Eastern Delight

Our visit to Morocco – April 2012

On the Road to Morocco

Over the recent Easter holidays four of us, Jill, Karen, Briege and myself (Brenda), travelled to Morocco, below is a brief account of our visit.

Tuesday 3rd April – Arrive in Marrakesh, where it is dark and wet; our taxi takes us initially through the more modern part of the city, eventually however we arrive in an area which looks much more interesting, almost Dickensian.  The taxi stops some way from our riad and we have to walk along quite uneven ground and through a warren of streets, it is dark and we wonder if we are being taken to the riad or sold into the white slave trade.  A final turning brings us to a smart front door which is opened for us and reveals a familiar interior (thank heaven for the photos on trip advisor!) we are welcomed into Riad Nabila, our home for the next four days and receive some reviving sweet mint tea. Our evening is spent settling into our rooms, sharing pizza and planning what we will do the next day.  It begins to rain and rains continuously all night.

Wednesday 4th April – After a reasonably comfortable night we breakfast on pancakes, bread and a selection of conserves, it is a wet morning and we consider what to wear and do, to enjoy our day and remain dry.  Brollies at the ready we set off to find our way through the maze of streets to the centre of the city.  We are heading for the Place Djemaa el-Fna, right at the heart of the Medina, however our way is filled with distractions, we are soon among crowds of local people who are walking, cycling, riding on scooters, motorbikes, donkeys, or driving carts pulled by a donkey; everyone is busy getting on with their day and we are somewhat in the way. Undeterred we press on, our first stop is a visit to the Musee de Marrakesh located in Dar Menebhi, the 19th century palace of Sultan Mouley Mehdi Hussan, the museum contains a variety of art and artifacts and is beautifully decorated in the Islamic style, but with some interesting examples of more local work.  Our entrance fee enables us to also visit the nearby Ali Ben Youseff Medersa, located in the old Koranic School, beautifully decorated and with an air of great tranquility.

We continue towards the centre of Marrakesh, stopping for lunch in the midst of the souks and then onwards to the bustling central plaza, Djemma el-Fna.  The main square is teaming with life; there are: water sellers, jugglers, acrobats, story-tellers, musicians, monkeys, cross dressers, snake charmers, food sellers and more souks.  We wander around soaking up the atmosphere and head to a restaurant with a balcony from where we can view the activity, what a panorama, we are now near to the Koutoubia Mosque and can scan from there, taking in all that is going on below us, the atmosphere is amazing, there is a real buzz everywhere.  Now quite weary, we decide to take a taxi as close to the raid as we can.

Wednesday evening – A real treat in Marrakesh is a visit La Fantasia, for an evening of fine dining and great spectacle; we are greeted at the entrance by the magnificent horsemen and elegant buildings and then escorted to our brightly decorated, sumptuous tent to enjoy a Moroccan supper.  After we have eaten we are invited outside to watch the extravaganza; the horsemen charge and stopping, fire off their weapons, this happens several times before we get to see our first Moroccan belly dancer, she arrives in a sort of tented tank and it’s difficult to see her in the gloom but she gives the crowd some shimmies and hip drops and they seem happy. After viewing a further procession of performers we are look up to be greeted by the sight of a flying carpet, in the distance carefully balnced on a partially conceled wire as said carpet on which a small group of figures are gathered together together, after this we make our way back to our taxi, collecting our obligatory Fantasia photo as we go.

Thursday 5th April – We have managed to book an excursion to the Ourika Valley, via Laurent, who manages the Riad Nabila; our driver for today is Aziz who had driven us the previous evening and whom we get to know during our stay.  The Atlas Mountains dominate this area of Morocco and a visit to them is an essential part of any trip.  It takes an hour and a half to get to Setti Fatma but we have plenty of stops along the way, the first at Kit Plateau where after being adorned with Berber headgear and photographed we are initiated into the aggressive salesmanship of the Berbers, which we soon learn is unremitting, at every stop we are offered jewellery and have to work hard to resist without seeming too rude.  However in spite of that the views are amazing and the Berber homesteads nestling precariously in the hillsides have to be seen to be believed.  We have the opportunity to visit a Berber souk and observe rural life and trade there.  Our day is punctuated by lunch at a beautifully decorated restaurant, followed by a visit to Arom Mantague with its delightful herb garden and charming young pharmacist who talks to us about the work that he does and the efficacy of the treatments, we all leave with an interesting product to try.  Back to the riad for a quick change and an evening at the Place Djemaa el-Fna, after walking around the food stalls and a run in with some snakes! We decide on a Bistro over-looking the square, share a pizza get a taxi back to the riad.

Friday 6th April – one of the loveliest gardens in Marreksh is Le Jardin Majorelle so as our visit is short we decide that is the garden for us to visit; having been acquired and restored by Yves Saint Laurent, the garden is open to the public and contains an abundance of shapes and form, representing five continents.

