much money for our transport as in hindsight we could have drove ourselves for half the cost. HOWEVER, when we got to Ait Ben Haddou and Rachid offered us to visit his parents home, this changed things a little. Going into Rachid’s home to meet his parents was so exciting. Their house was full of gorgeous ornaments and gave us a glimpse of everyday like in Morocco. The parents seemed somewhat old and fragile, yet full of life as they embraced us into their home.
I asked Rachid’s mother if she needed any help in the kitchen. Although she said she didn’t need any help, I decided to go and help any way. As I entered the kitchen, I noticed nothing but 4-5 plates full of salad and thought to myself ‘is this the only food we’re going to eat for the rest of the day’. Now I am not really the salad kinda girl. I have probably had two or maybe three salads as a meal in my 28 years of life. As we took the food into the living room, me and Ahmed devoured the salad within minutes (we were starving at this point). I even ate beetroot! After what seemed like a flash, it was time for the near empty plates to be taken away.
We expected Moroccan tea to be served next, but what came through the kitchen door was splendorous, as it was shocking. As they took away the plate full of salad, I looked up and saw a massive tagine coming our way. Errrrrrr, awkward! Feeling absolutely full to the brim, I looked over to Ahmed and pulled a face to say ‘how on earth can i eat this’! Rachid’s mum lifted the lid off the tagine and my mouth started to water. Magically the salad had suddenly made room for tagine. Ahmed and I both ended up eating a fair portion of the tagine with Moroccan bread.
Food aside, we got chatting with the family and asked them about a picture that was hung high and proud in the living room. It was a picture from Makkah and as Rachid explained shortly after, his parents had been for Hajj 4 times!
SubhanAllah! I was so impressed and at that time felt so grateful to be in such pious and generous company.
Morrocan team followed and before we knew it, it was time to say our goodbyes and head off to our destination for the night.
However, not far in to the next phase of our journey for the day, we were faced with the King’s motorcade being in the vicinity and had to wait on the road side for a good hour or so.
Chez Pierre: This hotel was the most beautiful places that we stayed in. The decor was absolutely stunning and the bed was so cosy! It is surrounded by an oasis of tranquillity amongst the ruggedness of the mountains, a truly special place. From the moment you walk in you are struck by the attention to detail; a fusion of authentic Moroccan style and modern comfort. Although we were not massively hungry, we decided to get a 5 courses meal and shared it between us. And wow, what a pleasant surprise! We didn’t expect to be served the quality you would normally find in top french restaurants – the 5 course dinner was exceptional.
Day 4: Dades Gorges – Merzouga (Sahara)
Dades gorges. Isn’t it stunning?
You get up there before you know it. But if you suffer from travel sickeness, I suggest that you take some travel sickness meds!
I think we could have given this place a miss! But I guess it had it’s own charm. There were lots of locals around here and little lads asking you to buy things from them – it got a little tiring.
After travelling for I don’t know how many hours, we went from Dades Valley to Merzouga Desert via Erfoud town and Rissani city. We finally arrived to our destination in the Sahara for the night!
Kam kam dunes:
Kam Kam dunes is one of the few luxury camps out there in the sahara, under the stars. The rooms are cosy and well equipped. There’s a working toilet and shower.
We booked directly from the website and the company’s driver collected us and transported us to the campsite in the scorching heat!
This was NOT as amazing and out of the world as I had anticipated or imagined it would be for some reason. The camps themselves were STUNNING. Check them out at: https://www.kamkamdunes.com
Now I don’t know whether I did not enjoy this as much because I had seen and spent a lot of time in the desert in Qatar, or whether I was too exhausted to enjoy?
The staff at this luxury site were lazy and fairly boring. Paying a lot of money meant that the camps were not as packed and busy, which meant it was fairly quiet. I think i would have preferred the more noisy and loud camps that would encourage some singing and dancing!
To make matters worse, no one told us that the camel rides were ready until we asked. We eventually got on the camels for the camel ride. As we were taking pictures and heading towards the big dunes, we heard some screams in the back ground. Some very excitable, yet frightened group of Chinese friends were seen flying off the camels and falling onto the sand. Credit to them for getting up and back onto the camels after that experience!
