Discovering the Magic of Morocco

Nancy Decker Davidson in the desert of Morocco
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I have a long travel bucket list and Morocco has been on it for several years.  Finally, I received the opportunity and gladly accepted to visit this part of Africa. 

It is a relief to have someone meet you when you arrive at the airport in Morocco and escort you through customs.  The lines can be daunting and it is nice to know you have someone to help you through the process.  Once clearing customs and collecting my luggage, my driver transferred me to my hotel in Fes.  It is terribly important to have someone transfer you that knows the city.  We arrived in a part of the old city where the streets are quite narrow and the only way to find your hotel is to walk through a maze of tiny streets. 

Once you arrive at your destination, you open a small door and walk into a beautiful restored Riad with gorgeous gardens.  What a treat!  I stayed at the Riad Fes, a Relais and Chateaux property, and it did not disappoint.  The rooms and suites are large, comfortable, decorated in traditional Morocco textiles, with no two rooms the same.  The property has a roof top bar that looks out over the city and the place to be to watch the sunset.  Two restaurants, a pool and spa complete this property located within the ancient city. 

Morocco has a French history and the majority of everyone speaks Arabic and French.  English is a third language and unless you speak French well you are going to need a driver and/or guide to tour the country.  The old city of Fes is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and the restorations are going well in the city.  They have done a remarkable job in remodeling the accurate look of the buildings.  We visited many sites and the famous tanneries of Fes.  The old city was one of my favorite spots in Morocco because of the rich history and genuine look of the homes and shops. 

The following day we drove to the Roman ruins of Volubulis and toured the area.  Some of the best-preserved Roman ruins I have seen with beautiful tiled floors.  They also have a museum connected to the ruins with nice facilities.  Returning to Fes we had the opportunity to have an authentic hammam at a lovely property called Palais Amani. A Moroccan hammam is much like a Turkish bath; after you get rid of your shyness you will embrace the ritual.  I felt relaxed and transformed afterwards.  What a great way to release all the stress of life.  Eden at Palais Amani is a well-known restaurant, and we enjoyed dinner in their beautiful garden.  The Riad also has several comfortable rooms, suites and a cookery workshop.    

With an early start on our third day, we started the long drive to the Sahara.  You need to be patient with long drives in Morocco when visiting the desert and mountain areas of the country.  It is the only way to travel in this region and worth the drive.  Most tour companies have comfortable air-conditioned vehicles and you will make several stops along the way visiting local villages.  I was surprised by the cedar forests and small towns that looked much like a small European village.  When the road ends you are met by 4X4 vehicles that will take you to your private camp among the legendary dunes of the Sahara.  The camp consists of a dining tent and luxury tents that include full baths and large beds.  You will not be roughing it!  After freshening up after our long drive, we meet our next ride a camel which will be taking us through the dunes and giving us a wonderful view of the sunset.  Returning to the camp as the sun sets, the staff has lit every possible candle and lantern for our arrival.  It is a gorgeous site under the beautiful stars of the desert.

Following our stay in the desert, we made our way through the Atlas Mountains passing though beautiful villages.  Some Europeans have grown to love this part of the country and have established small Riads in the mountains.  We stopped for lunch at L’Ma Lodge which is a private oasis in the region.  They have a true farm-to-table dining experience at the lodge; the rooms are beautiful with a modern Morocco touch.  They have several secluded areas in the garden to enjoy and a beautiful pool.  It was one of the best meals I had in Morocco! 

Afterwards we made our way to the Skoura Oasis where we had to transfer to 4X4 desert-ready vehicles.  This oasis/village doesn’t have many paved roads, and our accommodations for the evening were at the beautiful hotel Dar Ahalam.  Again, I was amazed how we would drive through a local village to arrive at a beautiful hotel.  This 19th century Kasbah has been completely renovated and staffed by the locals in the village.  The décor is gorgeous with huge rooms, sprawling gardens and a large pool.  The chef is amazing and we dined in the garden under the stars for dinner.  I wish we had more than a one night stay. 

