Our Morocco Road Trip

 

Morocco Road Trip -Summary

We had a fabulous holiday on our first tour of Morocco expertly organised by Linda and her team.  It was more of a road trip covering over 1000 miles during the 9 days with a different stop every night and all the accommodations (with one slight exception) were full of character in traditional “off grid” places.  We relished the food which was often served off a small menu of freshly sourced, home-cooked ingredients – really authentic! We all love our food anyway and without exception, we left clean plates every meal, everything was delicious!  We knew that alcohol is not part of the Muslim religion (although Linda can arrange it for you if requested) and so we had decided that we would have a “dry” week, although the bottle of “contraband” in the desert was very welcome!  The colours of the landscape, the variety of the scenery and amazing geological formations of the country once you get out of Marrakech was beyond compare – and the dunes, well they were awesome.  We are still raving about it all several weeks after our return.  A fantastic road trip that has put Morocco into our blood streams and we will definitely be going back again!

Day 1 – Marrakech

Early start at 0430 from chez Massey/Williamson, Graham drove us to Gatwick airport for the 4-hour direct EasyJet flight to Marrakech.

Stunning views of the snow covered Atlas Mountains as we approached Marrakech.  The airport was a very pleasant surprise – modern, spacious, clean and quiet.  Filled in immigration forms and passed through immigration without a hitch.  Each couple bought £300 worth of local currency – Dirhams- at the bank in the terminal, got about 12 to the £. Don’t try and buy currency outside of Morocco as you will get a really bad deal.

Met outside the airport by Ahmed; he loaded our luggage into his Toyota LandCruiser and drove us into central Marrakech.  Dropped us off by an archway close to the Medina wall and arranged for a street porter with a hand-held cart to pull our luggage through the narrow alleyways to the Riad, basically, just a front door at the end of an alleyway, but it opened into a spacious and calming inner courtyard where we were served our first mint tea (green tea with fresh mint and some sugar) whilst checking in.  A real oasis in the middle of the hustle and bustle of Marrakech.  Dropped off the luggage and then headed back out to meet Ahmed who drove us round to the Jardin Majorelle (http://jardinmajorelle.com/ang/).  Strolled around the gardens and explored the small but very interesting Berber museum.

Back to the hotel, explored the alleyways and souks for a while and then sampled our first tagines at the Cafe Rouge (http://www.rougecafemarrakech.com/), and then had an early night in preparation for the morrow.

Day 2 – Ait BenHaddou

Very nice breakfast in the Riad, then retraced our steps back out of the maze with the same street porter, loaded up into the Land Cruiser and off towards the mountains by 08:00.  Wound our way up to the summit of the Tizi-n-Tichka pass at 2260m, the countryside was quite green and lush on the northern slopes, but decidedly more arid as we dropped down the southern side and took a turning off towards Telouet where we stopped to visit the Kasbah.  The local guide Ali was extremely knowledgeable about the history of the Kasbah.

Morocco Road Trip - HIgh Atlas
Morocco Road Trip – High Atlas

Had a pleasant lunch at Telouet and then headed on to the salt mine and then down a very interesting valley with lush vegetation close to the river to the ksar (group of kasbahs – earthen buildings surrounded by high walls) at Ait Ben Haddou (http://whc.unesco.org/en/list/444).  Our guide Jamal was very informative as we walked through the ksar and climbed up to the top of the enclosed hill.

Morocco Road Trip - Ait Ben Haddou
Morocco Road Trip – Ait Ben Haddou

Tired now we drove the last segment to Tazentoute where we were due to stay in a traditional village house, or gite.  Sadly a close relative had died, but the family still looked after us well and we sat and played cards – introducing Ahmed to Uno – whilst our tagines were prepared.  They were definitely worth the wait!  Quite cold overnight in the unheated rooms, but extra blankets did the trick.

Day 3 – Agdz

A short walk around the village with our host Hussain who, at our request, introduced us to Khalid the almond farmer – we were invited into his house and offered tea, after learning that his 100 almond trees only produced about 150Kg of almonds per year, all of which are shelled by hand, we bought a kilo for 160 Dirhams.

Loading up the “truck” and setting back off on the road trip at about 10:00 we headed for Ouarzazate which means “No confusion”, this was the biggest town since Marrakech and due to the film studio; it even had an airport!.

A short detour to the Fint Oasis (http://www.ouarzazate-guide.com/sightseeing/fint-skoura-oasis/) where we had a walk.  People were going about their daily business including washing their clothes in the river.

