A ten day walking trip in Morocco. One blog post. There's only enough room for my top five Morocco highlights...
1. My Favourite Day!
My favourite day was walking between the Trekking Lodge in Ait Aissi and Imlil. My guide, Abdul, was friendly and knowledgeable and seemed to know every person we passed. Walking through the villages, Berber men and women invited us in for mint tea numerous times; evidence of that famous Berber hospitality. The view across the mountains was stunning- the Tizi Mizik pass (2489m) was the highest point of the day and the panorama of the surrounding mountain ranges was breathtaking; you can see for miles and the horizon is filled with ever more jagged mountain peaks that cover every possible shade of red, ochre and brown. We stopped for lunch half way through the day- I’m used to a flask of stewed tea and some Kendal mint cake during walks so the three-course meal that was placed in front of me was unexpected but very welcome! The mule trails that you follow can be quite narrow and it's worth taking trekking poles if you are used to walking with them as the ascents and descents are steep in places. Walking with a mule (your luggage transfer!) means you never go at too fast a pace, which is very welcome under the fierce Moroccan sun. The guide was able to judge my walking speed well and there were plenty of stops for water under a shaded tree.
2. Djemaa el Fna
Another highlight for me has to be the sensory overload that is Djemaa el Fna square in Marrakech. As dusk falls the main square rouses into life and the slow rhythmic drumming seems to appear from nowhere. Soon, hundreds of people are gathered watching the spectacle unfold- snake charmers, story-tellers and folk musicians all compete for attention. Please remember if you watch the show, you should be prepared to offer a few coins to the performer, as the locals do. There are a few cafés that have a roof terraces and a great view of the crowds and the smoke rising into the darkness from the food stalls. The famous souks do not disappoint- it is likely you will get lost in its warren-like maze, but you can follow the blue and red signs to get you back to the square. Your guidebook has some good information on haggling so make sure you check it out before heading to the medina, and remember there is opportunity to buy similar items in Imlil which is closer to the source of production and therefore benefits the local communities more. For beautiful examples of Islamic art/architecture, head to the Ben Youssef Medersa Koranic School during the day.
3. Relaxed Bohemia in Essaouira
And after the buzz of vibrant Marrakech, the relaxed bohemian vibe of is all the more appreciated. The port town is all white in contrast to Marrakech's pink and the blue boats bobbing in the harbour add to the serene feel. It’s a great place to search for arts and crafts among the stalls, so save some space in your bag!
Moroccan food needs to get a mention- from the milk and dates that you are offered on arrival at the Kasbah and Trekking Lodge to the fresh fish and seafood at the outdoor fish grills lining the port of Essaouira, not to mention the ubiquitous tagine, Moroccan food is varied and delicious. Although most meals are cooked in a tagine, every dish is unique depending on the blend of spices and fruit added- you’ll never taste the same one twice. Mint tea (also known as Berber whiskey!) is taken very sweet- you can ask for it ‘sans sucre’ if you prefer it less syrupy. The stalls in Djemaa el Fna square offer cheap meals such as skewered grilled meats and salads and it’s worth checking it out just for the friendly banter of the stallholders trying to entice you in. Breakfasts are usually various local breads and pastries. Essaouira is famous for its fish and seafood stalls which are directly next to the fishing port, probably the freshest you’ll ever eat unless you had caught it yourself. Yum!
5. The Variety
The final and main highlight has to be the variety of the trip. Having the opportunity to discover such diverse aspects of this beautiful country on one tour really makes you feel like you’re getting to know the country on an authentic level. Being able to explore bustling cities, relaxed coastal towns, and remote villages while walking in one of the most beautiful mountain ranges in the world is a real treat. Morocco is a gorgeous country, with friendly locals, beautiful art and wonderful food, and only a few hours flight from Europe- it’s a must-do!