Morocco might just be one of the world’s most diverse destinations. Dubbed the ‘Gateway to Africa,’ with its snowy mountains, golden deserts, surfable seas, those Insta-popping riads and medieval medinas, we found no shortage of sensory stimulation. So, where the heck do you start? Marrakech is where you’ll most likely land, and here’s where we went from there:
Built from scratch by a French woman who has called Morocco home for decades, Quaryati is a world away from the chaos of Marrakech. A 45-minute taxi ride (negotiate the eff out of the fare) from the airport takes you the gates of this sustainably-built ecolodge where Moroccan tea awaits your sipping while taking in the expansive gardens dotted with native shrubs and olive trees. If the rooms – all built from the earth and hand – don’t blow the socks off you, then take a stroll to the pool area to meet the local peacock, pop into the eco-spa for a traditional Moroccan Hammam scrub, and just wait for dinner…um, dinner at Quaryati just might be worthy of your last supper, complete with olives plucked from the garden and handmade olive oil. If you don’t like olives, turn the plane around.
Our guide Zaid licked the taste of tourism as a whipper snipper kid, hanging out in the desert where he was born helping European ‘adventurers’ unstuck their 4WDs in river crossings. Fast forward 30-something years and Zaid has built a successful tour guiding business with an emphasis on LUXE, which was just our cup of Moroccan tea. We did the Four Days Tour to the Merzouga Desert and Fez, passing through the Atlas Mountains and staying in stunning riads along the way before having the experience of all experiences: cameling to a luxe desert safari camp. While the camel ride itself might look all the feels on Instagram, I can assure you that dismounting those fickle beasts is almost as pleasurable as discovering your luxe tent in the Sahara Desert has a toilet and…wait for it, a flipping shower!
Medina of Fez
The UNESCO World Heritage Listed Medina of Fez couldn’t be a more staggeringly historic place to literally get lost. Founded in 789, the Medina is a mediaeval city made up of more than 9,000 narrow alleyways, surrounded by an ancient stone wall. No cars can pass through the medina; only donkeys, foot traffic and naughty motorcycles. We are not joking when we tell you there is so much history and way too much to see here that just strolling around aimlessly yourself is not the best way to take it all in. Do like us and hire a half-day guide who will take you to the must-see sections and curate your tour to whatever you’d like to see specifically on top.
Chefchaouen – The Blue City
The bus trip out to Chefchaouen from Fez is a commitment and a much easier visit if you’re part of a tour or have your own car. Just do a geo-location or tag search of Chefchaouen on Instagram and you will get a good pre-dose of what you can expect. Situated just inland from Tangier, the town is mostly known for its blue-painted walls although no one really knows why the residents all paint in blue. One theory suggests it’s a mozzie repellant, another suggests that Jews introduced the blue paint upon taking refuge here from Hitler in the 1930s. Most agree that the blue symbolizes sky and heaven, a reminder for all to lead a more spiritual life. These days we think the blue keeps the Instagrammers coming, so be prepared to be fighting for THE SHOT while walking through the winding medina. We booked accommodation with Air BnB, but there are plenty of hotels catered to European tourists due to its proximity to Spain.
Jardin des Douars Cancel the flights; we’re not leaving. Jardin des Douars is everything bit of Moroccan luxe we’ve ever dreamed of. The coastal town of Essaouira’s leading retreat, set in stunning botanical gardens with views over the argan-studded hills. Although the region officially enjoys 320 days of sunshine per year, we arrived just before a week-long storm, so rather than taking in the alfresco experiences we spent a good deal of time in our cosy, traditionally decorated suite around the fireplace, in the spa centre having massages and hammams, and relaxing in the restaurant working our way through their wine list and daily special menus. There are shuttles to the coast and Essaouira medina, well worth a look around for local artisan crafts and Moroccan homewares. We hired a car for a day from the hotel, taking the coastal road down south and dodging camels along the way.