We spent the rest of the couple of hours waiting for the sunset and taking some more pictures. I guess it is at least crossed off the bucket list!
Day 5: Merzouga – Fez
We started our day tour from Merzouga via Erfoud fossils city, Errachidia villages, Midelt town, Azrou forest and Ifrane (The Swiss city).
As we left Merzouga, there were lots of ‘nomads’ all over the mountains and roads. Rachid being Rachid, stopped along the road and gave the children some bananas.
Ifrane (Swiss City):
We continued our journey towards Fez and came across the most beautiful landscapes. I didn’t get a chance to take a picture of the shepherd. But Rachid stopped the car to give the shepherd some water. Rachid’s acts of generosity and kindness continued to put a smile on our faces during this never-ending 10-12 hour drive!
After travelling for so many hours, we finally arrived at our Riad in Fes, called: Bahia Palais. Rated as being 9.0 and ‘Superb’ on Bookings.com, I am so glad we decided to stay at this amazing place. The views, the cleanliness, hospitality, location and everything else… this Riad was perfect!
Day 6: Fes
The Riad in Fes arranged for us to get a tour guide for 3 hours for the day. It cost around €25 per person and we got to see all sorts of gorgeous architecture, historical buildings, mosques, tanneries, madrasahs, souks.
Fes was our favourite city by far during our trip to Morocco. This was for a number of reasons:
- ‘In 859, the University of Karueein, as it is now called, was officially founded, giving the Fez Medina one of the oldest universities in the world.
- Apparently, Idris I (or Idris ibn Abdullah) was the first Arab ruler and founder of the Idrisid dynasty, ruling from 788 to 791. He is credited with founding the dynasty that was instrumental in the early Islamization of Morocco. He was the great-great-great grandson of the Islamic Prophet Mohammed SAW.
- Built in the 9th century, the Fez medina is a labyrinth of about 10,000 alleys that are too narrow for cars.
- According to our tour guide, there are over 300 mosques within the old medina itself.
- Walking around the old medina, you feel like you have travelled back months, years, decades and centuries!’
Day 7: Fes to Volubilis to Chefchouen
We decided to take a detour from the shortest route to Chefchouen to visit the ruins of Volubilis.
Why Volubilis was such a surprise? ‘The Roman’s settled here in 25 BC till around 279 AD, there are a few structures still standing and some wonderful mosaics in excellent condition. It is about a 2 mile walk around and an outstanding piece of architecture amongst the ruins is the Victory Gate!
This city was built more than 2000 years ago with facilities and amenities that many in some parts of the modern world don’t even have today. It is equally amazing that so many of the structures and decorations, especially the mosaic floors, are so well preserved despite being open to the elements.’
We headed off after a swift visit around Volubilis to the one place I had anticipated visiting the most: Chefchouen!
I had been reading and researching for weeks and months, if not years! And dayuummm, I was so excited to see it for real… and dayuummm how it didn’t disappoint.
We eventually arrived at our hotel: La Petite.
This hotel was by far the most modern and cosy place in Chefchaouen when I was doing my research. It couldn’t have been more central. From the views, to the service, to the breakfast, everything was perfect.
Day 8: Chefchaouen
I don’t really know what to say about Chefchouen. I felt like I had woken up in a story or some sort of a movie.
‘The mosque was built by the Spanish in the 1920s, but never used. Walking to the mosque is a nice, steady little hike to the top and the views are amazing.
This stunning Moroccan city in the Rif Mountains was originally built as a fortress in the 15th century. The mountains towering over Chefchaouen resemble a pair of goat’s horns, and, perhaps not coincidentally, the creamy native goat cheese is one of the most popular regional treats.’
We generally spent the day walking around and enjoying the tranquillity of the Blue City. There were SO many photography opportunity as we walked around. Every corner and every street was unique in its own way.
