One month in Morocco

The summer after I graduated from University my boyfriend and I wanted to go travelling together and with a limited budget and cheap flights to Morocco, we decided that this would be the perfect destination.

We began our journey in the chaotic and colourful city of Marrakesh.

Visiting Marrakesh is a total sensory overload, when walking through the Medina (the old town) you have to be on full alert, anything could be around the next corner, a motorcyclist, a donkey or a man pulling his heavily loaded fruit cart.

The medina is a sprawling maze of identical winding streets and we made the error of opting for a Riad that was cheap but out of the centre, meaning it was near impossible to find.

If you look like a lost tourist then children might approach you to offer help and although this appears as a nice gesture, they will inevitably demand a sizable sum of money from you and will not leave you alone until they get it.

This service is extremely frowned upon because it discourages the children from going to school as they believe that they can make a living without education.

I found Marrakesh to be particularly intimidating, the locals have understandably latched onto the tourist culture, but this makes it difficult to trust people when you’re not sure if someone actually wants to help you or if they just want your money.

Street food is in abundance in Marrakesh, but avoid eating in the main square as it can be overpriced and poor quality, instead head to Djemma El Fna, this small side street is filled with amazing food vendors, from traditional msemen pancakes, harissa soup or even a sheepshead (!!)

From Marrakesh, we took an overnight train to Tangier, for a small fee we upgraded to first-class as this ensured we had a seat for the 8-hour journey.

For centuries Tangier has been the hub for travel between Europe and Africa, it is a modern and industrial city but the medina is amazing and has a real sense of history.

The Tangier medina is a lot smaller and more accessible than Marakesh, mainly because of the lack of motorcyclists which means you can leisurely explore the markets without worrying that you’re about to be run over.

For the best view of the Grand Socco (the main square) climb up the steps at the highest point of the circle to La Terrasse, from here you can sit, enjoy the view and watch the world rush by.

Cinema Rif is an iconic art deco building in the Grand Socco, it was built in 1938 and has since been restored to a cinema, an art-house and a cafe. The building is beautiful and the cafe is a lovely place to stop for a drink.

We had one of the best tagines of our whole trip at a small non-assuming market stall next to the cinema, the food was so flavoursome and it was lovely to just sit back and watch the city pass us by.

The beach in Tangier is a hot spot for Moroccan holiday-makers, it’s lovely to walk along the beach-front and watch the sun go down after a day of exploring.

From Tangier, we then travelled to a smaller mountain town called Tetouan.

When travelling around Morocco you can opt for the train, bus or a shared taxi. When taking a bus I would advise to always book ahead to ensure you are able to take the more modern CTM bus, or you may end up on an older Moroccan bus that can take twice as long and won’t have air conditioning.

For shorter journeys, the other way to travel is by grand-taxi, in any city you can find a taxi station where drivers shuttle passengers back and forth to nearby towns all day long.

However, in order to make this journey worthwhile for the drivers, they will always squeeze 6 people into their car, four in the back, and two in the front passenger seat. This can be quite intense when you’re squished next to a stranger for a 2-hour journey through the mountains, but it is often the quickest, cheapest and most convenient way to get about.

Tetouan is a beautiful town in the Rif mountains, there is a strong Spanish influence here with whitewashed buildings and a more laid-back atmosphere.

We stayed in Hotel Panorama Vista, and although this is just a budget hotel with limited character the central location and the balcony view of the mountains made this the perfect accommodation.

Opposite the hotel is a beautiful outdoor terrace, you can drink some Moroccan mint-tea and admire the beautiful view of the mountains.

Tetouan’s ancient medina is a classified UNSECO site, it is really relaxed and there is an abundance of amazing colourful, fresh and organic food for sale.

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Our next stop was a homestay higher up in the Rif mountains. A homestay is a really great way to get to know local people and to experience real-life in the country you’re visiting.

The family picked us up from a town called Finideq and we travelled in their battered four by four up the mountains.

The house was so beautiful and totally isolated, surrounded by nothing but mountains. The family were almost completely self-sufficient, they grew all their own food, reared their own animals and made their own bread in an outdoor oven.

With no phone signal and not much else to do it was the perfect chance to really relax, we read our books, went on walks, watched the stars and ate delicious home-cooked food.

From our home-stay, we then travelled to Chefchauen, this is one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever visited, a blue city nestled in the mountains, it is a photographer or an artist’s dream.

We stayed in a hostel called Dar Baraka which is owned by an English ex-pat and is located in the medina.

If you exit the Medina at Bal el-Ansar and follow the river downhill there are plenty of spots to sit, eat and relax with your feet in the water.

Just before sunset if you follow the path from Bab el-Ansar up the mountain you can walk up to the Spanish Mosque and watch the sunset over the blue city.

It can get pretty busy as it’s a famous spot to take photos, so you can also walk up the other side of the mountain, following the medina wall to have a more private sunset picnic.

I cannot recommend enough taking a day trip from Chefchauen to Akchour in the Talassemtane National Park. Akchour is a beautiful oasis in the mountains, with amazing views, hiking trails and freezing mountain water to swim in.

There are two main routes to hike up, either to the main cascade or to God’s Bridge, because we were visiting in the peak of summer we were told that the waterfall had partly dried up so we chose to stick to God’s Bridge which is a natural arch formed between two pieces of land.

I have to say that this hike is not for the faint-hearted, it is very steep up crumbling path with verticle drops to the side, we are both pretty fit and we found it extremely hard. But then again we’re the idiots who chose to hike up a mountain in over 30 degrees!