Morocco Road Trip - Fint Oasis
Morocco Road Trip – Fint Oasis

Onward towards the Anti-Atlas and some “massive” geological structures in a very barren landscape to our next stop for a late lunch of Berber omelette. We drove up to the civic buildings on the promontory in Agdz for a view over the Hara oasis and then a short drive down some very narrow lanes to the Hara Oasis (http://www.hara-oasis.com/) near Agdz which means “resting place”.  A pleasant walk around the grounds brought us to a place by the side of the river where tea was served on a rug as the sun started to set over the Jbel Kissane (we had named it Tagine Mountain because of the shape of the top of it) – all incredibly atmospheric in truly beautiful surroundings.  The accommodation was so lovely here, in traditionally built mud and straw huts and a very tasty dinner in the on-site restaurant.

Day 4 – Merzouga

Delightful breakfast on the raised terrace watching the early morning mist burn off the Hara oasis followed by a long drive towards the dunes with more and different “massive” geological formations.  Ahmed played us some desert blues music which really went well with the driving and we’ve come home trying to download more to listen to here in the UK.

Morocco Road Trip - Road to desert
Morocco Road Trip – Road to desert

Stopped for tea just past Nkob and then again at Erfoud in a place with really interesting doors hanging on the walls of the courtyard – we had Berber pizza here.

Drove on to our hotel, a family owned auberge where we were served tea on the terrace in the late afternoon sunshine followed by a barefoot (great tip, thank you Ahmed!) walk into the dunes to watch the sunset.  We used some palm trees and tamarind bushes as a transit so that we didn’t get lost on the way back in the dark.

Morocco Road Trip - Dunes walk
Morocco Road Trip – Dunes walk

Dinner in the hotel was a very tasty veggie tagine and lamb Berber omelette.

Day 5 – Erg Chebbi – Luxury Desert Camp

A varied day around the dunes starting with a visit to the Pigeons du Sable – a local band who gave us a private concert – and dance!  (http://www.khamliatour.com/pigeons-du-sable-3/?lang=en), a drive along part of the Dakar rally route to a rocky viewpoint partly spoiled by some noisy Arab tourists (but lovely when they’d moved on!), an abandoned French mine close to the abandoned village where Ahmed’s mum was born, stopping for tea with a nomad lady and her son Hassan whom Ahmed was doing his best to help educate.

Morocco Road Trip - Nomads
Morocco Road Trip – Nomads

The return trip via a well and more off-roading to an unlikely looking cafe in Merzouga for what was probably the best lunch so far.  Collected our bags from the auberge and then to meet our camels.

Morocco Road Trip - Camel ride
Morocco Road Trip – Camel ride

Set off camel trekking into the desert – about 1.5 miles to arrive at a luxury camp in the dunes.  This was serious glamping (for those who are ancient enough to only ever have “wild” camped!) – luxury tents in the desert with fully plumbed in en-suite bathrooms, showers with hot water and a mini gas fire!  Pre-dinner stroll to the summit of Lalla Merzouga – the highest dune in N. Africa; named after a tribal lady with immaculate conception who had been abandoned by her tribe – in retribution they were buried under the dune in a sandstorm.

Morocco Road Trip - Lalla Merzouga sunset
Morocco Road Trip – Lalla Merzouga sunset

Watched a stunning sunset from the summit and then back down for a lovely traditional dinner with “contraband” (wine) smuggled in by Ahmed. Music and songs around the campfire and even a midnight game of rummy played in the moonlight at the table and chairs on the dune behind the camp (almost a full moon)!

Day 6 – Todgha Gorge

Up early (5am – Jonathan’s crazy!) to watch the moonset and then again at 6:30 (for the rest of us!) for the sunrise.

Nice breakfast followed by a camel trek back out of the desert camp accompanied by a caravan of loose camels.  Then Ahmed drove to the “gardens” which turned out to be large allotments irrigated by water from the dunes with a levada like system.  The dunes indicate the presence of underground water because the moisture binds the sand grains.

Drove to Rissani to experience the traditional souks – markets for the locals with just the essentials, no tourist tat: animals, vegetables, fruit, spices, blacksmiths etc.  All very genuine and few tourists and we didn’t have people jumping out at us trying to sell us stuff – we just merged into the scenery which was nice.  Buying some spices was an experience – we had to be given the full nine-yards of tales about all the different spice mixtures available.  Crazy traffic!

Morocco Road Trip - Rissani souk
Morocco Road Trip – Rissani souk

Called at a marble processing plant where all of the marble was infused with enormous fossils (ammonites, squid and trilobites).  Got the guided tour of the workshop – some nice stuff but quite dark colours and very expensive.  Onwards to Touroug for lunch – fast service with a nice chicken kebab but poor veg tagine.  Long drive to Tinerhir and then turned up the Todra gorge – a short walk in the gorge and then checked in to our hotel set in the most stunning, dark sky area.

