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4 Days In Morocco | Marrakesh, Ouarzazate & Essaouria

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Out of the blue, a friend called me and told me that she had four free days, had found a great deal to go to Morocco and asked would I fancy to come too? Did she even have to ask? I was already throwing things in my bag before the conversation was over.

She came from London and I came from Istanbul and we met up in Marrakesh. We are both glamour grannies which means we aren’t into backpacking and dorms, we need our creature comforts but are always extremely keen on discovering a country’s less traveled and beautiful secrets. We will go anywhere, eat just about anything and don’t much need R&R. Morocco proved to be the ideal destination.

We stayed in a beautiful little hotel, a converted Riad located in the middle of the twisted and mysterious alleys of the medina (which means “old city proper). After exploring the old town and soaking up the atmosphere of shouting water vendors with their tasseled hats and black-veiled women, we couldn’t resist making our way to the legendary Mamounia Hotel. Staying there was out of the question, but to our delight, we found out that you can enjoy the ultimate in luxury and wallow in the history of the place by buying a day pass for approx. $100. That was well within budget, so we put on our best leisure outfits and smartest bikinis and were ready to mix with the wealthy and beautiful.

The Mamounia Hotel has recently undergone a massive ‘facelift’ and it shows. Step into the lobby and you are right in the middle of a 1001 nights tale. Morocco is the country of roses and they were everywhere. I had the good fortune to meet the PR lady, and when she heard that I was a travel writer we received the benefit of a guided tour, plus free cocktails in the piano bar, and dinner in one of the five themes restaurants. Oh for the perks of travel writing.

The hotel’s most outstanding feature is the gardens. Acres and acres of exotic plants and flowers, palm trees and well-tended lawns, interspersed with kitchen gardens which provide the herbs and spices for the restaurants. My friend, a keen gardener, couldn’t tear her eyes away.

“Do you think they have an opening here for a garden assistant?” she joked. Highly unlikely, so we made our way to the pool, which is massive and surrounded by the most comfortable loungers I’ve ever rested in.

Of course, no one has to lift a finger. Everything is fetched and carried for you, including refreshments from the pool bar. I had forgotten suntan lotion, and a bottle was bought and brought to me by one of the pool boys. Heaven. We spent a wonderful day, chatting with other hotel guests who came from all over the world, many of them regulars who wouldn’t dream of staying anywhere in Marrakesh but the Mamounia.

Evening fell and we enjoyed our cocktails in the piano bar and then proceeded to the Morocco restaurant to sample a very succulent tagine which was celebrated at the table along with a glass of outstanding red wine. That was our bit of R&R, because the next day we went on an adventure trip which will not soon be forgotten.

Our destination was Ouarzazate, known as the door to the desert, located only about 150km east of Marrakesh, but what 150km these were. The road to Ouarzazate winds its way across the highest peaks of the Atlas mountains before dropping down into the desert. The journey is not for the faint-hearted, but the views down into the hibiscus and rose covered Drâa River Valley are simply breathtaking. Wisely, we had hired a car and driver for the day, because you can’t drive and look at the same time, otherwise, you easily can have taken the last look of your life; the road is that dangerous.

Our driver was, as he proudly pointed out, a native Berber and negotiating roads like that runs in the blood. Stalls line the road where you can buy huge chunks of sparkling minerals found in the desert. After passing by the massive fortified mountain Kasbah of Ait Benhaddou which is a world heritage site and crossing the snow line, we descended into Ouarzazate, not only the gateway to the desert, but also a center of movie making.

Such classics as Lawrence of Arabia, Gladiator, The Mummy and many more have all been, in part, shot there, using the natural background and several studios. You can visit the studios and a movie museum, but I preferred to make my way to the Hotel Berbere Palace. Apart from being a place where we could rest and swim in the pool, again making use of a day pass, the hotel is famous for its collection of original props of the movies, displayed in the lobby and throughout the grounds. It’s quite an experience to actually touch the throne ‘Caesar’ sat in, or to look at the cage from Planet of the Apes.

Refreshed, we went for a walk through Ouarzazate’s very own medina, the red Cashbah Taouririt, also featured in several movies and a wonderful place to admire or shop for lovely Morocco souvenirs like miniature tagines or leather goods. We made the return journey by night and as it happened, we had a full moon which cast the mountains into a simply magic light.

Next day’s destination was the nostalgia of a different kind and in the opposite direction. Our faithful and trusted driver picked us up at 8 am and took us along a razor straight highway to the coastal town of Essaouria of faded hippy charm.

‘City of the winds’ is the moniker for Essaouria, a surfer’s paradise on the Mediterranean. Sure enough, the first thing you see when approaching are miles and miles of white beach with crashing waves and hundreds of colored windsurfer sails rushing in the strong wind. Essaouria is a walled city and the first stop, outside, is the port and the fish market, where you sit on long communal tables, point at the latest catch and enjoy the freshest of fish, eating with your fingers, in the company of your fellow travelers.

We made our way through one of the many arched gates into the medina proper. Faded charm is the keyword for this place, once the favorite hang out of Jimi Hendrix and Orson Welles. Essaouria is artistic and many art galleries and craft shops line the cobbled alleys. The atmosphere is totally laid back, a far cry from the hustle and bustle of Marrakesh. Paint is a little peeling, windows and doors are a little askew, but you lose all sense of time or urgency whilst meandering through the streets, looking at the merchandise on offer and stopping in one of the many cafes for a mint tea, and listening to street musicians in traditional costumes play their strangely touching wailing melodies on old instruments.

