Friday, 19 April 2013

Day trip to the Atlas Mountains

Making Argan Oil
We had almost a whole day to fill after our check out of the hotel so we decided to take a trip to Ourika valley at the foot of the Atlas MountainsWe didn't have time to do any trekking (that's definitely for next time!) but we walked through the souk which takes place every Monday.  There they have freshly killed meat, plants, herbs and spices and everything else you could want to buy. From there our driver took us to see Berber women making Argan oil. You get shown all the cosmetic products made from the oil and taken to the shop .. there was no pressure selling but seeing how these women work makes you want to buy something or at least put a small donation in the dish in front of them.   

The Hammam
We were also taken to a traditional Berber house beside a river where they use the power of the water to drive the mill to grind flour. They also had their own hammam which is a steam room - this is where they cleanse their bodies at least once a week. It was quite small and looked a little claustrophobic to me!

Of course there is a shop there too but again no pressure to buy.  What I did notice was that the prices quoted were considerably lower than those in the souk in Marrakesh so of course I had to buy a couple of pieces of Berber jewellery! *happy face*

Valley and snow capped peaks
Afterwards we had a late lunch overlooking the beautiful valley .. again sampling the local wine and Moroccan salad before heading back to collect our luggage and reluctantly heading to the airport and home.

Next time I visit Marrakech I definitely want to do another trip to the Atlas Mountains, going over the top and experiencing the magnificent Sahara desert in true romantic style. There are many tours offering various types of trips from one day hiking to camel treks, quad biking and 4-WD safaris.

My next jaunt will be to the island of Crete in the Mediterranean in a few weeks .. can't stop me .. variety is the spice of life!

A little taste of food Moroccan style

Going to Marrakech for a long weekend was amazing but there just wasn't enough time to go to all the fab foodie places recommended to us!  So we chose what we deemed a good cross section and were not disappointed! 

Orange segments with cinnamon
Our first restaurant experience (apart from our hotel - which was very good) was to Le Comptoir Darna situated in the Hivernage area where there are a number of restaurants and night clubs. We arrived at 8pm (the opening time) and were surprised how empty it seemed. However within a half an hour or so the place filled to capacity while a four piece band sat on the large staircase and played Morrocan music. We had their special mojito cocktail for our aperitif - I don't know how they made it but it was arguably one of the best I've tasted! The atmosphere was fantastic as was the food. Of course the dish of choice had to be the Tagine! The locally produced wine was suprisingly good too! I had sliced oranges with cinnamon for dessert, a tasty combo which they also serve at breakfast that I will easily recreate at home! 

Le Comptoir Darna
At 10.30 the music cranked up and a troupe of silver clad belly dancers - including two dancing with less vigour and a tray of candles balanced on their heads - appeared and entertained us all. They danced on tables and the crowd loved them! There was a disco upstairs after midnight which we did not stay for, but I imagine a fun time would be had - a great place to go with a group of friends!

Roof terrace La Sultana
The other two places we tried were equally good for the food and wine .. we lunched at La Sultana on the roof terrace which was a lovely respite from the hustle and bustle of the streets outside. A haven of calm. This would also be an amazing place to stay if you want a real treat! Our other dinner outing was to Le Jardins de la Medina another luxury hotel situated in the Kasbah. The restaurant was overlooking the small pool and gardens. The food was also very good and the pièce de résistance was the pumpkin souffle we had for dessert! Not something I would normally choose but it looked so interesting it had to be sampled! It was gorgeous! Light and fluffy with a scoop of jasmine ice cream on the side - pure ambrosia! 

Tuesday, 16 April 2013

Marrakech - getting to grips with the Souks

I travelled to Morocco way back in the day when I took a 'gap' 6 months which turned into 2 years! (But that's another story!) My friends from school and I had bought an old VW camper van and drove all the way from London via France, Portugal and Spain before boarding the ferry to North Africa. Our route took us from Tangier to Tetouan, Fez, Meknes and Rabat before heading back up the coast and continuing our European adventure. We never got to Marrakech and I knew that one day I would go there. I'm sort of glad it took so long as it turned out to be everything and more of what I thought it would be and although I loved and appreciated Morocco back then, I now have a much greater understanding of the culture. Obviously things have moved on substantially in the 20 plus years it's been but take away the mod cons and everything is essentially as it was centuries ago.

My friend and I flew Easyjet from Stansted direct to Marrakech - a journey time of 3 hours 20 minutes away making it a very do-able long weekend jaunt. We opted to stay outside of the confines of the walled city at a lovely small resort called Sirayane located a few kilometers south west of the MedinaIt's far from the madding crowd but only a 15 minute shuttle ride away, which the hotel provides free of charge six times a day. Perfect if you want a quiet oasis of calm after a day's shopping in the souk! The only sounds you'll hear are those of the birds and the chilled out lounge music around the bar and pool.
If you have never been to a souk before, it's an idea to get a guide to take you
Medersa Ben Youssef
around and show you the different parts of the Medina, visit a museum and learn some history about the place. Marrakech is a labyrinth of alleys and can get very confusing if you don't know where you're going. It could be like getting lost in a maze but we didn't have to worry about that thankfully. We trusted that our guide would get us out of there when we were ready.
It's a given that you will be shown things you may like to buy but there is not too much pressure selling here. Just be aware that the price they initially quote is not the price you should pay. They love to barter so pay what you think it's worth.  

Not only are they catering to tourists .. we witnessed the auctioning of leather pelts to the locals for the artisans to make shoes, bags, wallets etcHead down another side alley and this is also the place where you can see everything being made pretty much in the same way it has always been done .. their craft being passed down through the generations.

We didn't get hassled because we had a guide but I did get a proposal of marriage from one of the shopkeepers!! The girl still has it (laughs out loud)!! Oh, and I almost forgot to mention .. be aware of the iron carts and mopeds weaving in and out of the narrow streets - they are potentially lethal!

In my next post I will fill you in on our day trip to the Atlas mountains and the fab places we ate in the Kasbah and Gueliz .. see you soon! نراكم قريبا