Morocco – the land of many contrasts

Another winter (not really this year..) – another trip – another continent. This year Babsi and I headed to Morocco for our first african experience. The land is full of contrasts: Mountains, plains, valleys and the sahara. Snow and the heat in the desert. Woman from western style to completly hidden under the veil and cloth. Smells from wow to …

To give you an idea just look at the photos or you may read the hole story …

Casablanca – our start and end

The biggest city of Morocco is not really a prime destination but we arrived there …
The Hassan II mosque, build from 1986-93, is a huge and beautiful building and one of the few mosques you may enter as non-muslim. Sadly the mind-blowing hammam is still only part of the tour. Besides the mosque we just strolled around, drank our first mint-teas in the mens-only Salon du the and watched the street life.

The Imperial cities of Meknes and Fes

Our first stop were the two imperial cities. They are heavens for shoppers due to their maze-like medinas. The medinas are the old parts of the cities and the souqs (or markets) are always there. An amazing range of tiny and little shops lie along the narrow pathes. Leather goods, lamps, spices, clothes, sweets, tajines and many other things wait for you – but the thing why every tourist comes to morocco is definitly a carpet, or that’s what the carpet sellers think… The tough thing was, to look not too interested, ‚coz otherwise the game of shopping begins and you spend the next 15-30min in the shop … Sadly the weather was really wet’n’cold and we had 5 mint-tea stops in Fes for some warmthg. Besides that expecially Meknes was very nice because it’s a little bit smaller and more relaxed than Fes.

Tip: The restaurant Oumnia in Meknes offers yummie food in an excellent surrounding

The cold time at the Middle and High Atlas

We left Meknes with the local buses (cheap and good – a massage in the back is for free ;) ) and the road brought us to Azrou. There it happend: the rain turned to snow and after some time the landscape was covered under a white carpet. Finally we arrived in Midelt, where we enjoyed the old city and had the coldest night in Morocco….

Tip: The Hotel Atlas is a nice place but attention: Rashid will guide you around the city but in the end you will end in the Maison Berber for a carpet and it’s not easy to escape without buying a carpet …

Hassi Labied – the desert experience

After another busride we arrived in Hassi Labied. We rode with bicycles through the black desert to the huge lake, hiked in the sanddunes of the Erg Chebbi and mounted the dromedars. For three days we rode these fascinating creatues, hiked through the dunes, slept in a Berber-tent and a clay-hut, enjoyed the yummie food and were fascinated by the deserts. It’s amazing how the sanddunes change their color during their day from white, orange, purple, braunish and everything inbetween – just wow!!!

Tip: The Kasbah Sable d’Or is a beautiful place to stay with awesome food and Muhamed from Muhatours is the perfect dromedar-trip guide.

Todra gorge

Finally we left the desert and headed back to the edge of the Atlas. Our first destination was the Todra Gorge. From Tinerhir on the road valley gets narrower and the old villages along the way are just beautiful. The Todra Gorge itself was a little bit of a disappointment – but as whitewater paddlers we are used to canyons … After a picknick with Nadesch and Latetica, our french friends from Hassi Labied, we continued to Boumalne du Dades.

Dades valley – the valley you must see

After a money-refill we drove up the Dades-valley. Due to the new road (4 years old) the valley is now an easy and awesome destination. Originally we tough of 2 nights in the valley but in the end we stayed their for 6 nights. The valley offers many different things to see: the old Kasbahs (traditional building), the gorge, the weird rock formations at Ait Arbi, the hinterland and so on.
After the first nights near the Gorge du Dades we moved to Ait Arbi – the best place in valley. Directly from the Kasbah is an awesome 5hour-hike starting in the „Monkey-finger-Gorge“ (see the map in the gallery), you can stroll along the river, ride with the bikes or, if you are lucky, enjoy a cooking course for a berber omlett.

Tip:stay at the Kasbah Ait Arbi! The three brothers can help you with hikes, bikes and everything else you need and it’s the perfect location in the gorge. The problem with the places near the gorge (like the good Gazelle du Dades) is, that you have not much sun due to the high cliffs.

Skoura – the palmerie

Sadly we finally left the Dades valley and drove to Skoura. There we stayed at the lovely Auberge La Palmeraie. Mohamed, the owner of the Auberge, really loves the palmerie. He joined us for a hike and explained how life goes on in Skoura … and for dinner we enjoyed a yummie tajine in the auberge

Tip:The Auberge La Palmeraie is the place to go

Quarzazate

Our next stop was Quarzazte: the movie center of the country. We visited the Atlas Film Studios with sets from Asterix and Obelix, Gladiator and other movies. Afterwards we enjoyed the town and watched a dance-music performance celebrating the birth of the princess.

Tip: The italian restaurant Phoenix in Quarzazate offers a delicious and welcome change to 3 weeks of Tajine and Couscous with homemade pasta, wine and antipasta…

Our drive to Marrakesch

In Quarzazate we decided to rent a car for the drive to Marrakesch. Our first stop was wonderful Ait Benhaddou. The old Ksah (village) is perfectly located and due to some movies (Gladiator, Jesus from Nazareth) well restored. After a delicious selfmade bread from the fireoven we moved on. The road climbed up to ca. 2000m at the Tizi n’Tichka and the landscape sometimes felt like lunar planes … After that the road winds down again and with an endless amount of mineral sellers we reached Touama. On the next day we moved on and with another „the princess is born“ celebration we finally arrived in Ouzoud. We wanted to see the Cascade d’Ouzoud – a 110m waterfall – but with the dry landscape with started to worry. But when we arrived at the waterfall we saw a beautiful 3-level waterfall. We enjoyed the landscape there (and another orangejuice) before we continued to Marrakesch. Finally we arrived in El Kelaa – an absolutly none-touristic city 70-100km east of Marrakesch. There Babsi made a new „Male headtwists per seconds“ record and we enjoyed a souq where no one wanted to sell us something

Tip: Bargain at the Kelaa Hotel

Marrakesch – the city of 1001 nights

Our last stop was Marrakesch. The city is an inspiring place and you often feel like in the middle of 1001 nights. A typical day always started with a fresh orangejuice at the Djemaa el-Fna. This place is the center of the old town and we always came back for another juice or some entertainment. Storytellers, acrobats, musicans, spice-sellers, henna-artists , … – there is always something interesting at the place. Besides that we finally started some serious shopping (a tajine, lamps, spices, pottery, … but no carpet!) and enjoyed the souqs. After all the walking we needed some refreshment and we visited a local hammam. A warm room where we got a really tough peeling – definitly a thing you have to do in Morocco.

Tips:
* Visit the Ensemble Artisanal before you buy something. This is one of the rare places where you will find price-tags …
* the Riad Hotel Fantasia is a perfect place for your Marrakesch-experience.
* have a dinner at the Restaurant Dar Marjana – delicious food, a setting of your oriental dreams and resonable prices: just a perfect deal! btw, definitly go for the meze – the salads and antipasti of morocco.

From Marrakesch we enjoyed the train-ride with 4 morrocain english-teachers and a last night with an excellent dinner in Casablanca.

Tip: the morrocain selection of salads at the Cafe Maure is a delicious meal