Off the beaten track in Morocco

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RooFlyer

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I have some private business interests in Morocco and need to go there once or so a year to check up on things. A major excursion earlier this year took me and colleagues well off the beaten track, into mountains and small town in various parts of the country, but mainly the central SE. This trip report will include the usual 'favorites' such as Marrakech but as I see there have been a couple of TRs to Morocco already, hopefully most of it will cover areas not reviewed before.

Firstly to get there. Whose idea was it to tack the Morocco trip onto some work in western Canada :rolleyes: :confused: ? Getting to Morocco in the cheapest (business) way involved some creative Air Canada Award trips and then Lufthansa then Royal Air Moroc. Specifically Air Canada: Calgary-Toronto-Montreal; then Lufthansa Montreal-Munich-Frankfurt; then RAM Frankfurt to Casablanca. Actually it was "only" 26 hrs. The Maple Leaf Lounge at Toronto is quite good (unlike most of the MLL offerings) - seemed pretty new. Montreal was a blur (alcohol induced - there were snowstorms in both Toronto and Montreal and I hate taking off / flying / landing in those conditions!)

I loath the LH business beds, pre current upgrade-to-fully-flat program. What a way to ruin a new A380 by putting angled flat beds in them! And no-where to put anything. Munich Senator Lounge was quite good and they discovered my bags had been mis-tagged and were on their way to somewhere bad. With 5 mins to go they got them found and loaded onto the FRA flight :) . Frankfurt was the usual convoluted nightmare. I wondered if I should spend some time in the LH 'welcome' lounge on arrival, but decided against it, thinking that the RAM check-in may be a bit of a challenge. It was. Chaos. Never mind, you get used to the ways of Royal Air Moroc!

Arrival in Casablanca airport was not so much chaotic as just slow and tedious. Immigration and baggage always seem to take forever. But got there eventually.

Casablanca isn't one of my favorite places. In spite of the exotic name, its basically a big commercial city, with chaotic traffic. They completed a light rail / tram line through downtown this year and as far as I could see, this just gave a new 'shortcut' route for cars. I always like some-where plush to stay when I arrive, as I know I will be tired and stressed and need to get working the next day.

So this time I tried the Sofitel Tour Blanche, near the port and the Medina. Of course this meant a longer drive, which didn't help. Its a nice tower hotel, with great views over the medina and to the Grand Mosque, which is on the Atlantic coast. The room was a bit better than these pics suggest, but the public areas - restaurant, bar etc all were heavily infused with second hand smoke. I was happy with a quick meal, then bed.

Sofitel Casablanca.JPG


Although the view from the room was pretty good - the Grand Mosque (with Atlantic Ocean behind) and the Medina. BTW , see all the little white spots in the LH pic? Satellite dishes.

Sofitel views.jpg


One place you are always welcome are the beach clubs. Our business associates always insist on lunch at one of the excellent seafood restaurants there, and so we visited the following day (the weather was a bit blowy, though).

Casablanca beach.jpg


Then it was on the road south, past the Cathedral and along the coast. A Kasbah of course, then the coast opened out. We were on our way to Agadir, about 550km via the coast road to look at port facilities (in a drive-by kind of way)

Casablanca church.jpg


Casablanca south.JPG
 

kpc

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As alluded to in the first paragraph in the above post, I have visited Casablanca once for a night and that was enough!! (see signature). Looking forward to the report as it unfolds...
 

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The coast south of Casablanca mainly consists of a narrow arable strip close to sea level and then an elevated escarpment, where the road lies. Fantastic views over the Atlantic for most of the way.

These pics are taken near Oualidia and Essaouria respectively. The next 2 are near the port town of Safi.

Coast near Oualidia and Essaouira.JPG

Coast near Safi.jpg

At lunch we arrived at the small town of Oualidia, expecting to be at the rather flash 'La Sultana' (as in the ruler, not the grape!). Unfortunately it was closed, so we settled at the rather less grand La Osteria but it was also much cheaper and probably a much nicer experience. The Oysters were sensational!


Osteria at Oulaidia.JPG

Of course every country needs industry, and at the port and town of Jorf Lasfar we found a steelworks and phosphate processing plant.

Port of Jor Flasfar.JPG

After sussing out the port we carried on to Agadir. Agadir is mainly a resort town, with pretty good beaches and climate. We had this view from the old Kasbah on the hill overlooking the town.

