The Palace Gates in Fes
Everyone is familiar with the exotic appeal of Moroccan design, but being surrounded by the authentic architecture, bold colors, sensual fabrics, nuanced lighting and rich textures is another thing entirely. The country is a blend of European, Middle Eastern and African influences with buildings and spaces that date back centuries. I found walking the medinas in Fes and Marrakech to be close to sensory overload - in a good way.
The Royal Mansour, Marrakech
2. The most remarkable properties anywhere in the world
If you appreciate how important a great hotel can be to a vacation, Morocco is your perfect destination. In Marrakech and Fes, it is difficult to pin down which property I would recommend most to someone. The Royal Mansour, for instance, was actually commissioned by the King of Morocco. The property celebrates the traditional craftsmanship, materials and techniques of Morocco and the attention to detail is like nothing I’ve ever seen before. The 53 individual Riads have underground tunnels, allowing the staff to provide the most discrete service. At another price point is Riad Farnatchi, a small Riad with just 10 suites right in the middle of the medina. It has a great staff and a spectacular small restaurant across the narrow alleyway, where I ate one of my best meals in Morocco. Another option is Kasbah Tamadot, which was a welcome respite after a day of hiking in the High Atlas Mountains. The remarkable property has an infinity pool, beautiful gardens, and plenty of resident animals, including Pickle the camel. Not to mention the miles of beautiful hiking that surrounds you.
Pickle the Camel at Kasbah Tamadot
The local market on the way to High Atlas Mountains
3. Get a different perspective on the world
As Americans, we have a limited understanding (and biased perspective) on this part of the world. My husband and I learned so much about the Middle East and North Africa simply by having casual conversations with people who were very open and anxious to share their perspectives. The United States is such a bubble, so it is good to get outside of that and talk to real people who see things from a different point of view. The Moroccan people were so proud to tell us that Morocco was the first country to recognize the United States of America and that they consider us good friends.
The Sahara Desert
4. It’s Africa!
Going to the Sahara will be life changing. I have not had a single person suggest that it would be anything less. You can build in a desert experience into almost any itinerary and spend a night under the stars or visiting with local tribes. That said, it was amazing to see how green and lush the countryside is in Morocco. Barley is one of the country’s staple crops, and on many of our drives between destinations, the very deep green went as far as the eye could see.
The Medina in Fes
The medina in Fes dates back to the 9th century and a visit there feels like going back in time. Craftsmanship is still done the way it has been done for generations and so much of what happens there remains as it likely did long ago. While Casablanca feels like a modern city, Fes and Marrakech offer an opportunity to experience the past.
Cooking Class outside of Marrakech
The incredibly aromatic and spice-infused foods from North Africa are a treat for the senses. The spice combinations are packed with flavor and the cuisine’s traditional slow-cooking techniques create the most tender meats. Street food also abounds, especially in the famous Jemaa el-Fnaa square. Be open to trying the local specialties. Sheep’s head is a delicacy and the preparation is incredibly time consuming. These vendors specialize in it. And always accept your cup of mint tea when offered - it is the national drink of Morocco.
Zniber Vineyards in Meknès
Given that Morocco is a Muslim country, it took me by surprise that it has an incredibly robust wine industry. Morocco produces more than 40 million bottles and consumes 38 million every year. There are 22 different varieties of grapes grown in different regions across the country, and restaurant wine lists are extensive. I always love trying wine in an unfamiliar place, because you are taken out of the Robert Parker ratings and point scores and just have to taste to see what you like. I fell in love with their Pinot Gris. This is not a wine to put in your cellar, but it is a fun, easy drinking wine that pairs beautifully with Moroccan food.
Our guide, our driver and our trekking guide for the day
8. The people are wonderful
Our guide was so passionate about his country and did such a great job helping us dig into the culture. He was so proud to show us what makes his country special. Everyone we met was genuinely excited to share their cooking, handicraft and opinions. The only time I ever felt as if people were not friendly was when I wanted to take a picture. Moroccans can be very superstitious and many associate photographs with witchcraft, thinking that people can use them to cast a spell on a person. But in face-to-face interactions, people were so open and friendly.
Mint Tea in Taddart
9. The world is getting smaller
I have this fear that the downside of global interconnectedness is that these distinct cultures will start to fade away. It is really worth the effort to seek out these lesser-known destinations and be responsible tourists. In doing so, we support hard-working, passionate people, make interpersonal connections, see beyond all the rhetoric and remind ourselves that travel can broaden our perspectives.