Newest Review: ... you have the imperial cities of Meknes and Fez. Fez is actually my favourite city in Morocco, even more than Marrakesh. If you have 2... more
Indigo, Mint, Henna and Saffron
Member Name: lamorna
Date: 29/01/03, updated on 29/01/03 (405 review reads)
Advantages: Culture, History, Scenery
Disadvantages: Wanna buy a Kasbah, Can't afford a Kasbah, Perhaps one day I will
Bit of a risk really, booking a seven day holiday knowing we’d be travelling in a small people carrier with just them, a driver and a guide. Especially as I’m a certified coward and we were about to journey together over Morocco’s highest vehicular Atlas Mountain passes and I didn’t really want my screams to upset them too much!
Abdullah the driver and Abdullah the guide soon gathered us up and within minutes the eight of us were sitting in a beautiful restaurant garden in Marrakech surrounded by orange trees and sprinkling fountains eating salads, charcoal grilled seafood kebabs and quaffing cold local beers. This soon broke down any reserves and although we were from all quarters of the UK and of various age groups, it became apparent that we all had one thing in common, we were all looking forward to our Riad Adventure immensely.
My first impression of Marrakech was the soft, warm ochre coloured buildings, palm trees and the backdrop of the snow capped peaks of the Atlas Mountains, the highest mountain range in North Africa set against the deep blue cloudless skies, and yes, it did cross my mind that we were due to cross them the very next day! However, we waved goodbye to Marrakech as we were leaving at once to drive to the Asni Valley for dinner and an overnight stay prior to crossing the High
er Atlas and were to spend our last two days back in Marrakech in the luxury Villas Des Orangers. Plenty of time then to explore the Souks, the medina and the market-place on our return.
Its winter in January in Morocco. The mornings and nights are cold and during the day the climate is as pleasant as an average July summer day, so it is a perfect destination for a winter break. Hence, in the early evening of the same day as we drew up in our sturdy van, having passed through lush farmland, olive groves and small Berber villages in the enchanting and lush Asni Valley for our first overnight stay in the Auberge Au Sanglier Fume, we were chilly. Imagine our surprise when we were shown to our rooms? They were all set round patios with orange trees, date palms, water features and dove cotes, traditionally decorated with Berber furnishings and each with an enormous, roaring log fire and a supply of logs outside the door opening onto a terrace.
A quick freshen up and across the courtyard into an authentic Berber restaurant, again with the biggest log fires we had ever seen, for a typical wondrous meal of Moroccan salads, flat bread, meat and fish tagines with local vegetables and fruit. All washed down with local wine, beers and mint tea. Another thing the eight of us had in common, we all liked a drink! Needless to say that later that night we slept like babies as we drifted off, the silence of the hours of darkness only broken by the crackling, sweet smelling logs.
Moroccans speak Arabic, Berber, French and some English. Their hospitality and respect towards our rather odd crowd of four couples who had only just met a few hours earlier was delightful and appreciated. Virtually all Moroccans are Sunni Muslims so alcohol is only served in hotels and city restaurants. In fact, during our week’s travels Abdullah our guide informed us beforehand if we were stopping for lunch where alcohol wasn’t served and we were invited to
bring our own. Hey! I can do lunch sheltering from the hot sun under a Berber tent overlooking dramatic gorges and mountains drinking refreshing mint tea with my char-grilled meatballs and salad! I can and I did!
So how did we fare driving over the spectacular Tizi-n-Tichka pass, the main road that took us through the Higher Atlas to Taroudant? Thankfully, in a negative kinda way, there was a dramatic drop in the number of tourists because of the political climate, but unfortunate for the Moroccans. This meant we met almost no oncoming traffic during the steep, hairpin bending, ice covered, treacherous, sheer dropping, narrow and frankly terrifying journey (Excuse me please, I need the bathroom)
It was stunning at a height of 2260m (7415ft) but I could hardly look! However I was sitting in the front of the vehicle and on the side of the sheer drop most of the way, so, amidst much laughter from travel companions at being such a wimp, I booked my return seat at the back of the bus, even though we were returning five days later by the Tiz-n-Test mountain pass, only 2092m (6860ft), low by comparison! You will need a good head for heights to appreciate the spellbinding views.
