We travelled to Morocco with four friends and were very happy that it was all planned for us and that we had a guide for the entire trip – Ibrahim – and local guides in each place we visited.
TDactive was our tour operator of choice and regular readers know that Graham and I have been using Travel Department for the past 12 years or so. We have had many great adventures with them, the most recent being India last year. We also had a break in Lisbon earlier this year.
Guided or group travel suits us because at this stage in our lives we are happy (basically lazy) to let someone else organise and you learn so much more if you have good guides.
We flew from Dublin to Marrakesh where we began our week’s adventure – or as my friend Jan described it ‘Morocco on Speed’! And that’s because TDactive is about making the most of every minute.
We travelled over 1,800 miles through Casablanca, Rabat, Meknes, Fes, over The Atlas Mountains (below) to The Sahara Desert and back through The Dades Valley for our final night in Marrakesh.
The capital of Morocco is a beautiful city and we enjoyed seeing The Kasbah des Oudaias, which is a picturesque place of white and blue painted houses and narrow streets. And many of the houses have the most amazing views of the Atlantic Ocean.
Our local guide told us that it is painted blue to keep the mosquitoes away. Not sure how true that is. But there is a peace within its walls that obviously makes it a lovely place to live.
The sheer size and opulence of the Hassein II Mosque in Casablanca, the third largest in the world, took our breath away. Its aspect overlooking the Atlantic is exceptional and its tall minaret is a city landmark.
It cost a small fortune and showcases the finest Moroccan craftmanship. That includes the hand-carved stone and wood, intricate marble flooring and inlay, gilded cedar ceilings and exquisite geometric mosaic tilework. It has a retractable ceiling which is used during the summer months. The view below is of the Ladies Gallery (the ladies are not allowed to worship on the main floor with the men!).
We had a brilliant guide to take us through the labyrinth of the Medina which includes some of the narrowest streets in the world. I doubt any of us would ever have found our way out without him.
A former university professor, he was a fountain of knowledge and had a lovely sense of humour. There was plenty to see and lots of remarkable aspects of Moroccan culture to study.
Our visit to the dye pits and tanneries (below) was also very interesting but none of us bought any of the leather items from the factory, surprisingly.
And we had fun at a traditional cookery class with a local chef.
We had a long trek from Fes to our night in the desert and it was an early start from our hotel. For the first part of the day we had heavy rain, not what we had expected. After what seemed like hours of sub-Saharan landscape, suddenly we arrived at the Dunes. It is almost a shock when they arise out of nowhere. And, of course, a huge tourism industry has arisen around it.
But a bit like The Taj Mahal in India, it lived up to the hype and our 90-minutes camel ride to our overnight camp was great fun.
Yes, I did have a John Wayne walk at the end, but it was worth it! Half-way through it, I remembered my unused padded cycling shorts that sat in a drawer at home! But our weary bottoms were soon forgotten when we saw our campsite appear like a mirage in the dunes.
And we had a fabulous meal with pre-ordered wine – we were gasping for some alcohol – and finished off the evening with a Moroccan sing-song around a fire, looking up at the stars.
A meteorite or a satellite had shot across the sky earlier that evening, adding to our excitement.
For the most part, the accommodation was excellent. We stayed in a few hotels and several riads (traditional Moroccan houses or palaces with an interior garden or courtyard). We had two amazing suites on our first and last night in Marrakesh and in the riad in The Dades Valley, we had a room with a balcony which had wonderful views.
Of course, our night in The Sahara was exceptional.
Moroccans have a very sweet tooth and cakes and desserts are very much part of their culture, as is sweet mint tea. Ask for it without sugar, otherwise it will come already sweetened.
And, of course, tagine is rarely off the menu and though they love their meat, they serve a very tasty traditional vegetable one too.
Our group of 20 – the most that TDactive takes on holidays of this type – travelled in a very comfortable 30-seater coach and, as I said earlier, we covered a lot of ground. Some of the landscape e.g. the Sub-Saharan was unexciting, but reading, chatting, laughing or watching downloaded films on I-Pads passed the time.
We passed through Berber villages and by nomad encampments, over mountains and down valleys and watched Moroccan women go about their daily work of looking after children or harvesting crops, while on many occasions the men sat and watched the world – us – go by.
We learned a lot from our guide Ibrahim about Morocco’s history, the present and very popular reformist king and Chinese investment in the country – and marvelled at the excellent road system. It is the co-existence of the old and new that makes Morocco such an interesting place to visit.
Our trip was seven days long and very busy. If flights suited so that it could be extended to 10, it would make it less frenetic and leave more time for relaxing.
But ‘Morocco on Speed’ still had plenty to recommend it!
Thanks to my friend Dave for some of the pics. Back with top tips soon.