Earlier this month I returned from a great holiday in Morocco with a friend. We spent a few nights by the coast in the windy city of Essaouira, and then a few nights in lively Marrakesh.
Essaouira was very beautiful and a great first experience of Morocco and Moroccan culture. We stayed in a cute little riad (budget hotel) in the middle of the Medina which had a great terrace for us to lounge around in the blazing, hot sunshine (peaking at 30 degrees). We also got a chance to go quad biking which was, as you can imagine, an amazingly exhilarating adventure. Our instructor led us 10 km down the coastline over beautiful sand dunes. We needed a bit of time to practice at the start as it was our first attempt on quad bikes, but after about 10 minutes we got to rev up the engine and tackle more challenging paths. I’ll never forget the feeling of riding at full speed right beside the picturesque Moroccan coastline. Amazing!
Another great thing I noticed about Essaouira was its markets. In the middle of the Medina there were endless stalls where spices, clothing, food, antiques (all of various shades and displaying bright colours) were being sold. On top of this, I’d say that the Moroccans have an interesting way of alluring you in, often yelling at you as you past their stall: “Where are you from?”, “Come, come, just have a look!” or “You speak English?” and some merchants may even follow you for a couple of metres carrying the exact item you happened to have glance at while passing their stall some seconds ago. However, whatever you choose to buy, it is a must that you haggle. Prices are always much higher for tourists because we usually come with the intention to spend and we also don’t know the true value of local goods. Overtime haggling does get easier as you become more familiar with good tricks and the products available. But, as many had already warned us in, trade in Essaouira’s markets doesn’t compare to that of Marrakesh’s Medina…
Marrakesh is a vibrant city and there is definitely a lot to do. During our stay we were encouraged to visit a hamaam (steam room). It’s typical for a Moroccan to visit a hamaam on a weekly basis. My friend and I sat in the hot hammam in our bikinis for about 15 minutes after which we were scrubbed with a traditional black eucalyptus soap, and later rinsed with water. This ritual removes dirt and dead cells whilst rehydrating and softening the skin giving it a radiant glow. The package offered to us at Les Bains de Azahara included a relaxing foot massage and full body massage. I was in heaven. By the end of our treatments I was feeling like a true goddess with baby-smooth skin.
When we visited the Medina in Marrakesh, I noticed it was similar to Essaouira’s Medina in terms of lay out and goods to purchase, but I definitely say that it was much, much bigger and much more chaotic. There were loads and loads of people, lots of movement, lots of things being sold, comical plays being watched, people dancing and laughing to traditional music, henna being drawn on limbs of eager tourists, delicious food being eaten in the square and surrounding restaurants and so much more. It was all very exciting and amazing to observe especially in the evening. As it was the month of Ramadan there were many moroccans who were fasting. However, after sunset, they were able to come to the Medina, in large numbers, to eat, shop, relax and have a really good time. I think that wherever you look in the Medina there is always something, or someone, to catch your eye.
My friend and I got a chance to attend a Moroccan cooking class run by ‘Amal’ which is a non-profit association that empowers women through culinary skills. Though ‘Amal’ is a training centre, the food that they provide is so delicious that the centre is listed as No. 2 on trip advisor’s “best restaurants in Morocco” list. That truly says a lot about their work ethic andcommitment to the cause. Check out their website here: http://amalnonprofit.org
Because I’m vegan my friend and I made the vegetable tagine and others who attended the class made beef, lamb or chicken tagine. We learned about the cooking techniques used in Morocco, the country’s favourite spices, Arab hospitality and how to serve food to guests. At the end of class we got to eat all the food that we made which was served with some traditional bread. It was fantastic and I managed to finish every little drop. I highly recommend a cooking class with Amal if you ever find yourself in Marrakesh.
Overall Morocco was a great experience. I definitely want to go back and visit other cities and see what else the country has to offer.
Here are some more pictures from our trip: