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Morocco

February 2018

Morocco

Following a nine day tour of Egypt we flew from Cairo to Casablanca, Morocco to start a new tour. As we flew over central Morocco I was impressed by the size of its mountains and the amount of snow and then the amount of very green agricultural land as we got closer to Casablanca.

 

We were picked up at the airport by Nadi who was to be our driver and general tour guide for the next nine days.Riad Kalaa

 

After leaving the airport we drove into central Casablanca and to the Hassan II Mosque which is on the Atlantic coast. We did a drive along the coast south of the Mosque then headed for Rabat where we stayed the night in the first of several very nice Riads (which is a traditional Moroccan house with an interior courtyard or garden) situated in the medina (Medina means city or town in Arabic and refers to an older section of a modern city that is typically walled and has many narrow and maze like streets). Check out the Riad Kalaa

 

Casablanca is the largest city in Morocco with a population estimated at 3.6 million. It is on the Atlantic Ocean and one of the major ports in North Africa. In the ancient past it was used as a port by the Phoenicians and then the Romans and in the early 15th century it was used as a safe harbour for pirates. It was not a major city until after the French occupation which started in 1907 and lasted until 1956. The French influence is everywhere from the architecture to the language spoken on the street. 

 

Rabat is the capital of Morocco and the second largest city. It is located on the Atlantic coast north of Casablanca. Its landmarks reflect both its Islamic and French-colonial past. It has a large medina, the Mohammed V Mausoleum and Hassan Tower, a 12th-century minaret. Photos of Casablanca and Rabat

 

On our second day in Morocco we drove to Fez with stops along the way at Volubilis and Meknes.

 

VolubilisVolubilis was a Roman town which is located to the north of current day Meknes. It was the capital of the Roman province of Mauritania from the 1st century AD until the 285AD. The town covered an area of about 42 hectares (100 acres) and was inhabited for at least another 700 years after the Romans left.

 

After Volubilis we went to Meknes for lunch and a walk around some of the older parts of the city including the Agdal Reservoir and the remains of the Harri Souani stables. Photos of Volubilis and Meknes

 

Fez was founded in the 8th century and is Morocco’s oldest imperial city. It has two medinas – Fez el-Bali which is the original city and known as the old medina and Fez el-Jdid which was founded in the 13th century. Together they form the largest medina in Morocco.

 

We spent two nights in Fez and stayed at Riad Dar Anebar another old home converted into a small family run guest house. We spent our day in Fez Riad Dar Anebarexploring the labyrinth of souks, mosques, museums and squares. Fortunately we had a guide for most of the day, particularly when going through some parts of the medina which were an absolute maze. We visited a pottery and tile works, The Chouara tannery in the Fez el-Bali (Old Fez) medina, a wool dyeing workshop and a whole bunch more. One day in Fez was definitely not enough but we were on a tour and had somewhere else to go to so the next day we were off to Merzouga and the Sahara Desert. Photos of Fez and the Souks

 

This turned out to be a very long day with 570km (355mi) of driving plus several stops along the way. The drive was through the Middle Atlas Mountains so we saw some spectacular scenery and a fair bit of snow. We stopped at Ifrane which is known as Morocco’s “Switzerland” because of the surrounding mountains, snow, ski slopes and cedar forests. Definitely a vacation area.

 

After Ifrane we passed through a high desert area that is used by the Berber nomads for their winter residence and then along part of the Ziz river valley which forms a 125km  (78mi) long narrow ribbon of green – mostly date palm groves which are feed by the water in the Ziz river.

