Cristian

Cristian

With a passion for travel and particularly Morocco, I co own and manage Sun Trails.

Website URL: http://www.sun-trails.com

Travel to Morocco during Ramadan

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Ramadan is a holy month in Islam, during which the Muslims refer from drinking and eating, among other things, from dusk till dawn ( 4 AM to 7H30 PM in Morocco). Morocco being a Muslim country, most Moroccans observe the fasting. In 2018, Ramadan will begin around 15 May and end around June 14, give or take one day.

Is it still worth visiting Morocco during Ramadan ? Of course it is. May is traditionally a very popular time of year to visit Morocco, before the summer heat settles in. Here is what changes during Ramadan in Morocco compared to the rest of the year:

- shops and businesses don’t usually open before 11 or 12 in the morning. Some monuments and sites may change their schedule and close sooner than usual. They all come to a standstill around 3- 4 PM and many will open again after the ftour ( breakfast) around 9 PM;
- dinner in restaurants is served later than usual ( starting with 8H30 PM), since most Moroccans have their ftour ( breakfast) around 8 PM;
- alcohol may not be as easy to purchase locally as during the rest of the year;
- each individual is affected differently by fasting for weeks on end, but most of them will not be at their 100 percent. Some will be less focused. Some will be grumpy. Most of them will invite you to share a meal with them;
- our drivers and guides are aware that you will probably not be participating in the fast. They are completely used to tourists eating in front of them and will not be offended at all;
- many mosques have tables spread out to feed the hungry after prayers. In the markets and streets, special dishes are prepared during this time, some of which can’t be found during the rest of the year.

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In order to have the best out of your holidays in Morocco during the Ramadan:

- although Moroccans are by now used to it, try not to eat, drink or smoke in public, unless you really have to. If you do, do it discreetly. No one will throw stones, but it would be impolite and may upset some;
- don’t expect much between 3 and 7 PM. Shops and businesses will reopen again later in the evening. If you have planned for a trek/ visit/ activity, try to schedule that to end before 3 PM;
- try to enjoy the nights. There is hardly a better time of year to have a glimpse into the locals’ every day lives. Try to share a meal with the locals ( you will get plenty of invitations) and observe the locals and their lives. Most prayers in the evening are conducted outside the mosques and there is a special ambiance all around as people greet and visit each other;
- try and space out the itinerary. For example, if you needed 7 days for an itinerary around Morocco during the rest of the year, you should plan for 8-9 days to cover the same distance and areas during Ramadan.

Naturally, the fact that most Morocco is observing Ramadan puts some stress on the logistics of a private tour. Nevertheless, May and beginning of June is a great time to be in Morocco and you shouldn’t miss the opportunity just because of it. You can browse through the reviews left by our previous guests over the years on the internet and see that they have thoroughly enjoyed Morocco even when Ramadan month used to happen in July and August.

If you have any further questions or you want to send us an enquiry, please use the form here.

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Fine dining in Fez

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When you ask a Moroccan which city best represents Moroccan cuisine, the answer will most likely be: Fez. And there’s a feeling that the time has stood still here for the past few centuries when walking aimlessly through thousands of derbs or just turning the corner to find oneself in the middle of an auction- sale of goat skins. Where Marrakech is opulent and sensual, Fes is traditional and discreet. There is no wonder then that some of the long- forgotten Moroccan dishes can still be found on the menus of some of its restaurants. However, the last decade has also seen the arrival of foreign chefs that are pushing for Morocco- inspired imaginative dishes, lured by the organic ingredients they can easily source in the surroundings of Fes. John Dorry with Chermoula, Sephardic Bitter Orange or Scored Calamari with Zaalouk are but such examples. We are often in Fez and have tried most of its best well- known restaurants so we are going to talk about 3 restaurants that really stand out. Two of the them twist Moroccan cuisine while the third one keeps long- forgotten Moroccan dishes alive or enhances classical tagines.

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DAR ROUMANA

Moroccan food with a twist in Fes all started with Vincent Bonin, a chef who had worked in several Michelin-starred restaurants in the UK, worked for legendary chefs in Australia and catered to celebs on their yachts in the Caribbean and Mediterranean. He and partner Vanessa took over Dar Roumana in 2005. She was managing the guest house and he was in charge of the cuisine. In the beginning, it was a question of serving something different to the resident guests. Eventually word got around and they had to open the restaurant to more and more non- resident guests. Ultimately, the charm of French countryside got the best of Vanessa and they decided to end their Moroccan adventure in 2015, leaving the cuisine in charge of Chef Younes Idriss who worked alongside Vincent for 7 years. 