Four days in Morocco was indeed a trip full of contrasts, which is the very essence of the country. Rare are such small places that have it all: mountains, sea, desert, rivers and lush valleys blanketed in roses, culture and ancient history. If you ever have the opportunity to go to Morocco, do it!

*Photo credits: flickr: Martin Varsavsky El Mostrito merune, next four photos by Inka Piegsa-Quischotte, and last photo from flickr by anjči’s


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30 thoughts on “4 Days In Morocco | Marrakesh, Ouarzazate & Essaouria”

  1. I can easily picture the two of us living it up in the Mamounia. I love the pictures you have added and am also pleased you used a few of mine.

  2. Inka! Your pictures of Marrakesh and the surroundings are TERRIFIC. The tangine was my favorite part of the experience, but I had great ones and awful ones. The best one was not in a hotel but in a sidewalk café. I loved the botanic garden. So colorful.

  3. Great. I’m off here in June. How long did the drive from Ouarzazate to Essaouira take? When I go there we’re heading in to the desert as well – to meet some of these camels you tell me about!

  4. The “Glamour Grannys.” I love it!! The hotel you got a tour of in Marrakesh sounds divine! I stayed in a riad while I was there, but it was a hostel. Great descriptions of the places you visited.

  5. Wow, those photos are something else! Gorgeous! I love the naturally contrasting colors. Where did you fly from? Would be interested to know the route you took since you found such a good deal!

  6. I discovered Inka’s site recently and love it! I’ve been interested in going to Morocco for quite some time and the way you described it makes me even more excited to eventually get there! From your description of the pool and Essaouria, I just pretended I was there 🙂

  7. I’m just starting to get into the nitty grityy of the research for a two week planned trip to Morocco in November. Any suggestions for hiring a driver and guide you can trust? I’ve always wondered what the Mamounia Hotel would be like – but I get an inkling when you say you’re charged $100 as a day pass.

    A lovely post. I look forward to researching the country and figuring out an itinerary.

  8. What a fantastic journey! I’ve dreamed of going to Morocco for years, but haven’t made it yet. I LOVED traveling vicariously through your fabulous photos and vivid descriptions. 🙂

  9. Oh Inka! This is so interesting. The road to Ouarzazate sounds so adventurous and well-worth the journey. Actually, it sounds like a wonderful experience all the way around. All of the photos area great, but I especially like the Draa Valley pic. Well-done!

  10. i loved morocco. the food, people, countryside, everything. but, i lost all my photos! was great to see some of these pics from two of my favourite places there. i guess ill just have to go back to get some of my own. damn.

  11. Fantastic to read this. Our trip to Morocco was cut short as delayed getting across the Straights, so it’s a country we would like to get back to.

  12. Thanks everybody for the lovely comments. I’m going to answer the questions here, because the reply may be of interest to other readers too.
    @Adam and@Leigh: I just checked with the hotel’s website, putting in a date for February and asking for the cheapest double room. $548 per night.
    @John: the drive from Marrakesh to Essaouria took 3 1/2 hours. The road is a straight highway and the first part is fast, but then there are a lot of roadworks and for long stretches you can only crawl. Lots of potholes too, that’s why it takes so long. But, in June the works may have advanced and you might make it faster.
    @Leigh re: car and driver. I did the trip to Ouarzazte twice on two separate occasions. The first time I just hired the taxi driver who took me from the airport. I liked the look of the guy and we agreed on a price. You need to speak French to do that though. The second time we got the car and driver through our little hotel. Both went very well.
    Thanks for the compliments on the pictures, but I can only take credit for 4.

  13. Nice article and a superb first photo. This is the second time I read something about this country in 24 hours, and has reminded me that I still haven’t visited it despite having lived in Spain for a better part of my life. Oddly enough, I did go to Tunisia. By the way, it’s fantastic that you got those perks from mentioning you’re a travel writer- the hotel sounds ideal!

  14. Being a boomer travel princess and glamour granny, this is my kind of trip – adventure, luxury and time by the sea. Inka, I enjoyed this post about your time in Morocco. Take me with you next time?

  15. Wonderful post. After reading this Morocco has inched even closer to the top of my must visit list. Love photos. Your day at the hotel sounds magnificent.

  16. I hope Margo will allow me to say this, but I’m over the moon because of these many wonderful comments and what makes me even more happy is that I have helped to inspire you to go and see magic Morocco for yourselves.

  17. Inka, this trip was amazing. I know what you talk about because 2 years ago I spent 2 weeks in Morocco. Loved it so much! I did the classic route: Casablanca, Marrakech (all time favourite!), Imlil, Jebel Toubkal, Marrakech, Fes, Meknes, Rabat, Casablanca. People are so friendly, the food is great so I would love to go back to see those parts of the country I missed 2 years ago!

  18. I love the pictures! I want to spend some time in Morocco one day… I’m hoping to spend a bit of time in northern Africa period! Fantastic post!

  19. I, too, am packing my bag before this conversation is over. Second Marrakech account I’ve read in two days. Came across both by luck (and twitter). You painted an irresistible picture. I think it’s time for me to head to Morocco!

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