 

We arrived at Merzouga at sunset and because our driver had not been to the riad we were to stay at, we got a bit of an unscheduled tour of the area. Because we were late we took a four wheel drive into Jaimas Madu Luxury Camp rather than the advertised “camel ride into the sunset”. No big deal, we were tired. Photos of Fez to Merzouga

Erg Chebbi

We spent a night at the Jaimas Madu Luxury Camp which is part of Riad Madu near Merzouga, Morocco. The camp was quite nice and consisted of eight Berber style tents which came with a queen size bed, a small sitting area, electricity, and a bathroom and shower with running water and even a hot water heating system. Because we missed the sunset camel ride we arranged to do one for sunrise and ended up having the desert to ourselves. My Photos of Madu Camp and their web page – Madu Camp

 

After the night in the desert we did another long day’s drive from Merzouga to Ouarzazate with stops at Tinghir, Todra Gorge, Ait Ben Haddou and Kelaat M’Gouna.

 

We passed through a number of small towns on this trip and got a fleeting look at life in rural Morocco. Things are a lot less “modern” than in the big cities and a lot poorer as well.

 

Our first stop after leaving Merzouga was Rissani to see the mausoleum of Moulay Ali Cherif then a stop near El Jorf to see a qanats which is an ancient man made underground water channel. The next stop was Tinghir which is a small city on the Wadi Todgha which forms an oasis which is about 48km (30 mi) long. The oasis is irrigated by a series of canals and ditches. We had a local guide who walked us through the irrigated fields below Tinghir and then into the old part of the city through the former Jewish Quarter and the souks and up into the new town.

 

Dar ChamaaNear Tinghir are the Todra Gorges which are a series of limestone river canyons in the eastern slopes of the High Atlas Mountains. After a quick drive/walk through the last canyon of the Todra Gorges we headed off to Ouarzazate and checked into Dar Chamaa, a small hotel overlooking the city and with a view of the High Atlas Mountains. Photos of the drive from Merzouga to Ouarzazate and Tinghir also the Dar Chamaa web page.

 

Ouarzazate is a city that is known as the gateway to the Sahara Desert. It is in a plateau just south of the High Atlas Mountains and everything to the south is desert. It is also referred to as the Hollywood of Morocco because it hosts several large film studios where a number of well-known and a lot of lesser known films have been made over the years. Check out films for more details

 

Ouarzazate has a 19th century palace called Taourirt Kasbah which is an impressive fortified series of buildings containing almost 300 rooms joined by a maze of passageways, stairs and doors. We toured the partially restored Kasbah before driving to Ait Ben Haddou and then over the Tiz In Tichka Pass through the High Atlas Mountains to Marrakesh.   

 

Ait Ben HaddouAit Ben Haddou is a fortified village on the old caravan route between the Sahara Desert and Marrakech. It is about 30km (20mi) northwest of Ouarzazate. The buildings and high defensive walls are made of mud bricks and some of them date back as far as the 17th century. There were a number of movies that used Ait Ben Haddou and areas around Ouarzazate as filming locations. It is a UNESCO World Heritage site. Photos of Ouarzazate, Ait Ben Haddou and the road to Marrakech

 

SoukMarrakech is the fourth largest city in Morocco and is a former imperial city. It was founded in 1062 and has many historical mosques and palaces and a medina dating back to the Berber Empire. The medina, like many in Morocco, is a maze of alleys filled with souks selling just about everything. We spent two nights in Riad Dar Karma, a small 6 room boutique hotel and spa in the medina.

 

We had a tour guide show us around both the old and new parts of the city and we saw Koutoubia Minaret built in the middle of the 12h century, the Bahia Palace which is a 19th century royal residence, the Jemaa El Fna Square, the souks in the medina and several open air markets. Because our Riad was in the medina I was able to spend several hours walking around and exploring. Photos or Marrakesh

Renault 4L

After Marrakesh we drove back to Casablanca where we spent the night before catching an early flight home.

 

As we were approaching Merzouga on the drive from Fez we saw a number of older Renault cars on the road and over the next few days traveling on our way through to Marrakesh we saw many more. The cars were participating in a rally called the 4L Trophy Desert Adventure which included 1,450 Renault 4L’s. The rally started in France and ended in Marrakesh. 4L Trophy Desert Adventure