Agadir.JPG

After a long day on the road we were looking forward to the 'Sofitel Agadir Thalassa Sea and Spa'. Our local associates said they got it half price .....
 

Major

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I haven't been to Casablanca for more than 40 years, looking forward to your TR
 

RooFlyer

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'Sofitel Agadir Thalassa Sea and Spa' .

Oh, Lord what a joint. Ever wonder what Supermodels do when they come off the catwalk in those sometimes ridiculous outfits? They come here! I saw a couple of ladies in wow! really strange clothes; others in very high stylish couture.

The entrance wasn't too grand (although the dancing fountains out front were a hint) but the lobby was a bit over-the-top.

Agadir Sofitel front and lobby.JPG


Then we explored the interior decorations. From the electric blue swinging bar seat, to the person-sized chess pieces, ready for action ...

Agadir Sofitel inside.JPG


Outside everything was lit to great style

Agadir Sofitel night.JPG


Daytime revealed a fantastic pool system and then there was the beach ....

Agadir Sofitel pools and beach.JPG


Then there were those funky showers in the rooms, with all sorts of ... ah-hem ... mood lighting.

Agadir Sofitel shower.JPG


But what of the beds, the restaurant, the spa I hear you say? Forget it. Don't bother. We were obviously not in the correct class to be at this sort of place (it was a work trip!). The service was lousy from check-in to departure. The tucker at the restaurant was bizarre. The whole place was pretty bad as a hotel for the night (obviously we were paying only 1/2 price :) ). Avoid.
 

RooFlyer

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As alluded to in the first paragraph in the above post, I have visited Casablanca once for a night and that was enough!! (see signature). Looking forward to the report as it unfolds...

Gee some of those pics look familiar :) You captured the Marrakech I found, very well.
 

RooFlyer

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Many towns in Morocco have the words 'God, King, Country' written on hillsides above them. Agadir has a spectacular example, on the hillside where an ancient Kasbah (1540) sits atop.

Agadir sign.JPG

We drove east from Agadir up the Souss valley. Its a good road, and quite scenic (but nothing compared to the Anti Atlas and other mountains to come!). First major town was Taroudant. Just a market town we were told, it has an imposing Kasbah. Eastwards, the road deteriorates a little.

Taroudant.JPG


Taroudant and road.jpg


Then we went through the settlement of Aoulouz, site of a 15th Century madrassa; unfortunately we didn't have time to stop and explore.

Aoulouz.JPG

Our destination that afternoon was the town of Taliouine. We planned it as just a town near the area we wanted to visit the next day, but found it was the centre of the saffron trade in Morocco. It was out of season, so unfortunately no pics relevant to the saffron. We stayed at the little Auberge Le Safran, and I can recommend it highly. Just a plain place, not luxurious, but the sheets on the bed were white and crisp andf the tagine for dinner was excellent.

The roof of the hotel gave a good view of the town. The trees with white/pink blossoms in the foreground are almonds. they were all over the place.

Taliouind panoramafrom hotel.jpg
 

LadyC

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Thanks for posting - Morocco is on my must visit list so always interested in reading about it :)
 

RooFlyer

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We drove south from Talouine and highway N10 well south to beyond highway N12 , towards the Algerian boarder. The scenery here is stark and wonderful. Its the 'Anti-Atlas' mountains, not the 'High Atlas (that comes later :) ) so the peaks aren't soaring, but are substantial, and mostly bare of any vegetation, except around the wadis and springs. The TR is called 'off the beaten track' - and here's the proof! Spent a very long day driving and hiking around the hills and mountains around the areas of interest.

Permit 1.jpg


Permit 2.jpg


We stopped the night in a guesthouse locally, then drove north back up to highway N10 where we came to Ouarzazate ('wa-za-za-tee') which seemed surprisingly well laid out. Its a 'movie town' and has a couple of 'studios' as well as the 'Oscar Hotel' :) Some Star Wars scenes were shot here - the one of the arid planet where Luke grew up. The local scenery has stood in for Egypt and other desert locales in a number of films.

Ouazazate.JPG

Continuing east along highway N10 you are in a broad valley between the High Atlas mountains on the left and the end of the Anti Atlas on the right. The LH pic shows views to the High Atlas, and the RH pic a random town along the way. You can always find a shop to buy bottled water, a fruit shop with abundant fresh produce and, if you want, a small restaurant or 3 where you can get local tagine.

Highway 10.JPG


At the end of this day we reached the large town Tinghir where we stopped for the night. Sunset was spectacular.

Tinerhir.JPG
 

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Have been asked to show the route, to make things clearer. This is a rough map (courtesy Google Maps) of our route. It doesn't always show the exact roads we travelled, but general path, in an anticlockwise direction.

Route.jpg
 

RooFlyer

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After dealing with our work in the Middle Atlas area and Highway 10, we headed back the same way, through Ouarzazate and crossed the High Atlas on the way to Marrakesh.

Wow! Two hours of hairpins. The road isn't bad, but our fellow road users left a bit to be desired. Fortunately we had a good local driver and had no real worries. the pic following aren't in strict order, but were taken during the day of our crossing the High Atlas, and also an excursion back into the Mountains south of Marrakesh to a high ski 'resort' .

The route is marked by many villages and settlements, and the almonds were still in bloom. The road across the spine of the mountains was extremely twisting and turning.

Altlas Almonds.jpg


The foothills approaching the higher areas of the mountains is especially scenic with arable, wooded hills and valleys and great views to the mountains.

Approach high Atlas.JPG


During our trip we got to se many Berber villages (RH pic) and indeed Berber people, with their distinctive culture and music. The Berbers are the 'indigenous' people of Morocco.

High Atlan and berber.jpg


We stopped in one small village and our driver arranged for us to have tea with a local. When they said 'one lump (of sugar) or two?', we weren't thinking so much of lumps like these ... :)

Berber tea.jpg


We went right up into the mountains behind Marrakesh to a ski resort up the Ourika Valley. You can't get right in unless you are a guest, even when we visited which was not in the 'season'. Anyone who has been to Morocco knows about argan oil - from the widespread argan nut. Its said to be a cure for just about everything from halitosis to rheumatism. We visited an argan factory (back down in the valley, away from the snow caps) and saw the nuts being ground by hand by a Berber enterprise.

Atlas snow and argan oil.jpg
 

Mal

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Good trip. I haven't been overly impressed with Marrakesh or agadir, but obviously there is life and fun past those destinations.
 

RooFlyer

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Anyone who has been to Marrakesh would agree that a good word to describe is 'frenetic'. Also beautiful, historical, interesting. But probably mostly frenetic.

So we were so pleased with our discovery of La Maison Arabe 'riad' for accommodation in the Old Town there (we stayed twice). A riad is a style of Moroccan house focused around an interior courtyard. Maison Arabe is two conjoined riads and consequently its larger than most and a bit of a rabbit warren with stairs everywhere. But its also possibly the best accommodation I have stayed in, ever. (And that's before I found that it came #2 in Trip Advisor's 'Top Luxury Hotels in Morocco in 2013 :) ) Its located down an alleyway that you probably wouldn't venture down for any other reason. But once inside you find an oasis (sorry for the cliché) of calm; beautiful decorations and furnishings; wonderful service and fantastic food. But there are 2 downsides. The beds are firm in the 'arabic' style, and there's a mosque nearby which doesn't hold back on the calls to prayer (but these would be the same in any hotel in Marrakesh).

The public areas are many - lots of nooks and crannies to have coffee or a drink in, and several cool courtyards with fountains and daily decorations of roses and rose petals.

Arabe general.jpg


Arabe courtyards.jpg


There is a great clubby bar for pre dinner drinks and several dining options (and also cooking classes :) ). We didn't eat at the hotel at all - too many great options outside!

Arabe dining.jpg


But one of the best places was by the small pool - a shady, cool respite from the heat and bustle outside. Having breakfast here in the morning with fresh home made yoghurt and French pastries sort of made it difficult to get on with the day outside.


Arabe small pool.jpg


Of course one of the things outside is their 'offsite' pool and gardens - maybe an acre or so. A free shuttle bus takes you to this, yes, 'oasis' outside the Old Town where you can just sun by the pool with excellent bar service, swim or just relax and read a book in the gardens. Man, did we strike it good here!

Arabe pool.jpg
 

RooFlyer

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Hope I'm not going over-the-top on La Maison Arabe, but had to include a couple more pics ...

The room ... as I said, a firm bed! Bathroom was a sea of tiles and mosaics and wonderful orange scented toiletries.

Arabe room.jpg


This was the courtyard for my room.