This journey took us to the 1000 year old Taroudant, a pretty Berber town ringed by mud brick battlements. We stayed for two nights in the renovated Pasha’s palace, the Hotel Palais Salam, in a delightful suite of rooms and ate couscous sitting cross legged on Berber settees accompanied by songbirds and terrapins on the lamp lit patios.
We then travelled in the shadow of the High Atlas to Ouarzazate (Renamed by us ‘Where Is That?’) and stayed in the palatial Meridien Berber Palace. All a bit 5***** and International and we all agreed we preferred the simpler Riad style hotels with genuine hospitality and closer to the traditional Moroccan lifestyle.
We then moved on to travel through the entrancing Dades Valley, also called the &
#8216;Valley of a Thousand Kasbahs’ Do you know what a Kasbah is? In this part of Morocco they are fortified enclaves where wealthy sultans lived in splendour together with their extended families and concubines. Many are in ruins but some have been bought by the wealthy French, Spanish and Moroccans to be renovated and restored to their former glory, often converted into luxury homes or exclusive hotels with golf courses in splendid surroundings. Forget that Gites in France-buy a dilapidated Kasbah!
On the fifth day we returned to Marrakech via the lower pass, for the piece de resistance! A two night stay in the elegant Villas Des Orangers in the Medina. Words almost elude me in trying to describe it. Our suite of rooms had a private terrace with orange trees, rose bushes, fountains and discreet musicians (Renamed by us ‘El Chas ’n’ Dave’) playing local music. Our bedroom had a balcony overlooking our lounge area where we played at Romeo and Juliet! Take the time to visit the website http://www.villadesorangers.com to view the true beauty of this unique Riad.
My lasting memories of Morocco are bargaining in the Souks for rugs, leather, carved walnut, silver, spices, herbal remedies, pottery, lamps and textiles. The man in the Souk in Marrakech pulling teeth on the spot and offering instant false ones. The snake-charmers and the Iguanas!
The haunting call to the Mosque and even in the remotest areas, the lone shepherd laying down his prayer mat to face towards Mecca to pray amongst the sheep, goats and dromedaries.
The immense mountain ranges consisting of every shade from white snow to deep reds, browns, greens and amber with rock formations that must be a geologist’s dream. And for my title? The indigo of the sky, the mint of the verdant areas, the henna of the ochre buildings, the saffron of the spices.
Rose petals strewn over our dining tables. Having our hands washed in perfumed
water between courses poured from ornate silver kettles.
The varieties of foods were all fresh and locally produced, it excited me picking an orange from a tree, providing a very healthy cuisine. We should take note! Our worst meal? The legendary national dish called Bastilla, basically a pigeon pie. I love pigeon, but although the filling was deliciously rich and tender, the pie itself was of filo pastry covered in icing sugar. Too much conflict in taste for my palate!
The women collecting and carrying huge bundles of logs on their backs to keep their homes warm during the cold nights and doing their laundry in the swift flowing rivers, beating it with a stick and draping them to dry over olive bushes in the midday sun.
Tree climbing goats! They climb trees to get the fruits, to eat the skins of the kernel, drop the kernel on the ground which the shepherds collect to pound into oil!
Morty being offered less camels for me now I’m nine years older, than he was offered on our visit to Egypt. Depreciation?
The Moroccan currency is the dirham. We needed a lot of dirhams for tipping, even taking a photo of a mule required payment, and I don’t blame them. Consequently our group song became in true Pink Panther style: ‘ Dirham, dirham, dirham-dirham-dirham-dirham-dirham-de-da-da-daa-da -da-da’
Every time we are fortunate enough to visit somewhere new to us in the world I go with an entirely false idea of what to expect. I always return home as an enlightened person and the richer for it.
Morocco was no exception. It is a land full of surprises. From snow capped mountains, lemon groves, vineyards, flowing rivers, sand dunes of the Northern Sahara, Atlantic and Mediterranean beaches, palatial hotels, simple inns, medieval Souks, the Mosques, complete with the fascinating history, architecture, culture and lifestyle of the Moroccan people. Go visit!