Morocco: 12 special days around a charming country

Morocco is a charming country in North Africa. It’s rich in culture, traditions, ancient history and natural wonders and it has always been one of the most stable places of the area, making it the perfect trip for anyone.

My boyfriend and I had 12 days of vacations for the winter holidays of 2013 and we decided to go to Morocco…he loved to drive all across the USA the summer before and had a desire to do another road adventure so, after founding there were no particular dangers involved in driving there, our decision was made: we would have rented a car and driven around the country searching for its treasures!

Here is how our spectacular trip in Morocco looked like.

12 special days in Morocco:

3 days & nights. Marrakesh

We couldn’t find a good deal (it was already quite late) to get directly to Marrakesh so we landed in Casablanca and we reached our first stop by land.

If you arrive in Casablanca like us, you can take a train directly inside the airport (you will find signs at the arrival gates) and you will arrive in Marrakesh after 4 hours. Getting off at the “Casa Voyagers” station, you will be in the center of the city and can of course take a bus or a taxi to  wherever you have to go.

The other option you have is the one we chose: take a taxi to go to the town of Berrechid (it’s just 20 km from the airport…remember to haggle with the taxi driver!) and then take a train from that town station to the one in Marrakesh.

In this way, you will gain time, as this train journey takes just 2 hours and 20 minutes, and of course the ticket is cheaper.

You can buy tickets directly at the station (no assigned seats during the day) and I suggest to take the second class type as the trains were really modern and clean (besides, I always find the journey more interesting if I sit with a lot of different and local people).

Morocco
Our train ride

It was a relaxing journey across deserted landscape…until we arrived at Marrakesh where we were overwhelmed by a crowd of people.

Travelling Metalhead fun fact: Everyone was very friendly and someone asked my bf to take a picture with him…I guess that men with long hair are really attractive to foreigners, so metalheads are welcome 😀

We then decided to take a petit taxi as there were no buses on sight and I knew it would take more or less only 10 minutes to reach the main Marrakesh square: the amazing Jemaa El Fna.

We had already booked a room in Riad Eva, a beautiful and traditional riad situated in a little alley of the medina (the old city) close to the square (ask your riad for directions as it’s very easy to get lost).

These are the things we visited during our 3 day – stay:

Jemaa El Fna square – very interesting during the day (just beware of people with poor snakes and monkeys: they charge you a lot if you go close by and want to take a picture and, beside that, the conditions in which those animals live are truly miserable), it comes truly alive during the night! A lot of stands selling different kind of food suddenly pop up and fill the place, the air is thick from cooking smoke and people gather and have fun together.

A nice way to observe what is going on in the square is going to a rooftop restaurant (there are plenty of options around). We went to one of them one evening and had a nice dinner with the ever-present mint tea.

Morocco
My bf and I on a restaurant rooftop above the square

 

Morocco
The mint tea ritual

Madrasa Ali Ben Youssef  – probably the most precious jewelry of the city! Great Islamic art of mosaics, balconies, courtyards, arches…take plenty of time to walk around and admire everything

Morocco
Madrasa Ben Youssef

Morocco

Koubba El Badiyin – it was unfortunately closed, but we could watch it from outside and take some pictures

Morocco
Koubba El Badiyin

Dar Si Said – a little museum celebrating  Moroccan art, especially wood craft…my highlight was the gigantic wood chandelier

Morocco
Dar Si Said chandelier

Palais de la Bahia – you can’t visit everything as it’s still a palace used by the monarchy, but it’s still a very big place full of courtyards and decorated rooms

Morocco
Palais de la Bahia courtyard

Palais el Badii  – the city view from its walls is really impressive as are the cute storks and their big nests…the sound of their beaks was a nice surprise for me. At first, I didn’t get what that noise was 😀

Morocco
Storks on the wall 😀

Saadian Tombs – the visit takes more or less  20 min as the place is really small, but it’s still quite interesting …although, if you run out of time, it’s the only thing I would overlook in Marrakesh

Morocco
Saadian Tomb

Koutoubia – if you are not a muslim, you can’t enter the mosque, but the tall minaret is a symbol of the city and it’s nice to take a stroll in the underneath gardens

Morocco
Koutoubia

Majorelle Garden  -the garden established by the painter Jacques Majorelle in 1923 and then saved and brought back to life in 1980 by Yves Saint Laurent and Pierre Bergé, is a great place to relax and stay away from the chaos…lovely and vivid colors and many varieties of different plants will surround you. You won’t believe you are in the noisy and bustling Marrakesh. Other than tourists, there were many locals relaxing and take pictures of themselves

Majorelle Garden
Majorelle Garden

I also read good things about a trip to the waterfalls of Ouzoud (3h journey by car) but we didn’t have the time to go there.

