What?! We’re in Africa!? We’re in Morocco?! Those were the thoughts running through our heads as we stepped off the plane…Which means we’ve hit all 6 inhabitable continents on our trip!
It was so cool to be there. Our first stop was Marrakech, only a 3 hour flight from Nice.
There are two main areas to choose from when deciding where to stay. Old town versus new. The old town is called the Medina and is surrounded by a wall. We learned that each city in Morocco is set up like this. Once you enter the Medina, the roads narrow and multiply and you can only make your way through by walking. Tiny alleys that fit no more than two people side by side. Each alley lined with shops, cafes, restaurants and houses. The “new town” has more of a European feel with wide, tree lined boulevards, sidewalks, public squares and traffic signals that are sometimes respected.
In Marrakech we decided to stay in the Medina as we felt it would put us closer to everything we wanted to see and would give us more of a true Moroccan feel.
We found our Riad, similar to a Bed and Breakfast, though Hotels.com using Ebates. (Make sure you use our links and make a purchase so we get credit!) while we were glad we stayed in the Medina, we were very unhappy with our riad, the Palais Calipau. It seemed nice at first with a true Moroccan feel and colorful decoration but turned out to be one of the worst we’ve stayed at. Horrible wifi, bad beds and extremely loud.
We spent the majority of our time in Marrakech going to the Jemaa-el-Fna, the towns “Big Square”. We spent hours shopping and looking around at all the souks (market places), being haggled by snake charmers (yes Cobras!), juice carts and ladies grabbing my hand trying to do henna art. We had so much fun! We so badly wanted to buy things for our future home. Mirrors, dressers, chests, handmade rugs, any size or color tagine you could ever want, clothes, all so beautiful and decorated with true Moroccan style. Realizing it would be incredibly expensive to ship home and we didn’t have that much room in our luggage, we made do with getting tiny Tagines that we can pack in our suitcases. Cute little ones for spices, salt and pepper or whatever else you want to keep in them. There were also so many places selling all different kinds of herbs, spices and elixirs, which was Dean’s favorite part. The aroma lured you in and the shop owners loved to explain each different spice. We spent hours smelling and tasting all the different spices on offer. Morocco is also home to Argan Oil. The oil of a type of nut that looks like an almond that works wonders on your skin and hair. I, of course, had to stock up!
We decided to be super touristy one day and take a horse drawn carriage (that are everywhere by the way!) on a tour of both the old and new town. For $10USD (you’ll have to bargain them down but it’ll work, as like everything else in Morocco) we had an hour long ride where we were able to see areas we hadn’t yet seen with the horses acting as our taxi. It was interesting to see the striking difference between the old town and new town. From busy, narrow streets lined with shops and vendors to wide roads lined with hotels and night clubs. We were glad to be able to see the difference but happier that we chose to stay within the walls.
We debated if driving would be worth it over a train or bus. Morocco has a very big French influence which shows with the great train system, but ultimately, the ease or being in control, and adventure of driving in Morocco won out. We picked up our Dacia Logan rental car at the airport, seemingly a throwback to a Soviet era Romanian car. It was both fun and frustrating trying to figure out the basic functions. We thought it didn’t have a horn for the first few days until finding the horn button on the windshield wiper stalk instead of on the steering wheel like most cars! We won a tiny victory once we found it. It’s much needed on the crazy streets of Morocco!
First was Casablanca, to be honest we knew little about the city, besides it being the star of some famous WWII era movies. The Medina was a bit more rustic here, no carts of small tourist souvenirs, no snake charmers, no carts jockeying for you to pick their fresh squeezed orange juice over one of the 30 others. This was truly a locals marketplace with fresh fruits, vegetables, fresh baked breads and even someone making fresh phyllo dough for Ramadan pastries. The bright colors in the narrow alleys made for beautiful views, it added some much needed life to the blandness of the westernized rest of the city. We also visited the second largest mosque in the world. Sitting on the Atlantic Ocean the Hassan II Mosque was huge and had the symmetrical styling and beauty that shows the pride that the people of Casablanca have. We also drove to El Hank lighthouse, a once majestic lighthouse that has now been worn down by the Atlantic oceans relentless beatings, but still a great sight on the coast. Casablanca seems to be trying to reinvigorate itself, there is a major construction project going on along the corniche beach front area, it was a great city and will be even more modern when the construction is done.
After Casablanca it was time for an overnight in Fes. It is the oldest town in Morocco and the Medina was even more confusing and maze like than the others we’d seen. It was suggested that we hire a guide here, we of course decided to discover it on our own. It does feel like you could spend an entire day wandering the Medina of Fes. While it was very similar to the other Medinas, Fes is best known for its leather working area. We were warned heavily by many people about the horrific smell of the specific leather making area of the Medina, so we decided to steer clear, but did see some small shops selling gorgeous leather goods as we were walking though the other parts. Maybe a guide would’ve been good here, but after about an hour of seeing knockoff shoes, fake hand bags and most of the same stuff that other cities offered we decided to head to our hotel instead. Here, we decided to stay in the “new town” which had its wide boulevard lined with trees. The Fes Marriott we stayed at was gorgeous, marble everywhere, soft bed, and a huge pool, it was much needed luxury after the more modest places we stayed at in Marrakech and Casablanca.