Day 9: Chefchaouen to Asilah to Tangier
We left Chefchaouen fairly early in the morning and decided to stop off at Asilah before heading off to Tangier for our last stop. Fewf! I feel tired just thinking back at how much we packed into ten days!
‘Asilah is a magical coastal town filled with painted murals and breathtaking seascapes! Its located in the South of Tangier. Its old town, or medina, is enclosed by well-preserved 15th-century ramparts and gates, built by colonial Portuguese.
Asilah offers a refuge from the nearby bustling cities of Tangier and Tetouan. It features deserted, quiet beaches and a relaxing atmosphere. The town has Mediterranean-influenced buildings, including whitewashed houses with blue accents on walls and doors. The array of houses decorated with paintings highlights the island’s reputation as an artists’ hangout.’
We didn’t stay too long in Asilah as we managed to quickly visit all the alleyways with the pretty pictures due it being Jummah. The souks, alleyways and streets were completely empty during our visit which made it easier to take photos. We soon headed off to go to Tangier for our final stop.
This hotel was a massive disappointment and we would not recommend it at all even though we spent two nights here.
The smells from the bathroom, going into the bedroom knocked you sick. There was no air con in the room which meant we spent half the night tossing and turning.
Here we also got to experience some ignorance from the owner who is originally German, but has lived in Tangier for many years. As we sat and shared our thoughts and feelings about the Syrian war and our aim to raise money for Syrian children, it did not go down too well. The owner was fairly adamant that no one could make a difference. Well, I beg to differ, as I hope that raising £1000 doing the Three Peaks, will make a difference to someone! Or at least I would have done something to help!
She then had the ignorance to ask us about whether we as British Asians will have to surrender our nationalities and leave the UK. I replied by saying that I was born in England, to which she didn’t really give a response. Luckily for her, we couldn’t care less what she thought and continued to tuck into our breakfast.
Day 10: Tangier
We decided to google about ‘things to do’ in Tangier and to be honest, there wasn’t much. We DID however, realise that THE IBN- BATTUTA was buried in Tangier! I mean, what are the chances. To be fair, I only knew of Ibn-Battuta because of a bollywood song (to which Ahmed reaction was that to utter disbelief, followed with a strong desire to banging his head on Ibn-Battuta’s tomb in dismay), but maybe that is a topic for another time?
So anyways, for those of you who like me didn’t know about Ibn- Battuta, ‘Abu Abdullah Muhammad Ibn Battuta, also known as Shams ad – Din, was born in Tangier, Morocco. He left Tangier when he was twenty one years of age. His travels lasted for about thirty years, after which he returned to Fez, Morocco at the court of Sultan Abu ‘Inan and dictated accounts of his journeys to Ibn Juzay. These are known as the famous Travels (Rihala) of Ibn Battuta. He died at Fez in 1369.’
This kind of made me question a lot of things. How once our souls depart, we are nothing but a memory. Luckily for Ibn-Battuta, he left his mark in this world as the ‘greatest muslim traveler of all times’. His tomb/grave is located in a random alleyway, away from the hustle and bustle of Tangier, and perhaps not treated with the greatest of respects as the empty bottle of water in the picture would reflect, it does not take away from the fact that his tales and travels are still talked about.
It made me think of many things, including this travel blog. Of course I am not comparing myself to the greatest travellers of all time, but it made me determined to write more about my experiences. So maybe one day, I will look back and be able to really soak in all these experiences and thank the Lord for giving me the opportunity for all that I have been able to see and do!
After visiting the tomb, we carried on walking towards the beach, had some McDonald’s (finally! couldn’t wait for the junk food fix) and then walked over to a cafe called the Panorama cafe overlooking the beach. Here we sat and ate some crepe with Nutella, and drank cold coffee. Pure bliss!
For us Tangier was definitely not the highlight of the trip. In fact we really didn’t like Tangier much at all, but it was a nice way to end the trip. It was nice to eat something familiar and to stroll around aimlessly, without an itinerary!
Day 11: Tangier – Airport
Anddddd we finally said our goodbyes to Morocco… heading for sunny UK (LOL!)