After tea on the terrace enjoying the peace and tranquillity of this remote location in the mountains we strolled along a path that led up the valley until sunset, returning with the aid of head torches for a fabulous impromptu concert; Ahmed playing the guitar and singing – various members of the hotel staff joining in on African drums.  Ahmed also played the Djembe very well.  Superb meal in the hotel – soup, tagines, fruit all very tasty.  Made to feel very welcome.

Day 7 – Ouarzazate

An excellent breakfast (orange juice, tea, nice bread, pancake, yoghurt, muesli – our first this trip, omelette, cake, cheese, jam, honey, fruit..) and then time for a 2 hour circular walk in the hills; nomad camps with goats, goatherders children asking for dirhams to be photographed and then back down to the dry river valley.  It only rains about 8 – 12 times a year, but when it does rain the river is very fast and full.

Drove on to the Dades valley, viewing the “monkey’s fingers” rock formation and making a pre-lunch stop at a general store by the side of the road that offered everyone a taste of a tasty couscous dish – Friday is couscous day and it is traditional to have a plate to share with visitors.

Morocco Road Trip - Dades Valley Monkeys fingers
Morocco Road Trip – Dades Valley Monkeys fingers

A walk along the river bank and lunch at a local hotel – an excellent salad with couscous.  After lunch drove a short way to the hairpin bends at the head of the valley – as featured on the front cover of the Michelin map.  Back down the Dades valley and then along the “longest street in Morocco”, past the non-descript Valley of the Roses (February is not the right time of year to see the Valley of Roses) and on to the hotel at Ouarzazate.  A bit travel weary now and this place was less authentic and more westernised than the others.  Dinner in the hotel was OK, but not really a patch on all the other fabulous places we’d stayed and traditional food that we’d eaten.

Day 8 – Imlil

Left at 9 for the 6hr. drive to Imlil back over the High Atlas mountains via the Tizi’n’Tichka pass and then back into the mountains.  Still amazing scenery even though we’d done some of this route on the way out.  A slight distraction and a missed turning meant an un-planned lunch stop eaten on an interesting roof terrace – bare reinforcing rods protruding from the concrete.  We then had a bit of a diversion via winding mountain roads as we approached due to a road closure, eventually arriving at the Riad in Imlil which was absolutely lovely.  It was about 300m from the road via a narrow earthen path with amazing mosaics inside and a nice roof terrace with views of the mountains.

Morocco Road Trip - Imlil
Morocco Road Trip – Imlil

Pre-dinner walk up the steep path towards Armoud.  Weather had turned cloudy, looking like it might be wet tomorrow.  Very good dinner at the Riad, enjoyed chatting with Ahmed and another game of Uno.

Day 9 – High Atlas

Oh no, it is our last day!  It’s been a really fabulous road trip but the weather is reminding us of what home is like – very wet and windy.  We had an early breakfast and were determined to walk whatever the weather.  We chose not to use a guide but to tackle this ourselves and set off up the valley, past Aroumd heading for the shrine at Sidi Chamharouch which should have good views of Jbel Toubkal the highest mountain in Morocco and Jbel Ouanoukrim with the second and third highest peaks.

Morocco Road Trip - Toubkal National Park
Morocco Road Trip – Toubkal National Park

We encountered a few locals – mountain guides – who were concerned for our safety and advised us not to continue – but hey what is a bit of wind and rain?  Well the wind got stronger and the rain turned to snow and ice pellets and eventually after about 2 hours when we reached the “Coca-Cola Toubkal” hut which was shut, we decided that enough was enough – the few hints that we had seen of a clearing sky didn’t materialise and so we turned around and headed back to our Riad to change and enjoy a superb lunch of salad with turkey kebabs.

Drove back to Marrakech, approx. 1 hour, Judith & Graham did a short tour of the city highlights including the Bahia Palace and watching the snake charmers in the Place Jemaa-El-Fna whilst Jonathan & Jane read books in the park by the Koutoubia mosque.

And then back to the airport for the flight home, getting back home really late/early Monday morning.

The End

February 2017 / Judith Massey, Graham Williamson, Jane & Jonathan Lister.

We asked So Morocco to get us “under the skin” of Morocco and they gave us exactly what we wanted. We could never have put this tour together ourselves as it depended on in-depth local knowledge and a nuanced understanding of the culture.  Our driver, Ahmed, became a real friend and the accommodation was amongst some of the most unique we’ve ever stayed in.

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