Souks, Sand and Sea – A Road Trip in Morocco

 

Morocco is a great country for touring,  with lots of route options and huge variation in landscapes and holiday options.  If you’re flexible, you can get good value in flights. It’s perfect for combination holidays – city / beach,  surfing / desert, archaeology/ hiking….. Travelling around is straightforward enough – trains and large bus companies are efficient if you don’t fancy doing the driving yourself.  

 

When planning for this trip,  the following considerations came into play for us:

Flights – we’d no preference for arrival/departure locations.  Casablanca and Marrakech were the best on offer at the time of booking.

Desert – we’d no real interest in spending a night in the desert and riding a camel, having experienced it elsewhere

Sea – we wanted to spend a few days on the coast before we headed home.

Driving – we didn’t need a car in major urban areas -apart from the hassle of actually negotiating the streets and local drivers,  it would limit our choice of accommodation.  We picked up our rental at Fez airport and returned it at Marrakech airport.

 

Start Point:  Casablanca                   ⇒⇒⇒⇒⇒                  Finish:   Marrakech

 

 

1 night   -Casablanca

2 nights- Fez

3 nights -Atlas Mountains

3 nights -Marrakech

2 nights -Essaouira

 

CASABLANCA

dscf2929.jpg(Detail – Hassan 11 Mosque)

 

If flying into Casablanca’s international airport, then you should consider stopping over for even a half day.

After a late arrival and long delay at passport control,  we transferred straight to our hotel. En route we negotiated (badly!) with our taxi driver to collect us the following morning and take us to the Mosque,  Rick’s Place for lunch and then on to the train station.

 

SLEEPING

Because of our late arrival and the fact that we now had a driver for the following morning,  the location of our hotel was really irrelevant.   However, we were well looked after at the Imperial Casablanca Hotel and were served a good breakfast.

 

OUT AND ABOUT

A visit to Hassan 11 Mosque is a must and its setting and exterior are spectacular in themselves if you don’t have time for the guided tour.   Non-muslims are welcome and tours are conducted in several languages.

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Walking Tour  – We didn’t have enough time to do the walking tour outlined in our Lonely Planet,  nor to have a look at the medina.

 

FOOD AND DRINK

Rick’s Place – what can I say!!  Of course it’s touristy but one has to eat somewhere and the atmosphere is great.  The food is good and reasonably priced. Probably wise to make reservation – especially for evening time.

 

Trains to Fez – there are several trains daily, with the journey taking about 4½ hours.  

 

FEZ

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Fez is amazing and definitely worth a visit.    One full day will allow you to wander the medina, visiting its major sites and tanneries ,  as well as enough time to explore Mellah (Jewish Quarter)

 

SLEEPING

Book a riad in the medina and arrange to have someone meet you at the station.   We stayed in the beautiful Dar Bensouda Guest House. It’s away from the main streets and gives a great sense of the medina as you come and go. We dined there on our first night – Lamb Tagine,  Chicken in Pastry, served with bread.   Breakfasts included omelettes, pancakes, bread, goat’s cheese and olives.

DSCF3149(Roof top at Dar Bensouda Guest House…Perfect place to relax and enjoy the evening view)

 

OUT AND ABOUT

We set off after breakfast, armed with our Lonely Planet open on the walking tour of the Medina – and promptly got lost.  Once we reached the two main streets we were fine – and even occasionally managed to stick with the designated route for a while.  But it’s a great place in which to wander for a few hours along the 9400 narrow little streets, checking out mosques, palaces, tanneries and souks.  

DSCF3089 (The Medina)

 DSCF3080(Tanneries)

We left the medina for a while and walked to The Mellah -The Jewish Quarter – to see the contrasting styles of houses and the synagogue.

 

FOOD AND DRINK

For lunch we had camel burgers at Cafe Clock in the medina.

Dinner was in the Ruined Garden near our riad – lovely food and staff on hand to escort lost souls back to their accommodations!!

DSCF3156(Ruined Garden)

 

ATLAS MOUNTAINS

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We  collected our car at Fez airport and headed off to spend 4 days and about 1000km crossing the mountains towards Marrakech.   It was an easy enough drive – even in a Renault Clio!   The first stretch is main road.   We stopped somewhere along that road near Khenifra for lunch – sat on the rooftop for far too long,  watching goat herders at the stream beside us.   We regretted our long lunch when we turned off the main road and headed into the mountains.   We still managed to reach Imilchil at 6.45pm – our longest drive at 360km.

