Travel To Morocco For Magic, Marketplaces And More

A girls’ adventure to ancient splendor.
Hassan II Mosque in Casablanca

Photos courtesy of Abercrombie & Kent

Ibn Battuta, a Berber Moroccan scholar known for his travel exploration, once said, “Traveling leaves you speechless, then turns you into a storyteller.” That sentiment is exactly what my two girlfriends and I were hoping to experience during our adventure abroad to Morocco. To help ensure our travels would go smoothly, we looked to Abercrombie & Kent for their expertise.

A land of contrasts, Morocco’s magic lies in its depth of history that blends African, Berber, Arab, and European cultures. This harmonious integration is the culmination of epicurean specialties, architecture, and music spawning today’s Morocco. During our girls’ trip, we traveled to Casablanca and a few of the imperial cities of Fez, Rabat, and Marrakesh—my favorite.

The city is considered the “Pearl of the South” and once was the capital of an empire that stretched from Spain to Senegal. With its ancient medina, the old walled area of the city was fascinating. The Jemaa el F’na square—designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site—provided nonstop entertainment with snake charmers, fire-eaters, fortune tellers, and acrobats.

Exploring the souks, or marketplaces, of Marrakesh was amazing. We navigated winding, narrow streets lined with shops selling an array of goods, from jewelry and pottery to leather wares and intricate filigreed lanterns. Sights, sounds, and smells permeated the labyrinth of stalls, each filled with fresh fruits (you have to try the pomegranates!), dates, olives, and spices galore.

The colors of coriander, cumin, saffron, turmeric, and cardamom pods laid out before me were mesmerizing. Harissa was the best: a savory paste of garlic, chilies, olive oil, and salt.

I was determined to continue this shopping excursion with a mission: I set my sights on searching for the perfect (and most fairly priced) Moroccan bowls to match the Mediterranean blue dinner plates I inherited from my mother. My friends and I found some in stunning patterns of indigo, aqua, and bright gold and had them wrapped up to go.

Walking to newer parts of Marrakesh and the district of Gueliz is a distinctly different experience, complete with upscale shops, a designer row, and former palaces converted into posh hotels. It now embodies a trendy, vibrant energy, known for its art galleries, festivals, exhibitions, and famous designers who pop in for runway shows.

Marrakesh markets abound with spices and fruits.

Incorporated into our stay in Marrakesh was a journey approximately 35 miles south on a narrow road up to the High Atlas mountains. On clear days, you can see Jebel Toubkal’s peak from the city. The winding roads were lined with apple, walnut, and cherry trees rising upward to 5,900 feet.

We arrived at a tiny village in the Imlil Valley to visit with a local Berber family, who repeated “Marhaba!” as they invited us into their home. We sampled freshly baked Moroccan flatbread along with local honey, newly harvested walnuts, and sweetened mint tea. Giving us a glimpse into Berber life and customs, this traditional Moroccan greeting is meant to show their warm, welcoming hospitality.

From Imlil, we were transported to the world of Sir Richard Branson and his award-winning Kasbah Tamadot, a spectacular 28-suite hotel situated in the Atlas mountains. His parents found the Kasbah and dreamt of turning it into a Moroccan retreat, which Branson later purchased. It is now a part of the Eve Branson Foundation and Virgin Unite, and 98 percent of its employees are locals. Kasbah Tamadot also showcases the work of area artisans at the gift shop. There isn’t a shortage of activities either; options include mule riding, hiking up the mountains, a gorgeous pool for sunbathing, and cooking classes for creating delectable bites of local cuisine.

From there, we headed to Fez, which is considered the cultural heart of Morocco. In addition to having the University of Al-Qarawiyyin—regarded as the oldest university in the world—its ancient, ninth-century Fezel-Bali (Old Fez) has been amazingly preserved. In fact, no cars are allowed on the 9,000-plus lanes, alleyways, and souks, where many residents are craftsmen working with bronze, leather, and pottery.

We ended with Merzouga and a journey to the desert as our parting adventure. Sleeping under the stars in a Bedouin tent was a once-in-a-lifetime experience, and the vastness and colors of the dunes of the Saharan Desert are incomprehensible.

Traveling on camelback is a can’t-miss.

Camel treks are a must on the Erg Chebbi dunes. Besides the sheer fun of riding a camel, we were provided “cameleers:” bedouins in their native dress who lead visitors into the vastness of sand which seemed to go on forever. Salim, our very own cameleer, took us on a special journey. When we arrived at the dune, he unrolled a ruby red Bedouin rug onto the sand, took what appeared to be a handful of twigs from his sack, and made a small campfire. After, he prepared the ubiquitous Moroccan sweetened tea and served it to us along with warmed walnuts and honey.

What’s most surprising in the world’s largest desert is the intense silence, which is deafening but idyllically quiet, magnifying any minute sound to serious clarity. Stargazing became our evening event—we tried to see who could find the Milky Way or spot the next shooting star for the chance of another wish. My wish was already answered. Mystical and enchanting, Morocco was a perfect choice.

The imperial city of Meknes, a UNESCO World Heritage site

Expand your travels

Grab lunch at Kasbah Tamadot to sample its Moroccan mezze and the best fish tagine ever.

Take an excursion to Ksar Aït Benhaddou, a UNESCO World Heritage Site that was once an important stop along caravan routes, which carried salt from the Sahara, returning with gold and ivory.

Spend a night at a true oasis in Skoura, L’Ma Lodge, which means water in Arabic. This guest house is set amongst hundreds of palm and fruit trees, and is renowned for its charm and delightful European owners.

Jardin Majorelle (Majorelle Gardens) was originally designed in 1924 and is one of the most magical gardens in the world. Fashion designer Yves Saint Laurent and his partner, Pierre Bergé, purchased and restored the property, which includes two-and-a-half acres of cacti, exotic plants, trees, paths, pools, and fountains.

Enjoy dinner at Café de la Poste, a century-old fixture in Marrakesh’s Gueliz district.

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