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Having had the privilege of dining there 3 times in the last 7 years, last time after Vincent had left, I can only assert that the imagination and great taste are still present. I wish I could choose a favourite dish but you’re not likely to find it again as the menu is constantly changing. Before dinner, offer yourself a glass of wine on the roof terrace and take in the beguiling panorama of the medina of Fez at night. 3 dish menu at 350 Dirhams per person.

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L’AMBRE @ RIAD FES

A more posh affair, the Ambre restaurant is set inside Relais & Chateaux’s only property in Fes, Riad Fes. Here, it is not about twisting the Moroccan recipes but making sure that some of them don’t disappear in the wake of mass tourism cuisine. Some of the visitors in Morocco complain about the uniformity of their meals as they seem to be served the same dishes all throughout. In reality, mainstream restaurants are cautios of stepping outside the norm and copycat the same menus. And some travelers soon end up ‘tagined out’… When family culinary traditions have been passed down for generations, why not celebrate them with the people who know. Lamb tossed in Smoked Onion Jam or Spiced Sea Bass roasted with vegetables are not your typical Moroccan restaurant dishes. With this idea, the restaurant opened itself up to cooks who have never set foot in a cooking school but have learnt everything from their mothers; a true marker of authentic cuisine. On arrival, they receive training to supplement their existing know-how and are taught to use products in their entirety, to eliminate waste. Each year, Michelin-starred chefs also choose to complete their training at the Riad Fès. Here, fruit and vegetables are all seasonal, sourced from a local sustainable farmer. Light menu from 350 Dirhams per person.

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NUR RESTAURANT

When first opened a few years back, Numero 7 caused a stir in the rather conservative Fez medina. A small riad patio, very minimal in design, that could accommodate at best 30 persons, a 6 dish menu of what resembled molecular cuisine concocted by a resident chef that would change every three months. It was never heard of. Although the formula proved to have some success, it was a concept difficult to manage, especially given the logistics of being tucked in the middle of the medina. In 2016, the concept changed and so did the name: Nur. It was the idea of chef Najat Kaanache and her husband Charles. Spanish- born but of Moroccan origins, Najat wanted to pay tribute to the proud cultural and agricultural diversity of Morocco. She affectionately refers to her country as "the mouth of Europe", forged through its unique confluence of colonial cultures. She must know what she’s talking about since she is the only Moroccan chef that has worked in the kitchen at restaurants like El Bulli and Noma, among others.

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Last November when I had dinner there, in between my 10 courses , Najat had time for a chat where she explained among other things that she wanted to create something unique, a very refined cuisine yet retaining the Moroccan flavors. She also felt a little disheartened that some of the best Moroccan produce ends up in restaurants in Spain and that although Moroccan cuisine is so rich in recipes, most restaurants reproduce the same bland menus. Each morning, she and her team source the best available produce from within the Medina and construct the largely improvisational menu around the seasonal seafood and local protein offerings from their specialty purveyors. And if 10 dishes seem like a lot to take in, don’t expect to come out bloated – this is much more about a culinary travel than getting your belly full. 10 dish menu at 700 Dirhams per person.

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© Sun Trails 2017. All rights reserved. No part of this interview may be reproduced, distributed, or transmitted in any form, including photocopying, recording, or other electronic or mechanical methods, without the prior written permission of the publisher.

 

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Riad La Parenthese Marrakech

The riads of Marrakech, probably Morocco's most coveted attraction. If until the late 90's, they were a well kept secret, the secondary homes of well- off French urbanites that used to come and spend the weekend or winter holidays and started to let rooms to their friends and aquaintances, they then became hugely popular with non- French guests starting around 2006- 2007. Nowadays, there are more than 1600 only for the medina of Marrakech. If they share something in common, it is the fact that rooms spread around an inside patio, with little or no windows on the outside and service is personal yet discreet. The owner will sit down with you and share insider's tips on where it is best to shop or dine. Breakfast at 1 PM ? No problem. In general, nothing is too much trouble, when requests are within reason. And ultimately, the feeling of being transported into another world, when walking past the threshold, from a world of narrow and scrubby alleyways into a setting of 1001 nights, where a fountain is girgling, surrounded by orange trees and the scent of fresh cinnamon filling the air.

