LIFESTYLE | TRAVEL

Love, Morocco: 10 Days, 10 Discoveries

Michelle Baltazar

Morocco in May this year was a perfect time to visit. The peak tourist season was over and the weather was not too hot nor too cold. I visited it with my auntie and her friends, making our tour group an exclusively all-women adventure.

Our itinerary was intense: we were on the road most days and cutting across Morocco's Imperial cities including Casablanca, Rabat, Fez, Meknes and Marrakech. It was a trip of a lifetime. Plenty of things to see, do and take photos of! Here are just 10 of them.

1) Spend a couple of days in the Sahara Desert

Scary tales of scorpions scuppering about are grossly exaggerated. I slept overnight at a tent near the sand dunes and did not see one. But let's be honest, you are from the land of equally scary animals like the redback spiders, crocodiles and great white sharks. The same rule applies: stay out of their way and they'll stay out of yours, too. 

Handy tip: Bring your mozzie repellant spray and keep your phones inside an air-tight container. Best to keep the sand off those stunning photos you'll be taking of the sunrise and the sunset.

Videology by Loren Rugebregt

2) Ride a mule in the Atlas mountains 

I thought Morocco was all about the desert and the souks (the markets). Surprisingly, one of the highlights of my visit was our brief stay at the Atlas Mountains. I rode a mule for the first time and for a city girl like me, that's almost like catching a ride in a rocket launcher. Out of my comfort zone and out of this world!

Handy tip: Don't get cross when your mule stops and starts chomping on grass or shrubs by the roadside. It just won't budge unless it's had its fill. The phrase 'stubborn as a mule' wasn't invented for nothing.

3) Stay in a riad, or two

There are hotels, B&Bs … then there's the riads. A riad is a traditional Moroccan house (or palace) with an interior garden or courtyard. Staying in one gives you a better feel of what it's like to live in Morocco.

There are plenty to choose from all around the country and we loved the ones we did go to, namely Riad Al Bartal in Fes and Riad Samsara in Marrakesh. Riad Samsara's sister accommodation in the Atlas Mountains, called Douar Samra, gets extra points for the traditional Berber breakfast in the morning and, yes,  the heavy-duty wi-fi service available.

4) Visit a kasbah 

In the old days, the kasbah was the house of the town mayor. It usually has the best views (on top of the mountain) and the house (or mansion) is surrounded by walls with a watch tower on each corner (to watch the enemies from all sides, I guess).

These days, people still reside in kasbahs but they do keep the place open for tourists. It's a great example of Moroccan architecture if you're into that, and even if you're not, walking within the walls of a kasbah feels like walking into a time machine and traveling to a world that existed a century ago.

5) Drink a glass or two at Rick's Cafe in Casablanca

"Of all the gin joints, in all the towns, in all the world … she walks into mine," said Humphrey Bogart in the cult classic, Casablanca. If you're a fan, why not hum to the tune of "As Time Goes By" in the restaurant-cum-piano-bar made famous by Bogart and Ingrid Bergman. Go on, say it as you drink a cup of peppermint tea or Gin & Tonic, I'm sure they won't mind: "Play it again, Sam."

6) Lose yourself in a medina, or two

A medina is the old part of whatever Moroccan city you are in. It is where you will find the souks (the markets) where you can nab a bargain or two and find yourself Instagramming shops, mosques and schools dating several centuries ago.

I recall spending a couple of hours in the souks section for shoes alone so best to allow a couple of days or more just wandering around from one alleyway to the next. But of course a word of caution: use your common sense and be wary of pickpockets and 'false' bargains. Best to go with a guide and stay on the main tourist trail.

7) Go to a hammam 

If you've always wanted a full-body scrub but have been put off by the cost, make sure you visit a hammam (traditional bathhouse) while you're in town. Add a full body massage on top and you'll come out literally smelling like roses (they use rose oil during the scrub and massage). Be prepared to leave your modesty at the door though. You'll be sharing the bathing room with other guests and all you're allowed to wear is a brave smile on your face.

8) Lunch like Beyonce, for a day, at Hotel Mamounia 

While it's perfectly acceptable to mistake sunscreen for make-up and hiking boots for footwear while in the Atlas mountains, you have to channel your inner diva if you're going to drop by Hotel Mamounia. 

Rated 'Best Hotel in the World 2015 according to Conde Nast Traveller Reader's Choice Award, this place is dripping in luxury. The beef carpaccio is sublime and the Moroccan sweets are a real treat. Go on, you only live once.

9) Enjoy Moroccan food.

Moroccan cuisine is well ahead of its time. While city slickers are waxing lyrical about organic, pesticide-free food, Moroccans have been there, done that. In general, they only eat what's in season. Fruits and vegetables are usually plucked fresh from the garden on the day and meat, in many cases, are prepared the week prior.

10) Where there are mosaics, there will be photos.

You can pretty much strike a pose anywhere in Morocco and it will look amazing to friends back home.  From the Hassan Mosque in Casablanca to the King's Palace in Marrakech and the sahara, medinas and souks, a couple of battery chargers and a really good camera are a must.

Michelle Baltazar is the author of a coffee-table book called "Love, Manila: 10 Days, 10 Discoveries". Her 10-Day article series includes her travels to Palawan in the Philippines, the French Riviera by Cruise and her latest article, about her trip to Morocco in May, 2016.

Videos: YouTube by LorenaTravels

 

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