Tag Archives: travel

our morocco itinerary

morocco guideIf there’s one thing I learned from our trip to Merida last year, it’s that I can’t handle super-packed itineraries. I don’t get necessarily cranky about it, I just basically shut down to the experience and instead find myself merely showing up for the checkmark. So for visiting Morocco, I wanted to be sure we spent quality time in each city, watching the people and hanging out, rather than racing off to various tourist destinations. This meant not going out into the Sahara on camels or driving out of Chefchaouen to go see a waterfall. We missed seeing some things this way, but in return we experienced much more of the cities.

This itinerary is not for everyone. If your travel style is go-go-go, I guarantee you will hate this. But if you love to explore cities on foot and simply soak up the experience, try this itinerary out.chefchaouen itinerary
Chefchaouen

Riad: Dar Zambra

Visiting Chefchaouen first was a stroke of genius on my part. It’s Morocco on training wheels–if we went to Fez or Marrakesh first, it would’ve been a huge shock to the system. The city is a very manageable size, things are slower, and everything is just low pressure.

We spent four nights here so that we could get over jet lag without feeling the compulsion to achieve a lot. Plus the first day was heavy on travel: arrived in Tangier in the morning then got straight into a taxi for a 2.5 hour drive. Having the luxury of time to simply relax and enjoy a view was essential.

Our riad was completely lovely and affordable. We loved heading up to the terrace after a hot day in the medina. The views were incredible. fez itinerary
Fez

Riad: Les Oudayas

Fez was a great primer for Marrakesh. Stepping off the bus, we were completely overwhelmed. Finding our riad was another stressor. But once we did, we realized what a complete oasis it was.

Our stay here was short, with only one full day in the city. We walked around and around the medina and chased after rumors of alcohol in a hotel that overlooks the city. marrakesh itinerary
Marrakesh

Riad: Le Jardin d’Abdou, El Fenn

We took the train from Fez to Marrakesh, which is a 7 hour journey. We stayed at two different riads: the El Fenn, a splurge, and Jardin d’Abdou, an affordable riad that’s quite a bit further from the medina center. Given the chance to do it again, we would’ve spent all four nights at the El Fenn. The location was amazingly central, the service excellent, and the riad itself was jaw-dropping beautiful.

We stayed at Jardin d’Abdou first and that night we went out to La Mamounia for dinner, an absolutely palatial (in size and style) hotel. Utterly posh. One of Kirk’s coworkers was on our flight to Milan (where we transferred flights to Morocco), and we realized we’d both be in Marrakesh at the same time. So we met the coworker and his wife at La Mamounia, where they were staying on their unofficial honeymoon. Yes we crashed someone’s honeymoon.

The dinner was spectacular and such a welcome relief from days and days of tagine. We ate outside with views of the hotel’s gorgeous garden, had the most over-the-top mint tea service, and spent a ton of money. So worth it.

Marrakesh will get its own post soon, but if you have the opportunity to stay at the El Fenn, do it! Our hotel costs, when averaged out across the whole trip, were $125/night. I know that’s not completely budget-friendly, but so many of the in-country costs are low (cabs, food, and museum entries are all very inexpensive) that I think spending a bit extra on riads was worth it.

So that’s my low pressure guide to visiting Morocco. Enjoy!

souk style

moroccan basketfuchsia moroccan poufmoroccan sequin basket
I’m going to interrupt my Morocco travel journal with some of the things I brought home from the souks. Surprise: poufs and blankets.

Bartering is not my strong suit, and it felt silly at times when the amount in question was literally a dollar. Some things were very inexpensive like the brass animals and the baskets. I’m happy with the price I paid for the wedding blanket, but it’s not as if it cost pennies. I probably paid a bit too much for pottery and the poufs in the end, mostly because the conversions get tricky. One dollar is equal to eight Moroccan dirhams–not the simplest amount to convert, especially when paired with bartering and a foreign language. It was an adventure though, and now I have a story about the time I got the hard sell on pottery in Fez.

So while I am not the one who will get you a rock bottom bargain in Morocco, I do have just one tip for souk shopping:

If You Love It, Buy It

The souks of Fez and Marrakesh are often described as “maze-like,” and it’s true. You might loop back past a particular stall, or you might not. If you come across something you just love, even if it’s the silliest thing like a tagine-shaped basket, buy it. I never came across another one of those baskets, so I’m glad I stopped when I spotted it.

