Anybody who is thinking about going to Morocco needs to understand that in a way you will be stepping back in time. The main cities that you will visit have two worlds. The old and the new.
The old city is the Medina, the walled city where everyone used to live. The city that has kept its traditions and where families work together in the family business, being some kind of craft, food, tannery, etc. This city is crowded, hectic, sometimes smelly, sometimes scary, it is like a maze where your senses will come alive. You need to be aware of that so that, once you get there, you can focus in enjoying the history, the architecture, the food, the people without being surprised by all the chaos around you.
The new city is modern, more organized and similar to what you know. You will find bigger hotels, restaurants, malls, wide avenues and some of the comforts of home. So before planning your trip to Morocco think about how much time you want to spend in the old and the new.
Our 10 day trip to Morocco focused more on the old. We decided to stay inside the Medinas in Marrakesh & Fez and traveled many hours by car and train to visit different cities, including the Sahara desert. Here are our picks for Mari & Val’s “LOVED”.
1- Our trip to the desert
We took a three day / two night tour from Marrakesh to the Sahara Desert, ending in the city of Fez. The tour included a camel trek in the sand dunes and a one night stay in a luxury tent in the desert. It was amazing! Please read my blog called “Sahara Desert Dream Come True”. www.desertluxurycamp.com
2- Chefchaouen – The Blue City
“Chaouen” as they call it is a city located in the northwestern part of Morocco. It is a three hours drive from Fez. It is famous because inside its old town or Medina, most of the buildings and walls are painted in washed blue. When you are in Chefchaouen, you feel like you are in one of the Greek Islands. The feeling is more relaxed than inside the Medinas of Marrakesh and Fez. It was a nice change from the constant stress you have in other cities. The views are amazing! You can make it a day trip or stay one night.
3- Going to a spa and doing a Hammam
A hamman is a traditional body scrub with an exfoliating glove and moroccan black soap. We went to Farnatchi Spa in Marrakesh and ended up having one of the best beauty experiences of our lives.
First they explain that you need to remove your clothes and provide you with a type of “panty” to cover your private parts. You enter a private marble room with steam where there are two areas to lie down (like massage tables). A lady comes in and after pouring a bucket of water on you, starts scrubbing your skin with the black soap and the exfoliating glove. She removes all dead skin from your body. Then she applied a body wrap of “ghassoul” and aromatic plants and finally gave us a massage. In between every part of the process she rinses away your body with buckets of water and leaves you in the room alone lying down for relaxation time. This lady is actually bathing you like a child! You would think it’s really embarrassing but I actually felt very comfortable the entire time. I felt asleep at times and ended up with the softest skin that I have ever had. Totally worth it! www.farnatchispa.com
4- Moroccan Architecture
The Bahia Palace, Marrakesh Museum, Medersa Ben Youssef, Saadian Tombs in Marrakesh, all the King’s Palaces and the Hassan II Mosque in Casablanca are all beautiful examples of Moroccan architecture. The use of tiles, fountains, geometric designs and floral motifs is very prevalent and there is a lot of Spanish influence.
5- Staying at a Riad inside the Medina
A Riad is a traditional Moroccan house with an interior garden or courtyard. Many houses inside the medinas in Marrakesh and Fez are now hotels. You just see a plain door in the outside but when you go inside there is a spacious 2 to 3-floor-building with many rooms nicely decorated in Moroccan style, with a rooftop terrace. Staying at a riad you will feel the true Moroccan experience. We booked ours using Airbnb and the prices ranged at about $50 per night. I would recommend staying inside the Medina in Marrakesh as it is easier to navigate because you will always have the main square as a reference point, even if you get lost.
6- Majorelle Garden – Marrakesh
Initially owned by a French artist named Jacques Majorelle and in 1980 purchased by designer Yves Saint Laurent & partner Pierre Bergé. This garden is very distinctive for the use of the “Majorelle Blue” color in most of its walls and the collection of exotic plants and cactuses. It also houses a museum dedicated to the Berber culture and a memorial to YSL, as his ashes were spread here after his passing in 2008.
7- Wandering on the souks inside the Medina
The Medina is the old walled city with thousands of allies full of souks (markets). The biggest Medinas are in Marrakesh and Fez and in both you will find thousands of products to choose from. There are lamps, handmade carpets, scarfs, spices, argan oil, and everything made of leather. Be prepared to bargain as that is part of the process. There are scooters running the allies in Marrakesh and donkeys & horses in Fez. You will feel harassed by everyone asking you to buy their stuff and you will also have to deal with the smell of people, meat, etc. As much as we covered ourselves, we felt the look of both men and women to any exposed part of our body (this does not happen as much if you are with a man). Nevertheless, it is worth the experience!
8- Nightly transformation of the Jemma el-Fna Square in Marrakesh
This is the central point of the Marrakesh Medina. During the day this square is full of orange juice stalls, Moroccan women doing henna tattoos and men with monkeys or snakes looking for a tip. It is surrounded by restaurants, the souks and it is “watched” by the Minaret of the Koutoubia Mosque. If you get lost inside the Medina (as it happened to us), usually a kid will give you directions on how to get back to the main square (for a tip).
At night it becomes very crowded, full of food stalls, with their seating areas lighted and ready so that people can join in for dinner. As you walk through it, it is overwhelming to hear so many people trying to convince you to stop at their place. There are local people doing different types of tricks or performances so that tourists gather around to give them a tip. In a way it is very “touristy” but at the same time is a phenomenon worth seen at least once. This does not happen in Fez as there is no main square there.
Morocco is definitively worth a visit once in your life. So, if Morocco is on your bucket list…
DON’T WAIT, MAKE A PLAN, POSTPONE NOTHING.
Note: If I had to do it again, I would stay no more than 3 nights in Marrakesh, would stay in the “new city” in Fez and would skip the trip to Meknes.