Arab courtyard roses.jpg


I also used the house hammam. Now THAT's an experience not to be missed. Imagine being in a sauna, on a marble slab, first being scrubbed head to foot with something akin to a dish-washing scourer on mitts worn by my assailant, then massaged with several aromatic oils in turn, feeling like a chook being rubbed with spices and oil prior to being roasted. Then rinsed off with a hose and rubbed down again. You do come out wonderfully refreshed, but at the start I was having second thoughts!

The hallways and stairs can be a little daunting, but I used the excuse that the exercise allowed me at least one extra G&T in the evening!

Arabe hallways.jpg
 

RooFlyer

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The greatest highlight in Marrakesh (IMHO) is the Djemaa el-Fna. A large square, always full of people and a swirling, cosmopolitan, chaotic place to spend some hours in. At night time its probably better, when the food stalls come out in force and families come to eat and socialise. But beware the motorcyclists! They regard the whole square as fair game and there is always the possibility of the crowd parting and one will be coming at you.

Djemaa 1.JPG


The guys in the colourful costumes are water sellers. Then there are the snake charmers - the whole flute and cobra-in-a-basket while scene. For all of these guys its pay-per-pic.


Colourful.jpg


Cobras.jpg


Just off the square is the Koutoubia mosque - a great point to navigate around. And there are alternative dining options there.

Koutoubia.JPG


Fresh orange juice is a highlight on a hot day. The restaurant in the RH image I think some-one has posted previously - it was blown up in a terrorist bomb some years ago.

Stalls and restaurant.jpg
 

kpc

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The restaurant in the RH image I think some-one has posted previously - it was blown up in a terrorist bomb some years ago.

View attachment 20625
Good they have rebuilt it...as per the post below, we had dinner in this very restaurant 17 months before it was blown up...the spot we sat for dinner was turned into a mangled mess, and we were lucky that we weren't there when the bomb exploded!
http://www.australianfrequentflyer....lanca-fes-and-marrakesh-21568.html#post429297
 

RooFlyer

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Thanks kpc. Knew I read your post before!

Now, I've been to a bunch of souqs, but I don't think any can match Marrakesh's for size, complexity, 'labyrinth-ness' and colour and movement. Unfortunately, if you want to get 'real' good stuff (like real pashmina), you have to pay 'full price', no bargaining, but its still a wonderful product.

Souq 1.jpg

Not withstanding the narrow-ness of the souq, of course that doesn't stop a horse-and carriage barreling through or of course the odd motorcycle.

Souq 2.jpg


The spice shops are terrific. Rose water and various orange based products we saw being produced in our tour of the 'back blocks' of Morocco.

The for lunch, we pondered over the goats head (or was it a calf) - in - a - jar. Its in front of the guy in the pink shirt.

Spice and lunch.jpg


And so we left the Djemaa el-Fna, and a few last pics. Then you wonder if you should think some more of what's actually being photographed :oops:

Final square.jpg

We did go back at night, and it was possibly even better - but I didn't take the camera as I didn't want to worry about it. :( As we walked from the riad to the square in the evening, along crowded and aromatic streets, we wondered why people were hissing at us. Cultural faux-pas? No, what sounded at first like 'shhh' was actually 'hash', or actually 'hash-hashhhhh-hashhhhhh'. Every second guy was a vendor!
 

RooFlyer

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A bit more Marrakesh.

The ancient Medina is of course wonderful to wander around and soak in the atmosphere and do some shopping. Carved rock with fossils for me! As long as you keep your eye out for the traffic, there are no worries here. Gateway to the Medina on the left, typical scene on the right.

Medina.JPG


The Saadian Tombs are a bit hard to find, but well worth a visit. 'Populated' in the 1600s, it was later walled up and 'lost' until the early 1900s. these pictures don't do the architecture and decoration in the tombs justice.

Saadian tombs.jpg


Highlight of the day was the Bahia Palace. Built in the late 1800s its a huge complex, only part of which is open to the public. of course, being built for a Grand Vizier one might expect a harem, and this is where Bou Ahmed housed his 4 wives and 24 concubines:

Palace concubines.jpg


More palace decorations:

Palace.jpg


A great thing about Marrakesh, and in fact Morocco in general is the use of orange trees as decoration. The oranges themselves aren't great to eat, but there are a number of avenues of these in Marrakesh, especially around the Palace.

Palace orange.jpg
 
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