I recently revisited Morocco after a long hiatus … and what I discovered was a country moving forward, investing in its people / infrastructure while maintaining traditions and history.
Fes, Morocco’s ancient capital founded in the 8th Century, is a Unesco World Heritage Site nestled within the sturdy walls of the medina. Today, greater Fes is home to 1.1 million people and balances the new town with its McDonald outlets and malls with the the historic core city containing traditional artisanal shops, religious schools, important mosques and “riad” homes amongst which some have been converted to hotels nestled inside the old city walls. Fes has a unique hospital … the American Fondouk, founded in 1927 by an American who funded free treatment for injured working animals of the area. To this day it continues its mission and is known far and wide for its services. The only other edifice in Morocco other than the American Embassy which is allowed to fly the American flag.
Just a day trip away from Fes, the famed Roman ruins of Volubilis where a thriving Roman outpost became a bustling city, once was surround by rich fields of grains, lush vineyards and fertile farms of olive and fruit trees. Just a short distance away, the town of Moulay Idriss remains an important pilgrimage site for Muslim devotees, the town having been named for Morocco’s most important founding dynastic leader.
On to the Sahara desert, across the Middle Atlas mountains, where the snow laden winter heights and good rainfall, feeds rivers draining eastward to nourish lush green oases lined by mudbrick walled villages along with burgeoning townships. Staying in the Merzouga Desert Camp, a well-constructed tented facility, gave us a sense of the enormity and scale of Africa’s main desert area – the Sahara. Around a campfire, with the sound of Berber music playing, we looked out at towering sand dunes, saw the moon rise above the horizon and absorbed only the susurration of light winds, animals quieting down, birds settling in for the night … no other intrusions on nature’s waning of the day. It was magical.
Food is another treat in Morocco … the spices of Al-Andalus, the influence of Portuguese, North Africa, West Africa and France combine in variety and abundance. Cumin and cloves, limes and olives, cinnamon and anise … the flavors mix and match and enhance the natural deliciousness of the fresh produce which abounds. Couscous and rice are layered or enhanced with vegetables,varied meats and herbs, fish dishes are fresh and enticing. It’s hard to make choices amongst the options but choose one does and is never dissatisfied.
Marrakech is THE place to shop … foodstuffs, spices, shoes, leather goods, creative clothing and diverse household wares … pottery, silver, jewelry, furniture, decorative items. The souks within the medina allows for bargaining with good spirit as you match your skills in determining the price from that originally quoted. Always bargain with courtesy and a smile … everyone enjoys the process. Dining choices here abound; fine hotels or riads run the gamut. The Royal Mansour, owned by the king, is truly a royal resort, nestled in acres of grounds with 1- to 4- bedroom riad residences with private butlers, decorative artworks of the highest level of skill. The smaller riads including intimate Relais et Chateaux properties have a sense of scale and intimacy. Outside the City Walls, about 5 miles distance, are graciously designed resort properties. Extensive pools, individual villas no less expansive suites in the main buildings abound: Amanjena with its fusion of Asian/Moroccan décor or the Al Maaden, a Mandarin Oriental property, which combines modernity with spaciousness and fine service. One can never forget the famed, Mamounia Hotel: redone and refurbished to a high standard … where Winston Churchill stayed and even painted.
Images and information provided by luxury travel advisor, Helen E. Land