 

IMILCHIL 

We checked into Chez Bassou and, with dinner being served at 8.00pm, we just had time for a stroll around the  village.  It’s claim to fame is the annual Marriage Festival in September – the rest of the year this Berber settlement serves as one of the few places offering a range of accommodation in this area of the Atlas Mountains.

Dinner in Chez Bassou consisted of soup,  chicken tagine and oranges and you have a chance to meet up with other travellers.   

 

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(Berber villages en route to Todra Gorge)

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TODRA GORGE

About 2 ½ hours on from Imilchil,  one reaches Todra Gorge … the tour buses and souvenir vendors are a bit of a shock – even though  you’ve only been off the main road for less than 24 hours!!   The gorge is stunning but most visitors are happy to spend a few hours strolling and sipping mint tea before moving on.  We had booked a night in Todra so had the day at leisure and as we hadn’t signed on for any extended hikes or rock climbing, we just strolled for longer and drank more tea!

DSCF3263.JPG(And you thought you were in the middle of nowhere!!)

We stayed  at the Hotel Valentine – a short walk from the gorge.   Accommodation and food was good (yes – ok – soup, chicken tagine and fruit) – and the hotel seems popular with repeat visitors.

DSCF3271(We could walk back along the river from our accommodation to the gorge)

 

DSCF3281(Breakfast)

 

DADES GORGE

Without a 4WD,  we had to stick to the main roads and make the return journey to Dades Gorge  up and back the valley from Boumalne du Dades. Don’t let this put you off – it’s worth the detour.  The area is far more interesting and rewarding than Todra.   A standard rental will bring you easily past the sequence of hairpin bends – much beyond that and it’s hiking boots or 4WD.   It is really a beautiful place and offers great photo opportunities.

DSCF3328(Hairpins!!)

 

SKOURA

We picked Skoura for our third night in the mountains.   Here, one can walk among the palm trees, visit a kasbah or relax by the pool!  We’d booked a room in Kasbah Ait Ben Damiette and arrived early enough in the afternoon to enjoy all three activities!  Unlike Imilchil and Todra we were not on a half board plan – Ah DINNER! – not a tagine in sight! … pumpkin soup, courgette omelette,  steak, potato cakes, goats cheese with crust, crepe with dates and …. Wine!!

DSCF3373(Kasbah Ait Ben Damiette)

 

DSCF3426(Fabulous Food)

 

OUARZAZATE  

Just about 45 km from Skoura,  Ouarzazate is a bit soon for a stop on the 240 km drive to Marrakech.  But stop you will and you’re early enough to avoid the day trippers.   Have a wander through the souk and craft centres or take a movie tour!  Have a coffee before moving on.

20180317_153319           (Our beautiful purchase from Ouarzazate souk!)

 

AIT BENHADDOU

Another 30 km brings you to Ait BenHaddou.   Though you’re tempted to turn and speed back into the mountains,  the kasbah is worth the detour and the crowds. The earthen constructions are UNESCO protected and are architecturally authentic and well maintained.   

 

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DSCF3478(“NO  – you can’t buy another scarf!!”)

There are plenty of places for lunch here but get back on the road and stop at Assanfou Cafe at the top of Tizi n’Tichka instead.  There you can enjoy the views as you dine outside on kafta and rice.

DSCF3495(Assanfou Cafe)

 

Then it’s through the pass and on to Marrakech.   Progress can be slow at times and you need to allow a few hours for the journey.

 

Beware!!!! At one stage over the Pass,  the road widens out and after several kilometres of crawling behind buses or trucks,  the instinct is to pick up speed and pass as many of them as possible before the road narrows again. It’s a wonderful speed trap – the authorities must make a fortune there … countless trucks and cars – including ourselves- are pulled in and an on the spot fine  – about $70 – is demanded – and no excuses accepted. The traffic police will point to a road marking a bit further back which illustrates the speed limit – of course you didn’t see it because you were passing out a bus at the time!!