After a fascinating morning we depart and over lunch decide that we are to travel to Essaouira the next day by a Supratours coach, so we must head to the station and book our seats.  We try to organize a taxi but these seem particularly expensive so our head negotiator eventually proclaims, ‘One hundred dirhams, we can walk!’ and we do.   Eventually after some advanced level map reading and the odd adventure on the way, we finally arrive at Supratours and book our places on the 8.30 coach the next day.  So it’s back to the Riad for some hasty packing and preparations for an evening out.  We head for Le Comptoir, a Deco decadent villa with a sumptuous red lacquered interior and a host of interesting diners, after an enjoyable we are entertained by some belly dancers at the end of the evening.  One dancer with a shamadan on her head, who interacts well with the diners and a more youthful svelte young woman who simply shimmies and is rewarded with notes from the diners.  We are met by Aziz and returned safely to the raid where we prepare for an early start the next day.

Saturday 7th April – Breakfast at 7.15 and a short taxi ride to the station where we board our Supratours coach, the vehicle is packed with a mix of locals and other tourists.  We get to see lots of Morocco as we head out on the road to Essaouira, it is surprisingly quiet with very little traffic, as unlike an English motorway as you could imagine.  We see olive groves, orange trees and a scattering of small towns, which edge the roadside, occasionally a house comes into view.  Eventually we stop for refreshments at herb garden and café where we walk for a while and then return to the coach.  Next stop Essaouira and instantly there is a sense of getting in touch with one’s inner hippie, suddenly there are floral prints and flares and even a young man with flowing tresses, however I digress!  I notice to my right a conflab going on, a number of working men seem to be arguing over who is going to transport us to our riad, we ignore the, it seems to be the best thing to do.  Eventually we are ready to go and for their services, they operate a hand-cat taxi so we pile our cases into their cart and they pull/push it along to Raid Chakira where we are to stay for the next three days.

This villa is a little larger than Nabila and is very busy with several large parties of guests, however we are greeted warmly, settle into our rooms and decide to go out to explore.  The temperature is increasing and it is bliss!  We are located in a fairly quiet area but near to the local souk which we wander though, stopping for lunch on our way to the beach area.  There is a lot happening here, henna tattoos, street vendors, tumblers, sunbathers.  We are approached by a guy selling sunglasses who tells one member of our group that she is the loveliest woman she has seen in a long time, I however am told that I have a nice face but am too thin and only worth about two baby camels!

We decide to visit the fish stalls for our supper and within seconds have all the stall holders competing for our custom; we have been advised to visit stall five and this is what we do.  We have a real banquet of fish: prawns, langoustine, calamari and a magnificent lobster all freshly cooked in front of us and served with bread and salad, quite a gastronomic experience.

Sunday 8th April – We decide it is time to visit the beach so it’s on with the cossies and the sun screen as we negotiate for a place on the sun lounger.  After a hectic few days it is time to relax and watch the world go by, but no, what’s this?  Someone is selling jewellery and before I know what’s happening I have a sun bed full of beads and bracelets, I succumb and buy a few Berber silver bangles which I am told are decorated to resemble the moon, the waves and the Berber tents and they are quite charming.

After a generous dose of the sun we head back to the riad for a rest and decide later to visit one of the local restaurants where as on many occasions in Morocco we have a tasty Tagine.  These are cooked everywhere, in a ceramic dish, usually on the top of the oven and even outside in bar- be-cue style, they are always delicious as the meat is allowed to become very tender and soak up the flavours of the other ingredients.

Monday 9th April – Unbelievably this is our last day and the weather is glorious so we head down to the port which is teaming with life, with fishermen: unloading their catch, gutting fish, selling fish, mending their nets under a makeshift tent, filling up their boats with crushed ice for their next fishing trip and even one group of men (about 12) hauling up a boat together.  We have lunch at the port restaurant and then head back to the souks to shop.  There are many good things to buy including some beautiful Thuja wood items; this comes from the Western Red Cedar tree is very hard wearing and made into some lovely decorative items.  Moroccan basketry is also very attractive and the lovely Babouches (soft leather shoes) also their silver jewellery which some of us succumb to, here however I am told that I am worth five thousand camels, although I can’t remember if that was before or after I had bought the ring, nice to know I had gone up in value during my stay.

We take the opportunity to locate a good restaurant with entertainment for the evening, book a table and amazingly manage to find the place later. Restourant Sirocco proves to be an excellent choice and sitting in the centre of the dining area we are well placed to enjoy the music and singing, join in the dancing and soak up the atmosphere. The food is a good mix of French and Moroccan, the music has it’s own unique sound, the staff are friendly and hard working and this all helps to create an excellent final evening for us.

Tuesday 10th April – After some early morning shopping for pastries and other souvenirs we take the coach from Essaouira to Marrakesh, taxi to the airport and fly back to Gatwick. It seems amazing that the days have gone so quickly and although our group was much smaller in number than we had originally anticipated our holiday worked so very well and we all had a brilliant time.