But how do you choose the best ones ? After all, you've booked one of our private tours of Morocco and are not likely to return to Marrakech soon. Well, based on our experience, it makes a difference when the owner ( usually a foreigner) is always on site, rather than having a manager hired. Then, the location: close to Jemaa El Fna square, a taxi drop off point and the souks. Third: security. You are not likely to get robbed or attacked anywhere in Marrakech, but in some parts of the medina you will get hustled more by over-night guides. Riad La Parenthese ticks all these boxes and then some: the cuisine is delicious, the decor is sober yet modern ( after all, you get plenty of traditional in Fes, Meknes and Rabat) and nothing is too much trouble for Patricia, her son Pierre and their loyal and hard working team. Patricia generously offered to share with us some of the secrets behind her love- affair with Marrakech.

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Sun Trails: How did you get the idea of the guest house? How long have you been living in Morocco and why? Where does the name of the riad come from? Do you previous have experience running a hotel ? 

Patricia: My first trip to Morocco was about 20 years ago.
To be honest, it wasn’t love at first sight- I was a little apprehensive. When I visited the Medina there, I remember there were a lot of fake guides and for me, the culture shock was complete. 
On my second trip to Marrakech however, I do not know what happened but I only had one thought in my head: to return as soon as possible.

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That’s how we ended up buying a small house a few years later and were moving between Marrakech and Belgium, but as soon as I was landing in Belgium my heart remained in Marrakech. So one day I decided to sell my shop in Belgium so we can purchase the riad. We did and then needed one year of refurbishment works to turn it into what it is today.

We had no previous experience in hospitality, but had many ideas and I knew one thing was I wished to really spoil our guests. The name (Parenthese) because in general, one visits for a few days, has a break, a parenthesis ( faire une parenthese, FR)

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ST: The staff has not changed much in recent years. Was it easy to find a team so welcoming and motivated? When you are not on site to greet customers, who takes your place?

P: Our staff has not changed for 5 years. We are a bit like a family and customers can witness that. I know I can count on them at any moment. It is however very rare that none of us are here. Pierre, my son and partner, takes care of everything when I am not there and I am always very happy when I get an email from a customer who thanks me because he has been very accommodating.

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ST: How do you get along with your neighbors in the medina ? Are there many other guest houses on the street or is it more a residential area ?

P: The neighborhood has several guest houses and we are generally solidary enough to help us in case of overbooking or to lend us things when we need it. I do not consider the other riads as competitors, we are all different in design in terms of what we offer. The good relationship with the Moroccan neighbors comes naturally; it's always nice to say a word to people while crossing the neighborhood.

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ST: You are ideally located, next to Dar El Bacha palace and the souks and 10 minutes from Jemaa El Fna square, with a taxi drop off point not far. What will you advise someone to do if they stay with you and only have 48 hours in Marrakech?

P: I always advise guests who only have 2 days in Marrakech to visit the Mellah and its palaces, the Madrasa for its architecture and especially the Majorelle gardens that I adored on my first trip. The souks are unmissable, for therein lie treasures of Moroccan handicrafts. If the guests want to leave Marrakech, I advise them to take a day trip up in the Atlas and its small villages.

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ST: What will you advise someone especially not to do, the first time in Marrakech?

P: I would advise against evenings too touristy. Some restaurants used to offer dinner and good entertainment years ago, but that is not the case anymore.

ST: What are the best restaurants not far from your hotel ? And spas?

P: The restaurants where we enjoy spending an evening are: Le Comptoir du Pacha (at only 100 m from the riad), Le Café Arabe and La Maison Arabe. We also love Latitude 31 for its reinvented Moroccan cuisine and stunning setting. As regards spas, we work exclusively with the Bains d'Orient and Heritage Spa. They are very professional and quite welcoming. Their decor is unique, with Heritage Spa being quite authentic and Les Bains d'Orient rather chic. It’s the best way to spend a few hours.

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ST: Which countries do your customers come from? Families or couples? How many nights do they spend at the riad on average? Tell us a funny thing that happened to your guests.

P: Our clients are mostly English and Spanish but the rest of our guests come from all over the world. They usually spend between 2 and 4 nights with us.

A funny thing that happened to us:
A guest that had just arrived with his luggage in his hand and who, upon walking past our plunge pool, thought it was covered by a see- through glass and stepped on it... He ended up in a bathrobe while waiting for his things to dry. Fortunately, he only got away with a scare...

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ST: What is one of the typical dishes of the house or one that your guests appreciate the most?

P: Our couscous is I think one of the best (I’m not the one preparing it, fortunately!) The girls are very good cooks. Our breakfasts which change daily are generally very appreciated.