When we reached the top of this hike the views were amazing, a panorama of forests and mountains and the most amazing natural arch, which when you see, you understand where it got its name.

After the terrifying descent back down the mountain, we cooled down with a glass of freshly squeezed orange juice and a delicious tagine for 25DH (£2).

For the rest of the day we decided to walk underneath God’s Bridge, this was quite the scramble over rocks and many makeshift bridges but it was amazing to swim in the crystal clear and freezing cold water and see just how far we had walked earlier that day.

From Chefchauen, we then travelled in a grand-taxi to Ouzane and then to Fez.

Fez has the oldest Medina in Morocco and offers everything that I hoped for in Marakesh without the persistence of locals and the hundreds of motorbikes.

There are an estimated 1,000,000 people living in the medina, many of whom are born there and never leave, why would you when you can get everything you could possibly need within it.

Fez is the best place in Morocco to buy leather goods because it is all produced here, you can take a tour of the Chaouwara tanneries and watch the lengthy process that goes into making a new handbag or jacket.

We stayed in an amazing Riad owned by British ex-pat Richard, who moved to Morocco in the 70s, he was an amazing host and was extremely knowledgable about the city. The terrace of the building showcased an amazing view of what he described as the ‘gut of the medina,’ revealing just how vast and expansive it is.

One of the oldest market places in the medina is the Henna Souq which is built around a huge plane tree, there are various stalls selling henna dye and herbal medicines.

In one of our grand-taxi journeys, we met a lovely girl named Rrouia, once we got talking she invited us for dinner with her family (the hospitality of Morrocans will never fail to amaze me) but we also went to her uncle’s cafe in Fez called Batha Cafe, it’s a lovely little cafe with a nice menu and seats outside.

From Fez, we then took a train for one hour to Meknes. For our first evening, we had dinner at this lovely restaurant called Aisha’s kitchen. You sit, quite literally in Aisha’s kitchen and choose from the few items on the menu and watch as she cooks it for you.

The indoor market in Meknes is quite crazy and is a spectacle in itself, there are huge piles of spices, amazing selections of dates, dried figs and huge piles of olives. Further into the market, you have the rather gruesome meat market, there are live chickens and huge carcasses of meat, it’s quite shocking when you’re a vegetarian who is used to a UK supermarket.

We went on a day trip from Meknes to Moulay Idriss, a town that is sheltered between two mountains and was closed to non-muslims until 1912. Visiting the mosque in Moulay Idriss is part of the largest moussem (pilgrimage) every August.

From here we took a taxi to the Roman ruins of Voulibis, this is an amazing historic site that was abanded in AD 280 when Berber tribes began to reassert themselves.

From Meknes, we travelled to the town of Azrou in the Atlas mountains. We stayed in another home-stay with a family who lives part-time between France and Azrou.

Our host was amazing and was able to take us on guided hikes through the cedar forests.

Azrou is somewhat famous for its monkeys, but in a typical picnic spot, we saw monkeys that were extremely overweight due to their reliance on human food and rubbish. It was a sad reminder of the consequences of interfering with nature.

Azrou is a true Berber town, there are very little tourists and mainly shepherds and women with traditional Berber face tattoos and jewellery.

Every Tuesday from sunrise to sunset there is a huge market called Azrou Souq, as we were then on a Tuesday we decided to pay it a visit. The market went on for miles and had anything and everything for sale, food, clothes and even livestock.

On our next day in Azrou, the family drove us to Sources Oum Rabia, this is somewhere you can only access by car, but is well worth a visit if you are able to!

The drive was a few hours from Azrou and we passed many Berber families who live in makeshift camps with children waiting on the sides of the roads selling figs, berries or bread to passers-by.

This site is truly amazing with treehouses built around the rapidly moving water. You can swim in the freezing mountain water or relax in one of the treehouses, eat a tagine and fresh figs and listen to the water.

From Azrou, we embarked on a very long journey to Tafroute, to do this, we took an 8-hour CTM bus to Agadir, where we then stayed the night to break up our journey.

In the morning we travelled to Tiznit and from there to Tafroute, two journeys where we were squeezed into the front seat of a taxi.

Tafroute is nestled in the Ameln Valley with a desert-like landscape that is surrounded by palm trees.

We stayed in the hotel Auberge Les Amis, where each morning we indulged in a delicious breakfast on the terrace.

We wondered about the desert-landscape looking at the various co-operatives where women were making argan oil.

We were recommended to eat dinner at La Kasbah, apparently the best place in Tafroute, we shared a harira soup, a tagine and then fresh fruit for dessert and it was as delicious as everyone said!

On top of the hill in Tafroute is the huge Hotel Les Amandiers, we enjoyed the rare luxury of a cold beer and sat on the terrace admiring the views of the rocky moon-like landscape.

For our final week in Morocco, we wanted to spend it totally relaxing and not travelling around. Mirleft is a small, sleepy town on the north coast with the most amazing rugged landscape.

We stayed at a surf house on Aftas Beach, our bedroom had a huge window that opened to a view of nothing but the sea and the sand.

I can’t recommend this place enough, our host was so welcoming, he showed us around, invited us for dinner with his family and told us the best beaches to visit.

Our time in Mirleft was so calm, like stepping back in time, we would wake up each morning to the sound of the sea, walk to the village, enjoy a msemen pancake with honey and fresh orange juice and then we would queue up for some fresh bread and vegetables at the market before heading back to Aftas Beach to sunbathe and then cook dinner on our terrace to watch the sun melt into the sea.

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