Travelling Metalhead fun fact: On our first night, when we were wandering in the medina alleys, we were approached by a guy asking my bf if he played in a…Metal band! He told us he loves this kind of music and said he had to work, but afterwards we could see him playing the guitar in some place around there…unfortunately we didn’t find the place and never met him again 🙁

1 day & night.  Ait Ben Haddou (300 km)

On our 4th day in Morocco, we went to the rental car agency to begin our driving journey.

Travelling Metalhead fun fact: The office was located in a new area of Marrakesh but it was hidden in a courtyard and it looked quite seedy.  I was already amused about the situation and it got really funny when we saw the car they gave us: very old and even with a perfectly round hole in the trunk! I immediately thought of a gun bullet 😀

After taking some pics of the car in order to have no trouble with the insurance, my bf drove for nearly 300 km and through the famous Tizi n’Tichka Pass: really hard turns and 2260 m high!

The scenic drive
The scenic drive

The first leg of our trip was Ait Ben Haddou, an amazing town where you will visit the most famous ksar of Morocco, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Persons living there were kind of aggressive with me and I must say it’s the only negative experience I had with Moroccan people.

Ait Ben Haddou
Ait Ben Haddou

But in the same city I witness the opposite: the unbeatable kindness of the owner of Kasbah Valentine, our hotel near the ksar (we could see it from our window), and the incredible taste of his vegetarian tajine…it was heavenly delicious and I will never forget it!

The foto doesn't make it justice...but it was the best tajine I tried!
The photo doesn’t make it justice…but it was the best tajine I tasted!

Travelling Metalhead fun fact: Ait Ben Haddou was used in the filming of Games of Thrones!!! I’m a huge fan of this series and I found amazing that this stunning place was the location for Yunkai, the Yellow City of slaves…do you remember the scenes about it? In fact, the ksar was used for many movies like one of my favorites: The Gladiator.

1 day. Sightseeing route 1 night. Todra Gorge

The 5th day we drove for 213 km and we visited many historical and natural wonders on route to our last stop for the day (the Todra Gorge):

Amridil Kasbah and its oasis (orange arrows will guide you around to find every building)- near the town of Skoura, you will find this fascinating kasbah sorrounded by green palm trees

Morocco
Amridil kasbah

Dàdes Valley (follow the road for Boumalne) – turns and turns into a beautiful valley. No foto can do it justice.

Morocco
Dadès Valley

Tinerhir Oasis and its beautiful sunset

Tinerhir Oasis
Tinerhir Oasis

So it was already dark when we reached our hotel: Auberge Le Festival.

Morocco
Auberge Le Festival eco-resort

We wanted to splurge on this night and so we chose this amazing eco resort nested inside the mountains of the Todra Gorge…our room was carved inside a cave and it was a really romantic experience.

The dinner was also delicious and it was followed by the playing of traditional instruments in the living room. An intimate and family like event.

1 day. Todra Gorge and sightseeing route 1 night. Merzouga

The day after we could explore the amazing Todra Gorge, the canyon carved by Todra river where we slept the night before. The views were unbelievable and they sometimes got me thinking about the most famous Grand Canyon in the States.

Morocco
Todra Gorge

We then followed a route of 212 km where we found Erfoud with its traditional market and Rissani, a very nice 20 km touristic route (you will find signs explaining the itinerary).

Morocco
Rissani

We then arrived quite early at the Auberge Le Petit Prince in Merzouga…the perfect place in the desert to unwind a bit.

The desert: a place I feel a real connection with. I can stare at it for hours and never get tired. I can wander through its dunes and never get sick of it.

I have still to figure out if there’s a reason behind it, but my emotions are amplified when I look at warm sand waves.

Unfortunately, after some nice walks around, I started to feel very bad and so some rest was totally necessary. I don’t know why it happened and I will spare you the crude descriptions so I will just say I could barely eat dinner and fell in bed shortly afterwards.

