Breathtaking urban and natural landscapes, vibrant cities, well preserved old city quarters, surf spots, camel treks in the desert dunes, skiing, exquisite gastronomy, friendly inhabitants, whatever are your personal preferences when it comes to choose your next travel destination, look no further, because Morocco has it all!
I have been in Morocco for the first time back in 2010, and I can undoubtedly say that I felt in love at the first sight. So when a few years later, in 2013, my company was looking for “volunteers” to work temporally based in Morocco for 5 months, I didn’t think twice. I grabbed this unique opportunity, knowing already that I was about to live one of the most exciting experiences of my life, and so it was. Next thing I know I am living in a glamorous Arabic apartment in Marrakesh city center.
But what is it so magic about Morocco? Well, let’s start with Marrakesh, because this city has a special place in my heart.
The heart of the city, is definitely Jemaa el Fna, the square where everything happens, at the same time. When you approach the square, you get hypnotized by its chaos. The sound of the sellers shouting in Arabic, French, English, Berber, Spanish, the motos beeping, the calling for prayer from the mosques. The smell of the cooking and medicinal species and herbs, of the mint tea freshly made, of the grilled lamb meat, of the horses taking the tourists for a ride across the city. The movement around, the men who tries to throw a monkey in your arms, the other man with a snake, the women who grabs your hand offering to do a beautiful henna tattoo, the dancers, the story tellers, the motos and bikes which always seem about to hit someone but at the end they do not. The visual chaos, dust in the air, the colorful traditional djellaba dresses, the shiny jewelry, the contrast between the girl with the hijab and the girl with the mini skirt, both Moroccans though. You feel like you are in a parallel universe! Feel the magic around you, while drinking a freshly made orange juice.
In the late afternoon, the scenery starts to change, and monkeys and snakes give place to food stalls. Every night there is an authentic street food festival in the square and you will literally be invited by every single stall to try their food. My favorite street food was kefta, grilled lamb meatballs. And loubia, white beans in spicy tomato sauce. And harira, tomato soup. And… OK, I liked everything! I must confess I put some weight while living there, I just could not resist to their tasteful food.
Other thing I could not resist was going for shopping in the souk. Djellabas, babouches, leather bags, bracelets, shisha pipes, you name it, they all look so colorful and appealing, that you feel tempted to buy everything. And your about to start a new adventure, negotiate the price with the seller. Never ever pay the first price you’re told. He knows you will not accept it anyway, and I actually suppose he would be offended if you would, as negotiation is the funniest part of the process. I turned out to be quite good at that after some months of practice and when I had to come back to Europe, I had to buy another suitcase, to transport back home all the treasures I bought in te souks.
Walking through old medina, in the souk but also in the residential areas, is like travelling back in time. The atmosphere is so tradicional and picturesque, as it was centuries ago. Here you also find the most important historical monuments of the city such as Bahia Palace and the ruins of El Badi Palace, both totally worth to visit. You also find many small mosques spread along the medina, being the Koutoubia, located in Jemaa el Fna, the main and biggest one. Unfortunately, the non Muslims are not allowed to enter the mosque. (Disclaimer: I was very happy when I finally made it to enter a mosque when I visited the Hassan II Mosque, at Casablanca). While wandering around it is pretty possible that you will get lost, in fact I invite you to do so and enjoy the experience.
Even though I love medina and you can find beautiful riads, typical Moroccan houses in this area of the city, for practical reasons, because lets not forget that I was there for working purposes, I decided to live in the new city center, Gueliz. Gueliz quarter is located around 2 km away from Jemaa el Fna, but again, seems that the taxi which just brought us from there, did another trip in time. Gueliz is modern and trendy, with its large avenues, fancy restaurant and cafes, European shops and beautiful apartments. But do not worry, Marrakesh charming chaos is still present at Gueliz.
Next to Gueliz, there is another fancy quarter, Hivernage. Here are located the most glamorous and expensive restaurantes and clubs of the city. My favorite spot was Palais Jad Mahal. A perfect evening out would be dinner at Jad Mahal restaurant (could be couscous, tajine, did I mentioned I like everything) while watching the belly dancers performance and then night out in the Jad Mahal club, with live music. Obviously, in Gueliz and Hivernage it was not a problem to buy alcohol.
After the souk and the food, I must confess my other “sin”. The hammam, the steam room, the most delightful Moroccan habit! In the private hammam you have a steam room just for you, and the girl working there will literally wash you, scrub you and then massage you with argan oil. As the clima is very hot and dry, the argan oil is used to keep your skin and hair moisturized. I also tried the public hammam. Obviously here you have to wash and scrub yourself, but is very interesting as social experience. While in Occident girls go out for cocktails or shopping, in Morocco girls get together to go to hammam.
This trip through Morocco has just started, so wait for the next stop soon!