Morocco – Marrakech Feb 28-Mar 1, 2024

Watching wet snow fall from the coach window on our way to the Schwartz Bay ferry terminal, we were glad of our decision to leave Victoria two weeks early! Our original plan had been to head first to southern Spain and then to Morocco at the end of Ramadan, but with an earlier departure, we could now go directly to Marrakech. A 10 hour (Air France) flight from Vancouver to Paris and another 3 1/2 hour flight to Marrakech, and we were back in the warm sun of Africa. 

We chose Marrakech as our Morocco starting point as we are both keen to get a glimpse of the Sahara. But, Marrakech itself is a fascinating destination. Known as “the red city”, with its sandstone buildings painted to match the red ochre colour of the surrounding land, it is one of four imperial cities in Morocco, its walled medieval centre (medina) a UNESCO World Heritage Site. With Amazigh (formerly known as Berber) roots,  it was an important trading centre for tribes of the Atlas Mountains, the snowy peaks of which we could see to the east.  Our first night was spent in a traditional guest house (riad) found behind an ancient wooden door at the end of a maze of narrow cobbled winding alleys in the medina. With traffic restricted, the medina is quiet but for the sounds of the Bulbuls and regular calls to prayer (adhan). We were greeted by our host with sweet mint tea served in a greenery- filled inner courtyard. Our small room, with its windows facing the interior courtyard was dark and cold, however, reminding us that it is still winter, despite the 22C in full sun.  Resisting the temptation to sleep,  we ventured out for a walk, stopping at an all-day cafe for vegetable tagine, followed by drinks on the rooftop terrace of Hotel la Maison Arabe and then almost getting lost on our return to the riad! The next morning, we had decided we would change hotels, although we felt a bit badly after being served a sumptuous breakfast  that included traditional bread (khobz) and pancakes (msemen), fried egg, soft cheese, fresh fruit, yoghurt and strong coffee. We will not need lunch in Morocco! After hauling our suitcases on and off narrow sidewalks and avoiding the motor scooters barreling past, we checked in to the Dar el Assafir, a lovely riad with a larger room and sunnier rooftop terrace. The manager put us in touch with a tour operator, Morocco Sahara Desert Travel (5/5 on Trip Advisor). Later in the day, we sat down with owner, Hamid , and came up with an itinerary for the next 11 days! 

We dined on falafel and vegetarian couscous on the terrace at Cafe Medina Rouge, while peering down at waves of scooters, taxis, buses, donkey carts and caleches bustling past the 12thC Koutoubia Mosque. The minaret is visible from all over the city as it is forbidden by law to erect any building that exceeds 77 metres. Although Morocco is a Muslim country, drinking is allowed, but strictly controlled and not available in many restaurants, so we moved on to the Kabana, a rooftop bar recommended by Lonely Planet, for a nightcap. For Lois, this was a glass of excellent white Grenache from Meknès, Morocco (Domaine de Sahari Reserve Blanc). The stairs leading up to the bar were lined with b&w photos of celebrities who had apparently visited,  including Mick Jagger, John Lennon, Andy Warhol and Margaret Trudeau. We wandered back past small shops open to the street selling marble work, brass lamps, 50” TV sets, leather goods, earthenware tajine, parts for bicycles and scooters, and more. 

Friday morning, we were met by our city guide, Hassan, for a tour of the medina. Outside the Koutoubia mosque, we were given a lengthy history of the mosque and its Andalusian architecture (as non-Muslims, we could not enter the mosque, but it is currently closed to all because of damage from the earthquake in September); we visited the beautiful 19th C Bahia Palace; wandered through Jamaa el-Fnaa, the main square; and navigated the labyrinth of Marrakech’s famous souks.

In the evening, we returned to Kabana to share a delicious veggie burger made with lentils and house-made Fraisier for desert (and another glass of the Grenache!)

Tomorrow, we leave for an overnight stay in Essaouira.