ST: What is your favorite place in Marrakech, inside or outside the medina ?

P: My favorite place inside the city is Majorelle Gardens and a little outside the city, Lalla Takerkoust Lake. Inside the medina, the souks where I love to stroll and treasure hunt.

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Riad La Parenthese is currently offered on the Dreamers level of our bespoke tours of Morocco.

© Sun Trails 2017. All rights reserved. No part of this interview may be reproduced, distributed, or transmitted in any form, including photocopying, recording, or other electronic or mechanical methods, without the prior written permission of the publisher.

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Dar Infiane

Dar Infiane - 5.0 out of 5 based on 2 votes

1Tucked away in the south of Morocco, lies the unassuming town of Tata. Those more intrepid travellers on a tour of the southern Morocco, spending the night in Erg Chigaga dunes, pass close by. At a first view,Tata seems a middle- of- nowhere ghost- town built by the French at the beginning of 20th century, part of the colonisation of Morocco. But, there is more than meets the eye. And perhaps the best way to find out is booking a stay at Dar Infiane. Perched on top of a hamlet across the palm grove, the century- old dwelling appears from the outside more like an undefeatable citadel rather than the warm and hospitable guest house it trully is. I had my reservations on my first visit, as the reviews on the internet were mixed. But I still recall the feeling I had when I first stepped in, on a late afternoon in January, years ago. It was as if I had stumbled upon a house that defied all logic, like the ones in Disney animated pictures (which secretly you hope it exists). Its hidden corners, nannies and crooks, rooms with ceilings shoulder- level, the labyrinth of passages, the roof terrace, the secret plunge pool, the miniature windows, the views, the dining salon - I immediately fell in love with it.

As I'm writing these lines, some 500 kilometers away, I imagine it at night, when the neigbours come out on their roof terraces below to chat late at night or at breakfast, the roof terrace overhanging the green vast serpent that is the palm grove beneath. And yes, there are a lot of stairs, the bed linen and towels could certainly get an update and the staff speak no English. But the staff are most warm and obliging, dinners served by Latifa are abundant and delicious, you get hot showers, reversible A/C, and Patrick, the owner, is most willing to share his passion and tips about the region, having lived in Morocco for the last 40 years or so. But the main reason you book here is the magic that the house transpires, a place you'll remember long after you concluded your bespoke tour of Morocco. Patrick agreed to share the story behind it. 

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Sun Trails: I do not know of any other guest house like yours in Morocco. Its age, its charm, its location, its rooms, render it quite special - how did you come across it the first time and how did you think of acquiring it ? Tell us a bit about its history and its location on the top of the village.

Patrick Simon: It’s a long story that starts with my experience at the time as a GCMA expert (Great crossing of the Moroccan Atlas) which used to label rural lodgings in the High and Middle Atlas. One day I travelled to Tata, to gather information about two airport strips and I fell "en amour", as the Canadians say, with this douar ( hamlet) perched above Tata’s palm grove. In fact it was a half-ruined building. My experience of rehabilitation enabled me to see what it could become if given the proper care. 

The hamlet has a few centuries of existence and is a perfect example of the typical oasis and rural buildings of foregone times. Then, men took their time to build homes in a community, in the right season, with local materials: clay, stones and palm beams to support the roofing. They also had great knowledge of best exposures and ‘passive ventilation’, that kept them safe from hot summers and cold winters. I learned that, in fact, originally this douar consisted of 7 hamlets inhabited by fractions of the same tribe, spread over the crests of surrounding valleys. A positioning that favored them to regulate the various commercial passages and camel caravans.

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ST: Given its location and structure, isn't it difficult to keep the guest house in actual state ? How do you manage ? Hot water, toilets, supplies, plumbing ?

PS: It is true that this structure requires annual maintenance, but it is also true that using local materials offers sound and temperature insulation. My previous experience enabled me and Francine, my wife, to decide from the beginning the best solutions fitted for the management of water, electricity, sanitation, thus avoiding us all subsequent head-aches in terms of repairs or modifications. Our efforts were then rewarded with the Green Key label.

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ST: Which countries do most of your guests come from? Since the majority of visitors to Morocco come to see Fez, Marrakech and the desert, not many travel further than Taroudant or Zagora. It isn't a hotel so we can't find you on booking engines either. How do you reach out to them ? Word of mouth, internet, travel agencies ?