The following day heading west through the Atlas Mountains was quite a drive.  We drove through the Tizn Tichka pass on our way to Marrakesh.  Once we were through the mountains, the countryside is filled with beautiful farms and villages.  We arrived at our home for the next couple of nights Amanjena in Marrakesh.  What a fabulous Aman property!  Each one- or two-bedroom villa is huge, with its own private courtyard and garden.  The property has several gardens and pools with a beautiful outside restaurant where a gorgeous breakfast is served very morning.  I voted it the best breakfast in Morocco!  And I have never had such quick laundry service.  It was returned to me within two hours!

Our first full day in Marrakesh was all about experiencing the city and seeing other properties.  We started out at the Majorelle Gardens, which was restored by the late Yves St Laurent.  And after lunch we visited the colorful souks of Marrakech.  You will find great buys and don’t be afraid to negotiate the price.  The souk leads out to one of the greatest squares in all of Africa – Djemaa el Fnaa.  You will see everything from snake charmers to women painting henna on the ladies’ hands.  You must experience it when you visit Marrakesh. 

A short review of the hotels I visited while in Marrakesh –

La Mamounia:  The original grand lady of Marrakesh.  This hotel has quite a history and gone through a huge transformation over the years with a big remodel a few years ago.  Many diplomats and celebrities have stayed at the hotel and a suite named after one of its most famous is the Winston Churchill suite.  Churchill spent quite a bit of time in Morocco when he “retired” painting and enjoying the country.  Today the hotel consists of 209 rooms and suites with all the modern necessities, a pool, spa and just about anything you would need during your stay.  They have four restaurants consisting of Italian, French, Moroccan and Mediterranean cuisine.  This is the place to be seen (if you want to be seen) in Marrakesh. 

Mandarin Oriental:  A beautiful suite and villa property with pools, gardens and olive groves.  Each suite or villa’s designed is centered around your own private pool and garden much like a traditional riad.  Each villa has its own dining, living area with a kitchenette, bedroom and large bath.  You can choose from one, two or three bedrooms.  Of course, they have a lovely spa and several different dining venues.  We were treated to lunch at the pool garden restaurant and it was excellent.  Another favorite meal of mine.     

Royal Monsour:    Each accommodation consists of your own private riad and you feel like you are staying in your own Moroccan village.  If you want privacy this is the place to stay!  Like a traditional Moroccan riad the first floor is your living space, the second floor is your bedrooms and the third floor leads out to your rooftop pool, lounge and bar area.  The staff has private entrances into each part of the hotel and you do not see staff walking around the grounds.  We were given a behind the scenes tour and it is an enormous series of tunnels underground and above so the staff is not seen.  This is true 6-star service.  The gardens and dining facilities are amazing and one of the most beautiful spas I have seen.  We had a beautiful dinner at their outdoor Japanese restaurant.  This property is a WOW!   

Fairmont Royal Palm:  I also stayed at this property for a couple of nights.  The accommodations are large suites spread out over acres of land and overlooking an 18-hole Golf Course.  They have a large pool, sports center, kids club and Clarins spa with several different dining facilities.  The property is a bit tired and in need of a renovation but the food is good.  The only major problem with the property is it is at least a 30-minute drive into town and that makes it difficult to experience the city.   

Kasbah Tamadot:  Owned by Sir Richard Branson it is located just 1-hour drive outside of the city of Marrakesh.  The drive takes you through farms, picturesque villages and located in a magical spot in the foothills of the mountains.  The instant I arrived at the property I felt relaxed.  Entailing 28 bedrooms located in the main building and a series of tented rooms through-out the property there isn’t one bad location.  The decor consists of amazing African, India and Middle Eastern art with a gorgeous pool and spa.  And the cuisine is amazing!!  It is the perfect place to spend at least 2 nights after your touring of Morocco to unwind.  There are many activities to choose from and the staff are employed from the local villages.  Branson’s mother has established a foundation giving the locals the means to start their own sustainable enterprises which include a carpet workshop and craft house run and managed by the locals.  How I wish I could have stayed here for a couple of nights!  I thought it was paradise.   

Many people have asked me about traveling in Morocco.  My experience was remarkable and I never felt threaten in any way.  The King and Queen of Morocco encourage woman rights (our guide was a woman) and embracing your religion.  They do not want the extremist in their country and encourage them to leave.  The country has a long history of Jewish and Muslim living and working together.  The meals I ate consisted of fresh vegetables, fruits, meats and I never had a bad meal.  It is a great destination for American’s and I look forward to sending you on your next adventure to Morocco.       

Nancy Decker Davidson