Moroccan travel stories evoked my deepest wanderlust. To float through the souks; delve into the spice markets and escape into antique shops was part of my travel dreams since I first picked up a magazine as a broke college student. When the opportunity presented itself, I got to planning. With children safely with daddies myself and a fellow MavenMomma decided that our next momma getaway was to be Morocco.
Our momma break did not come in the ideal season for Marrakesh travel; Autumn would have been better. However, we planned with the Moroccan Summer heat in mind. The result of which was a relaxing, culturally rich, and spiritually awaking vacation.
Imagine two independently adventurous mommas in Marrakesh sans husbands. That’s right, it was EPIC!
Sure, we heard all the opinions, warnings, and read travel blogs. Just as we prepped for the heat, we educated ourselves to be considerate; culturally and physically aware of our surroundings.
And so, sun hats in hand and senses aware we were off on our adventure. You know what? The best part of our trip were those spontaneous moments we never sought, researched or planned for, but were fortunate enough to experience.
What We Packed
From solicited to unsolicited we heard time and time again to dress modestly and stay covered. But here is the thing, it is hot. At the start of the trip, we covered-up, wore long or capped sleeves and long skirts, by day two, we were over it!
While, covered from the sun and respectful of our host country, Deirdre and I rocked our tank tops, long flowing skirts, kaftans, and hats while we carried cross bodies, totes, and shawls and rocked our sunglasses. Guess what? No one cared how we dressed. One Moroccan gentleman remarked “we all live under the same sky,” when we initially questioned our attire.
In addition to sunscreen here is a great starter kit for what to pack. Remember if you plan to shop while you are in Marrakech, which of course you will, wear your purchases. So pack light to start.
Where We Stayed
Accommodations can make or break any trip. In Marrakesh one of the most ideal places to stay are riads, traditional Moroccan lodgings with interior gardens or courtyards that house an heir of authenticity.
Besides, authenticity our hotel wishlist included: safety, amenities galore, a relaxing (not sleepy) atmosphere, and last but not least, delicious food!
I scoured online and found a common theme; raves about La Sultana.
403, Rue de la Kasbah – Marrakech
Tél.: (00 212) 5 24 38 80 08
La Sultana is a grouping a five different riads into one perfect property; 5-star accommodations combined with the traditional Moroccan riad experience. Included are a spa, fine dining restaurant, lounges (in each of the five riads), the rooftop, and a lavish and comfy pool.
The La Sultana Experience
Upon arrival, the front desk clerks guided us to the hotel’s shaded rooftop to enjoy mint tea while they completed the check -in process. Thus, a small act of hospitality set the stage for a magical hotel stay.
Each of our rooms offered something unique. My room (Ibis) was luxurious, comfortable, and spacious with a tub and separate shower. Deidre’s room, Swan, was also spacious and had a separate lounge/seating area. In each of our closets, we found straw bags and sun hats courtesy of La Sultana, perfect for any trip to the market.
La Sultana is located a short walk from the main square-Medina, which made the property an excellent respite from the Summer sun. We would spend our early mornings in the souks, and retire to La Sultana before Noon where we enjoyed barbecue/lunch poolside.
In addition to La Sultana’s hospitality and ideal location the amenities left us wanting for nothing. The spa, where we enjoyed a traditional hammam (an exfoliating bath) and other spa services, cooking classes-mental note to take the tagine making class next time.
Overall as two women traveling alone, we felt secure at La Sultana; our home base. We felt looked after without feeling watched. Also, the location proved to be ideal; in the middle of it all, yet removed from the more crowded streets of Marrakesh.
Where We Dined
Besides the traditional meals and light lunches enjoyed daily, we had two memorable meals during our week in Marrakesh. The first noteworthy dinner took place at La Sultana. The second delicious dinner came curtesy of The Nomad Café.
1 Derb Aarjane, Marrakech Medina
T +212 5 24 38 16 09
Housed in an old carpet store in Rahba Lakdima spice square, the Nomad Marrakech towers over four floors. Their menu is Modern Moroccan; traditional local cuisine infused with global influences. We savored our meals of Lamb, lemon infused couscous, and zucchini with mint (that I still try to recreate in my own kitchen). Be sure to dine on one of the two terraces to enjoy views of the Medina below and the Atlas Mountain range (when visible between November and May). Nomad Marrakech is open for both lunch and dinner, or you can also pop in for a drink.
Now that you have a packing list, hotel and restaurant recommendations I will give you the deets on sights and shopping!
Where We Played
We had the perfect afternoon of leisure in the midst of Marrakesh. It is as if a painting sprang to life and surrounded us with all its fauvist beauty. A fitting result of an artist, Jacques Majorelle, creating a garden. It is, therefore, no wonder that Jardin Marjorelle is one of the most visited sites in Morocco.
In the garden, we sauntered the lanes, studied the exotic plants and rested alongside the picturesque water lily pond. The colors “Majorelle” blue and Canary yellow enveloped us throughout the garden and continue to inspire me.
Housed inside the Jardin Majorelle are the Berber and Yves St. Laurent Museums along with a culturally expansive boutique-where I purchased a beaded necklace from the YSL muse and jewelry designer, Loulou de la Falaise!
Also, make sure to enjoy lunch at the cafe, conveniently located within this oasis. It may have taken forty years to create this enchanting garden, lucky for you it will take you the afternoon to explore.
Sidi Kaouki- 45 minutes south of Essaouira is Morocco’s fastest growing surf community and an alternative to the over run beaches of Essaouira. Think Tulum, Mexico in the early 2000s. Picture beach shacks on the side of the road flanked with relaxing surfers. Imagine a stretch of beach with a fisherman beating his nets clean as teenagers hang nearby atop a rustic lighthouse.