PS: To be honest, they come from all over the world. We started the rehabilitation work of the house in 2001. To be successful, we had to devise our own marketing strategy. Very early we decided for the choice of communicating via the internet and later, social networks. The word of mouth did the rest.

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ST: With its hidden corners, rooms with low ceilings, miniature windows, nooks and crannies, the house resembles a small scale Chefchaouen and must be a heaven for children. I for one, spent an afternoon playing hide-and-seek with my 5 year old daughter last time I stayed... Do you have many families with children staying there?

PS: You are absolutely right ! This, together with our small plunge pool on the terrace makes it the ideal spot for them ! We do have families with children staying and children appreciate most these corners, nooks and crannies that in themselves constitute the most charming aspect of their stay.

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ST: Do you think the guest house is meant for everyone ? If not, what is the profile of the visitor you are looking for ? What is that you are offering above the hotels in the area?

PS: It is true that our house being perched on the top of the hill, which greatly amplifies the beauty of the overhangs and sunsets over the palm grove admired from our terrace, one must climb quite a few stairs, and in this aspect, Dar Infiane well, you have to earn it ! ;) We always tell our guests before booking about the many stairs to be climbed.

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ST: What is there to do in the vicinity of Tata that is specific to this region? How many days do you advise to spend in the region, depending on the season? What is the best season of the year to get there?

PS: The region of Tata is rich with the dramatic landscapes of the Anti Atlas, its diverse heritage of igoudars (granaries), sand waterfalls and natural grottoes, its mellahs, house of Charles de Foucald and of course its verdant oases and their traditional khetarras, water clocks and all the micro- communities this creates. I particularly recommend having a walk in the palm grove with a local guide to get a glimpse into this traditional way of living. The region is equally rich with history from the Almohad- era tower to Agadir Ouzrou and the numerous sites of prehistoric rock engravings. One could easily spend 3- 4 days around it. 

For me, the routes are part of the journey hence January and February when the almond trees are in flower are perhaps the best time of year to book. That being said, all year round we have guests coming and enjoying the region and the guest house.

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ST: Tell us about your projects for the region, knowing that you are also vice president of the Regional Council of Tourism.

PS: We are currently working on Jbel Bani Geopark, a regional project of local development linking tourism and development of material and immaterial resources of the region. The aim is to create jobs and income for the local population (of which 40% are young people). We believe that eco-tourism projects such as ours can be an example in creating integrated and sustainable forms of development without ignoring the impact of climate change on this region, where water shortage is already a reality.

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ST: Recently you contributed to our article on security in Morocco. Local authorities are doing their utmost to guarantee tourists this security. However, the number of visitors in Morocco has declined lately. What can be done more to attract more tourists, especially those interested in cultural and adventure travel ?

PS: It is undisputable that Morocco has been able to take the necessary initiatives to avoid any security breaches. I think we should all communicate more to promote the diverse cultural aspects of Morocco. The world has changed much these last few years, indeed. But Morocco ranks among the safest countries! It is no longer a question of reassuring the travel agencies or tour operators but rather the end- user, the traveler, via the social media and all other modern- day platforms.

Merged 

Dar Infiane is currently offered on our private tours of Morocco as part of our Dreamers range of accommodation.

© Sun Trails 2017. All rights reserved. No part of this interview may be reproduced, distributed, or transmitted in any form, including photocopying, recording, or other electronic or mechanical methods, without the prior written permission of the publisher.

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Sun Trails

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Casablanca 20000

Phone : +212 638 636 719/ +212 666 915 384

Skype: sun_trails_morocco

We are open 7 days a week from 9 AM to 5 PM local Morocco time. For any last minute enquiry feel free to call us on the number(s) listed above.

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Boutique tours of Morocco

What better place than Morocco for a private tailor made tour ? It can be a day trip from Marrakech into the Atlas Mountains. Or a 14 day private luxury Morocco tour. And everything in between. With such a different culture and language, a boutique 4x4 Morocco tour with an English speaking local driver- guide guarantees the best holidays in Morocco. Choose one of the many 4x4 tours from Marrakech or another imperial city and you will discover the off the beaten track Morocco. Much more than excursions from Marrakech or Morocco desert tours, our 4x4 custom tours travel all across Morocco, covering Berber villages, majestic Kasbahs, enchanting palm groves or Touareg desert camps. From Ait Benhaddou to Chefchaouen, from Erg Chebbi to Taroudant and from camel rides in the Sahara to hardcore trekking Morocco can only offer. Browse among our 4x4 boutique tours of Morocco and book your favorite today !