Morocco and The Sahara

Villa Mandarine in Rabat, Photo: Sora Vernikoff
Villa Mandarine in Rabat, Photo: Sora Vernikoff
Rating
5/5

I had the opportunity to go to Morocco and the Sahara desert for a 15-day trip.  It was magical, educational, and eye and heart-opening.  I had no expectations and so for me, it was a true adventure that unfolded itself-one “magical day” at a time.

What I discovered was that Morocco was a land of contrasts.  A Muslim country where most women’s clothing reflects the privacy of protection through either the traditional headscarf or the full robe and headscarf and where many Moroccans live in riads which are basic Moroccan traditional houses that are sheltered from view by a large wall, a door and perhaps two small windows (to serve to allow for family privacy and protection from Morocco’s challenging weather!) but that once inside exhibits a courtyard with a fountain and many rooms and apartments.

However, I also found Morocco to be an open country. It’s open in the sense that I found most Moroccan people to be warm, friendly, and helpful. The country reflected tolerance and acceptance of all kinds of people, Muslims, Christians, and Jews alike.  I was impressed with this feeling of harmony that permeated everywhere that we went.

In this travel post, I decided to let you experience the country by sectioning the article based on location and giving a sense of that location, either through photos or video.

In this way, I’m hoping that you’ll put Morocco on your trip wish list as well!

Enjoy!

So our first stop in Morocco was Rabat.

In Rabat, we stayed at Villa Mandarine, which was unbelievably delightful.  It was an estate, turned hotel and its owner’s passion was to grow fruits and flowers.  I felt I had arrived in paradise.

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While staying at this blissful place in Rabat, we visited the entrance to the Royal Palace, Hassan Tower, part of an unfinished mosque started by a 12th-century caliph, and the amazingly well preserved Kasbah of Udayas, as shown in the photos below.

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Then it was off to Fez.

Once we arrived in Fez, which had fewer traffic lights and stop signs than Rabat, I experienced a stay in my first riad.

And what an experience it was.

After walking through a long winding passageway in the medina we arrived at  Riad Salam Fes.  I had no idea where we were going, but the video below shows what the immediate inside of the riad looked – it was amazing. I felt that I had arrived and would soon meet Hercule Poirot on his next case in Morocco!!

In Fez, we visited the famed Al-Bou Inania madrasa, shopped for authentic Moroccan carpets, and stopped at The Chouwara Tannery to see how leather is cut and dyed using traditional techniques. Then we browsed the Nejjarine Museum to see their collection of wooden arts and crafts. We watched copper craftsmen at work in Seffarine Square. Our tour ended that morning outside the Karaouine Mosque and University, the oldest continuously functioning university in the world. After lunch, we walked through the Jewish Quarter, or mellah, which was built in 1438. That evening we had a home-cooked meal as guests of a local Fez family, a wonderful cultural experience and exchange.

It was time to leave Fez and head to Erfoud and yes, I was excited because I knew that the night after we’d be staying at a Sahara Tented Camp and I was looking forward to that!

We left Fez and arrived in Erfoud at a gorgeous hotel in the Eastern part of the Sahara called Kasbah Xaluc Maadid.  It was amazing. Here are some photos and a video so you can check it out!

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Here’s a video of what the inside of a room looks like.

The next day we explored the small city of Rissani on the edge of the Sahara. We stopped at a fossil factory to learn more about this special activity unique to this region and then wandered around a lively souk (see photos below).

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The next morning we left Kasbah Xaluca Maadid and headed into the desert dunes for our sunset camel ride and our stay at Bivouac La Belle Etoile, the Sahara Tented Camp.

There are few words to describe the joy and surprises of this journey into the Sahara.  We first visited a Berber family in their tent

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and then headed across the desert landscape to meet our camels for a sunset ride across the dunes.

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Here I am, ready for that desert ride.

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The camels dropped us off in front of Bivouac La Belle Etoile, our Sahara Tented Camps. To say that I was excited was an understatement.

I seriously had to pinch myself to know if I was experiencing this.

But to give you an idea of what arriving at the camp was like, watch the video below.

After an amazing dinner and Saharan Desert Dance Party, it was off to sleep. I can honestly say that this was the most interesting and different hotel room in which I ever spent a night, and what an adventure!!!

Then next morning it was off to Marrakesh, after one night on the way at Ait Ben Haddou at Riad Ksar Ighnda. In the morning we visited a UNESCO World Heritage Site, a ksar (a fortified city), along with a former Caravan route with desert-dusted Kasbahs and maze-like passages; a trip back in time.

Upon arrival in Marrakesh, we found another riad called Riad Bahia Salam. The riad was a few blocks from the main square in Marrakesh, but I must share with you that crossing the streets in Marrakesh in the medina area reminded me a lot of my time in New Delhi.  No traffic lights, no stop signs with zooming bikes, motorcycles, and cars.  Scary, and crossing by myself was something that was going to take practice.

In Marrakesh we visited the 12th century Koutoubia Mosque, then the Bahia Palace We shopped for authentic Moroccan jewelry, and wandered the medina and square on our own.  Check out the video below.

Good-bye Marrakesh, hello Essaouira, my personal favorite destination.

Essaouria is a seaside resort town with a fishing industry as seen in the photo below.

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We stayed at Hotel Dar L’Oussia , which was lovely.  Essaouria is more low-key than the other places we visited and has an easy vibe.

Arriving in Essouria was a relief after three days in Marrakesh. I savored every sea breeze that passed my way.

After a few local tours and wandering the souk and exploring handicrafts, it was time to travel to Casablanca for my final evening in Morocco.

We arrived in Casablanca late that day and spent most of our touring time visiting The Mosque of Hassan II, the third-largest mosque in the world after Mecca and Medina.

I’d be remiss not to add that we passed Rick’s Cafe from the movie Casablanca. I took a picture through the window of our bus.  It’s not the original Rick’s Cafe from the movie Casablanca. It was recently opened and serves as a great tourist attraction.

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After one night at the Kenzi Tower Hotel, it was off to the Mohammed V Airport and back home to New York.

Morocco surprised, delighted and assured me that it’s a country of ancient, change, and progress with friendly, helpful, accepting people who love their visitors and welcome them with open arms.  Don’t miss a chance to go to Morocco.  You, too, will feel and see the magic.

Sora Vernikoff

Sora Vernikoff

Insightful author, journalist, blogger, world traveler, and Best-Selling and Award-Winning Author of Eat What You Want! Stop When You Want! found at A No-Diet, Weight-Loss Program at www.nodieting.net or Amazon. She has taught hundreds of unhappy dieters to use her eat and stop yourself weight-loss program to lose weight and find peace with food. Sora Vernikoff holds two Master’s Degrees, the first in Teaching and the second in English as a Second Language. She taught in the New York City Public School System in East New York, Brooklyn for 30 years and has traveled the globe. For many years she was also the New York City Charity writer for Examiner.com. An avid blogger, her own www.anewyorkerspointofview.com shares all things fun and entertaining in New York City while posting her interesting trips under the blog’s Travel tab. She is currently immersed in writing her next book, which teaches a Positivity Program letting you immediately zap negative or self-doubting thoughts in one session with but one question.

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