Do you have tips for the souks?

notes from fez, morocco

fez medina gateMay 15 2014: Yesterday morning we took a bus from Chefchaouen to Fez. It was a four hour journey, terrifying at times as the bus swayed down the winding mountain roads. Often the edge of the road was inches from a cliff, and our bus driver was not exactly driving slowly. More often than not he straddled the dividing line, narrowly avoiding small cars. I didn’t sleep until we reached a flat region.

fez riad balconyArriving in Fez was completely overwhelming though. The directions to our riad were in French, so we walked in circles through the medina. We probably passed our riad at least once, before finally using the wifi of a cafe.

fez riad detailsThe riad itself is opulent. Beautifully laid tiles, impressive carved stones, high ceilings, and an enchanting courtyard. It’s something from a movie. There is even a pet tortue.

fez viewSpeaking of tortoises, I bought a basket shaped like a tagine, and while walking someone offered me a live tortoise “pour tagine.” I declined.

fez tanneryToday we went to the terraces overlooking the tannery. We bought two poufs with the intention of giving one to my mom, but I don’t think she’ll like either! I also found a lovely blanket, blue and white pottery, and argan cream, whose label has a hotmail email address.

moroccan slippersOn our walk back from the souks, we got slightly lost (again) and wandered into the meat market. Birds were being slaughtered, others were near death, barely lifting their heads. We found a passage out and quickly left.

notes from chefchaouen, morocco

chefchaouen
From my travel journal: “We arrived by air, flying into Tangier across the Strait of Gibraltar. We immediately took a grand taxi from the airport to Chefchaouen–probably overpaying in the process, but we avoided having to transfer taxis in Tetouan this way. We drove about two hours through the Rif mountains, the roads extremely windy. Mules dotted the rugged countryside, along with sheep.”hand door knocker“The medina here is inaccessible to cars, so the cab driver dropped us at the edge of the medina, having driven down an extremely steep dirt road to do so.”chefchaouen roof deck
“Someone from our riad met us at this point, guiding us into the medina. As soon as we passed through an archway, the Blue City materialized. All of the buildings here are awash in periwinkle blue. The architecture has Spanish influences like barrel tile roofs, but the city is unmistakably Moorish.”chefchaouen stairs
“We’ve been here a few hours and have heard (and seen) roosters, drank several mint teas (hot!), and had tagine. We’re waiting to see the sunset over the mountain range–then we’re giving into jet lag.”petit dejeuner
“This morning we ate petit dejeuner on the terrace of our riad, then set out for a hike up to the old Spanish mosque. Though the mosque is no longer in use, the path to it was well-worn, used by Berbers crossing to the city. We saw a goat herder in the mountains too.”chefchaouen view
“It was a fairly steep climb, and though it was only 10 a.m., quite hot in the sun. But the views at the top were spectacular–the whole city is on view, cradled between mountains. The morning light was very pretty, bathing the blue city in a gentle glow.”goats in the medina
“On our walk back this morning, we saw a woman herding goats through the medina. We stood to the side, but the goats were apprehensive of us. We snapped a few photos and the woman started shouting. She only spoke arabic, but seemed upset we took her photo–which we weren’t trying to do. It was impossible to explain it was just the goats. It was embarrassing –not the first of our accidental slights against locals– and as much as we try not to be tourists, we are.”

what should we do in morocco?

I don’t think I’ve fully processed this yet, but we are, in fact, going to Morocco in May. We booked the flights and riads, so we have a basic travel itinerary in place. But what we haven’t figured out is what to do!

We fly into Tangier and immediately leave (I believe our itinerary says “GTFO of Tangier”) for Chefchaouen, a small city known for its vibrant blue buildings. We’re staying three nights there so we can do some leisurely exploring.

Then we go to Fez for two nights. I will admit I mostly insisted on this city because of their leather goods–I really want to get my mitts on some poufs!

riad el fenn

image by Patrick Cline

The final leg of the trip is Marrakesh. We’re there four nights, split between two hotels. Ever since I designed a feature in Lonny on the El Fenn, I’ve wanted to stay there. It’s a splurge for us, so we’re making it work by going a bit cheap on other riads, which is not a difficult thing in Morocco!

One day in Marrakesh will definitely be dedicated to shopping in the souks and another to just lounging it up at the fancy riad. So that leaves a full day of doing proper tourist things.

So, if you’ve visited any of these cities, what is essential to see or do or eat?