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Just Back From: Morocco

Mayla Melo spent a few weeks in perennial favorite Morocco. She combined the frenzy of Marrakech with the exquisite calm of the Atlas Mountains and Sahara Desert, before ending her visit in the ancient walled city of Fez.

  • Camel trekking in the Sahara
  • Desert Luxury Camp
  • Ait Ben Haddou
  • At the Menara Gardens
  • Koutoubia Mosque
  • La Mamounia
  • View from La Mamounia
  • Jemaa el Fna
  • Moroccan feast
  • Majorelle Gardens

Was this your first time in Morocco?
I was there in 2010 and it’s amazing how much has changed. The luxury travel market has really grown. The airport is much more organized and efficient. Everyone is still extremely welcoming.

What was your itinerary?
I spent a week in Marrakech before heading off to Fez, with several overnight stops along the way. In Marrakech no visit is complete without wandering through the central square known as the Jemaa el Fna and surrounding souk. Just get lost in it all – the sights, sounds and, yes, smells! Another favorite is the Majorelle Gardens, home to the late Yves Saint Laurent. I also recommend the Menara Gardens and Saadian Tombs.

From Marrakech, Ouarzazate is a 4-hour drive through the stunning Atlas Mountains. The city is known for its famous movie set and its Kasbah, which is a UNESCO World Heritage site. I spent the night in the Kasbah outside of the city called Ait Ben Haddou,which is another UNESCO site (“Gladiator” and “Game of Thrones” were filmed there.) . With the help of a guide there, we toured a tiny village comprised of only 14 Berber families. We learned that they live without electricity or internet. The next day, before arriving at the desert, I stopped by the Todgha Gorge. It’s an ideal place for adventure, full of rock climbing, rappelling, and hang gliding.

What was your night in the desert like?
An unforgettable adventure. The Desert Luxury Camp is so remote and peaceful.  I was greeted with mint tea and shown to my tent which had a hot shower and a regular bathroom. Dinner was a great alfresco Moroccan feast, under a billion Saharan stars. After dinner, we sat by the bonfire as the staff sang for us. I haven’t seen shooting stars since I was a child, and that night I counted seven.  They took us on a night walk where we marveled at the sky in complete silence. The next morning, I was up for a camel ride as we watched the sun rise. It was really blissful.

What were the top highlights of your trip?
• Camel trekking at dawn in the Sahara
• Counting the shooting stars on a brilliant desert night
• Going back in time visiting the miniscule village in Ait Ben Haddou
• Wandering through the famous Majorelle Gardens
• Exploring the souks in Marrakech

Tell us about the food.
Moroccan food is so good, so beautifully spiced and flavorful. Chicken, lamb and vegetables are a staple. My favorite meal was a vegetable tagine at a small restaurant I stopped at for lunch on my way to Fez. It was the first time that I saw local families eating out. In Marrakech, I had great Italian food at the Four Seasons. And I cannot forget the incredible orange juice from the Jemaa el Fna stalls.

What is the best time of year to visit?
April to early June, and September through November.

Any cool shops you visited?
The owner of Au Fil d’Or inside the Marrakech Souk makes kaftans, shirts and jackets with traditional elements but a flair that appeals to a Western customer.

Where do you recommend staying?
It’s worth spending a few nights in the legendary La Mamounia and wander through its magnificent gardens. The hotel underwent $100 million renovations a few years ago and looks just as grand as when it opened in 1920. I was greeted there with fresh almond milk and dates. Both were exquisite. So was the staff. Because it’s inside the Medina, the location is perfect for strolling to the main attractions.

The Four Seasons Marrakech, 10 minutes from the Medina, also had impeccable service. In Ouazarzate, Dar Ahlam is a magical property surrounded by palm groves. In Fez, the Dar Finn is a perfect little riad with 7 specious and beautifully decorated rooms. The roof top deck offers amazing views overlooking the Medina and city.

Don’t forget to…
• Come with an extra bag for purchases. So many colorful things to buy. Don’t forget to negotiate. It’s fun and part of the culture.
• Get a guide to navigate the city on the first day, then venture on your own. Moroccans are very friendly and if you get lost they will help you to find your way.
• Go to Jemaa el Fna at sunrise and have mint tea in one of the rooftops restaurants to watch the square come to life.
• Spend two nights in the desert.

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