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To celebrate our sisterhood, and my sister Julia’s 60th birthday, I gifted us both a trip to Morocco this February. It’s taken a while for me to let the experience settle into my brain, and to do this blog post. I find I either plunge right into tasks, or just leave things on the back burner till the time seems right, or it just feels forced; I am not a fan of forced!. I broke my arm rather badly a couple of weeks ago, needed surgery, big titanium plate was inserted, yada, yada, busy Mally was stopped in her tracks! I have time on my hands, have read, painted, complained, and now I’m typing a one handed blog post. Thank you for that Universe!
Our trip was planned for us by a good friend that is in the travel business and is a Morocco enthusiast. I am not much of a travel researcher – why look at pictures of something you are about to see in real life and ruin it? My sister is in the travel business and said surprise me – she’s read enough itineraries to last her many lifetimes! We met at Heathrow, she coming from Cape Town, me from Boston and flew to Casablanca.
This is the bar at midnight in our hotel- we discovered Casablanca beer, totally delish, and both felt totally at home. How civilized is this, we both remarked.
For deets of our itinerary, talk to Brooke at Absolute Travel in NY. http://absolutetravel.com/
We were met the next morning by the sweetest man who announced that he was to be our driver for the trip. First stop Fez. At this stage we had no idea that my sister was on her way to becoming deathly ill, and that he was going to be our life saver. Here’s the first pic he took of us at the gigantic Hassan 11 Mosque in Casablanca.
The Mosque was built in 1993 and is a tribute to Moroccan artisanship and architecture. Despite it being a modern building, I loved the tiles in there, more than any others I saw on our trip. So glad I took these pics!
If we’d studied the itinerary more closely we would have realised there is a lot of driving getting around Morocco – it is big, and sometimes the traffic is slow. But we didn’t mind. It was all so different and we come from a long line of people that enjoy a good road trip!
By late afternoon we arrived at Riad Fez http://www.riadfes.com/en/, situated right in the medina (old city), and turns out it is fancy! The center courtyard is oh so Christian Lacroix, with a smattering of ‘dictator chic’, but they pull it off very nicely!
The details on the columns were jaw-dropping:
We loved the cozy little dining room off the courtyard for dinner – just what I imagined Moroccan chic to be! Plus alcohol was happily served!
Please note everyone is wearing sweaters and scarves! Yes, I failed to do a last minute weather check before packing. Morocco’s 2 year drought was breaking, just for us! Everyone in Morocco was super excited that it was snowing in the Atlas mountains — not us!! I literally wore the top two layers of my huge suitcase all week! Never even pulled out my lovely kaftan’s, and halfway through the trip I caved, and put the removable fur liner back into my Vince travel jacket! Such is life! Let that be a lesson to me!
Our guide arrived next morning to collect us for our tommy tourist day. We loved the museum cat grabbing a bit of sun between showers.
It was pretty interesting – but no pictures – snuck a picture of the ancient jug below! Always one for a bit of #juglove Also could not resist this really ancient wedding blanket. The Brooklynite hipster designers would have gone mad! You know how they love to throw them over an ottoman these days.
Then off to the obligatory tile factory- they say you don’t need to buy anything but we both, Julia and I, felt slightly pressurised, and felt that we were rather disappointing customers! We bought some little gifts for the family, including a pretty plate that went into my Junior League show house nursery in May. I loved seeing the tiles being made but couldn’t help feeling bad for the poor guys crouched over their stations for hours on end. We were told that this guy was the most expert of all their tile chippers – I loved his open face.
He was the only person that could make a perfect star this tiny! Oh the wonder of artisanship!
The owner tried to talk us into buying a huge mosaic fountain…… that didn’t happen even though he got a bit huffy. Julia and I do not do well with huffy! This is interesting though; the carpet of tiles are laid out upside down and then cemented together. Heaven knows how they get the pattern right!
I loved this pattern.
These green tiles are the roof tiles for all the mosques and are also made in the factory, thousands and thousands of them!
See that look on his face? We were disappointing customers!
Next off to explore the medina with our guide, he tells us to stay close, people get horribly lost all the time. We believe him. Guys, it is like entering another world – this is not Disneyland Morocco, this is a real world that has not changed for centuries! People do not like having their photograph taken, so I surreptitiously snapped a couple of the scene.
We bought dates from this old guy who would not be charmed by our smiles. He grudgingly allowed me to take a pic of him after I asked very nicely. I felt we just didn’t belong there!
Very little of the food is identifiable – I was fascinated by the goopy pancake type things cooked on a metal ball.
This was very identifiable – Yikes.
We must have been in the supermarket part of the medina – it was amazing, if drippy!!
Took this picture for my dear mum – the woman is obsessed with dried figs!