From Fes we drove 3 hours on winding back roads to Chefchaouen. It was a much different drive from previous days, the roads were small country roads shared with tractors and missing pavement, not the wide tolled motorways we had been on before. No rest stops for bathroom breaks or snacks but the views were amazing as we drove up to the mountains where Chefchaouen is located. We’d seen tons of photos on Instagram of this “Blue City” and needed to see it for ourselves. It definitely didn’t disappoint. The first notable thing we saw as we drove in were some goats in a tree, then as if putting on a show for us as we turned a corner, all the different blue buildings scattered along the base of the mountain that surrounds the town. There are a few theories as to why this town is blue. The first is that when the Jewish people fleed here, they painted everything blue to signify their resilience and freedom. The other is that the blue repels the mosquitos. Either way, we were in awe. Here, we stayed in the Medina again, parking our car far away from the riad and paying a guy $6 to watch over it for 3 days was the way to go. Riad Zaitouna Chaouen was amazing! Exactly how a bed and breakfast should be. The owner was beyond friendly and hospitable. He made a delicious breakfast for us every morning with fresh pressed orange juice, freshly made breads goat cheese and butter. We were definitely in the heart of the “Blue Pearl”. Everything was blue! The blue everything made it a bit hard to navigate through but that made it all the more fun. We spent the two days we had here getting lost in the blue and taking pictures everywhere we went. We will let them speak for themselves!
Our last stop was Tangier. The drive from the mountains to the sea was beautiful, even though got pulled over by the police who said we were speeding.. which we most certainly were not! They said they wanted a “tip”…. but simply standing our ground and telling them we did nothing wrong (and that we had no money) was enough for them to let us go. At the tip of Morocco, Tanger is a large metropolitan city with Spanish and French influenced. High speed ferries bring European tourists over from Spain and Gibraltar for day trips so the tourism game is strong here! We stayed right outside the Medina in a gorgeous hotel, Ville de France. It was perfect because we were steps away from all the action of the Medina but away from all the noise when we went in for the night. It was a throwback to the “Golden age” of European influence, an old hotel with the luxury, a bar that would seem perfect in a 1930’s movie, a sweeping view of the Medina, the Mediterranean and large rooms. The bed was amazing and the hotel had excellent service. We checked out the Medina, the hotel had a free guide service which we didn’t seem to have much choice about but the guides just took you to places where they would get a kickback. Realizing that is always deflating but lucky for us our cash was running low so we had a legit excuse to not buy anything and just see the sights! The Medina was the same as the other cities, but we wandered into some of the housing areas which were absolutely beautiful! Since we had a car, we made it up to the Caves de Hercules, a great spot to overlook the ocean during sunset. The cave itself was closed, but the panoramic view of the Atlantic meant a picture (or many!) perfect view for sunset. Since Tangier is right on the sea, our trip here wouldn’t be complete without a trip to the beach. To our surprise as we walked from the new promenade onto the sand, there were some camels hanging out enjoying the view as well! Their handler wasn’t far, asking us if we wanted a ride but It was so funny to us to see camels on the beach!
Our diet mainly consisted of Tagines while we were in Morocco. A tagine is a North African spiced stew of sorts, cooked in a cone shaped vessel. It can be chicken, lamb or beef and usually has different veggies. Dean even had one with Rabbit! We also had our fill of couscous as well and Pastilla, a sweet/savory phyllo dough pastry stuffed with chicken, cinnamon, onions and powdered sugar. Sounds odd, but it was delicious! Sadly we were in Morocco over Ramadan, that means the Muslim people were fasting from sunrise to sunset, and most of the non-tourist spots everyone raved about were closed for the month. We still had some great meals, but there were plenty of bad ones from the tourist restaurants as well.
What a week in Morocco! While we had a great time, we are definitely ready to head to our next stop… Spain! We can’t wait for the tapas, pinxtos and shandys!
**We are using Ebates and Hotels.com to book everything we do! We get cash back from Ebates and earn free nights on Hotels.com so you get rewarded for doing what you would normally do anyway! On Hotels.com, they provide excellent service and will match hotel prices if you find something cheaper elsewhere. If you stay 10 nights, you get 1 free and if you become a gold member (30 stays in 1 year) you get early access to deals and special rates. Also 24/7 service. On Ebates, while the percentage cash back varies depending on the store, you legitimately get cash back on almost every store you would shop online for anyway and get a check every quarter with your savings. They also have special coupon codes to get discounts on the site that you can’t get otherwise. We’ve gotten over $600 cash back! That’s nothing to sneeze at! We get credit if you use our links (hyperlinked in the names) and would love if you could help us out! But really, you’re helping yourself too!!**