Surfers, fishermen, and teens coexisted with families lounging in their makeshift tents. Horseback and camel rides offered in the distance while all around you are the sounds of ocean, laughter, music, and a mixture of different languages from all over the world – that was our day in Sidi Kaouki.
After a beach walk, reading near the water, and a quick camel ride, we enjoyed a simple lunch of sardines, olives, and coca-cola at a beachfront café. In Sidi Kaouki we did not find a boutique or souvenir shop which added to the uncharted feel of this beach front haven. Sidi Kaouki was zen. I remain grateful for the experience.
My vacations are not complete without a hike. I go for the glamour, the food, and the shopping, but I thrive for the hike.
This trekked took me to the Ourika Waterfalls, with a guide. I would not suggest a woman climb here, alone. Why? You are too remote with too much going on around you.
Upon arrival, I cautiously passed over an old rickety bridge and wondered if I had made a mistake taking on this hike. Thankfully, the smell from makeshift river bed cafes distracted my concern just in time. I reached the entrance to the trail and I figured there was no point in turning back. From the entrance, there is about a 300 ft vertical ascent (4800 ft above sea level). It took me about an hour and a half to reach the top where I saw seven waterfalls. My advice is to wear hiking shoes specially made to grip slippery rocks.
A Note to the Wise
One thing to keep in mind is that there are many businesses etched into the sides of the rocks. So if you are looking for a peaceful hike, this is not the one. I for one marveled at the “cliff hustles”; The man selling fresh squeezed orange juice, the woman selling handmade fans, and the small make shift cafes on the climb. I marveled because I could. When the vendors started to pester me to buy, my climbing partner/guide would ask them to cut it out. Grateful for my chaperone, because my weary self would have brought anything to cut the distractions and get back to the climb. Hence, my note above, if you are a woman alone, do the climb with a guide.
Where We Shopped
There are opportunities to shop in most places in and around Marrakech. When I shop abroad, I shop like a local. The best souvenirs are those that speak to the daily good life.
The Souks – The souks thread north from Jemaa el Fna in a winding labyrinth- no seriously they are a maze, and you will get lost. They continue until they hit the Musée de Marrakech. Have your bearings and understand directions; North-South and embrace your temporary detours. Open from 9ish to 9ish, the best time to visit is in the cool of the morning and/or the evening. Remember the hot afternoons are made for slumber in Marrakesh. In the souks, you will find textiles, antiques, housewares, spices, tanneries, etc. sold by local merchants from their stalls or stores fronts
1. Do not get caught up in the numbering of areas by the products sold. Merchants have started to “get in where they fit in,” so there is no longer a pure spice, leather, or textile area for example. You find what you find when you find it. Enjoy the meandering through the markets.
2. The tanneries are an experience all unto themselves. Here you can watch the local artisans prepare and dye leather as well as shop the goods at the nearby stalls. One last and important note, the smell of the tanneries will leave you gagging, be prepared with your trusty scarf!
3. A vendor does not give you a price; a vendor makes an offer. Counter the offer on the low and meet some place in between.
4. Wear sunglasses. If you make eye contact with a merchant or local looking to sale services, it will be difficult to disengage. Wear shades and be as elusive as needed.
5. Speaking of the locals offering services. You will run across those offering to be your guide and provide directions. There are both official (they wear ID) and non official guides. Either way the service is not free! Those licensed via Morocco’s department of tourism have a set rate, and the locals (who run the risk of being fined) will usually expect a small token of appreciation.
Arguably the best boutique in Marrakesh. Higher price point, no haggling, and well curated. 33 Rue Majorelle offers welcome variety to traditional Moroccan wares. Located directly across the street from Majorelle garden on Rue Yves Saint Laurent and nestled into a quiet residential neighborhood. It was here that I found great pieces by female Moroccan designers, such as Salima Abdel Wahab. When shopping here, you are shopping alongside the locals and tourist in the know.
The on-site boutique offers a wide range of unique clothing and products, designed exclusively for the Jardin Majorelle, which reflects ancestral Moroccan savoir-faire. The boutique features a silk and cotton clothing line, produced at the Jardin Majorelle’s own workshop, embroidered leather cushions and leather goods, artisanal soaps, jewelry, silk scarves, and hand-woven textiles.
You can visit the store front housed in La Mamounia for their quality crated bath linens including the tasseled terrycloth bathrobes. Chez Zoe also supplies fine restaurants and other hotels in Marrakesh. So if love your hotel’s linens while in Marrakesh, they are probably from Chez Zoe.
Maison Du Caftan
La Maison du Caftan Moroccan is the mecca of Kaftans. If you want it, they’ve got it: vintage kaftans, Berber kaftans, silk, velvet, and cotton. I went a little crazy shopping and quickly scaled back by the prices-NOT Cheap. There is a room, which has less expensive clothing. However, I figured go with quality over quantity-I brought one duster.
The Medina Herbal shop, is located at the entrance of the Marrakech souk near Bab Fteuh square just behind the Argana café. A welcome escape from the warm sun- it is indoors. The look is less spice shop and more pharmacy. You can sit and enjoy a cup of herbal tea while you sample spices, body creams, and extra perk, I was treated to a henna tattoo while I shopped!
Morocco defied expectation. There were no clear and present dangers. Nor a group of angry men demanding female tourist cover up. There was warmth, hospitality, and smiles-a culturally exorbitant experience. We conversed with the elders, learned from fellow MavenMommas (from all over the world), and returned with a way of appreciating the small unexpected moments. Thanks to the warm, gracious, and expressive people of Morocco, we returned home with the understanding that a plan is a starting point, you have to live in the moment.
I will return – enshalla