The fishmonger looked really good! I didn’t linger at the butcher shops though, my dear daughter Gabriella has has a bit of the Vegetarian effect on our family – did you know it’s slightly contagious? At one stage I was so busy trying to take surreptitious pictures, I nearly walked into a camels head on a hook! No pic sorry! Don’t worry said our guide, they only are allowed to kill one a week! Good!
That evening we had a bit of time to explore the hotel. Its very monochromatic and cool in the common areas.
Here”s the view over the medina from our hotel rooftop. Amazingly huge! No wonder people get lost.
Our bathroom was so current. Black and brass, just what all the design bloggers are mad for at the moment! The sky light made it very hard to photograph.
Day two we started off at an amazing, historic look out point with our guide! It was windy!!
Back to the medina to explore with the guide. At this stage we are beginning to get that you have to basically do everything in Fez with your guide. There are a couple of bell hops that guard the door of the hotel, and I felt that two 60 year old ladies were not encouraged to wander out on their own. It may be different if you were traveling with a man, but I felt a little like we were in a luxurious prison. Just me? I love my independence, as long as it’s safe, I suppose!
First a mosque visit – Julia is still feeling OK at this stage…. well she’s smiling…
That’s our guide just ahead in the Berber hooded coat. We were told to stay close– (not easy), and to spring to the side when a donkey delivery passes. Apparently, they don’t like tourists jamming up the traffic. Donkeys are the only form of transportation in the medina. We loved the donkeys!
We loved our next stop too. A hidden courtyard with a family of weavers. Here we shopped!! The weaver’s son was our lovely guide. So sweet. The family has been doing this for generations. We loved it all!
You know I love colour right?
Our guide dropped us at a touristy spot for lunch. The food was meh…
But the mint tea pourer was the friendliest, and such an adept pourer! A note to other old ladies about Moroccan mint tea. It is very caffeinated! We drank it after dinner on our first night. You only make that mistake once!
Another note, if you are even slightly squeamish about bad smells – do not get taken to the tannery! Just say no! Our guide was pretty insistent, there might be some arrangement with the leather goods seller…. When he shoved a bunch of mint into our hands and told us to smell that, I knew we were in trouble!
Inside those charming looking vats is liquid rotting goo! I could not stay – Julia says I went a nasty shade of grey!
On the good side of the balance sheet, just round the corner I spotted a lovely bunch of rugs hanging on the wall. What a smelly place for a shop! My bag co-ordinated with the rugs. Nuts!
And there’s my kitchen rug (the doggies love it) – could not resist. Lugged it around for the rest of our journey. Lovely, un-pushy guys. I must dig out their card! Wanted this one too! But resisted.
Our guide had other carpet plans for us. How much do you hate being holed up in a room with hundreds of carpets being opened up in front of you – no escape? Not that the carpets weren’t beautiful, just hate the pressure.
We escaped and wandered upstairs –
Oh the view! Green tiles mean it’s a mosque.
Last lunch at Riad Fez in our favourite little spot beside the formal courtyard. In the daylight we realised that this section is part of the ‘Cristian LaCroix’ decorating. The details are devastatingly french and luxurious. The silk velvet bench fabric was outrageously beautiful, and the trim just had to be custom. That’s a whole lot of ca-ching right there people!
Cheerio Riad Fez! Stopped raining but still coat and scarf weather!
Back to our lovely driver, happiness!! Our guide in Fez was informed and polite, but with a side portion very subtle mysogyny, these two old feminists didn’t feel his charm….Good tip nonetheless. The Universe might be watching! LOL
Today was our longest driving day. My poor sister Julia was now feeling really ill. She had had a bad nights sleep, and she was chilled to the bone, so we just leaned back and relaxed as the hours drifted by on our way to Marrakesh.
Behind a nondescript wall, next to a tire supply shop we stepped into this little piece of paradise! What a reward! The Riad des Orangers was everything!!!
We got to our room through this little courtyard. Franco Moroccan chic for daaaaze!
Too cold to dine outside, but this people!!
The dining room was cozy, there was a roaring fire, we needed it. Apparently more snow in the Atlas mountains – yay! :-((
Mysteriously the dining room, it had a very ‘Safari’ vibe, so poor sick Julia felt right at home!
I inhaled my dinner! Really, really delish, photo doesn’t give it justice.
Next day, waiting for our new guide at the pool of the riad, someone does not look well at all. We are now beginning to run out of Advil!
New guide with another berber hooded coat, roughly the same attitude. A little shopping in the Marrakesh medina, so much less intimidating! Then lunch on our own, so we had to ask to be booked into La Mamounia http://www.mamounia.com/en/marrakech.htm
OMG! Good call Mally!!
Lunch on the terrace. All those movie stars were right! A magical spot!