 

On to Marrakech …Our plan was to get rid of the car at Marrakesh and use public transport for the remainder of the trip… we would have no need for our own transport in the city and it also meant we could stay in a riad in the medina,  rather than having to avail of a hotel on the outskirts with parking facilities. The logical option was to return the car at the airport and make our own way from there.

 

Somewhere, on our approach to the city,  we saw what was to be the last signpost for the airport – you know that nice aeroplane symbol on the overhead road signs that delivers you to the airport zone… nope … nothing…  With no GPS and only a general road map, we continued roughly in the direction we knew the airport to be. Sitting in panic at traffic lights an ‘obliging’ motorcyclist pulled up and said he’d show us the way.  It took only about 10 minutes to reach the airport – we weren’t that far off course. He was unhappy with the few dollars we gave him – said it wasn’t enough. We told him we were on our way home and that was all we had.  He accepted the story, took off and we continued on our way.

 

 

MARRAKECH

 

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Three nights, two full days and plenty of walking should get you through the main sights and still allow time for shopping,  crowd watching and pool time.

 

OUT AND ABOUT

Don’t spend all your time in the souks!  Try to see at least some of the following:

Bahia Palace

Badi Palace

Ali ben Youssef Medersa

Saadian Tombs

Jardin Majorelle

 

marrakech-2035898_960_720

 

Djemaa el-Fna – get there before sunset,  pick a place with a balcony, buy a coffee or drink and sit back and enjoy the spectacle as the food stalls set up for the night.

 

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SLEEPING

It’s worth staying in the Medina itself – most areas of interest are within walking distance and if you choose a Riad with a sun deck,  you can head back for an hour or two each day.  We spent 3 nights at Riad Les Trois Mages.  It is well located – easily reached from bus station or taxi with an easy walk into centre of medina.   Very helpful staff – lots of advice upon arrival – and tea/coffee/water available all the time.

DSCF3516(Roof terrace,  Riad Les Trois Mages)

 

 

ESSAOUIRA

 

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A 3 hour bus journey will bring you from  Marrakech to Essaouira on the coast and it’s just beautiful.   It has a walled medina but not a lot of formal sights so a great place for wandering the ramparts,  port and beach.

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The beach is great for walking and camel rides but a strong wind and current means its not popular with sunbathers and swimmers.

 

 

The souks are less manic than those of Marrakech  so shopping is more relaxed and pleasant.

 

FOOD AND DRINK

There are plenty of great restaurants and cafes to choose from.  However, most tourists will probably wish to sample the outdoor fish grills for lunch at least once.   Here,  you will choose your own fish,  settle on a price and wait for it to be cooked.  It’s not a cheap option (on our last visit in 2016 it cost about €32 for the 2 of us) but worth budgeting for the experience.

 

 

SLEEPING

We opted for Le Medina Thalassa because it had a swimming pool.  On this trip we had a room only plan.  On a later vist to Essaouira we found a better offer at the same hotel which included breakfast.

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AND FINALLY:

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MORE TIME?…

Collect your car in Casablanca and visit Meknes and Volubilis.

Stay a few nights in Todra or Dades Gorges and go hiking.

Head to the desert for camel rides and dune tours

Spend a few nights in an all inclusive hotel in Agadir.

 

SMALL STUFF

We saw lots of camper vans on the  beach at Essaouira. Most had travelled from Europe via Tangiers … definitely going to put that on my list!!

Beware of pickpockets in the souqs in Marrakech

Watch out for those speed traps and on the spot fines.

Allow for passport control delays upon arrival

 

3 thoughts on “Souks, Sand and Sea – A Road Trip in Morocco

  1. Morocco is a fantastic place and you have brought memories flooding back. We have stayed in Skoura too and loved the place, not come across anyone else yet who has been there. We have had a couple of trips to Morocco so far and your blog has reminded us that we haven’t finished with it yet, so much to see!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Great to meet someone else who was in Skoura. Problem with these trips is we try to fit so much in – I’d have loved to spend another day there – just walking around and relaxing by the pool – but of course when you’re planning these things you’re always thinking of how much you can see and do. Like yourselves, we’ve been to Morocco a few times and there’s definitely more for us there.
      Happy Travels!

      Liked by 1 person

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