1 day & night. The desert 

In the morning, I was luckily feeling good as we had already planned a day in the desert and wanted to spend the night there…it was New Year’s Eve for us westerners and it would have been a real dream to “party” like this.

Well, I must say we rode camels to get to the camp where we would have stayed for the night…and I really loved the experience.  As an animal lover, I was concerned about the camels welfare and I immediately checked if the camels looked well cared for and not overworked and, as it seemed so to me, I accepted to go even though I couldn’t help but thinking if we were abusing them in some way. Well, I’m still unsure about this issue as I’m against the use of any animals for entertainment but I read contrasting things about horse and camel riding (I consider them on the same level). Maybe it was just a selfish desire…and I still don’t have the right answers but I will always try to improve myself and my lifestyle choices.

Anyway, I sensed a strong connection with the animals as usual and I felt like being transported in another time when ancient caravans roam the land.

After we arrived, we had time to spend on the dunes…and it was amazing.

Morocco
Soaking in the desert sun

We were a group of more or less 10 people and we had a nice dinner together under a big tent (vegan cous cous for me) and then we stayed up late sitting around an open fire singing and laughing with our crazy guides 😀

After midnight, I was trying to rest in our semi – private tent (there was a cloth dividing us from another couple), but I was totally freezing!

Even if we were provided with tons of blankets, I couldn’t sleep for a moment thanks to the humidity and cold, but well…the stars above me and the next day dawn saw from the dunes, made the experience completely worthwile and one I couldn’t recommend more!

Travelling Metalhead fun fact:  guides were supposed to wake us up in time for us to see the dawn from the dunes, but no way, they were probably too tired and overslept (at that time I thought they just ran away to Merzouga to sleep in a warm bed and abandoned us there freezing 😀 ). Luckily (luckily???), I didn’t sleep at all and so I could wake my bf and the others up.

The climb to the high dunes to see the sun was very difficult (and cold!) but at the end we succeeded and witness a perfect sun rising.

Beautiful.

Morocco
A well deserved dawn

1 day. Sightseeing Route 2 nights. Fes 

After the desert experience, we had a long drive to reach Fes, the longest jaunt of all our trip. It took nearly all day with some interesting stops on the way.

On our route, we visited the town of Er Rachidia, the Tafilalet valley, the cedar forest of Azrou (monkeys are supposed to live there but we didn’t get to see them) and Ifrane, a town on the mountains.

We drove past a lot of different landscapes: from desert to forests and from warm temperatures to cold snow!

Arriving in Ifrane was like being thrown into a Swiss village…everything was very clean and tidy, people were clearly rich Moroccan on vacation and kids were playing with little sleds.

Morocco
Jingle Bells 😀

Interesting to see? Yes.

Would I stay there? No.

In the end, we arrived in Fes and we parked our car outside the ancient city walls (no cars are allowed inside).

We have already arranged for one of the hotel staff to pick us up there and take us to Dar Labchara, the beautiful place we chose to stay.

The next day, we began our visit getting lost in the medina 😀

Everyone recommends to hire official guides but I prefer to discover things by myself (and getting lost) without the help of someone else. Where is the fun otherwise?

After some wrong turns and many misunderstandings, we finally could visit what we wanted.

First of all, we went into the beautiful Bou Inania Madrasa.

Morocco
Bou Inania courtyard

Then we saw the cool stairs of the city library in Rcif Square (unfortunately couldn’t go in).

Morocco
My boyfriend on the blue library staircase

We then arrived at Nejjarine Square where we visited the great Museum of Wooden Arts & Crafts with its different artistic objects and a big terrace with a spectacular view of the medina.

Morocco
Wood Craftsmanship museum
Morocco
Medina view from the museum terrace

After a satisfying lunch (a good soup and grilled vegetables for me), we visited the al-Karaouine University and Mosque. It is said to be the oldest university in the world!

Morocco
al-Karaouine Mosque

Evening hours were approaching and we ventured out of the city walls into the new part of the city and we were rewarded by a dramatic sunset.

Morocco
A dramatic sunset in Fes

1 day & night. Meknès

We waved Fes goodbye and we headed to Meknès, a short and easy ride of 60 km on A2, one of the few highways of Morocco (you have to pay the ticket at a toll booth).

Meknès was a pleasant surprise as I didn’t expect it to be so beautiful, clean and organized.

We had a really relaxing day strolling through the city and visiting some interesting monuments.