Toasties and beer in the sunshine, rubbing shoulders with the rich and famous! Sometimes carbs are the answer!
And then a wander round the incredible cactus garden. Glorious and huge! I’m coming back with the hubs!!
Then the afternoon took us to the Marjorelle Gardens – NOT TO BE MISSED! http://jardinmajorelle.com/ang/
Created over 40 years by French painter Jaques Marjorelle and famous for the vibrant blue painted features, that he said exemplified the colour he saw in the Atlas mountains. It was bought and restored by Yves St Laurent and is intriguing, inspiring, and like nothing you have ever seen before. Go!
I wasn’t kidding about the blue, I have never seen anything like it!
The embrace of colour is everywhere. Look at the ceiling in the gift shop.
There is a feeling of joy and discovery everywhere. Here’s a young woman on the side of the residence, trying to get the perfect shot. My hubby would have gone nuts trying to capture the vibe!
The confluence of man-made and nature is such a striking tension of ideas.
The variety of shapes and textures in the plants is mind boggling!
What I found most extraordinary was the crowds of people, moving around in wonder! People of every age, class, cultural background, all connected by the creative vision of one human being. Jacque Marjorelle imagined it and he did it! Yves St Laurent had the insight to know it was a masterpiece that needed to be saved. Creative thought and endevour is the perfect way to bind humanity together…
In the evening our guide took us to the market square. It is a huge gathering place for the residents of Marrakesh to come out of their work places and houses into the evening. People eat, watch the entertainers and story tellers – yes the ancient art of story telling is alive and well in Moroccan culture. I could not get over the crowds gathered round them in the square. The podcast people are definitely onto that timeworn desire to hear stories that resides inside all of us.
The snake charmers and monkey grinders I could give a big miss – and did! But it was so interesting to see the daily business of people buying their groceries and eating dinner out in the square.
Sundown on the rooftop of the tourist cafe was spectacular, but we needed to put poor Julia into her bed!
Next day it was time to leave our gorgeous Riad des Orangers and head of to our final adventure.
But first our lovely driver dropped us off in the new city of Marrakesh to explore. No problem at all walking around by yourself in this area. We loved the Franco Moroccan vibe and found the coolest lunch spot ever. Cafe de la Poste. We felt like we were in a 50’s French movie!
Potted palms and black and white floor tiles, a winning combination! Definitely going back!
Our driver stopped off at a pharmacy to buy some over the counter medicine for Jules, he melted our heart with his fatherly concern!
Not a long drive till we arrived at Peacock Pavilions – http://www.peacockpavilions.com/ on the outskirts of Marrakesh. Maryam Montague and I had been chatting on social media for a couple of years and I was dying to see her creation.
Gorgeousness! Maryam is one busy, creative and stylish lady. She runs a non profit out of the local area for girls called Project Soar. We met briefly for a drink before dinner, she is a stunning woman and so charming. But sadly our time was short, she was just in from one humanitarian mission for some world health organization (I forget which), and was about to leave for another!
We had our pavilion all to ourselves, which was nice, and non stop boho Moroccan style from wall to stunning wall. There is no official dining room, your meals are brought to your pavilion which makes for a very quiet stay. I would have preferred to see some other people and general hubbub, but maybe it’s meant to be super quiet? So, it was just me, my ailing sister, and an obnoxious cat that we should never have befriended. Do not let that adorable cat into your room, it will take over your bed and want to go in and out all night!
Our dinner table – oh I loved those baskets on the wall! Stylin’
Last adventure and into the foothills of the Atlas mountains we drove for lunch at Richard Branson’s mountain retreat Al Haouz.
Everyone was very warm and friendly and the clientele were all very British! Lots of ‘Oh really, do you know the so and so’s?’ going on from one table to the next in the dining room. Brits fave game in the world is to place people, while making quite sure the other side are placing them! Julia and I were mentally rolling our eyeballs while eating our rather dreary vegetable tagine, (but rolling them in a kind way!!) LOL
I think the food problem is, that excellent chefs around the world have adopted world food culture, given it a twist, made it utterly fabulous,and ruined it for us travelers being offered authentic local cuisine. Well, that’s my view anyway.
Stunning black Moroccan again tiles in the lobby.
It was all very splendid. Beautifully staffed and maintained, but what do you do there? There’s probably hiking in the mountains – they were covered with snow the day we were there. And there are tennis courts and a pool, maybe you can ride horses….
So back to Peacock Pavilions and a bit of shopping in Maryam’s amazing souk. Luckily she ships as our suitcases were choc-a-bloc – drooolworthy!
Maryam has an amazing eye and is always scooping up fabulous finds for the souk. She has certainly got boho Moroccan chic down to a fine art. The online shop is available through the main website, I recommend a browse.
That’s it folks – I’m kind of Morocco’d out. Hope you liked my take.