Our family trip to Morocco was a month and a half, trekking around with our two young girls. From the madness of the Marrakesh medinas to the beauty of the Atlas mountains and everything in between.
AfricaMorocco23 days / October - November 2019
Highs & Lows
Camping Berber style in the Sahara is the stuff of starry-night dreams.
Casablanca. Totally missable.
Our family trip to Morocco started in Marrakesh. We arrived late in the afternoon just in time to enter the city’s medina as it comes alive with its evening rituals and merchants. As I watched our young girls' heads swivel, their eyes wide, squealing with delight, I knew then that it was love at first sight...
We spent a week in Marrakesh to really savour the spectacle of it before an incredibly transformative and memorable trek out to the Sahara Desert via the breathtaking Atlas Mountains. From there, a local bus took us to the beautiful seaside town of Essaouira where we experienced the most incredible hospitality of our lives (and the best French pastries outside of France). Another bus and overnight stay in beautiful Rabat and then a winding, hot car ride up to the Riff Mountains, to the infamous blue city, Chefchaouen. From here we took another bus to Fes where we got lost incessantly in its winding labyrinth medina and we ended our time in Morocco in the incredible city of Casablanca.
Marrakesh is like a movie set. Actually, it's exactly like Aladdin. Complete with monkeys, snake charmers, magic lanterns, traditional storytellers and merchants selling strange and wonderful wares (like human teeth). A cacophony of sounds, intoxicating aromas and spectacular chaos at every manic swivel of the head. We were completely under its spell from day one and glad to be. The food was absolutely divine and catered easily to the vegetarian (me) and children (this sometimes included the husband).
We were welcomed into our riad with warm smiles, freshly baked French pastries and our first offer of ‘Berber whiskey’, or mint tea which was to become a staple in our day.
Dining in the midst of the medina’s madness became our nightly ritual, as we just couldn’t stay away from the allure of its spectacle. We had been warned about the pop-up restaurants in the main square (namely about the food and the honesty of the restaurant owners) but each night we felt safe and looked after. We loved watching the traditional storytelling that happened nightly and if we didn’t have the little girls with us we may have watched the organised boxing matches that took place most evenings too.
After dark in the heat of the afternoons our retreat was the beautiful rooftop of our riad. From there we could watch the goings on of the locals and tourists below and hear the absolutely deafening but spell-binding call to prayer from the surrounding muezzins. These calls to prayer occur 5 times throughout the day and in Morocco they have a beautiful, meditative lilt to them that we all came to love and look forward to.
We visited a few of the top touristy sites like the Bahia Palace but found these to be disconnected from the authentic experience we were seeking. The tiny Berber museum within the medina was more to our liking, we could see art, read about the Berber culture and talk to real people about their life and culture.
There are some experiences in life that cannot be summed up using words alone... Camel trekking into the dunes of the Sahara to watch the sun dip below the orange desert horizon with your husband and children is one of these. So is camping in a traditional Berber campsite and observing a night sky drenched absolutely and bewildering in stars. We had the most memorable, dream-come-true experience and were all floating a little afterwards.
The whole place is awash with a blue hue and backdropped by the stunning Riff Mountains. Our time there was cool and rainy but it felt like blue skies only because of the colour of the buildings. Chefchaouen can be overly touristy but we dodged the telescopic lenses and would-be Instagram influencers with early morning walks and afternoon wanders up to the look out point and Spanish mosque. It's truly breathtaking and worth the journey.
Fes is huge but beautiful and worth the patience it takes when you inevitably get lost. Its myriad labyrinths that extend from the main square stump the oldest of locals and you can't rely on Google Maps because even this is no match for the 20 foot high medina walls and auxiliary passageways. We got lost a few times and some local children delighted in helping us get even more lost. All worth it though and the food in Fes is a salve for feet weary from long walks to find your way... We did a cooking class at Riad Anata and the food we cooked with their resident chef and teacher Samira was probably the best meal of our lives. The leather tanneries are a sight not to be missed but be warned- the smell is PUNGENT.
Q & A
What would you have changed?We wouldn't change anything about our family in Morocco except maybe spend less time (or none) in Casablanca and more time in the desert.
Anything go wrong during the trip?Not one thing went wrong during our time in Morocco. I did get scratched by a petulant little monkey who was annoyed at me for not letting my 4 year old pet him (rabies shots just paid for themselves!) but this was more a funny travel story (thank goodness) than a concern.
Restaurant recommendations?Most of the restaurants in the main squares are pretty touristy but a few paces outside can lead you to some incredible food. We ate at and recommend Cafe Clock (in Marrakesh and Fes) but we mostly stuck to the markets and pop up restaurants in the medinas. We did a cooking class at Riad Anata in Fes and I still have dreams about that food.
Tips you would give a friend?To take your time. Savour it all. Buy the things that catch your eye and talk to locals, some of the most warm and hospitable people we have ever come across and many who have become friends.
Packing tips?Be sure to pack clothes that allow you to cover up if you are a woman. Knees and elbows are not a common place sight and might draw unwanted attention or gasps of horror if you show them. Men don't really wear shorts either but this is really tolerated in the bigger cities like Marrakesh and Fes and most women say they felt comfortable wearing what they wear at home here.
Transportation Tips?We walked a lot and felt safe the entire time. We also took local buses and trains. The first class tickets are cheap and worth it. Uber is not available but there are two types of taxis, petite and grande and can be organised through your riad or any new friend. This is recommended as some of the grande taxis can be unsafe or unreliable.
Any surprises?We were surprised by how safe we felt. People had warned us almost too much to be wary of pickpockets and would-be swindlers but our experience told an opposite story. People helped us, invited us to dinner, drove us places, did our washing and welcomed us. We have never met a more hospitable people and this was a big factor in our wonderful experience.
Booking details?We found our riads through a recommendation and found that you can get a better rate by speaking directly to the management. We also used Airbnb.