A Magical Tour of Morocco

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A MAGICAL TOUR OF MOROCCO: FROM TANGIER TO THE SAHARA TO COSMOPOLITAN CASABLANCA
By Barbara Redding

 

ON BIG BLEND RADIO: Travel writer Barbara Redding talks about her three-week adventures on a tour of Morocco! Watch here in the YouTube player or download the podcast on Acast.

 

Camels and kasbahs. Medinas and mosques. Orange desert sunsets and dark skies lit by a thousand stars.

I was excited to experience the wonders of Morocco when an assignment came up in January 2023 to write about a new Fairmount hotel in Tangier for Travel Weekly, a travel industry publication. But the assignment included just three nights in this fascinating North African country. Determined to stay longer, I added a solo trip to the “blue city” of Chefchouen. I joined a 13-day Gate 1 Travel tour that took me across the snow-capped Atlas Mountains to the Sahara Desert and back to Casablanca to tour the country’s largest mosque.

My whirlwind three-week visit awakened all my senses. I savored the spicy aroma of food cooked in clay tajine pots, shopped for colorful textiles in chaotic markets, and listened to the lyrical sound of the “call to prayers” from minarets. In between, I sipped countless glasses of sweet mint tea, the country’s national beverage.

Morocco’s exotic mix of history, cultures, cuisines, and traditions entices visitors worldwide. Located on the African continent, the country of 36 million people is only a dozen miles from Spain, across the Strait of Gibraltar. Colonial influences from Europe, combined with the rich history of the original Berber tribes and Arab settlers, make Morocco a must-see destination.

Tangier and Tazi Palace
My adventure began in Tangier, once an international refuge for spies, war correspondents, artists, and rock stars. I quickly discovered the Fairmont Tazi Palace Tangier has mysteries of its own. The luxury hotel was built in the 1920s as the palace of an advisor to the sultan. But political winds shifted in the “White City,” as Tangier is known, and the property stood vacant for decades.

Now meticulously restored and expanded, the 133-room hotel offers stunning views of the old city, located at the northern tip of Morocco–where the Atlantic collides with the Mediterranean.

I enjoyed spa treatments in the hotel’s wellness center and a private tour of Tangier’s historic souk and colorful kasbah.

Blue in Chefchouen
From Tangier, I hired a driver to take me into the Rif Mountains to Chefchouen, a town known for its blindingly blue walls. I stayed at lovely Lina Ryad & Spa, a traditional Moroccan house transformed into a boutique hotel with an indoor pool, courtyard, and a Turkish-style hammam or bath.

I strolled winding alleyways, washed in various shades of blue, to tiny carpet stores, tea shops, and street vendors selling headscarves and ceramics. Getting lost, I discovered, is part of the experience. So is a Turkish bath or hammam, which I experienced in a private candlelit room. My attendant couldn’t speak English but communicated with solid hands as she scrubbed nearly every inch of my body.

Rabat: Mix of Old and New
Rabat is the modern capital of Morocco and home to King Mohammed VI and the country’s parliament. Signs of modernization efforts are everywhere.

The city is also rich with historic sites like Oudaia Kasbah, a 12th-century military fort whose keyhole-shaped gate is among Morocco’s architectural masterpieces. Another 12th-century treasure is the Hassan Tower and the stubby columns from the Hassan Mosque.



Fez: A Trip Back in Time
Visiting Fez is like traveling back in time. The old medina is a labyrinth of narrow winding walkways connecting medieval mosques, schools, and palaces. Tiny stalls overflow with colorful items handmade by potters, weavers, tanners, and carpenters who practice their crafts much like their ancestors.

Claustrophobic yet captivating, the medina is best visited with a guide unless you want to get lost. At a leather shop, we watch tanners dunk animal hides in honeycombed vats of brightly colored dye. Sprigs of mint helped disguise the smell of urine and dung, still used to produce supple leather goods in assorted colors.

  • A camel parking lot in the Sahara Desert in Morocco. @BarbaraRedding
    A camel parking lot in the Sahara Desert in Morocco. @BarbaraRedding

 

Erfoud: Through the Atlas Mountains
A surprise snowfall in the Middle Atlas Mountains altered our route to the Sahara Desert but added breathtaking views. Fortunately, we arrived in Erfoud, near the Algerian border, in time for a spectacular sunset and, later, a sky twinkling with stars.

The next day, we hopped in all-terrain vehicles for a wild ride to a desert camel ranch. A jovial crew of men in traditional djellabas and headscarves helped us mount our camels before we traveled single file up into the dunes.

The scene was surreal – mounds of sand sculpted by the wind into soft, undulating waves that seemed endless. After dismounting, we climbed a ridge for a near-perfect sunset.

Ouarzazate and Lawrence of Arabia
A camel ride is hard to top, but I found the desert scenery intriguing on the route to remote Ouarzazate. Nicknamed “the door of the desert,” the former French outpost is a sought-after movie location where Lawrence of Arabia and TV’s Game of Thrones were filmed.

Visible for miles, the red-clay walls of Ait Benhaddou, a ksar, or fortified village, cling to a remote hilltop outside Ouarzazate. The ksar is one of the best-preserved examples of the remote stops along the old trans-Sahara trade route to Marrakesh.

Marrakesh: Merry Red City
We crossed Tichka Pass, the highest road point in the High Atlas Mountains, to reach Marrakesh. Once a desert oasis, the city is the country’s most popular tourist destination.


Snake charmers mingle with Berber musicians, jugglers, fortune tellers, and juice sellers in the old city square of Jemaa el Fna. Merriment and chaos reign, particularly after dark when the square resembles an open-air circus. Tiny stalls overflow with colorful pottery, medicinal herbs, leather goods, and delicate boxes made from aromatic sandalwood and cedar.

Essaouira: Goats in Trees
On the road to windswept Essaouira on the South Atlantic Coast, we noticed dozens of goats in Argan trees. Yes, it’s true, goats love Argan leaves. But coaxing them onto the branches is a moneymaker for goat herders, who expect a tip for tourist photos. Our Gate 1 tour manager, Mohammed, obliged as we snapped pictures of the wily goats.

Casablanca: Modern with World-class Mosque
Casablanca is Morocco’s economic center and world showcase. Massive Hassan II Mosque is a beacon on the city’s sun-drenched corniche along the Atlantic Ocean. Considered one of the finest religious buildings ever constructed, it is the largest mosque in Morocco and among the biggest in the world.

More than 100,000 worshippers can kneel in prayer inside and outside the mosque on land reclaimed from the Atlantic.

Morocco Website: www.visitmorocco.com

Barbara Redding is a freelance travel writer based in Austin, Texas. A retired journalist, she loves to explore new destinations and revisit familiar places. She’s written about luxury resorts in Bali, a Hindu wedding in India, snorkeling in Cuba’s Bay of Pigs, and tiptoeing through tulips in Keukenhof gardens in the Netherlands. An award-winning writer, Barbara’s travel stories appear in Travel Weekly, TravelWeekly.com, Food Wine Travel Magazine, Live in Italy Magazine, Rovology, and Travel By Vacation Rental. Read her articles on www.BarbaraRedding.com and social media sites Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.

 

 

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About the Author:

Barbara Redding is a freelance travel writer based in Austin, Texas.

Website Link www.BarbaraRedding.com
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