Thyme to.... Travel! Morocco here we come
I am just getting back into blogging and I thought I give you one of my recent travels to the land of contrasts. I was so surprised by what this country had to offer. It is not the land of couscous and all desert that almost everyone knows Morocco to be. This country has it all from beautiful beaches to rugged mountains to rolling valleys and green pastures and an enormous part of the Saharan Desert.
We traveled in 9 days to all the different regions. We started in Marrakech, which is situated in the center of the country at the feet of the Atlas Mountains. It is known to be the red city due to all its buildings and monuments being red in color. It is the fourth largest city in Morocco with a million inhabitants. The city dates back to the 11th century and it’s been a kingdom since the 12th century. The city has plenty to offer from the food , sights, museums etc… One of the highlights of the trip was a visit to Jardin Majorelle with its beautiful landscapes of cacti and other fauna typical to the Moroccan climate. The garden is part of the estate of designer Yves Saint Laurent who made Marrakech his second home. There is also a museum on the premises that features all his work.
On our third day we traveled to the Merzouga desert. The road to the desert was though the Atlas Mountains which at this time of the year was covered with inches and inches of snow. The vistas were spectacular . We rode camels that took us through the desert and through sand dunes to our camping site. Or I should say Glamping site, where we had toilets in our tents and running hot water. The temperatures at nights were a chilling 2 degrees Celsius, needless to say It was freezing cold.
After our camping adventure, we had to cross the mountains again to travel to the city of Fez. We were very lucky to escape a big snow storm that was looming overhead. We were part of a caravan and lucky to have been ahead of the pack, since part of the group got stuck and could not cross the mountains for three days.
Fes, the cultural capital of Morocco. It is known for its walled city called Medina with 350000 inhabitants inside its walls. It consists of vibrant markets called souks, medieval architecture and beautiful mosaics. The medina is such a maze that a guide is a must to visit anything inside the walls. It is a pedestrian city with no cars allowed. Occasionally you see small motorcycles and donkeys to transport anything to and from the outside.
The walled city has no large hotels, the accommodations are called Riyads where old beautiful houses of prominent families are turned into gorgeous small luxury hotels . From the façade of these buildings all you see are large ugly walls with small doors. The door opens to reveal the most beautiful mosaics and high ceiling courtyards in the middle of a house. We had some wonderful dinners with authentic Moroccan food but my favorite visit was to Restaurant Nur with Chef Najat and the cooking class we attended with her. Chef Najat has received her training by doing stints at top restaurants in the world like Alinea, El Bulli, the French Laundry and Noma. If in Fez, a visit to Nur is a must. We also visited a mosaic factory , and one of the most fascinating aspect of our tour in Fes was a visit to the cooperative leather tannery that the government has set up in the middle of the medina where you watch the workers go through the several different processes to cure and dye the leathers form the various animals. The quality of the finished leather was amazing, it rivals all the leather that you could find in Florence.
After a few days in Fez we continued our journey to Casablanca, the white city on the banks of the Atlantic Ocean. As you approach this city, you immediately feel a different vibe. Its as if you are leaving Morocco and entering any other city in Europe. Beautiful beaches, wonderful resorts, a great waterfront with an immense gorgeous mosque occupying an immense vista.
In the upcoming weeks I will post different dishes that we sampled and cooked on our trip to Morocco . As I close my eyes, I still smell the different spices and the aromas of the city. I can still taste the wonderful tajines and stews that we sampled. What an amazing country with so much to offer. Hope everyone has a chance to visit this wonderful land full of riches to discover.