First of all we went to visit the Bou Inania Madrasa (yes, it’s the same name as the one in Fes) – great islamic architecture even though it’s quite small

Morocco
Look at those carvings…

We then saw the Bab Mansour gate, a big doorway to the old city and the beautiful nearby mosaics.

Morocco
Mosaics near Bab Mansour Gate

In the big square (el-Hedim) in front of the gate , we visited the quiet and relaxing Dar Jamai Museum, a 19th century palace with great exhibits of ceramics, jewellery, textiles and carpets.  There’s also a beautiful Andalucian style garden with orange trees and cute cats

Morocco
Dar Jamai

Not far, you can enter into the mausoleum of Moulay Ismail. A touching visit as you will see the devotion of people going to pay homage to the person they consider one the greatest ruler of the country. As we are not muslim, we couldn’t go near the tomb but we were welcome to visit everything else.

Morocco
Moulay Ismail mausoleum entrance

And then we went for a long (2 km) walk alongside the city wall, passing by the Dar El Makhzen (the royal palace that is still in used, so no visitors are allowed) and then reaching the huge Moulay Ismail royal stables and granary.

It was really an impressive site…first you get into the granary (high vaulted chambers with thick walls) and then you will see the stables (now they have no roof because of an earthquake)…everything is really huge as it should have housed 1200 horses!

Morocco
The stables

We slept in beautiful Riad Amazigh, a colorful and elegant place with an amazing owner (she shared her awesome life experiences with us…and she also speaks Italian!) and the super kindly supervisor/cook (creative dinner made especially for us).

1 day. Volubilis 1 night. Rabat

Unfortunately, we had to leave Meknès (I would have loved to stay more days) and we went to visit Volubilis, the ancient Roman city only 27 km far.

In the riad, we have previously met another Italian couple and so we decided to go together to the archaeological site.

The weather was not so nice as there was some light rain, but the place itself was really beautiful. I am a sucker for history and so it was a real pleasure for me to wander around the ancient ruins and read everything I can about the meaning of every mosaic and inscriptions.

The most notable sight was the Caracalla Arch.

Morocco
Caracalla arch
Morocco
Virgin Steele style???

Hours flied…and soon was the time for lunch, so we went to the nearby holy city of Moulay Idriss where we ate at a little restaurant in the market street.  The traditional food was skewers so vegetable ones for me and meat for the others.

Morocco
Market stalls in Moulay Idriss

We then said our goodbyes and head to the capital city of Rabat alone.

It was already late in the evening when we reached Rabat, the capital city of Morocco.

After some trials and errors (and helped by a local man 😀 ), we finally found Dar Aida, a beautiful place to rest in the old part of the city.

1 day. Rabat 1 night. Casablanca 

Rabat was another big surprise: a charming city I would have loved to stay more.

The old city was really a pleasure to walk in…and its Kasbah was literally amazing.

But first things first: after a walk in the old city  with no hassles, we took a stroll on the beach admiring the ocean.

People was playing and laughing on the sand, dogs were laying under the sun and I was so damn happy just to be there with my bf and feel alive with the breeze in my hair and the warmth I would have never dreamt to feel if I was in Italy on that January day.

Morocco
Enjoying the ocean

Then we went into the Kasbah of the Oudayas: breathtaking. Everything was white and blue (it got me thinking about the typical Greek village) and fascinating. Every corner had some suprsise like a relaxing garden full of orange trees (and cats!).

Morocco
The Kasbah

After that, we went to see the Hassan Tower.

44 m high, it should have been the largest minaret of a mosque but the project wasn’t completed an so now it’s the “only” thing remaining along with 200 columns.

It’s an impressive site and it draws a lot of locals playing around the columns and visiting the modern mausoleum of the king Mohammed V.

Morocco
Hassan Tower and its columns

The time for lunch drew near and so we decided to splurge a bit as it was our last day (sigh) and eat in a beautiful restaurant above the ocean.

Well, if we would have eaten in a similar restaurant in Italy we would have payed a fortune, but in Morocco it was easily doable and it was a heavenly pleasure 😉

And so our last day came to an end…walking along the beaches and then slowly driving along the shores (stopping at every photo opportunity…and it happened a lot) toward our last destination of Casablanca where we only slept and took our plane home in the early morning.

Well, another unforgettable trip was gone and we came back home with another country we fell in love with: Morocco.

Morocco
The ocean waving us goodbye…

 

Leave a Reply