Is Morocco Safe ?

Is Morocco Safe ? - 3.7 out of 5 based on 3 votes

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Less people travel to Morocco in 2016. These are the official figures from the Moroccan Tourism Observatory. But why? Why are travelers avoiding a land rich in cultural diversity, stunning landscapes and natural- born hospitality? We cannot help but wonder if the kingdom’s location in Middle East North Africa ( MENA) region may have something to do with it. After all, the region is no stranger to terrorist attacks, civil unrest and political instability in recent years. Whenever a new attack is carried out, many potential travellers stay away from Morocco too, simply because it’s in the ‘same’ part of the world. But is it really the ‘same’ ?

Vanessa Bonnin is the manager of Dar Roumana, a stunning riad in the medina of Fes and has lived in Morocco for the last 7 years. Fes, although one of the most fascinating medinas in the Arab world, has seen its numbers drop by 25 % compared to last year. ‘Morocco is unfairly tarred with the same brush as being part of a troubled region, however for me, this type of thinking is like choosing not to visit Germany because of troubles in France.’

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The chief editor of a Moroccan newspaper agrees : ‘Morocco is a victim of its location. Many tourists mistakenly think that the terrorist threat is more important in a Muslim country in the MENA region (Middle East and Maghreb). But despite all this, foreign tourists have no reason to worry, given that since the emergence of ISIS and its supporters around the world, there was no attack in Morocco.’ And it is the terrorist attacks and political instability that have made other countries in the region see a drop in tourism by up to 40 % compared to previous year.

PRAISE FROM FOREIGN MEDIA AND INSTITUTIONS:

There is little talk in foreign media about Morocco and its security measures. Yet the information is there, if one scratches the surface. ‘"People's perception of how Morocco fits into the region needs to change. I would ask potential visitors to see Morocco as its own country and people, and to make choices based on facts not fear’, adds Vanessa. Speaking of facts:

# The UK based Independent magazine has compiled in July 2016 a map of the most dangerous countries in the world by collating the foreign office travel advice for all countries in the world. On that map, Morocco is as dangerous as say Denmark or Canada.

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# The Global Terrorism Index measures the impact of terrorism in 162 countries. To account for the lasting effects of terrorism, each country is given a score that represents a five year weighted average. On this index, Syria ranks #5, United States ranks # 35 and Morocco ranks 92 out of 163 countries. 

# According to the Global Terrorism Database, published by the National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism (START) at the University of Maryland, terrorist attacks in the Maghreb region multiplied by 47 times between 2011 and 2014, increasing from 15 to 1,105. Of these attacks, only one targeted Morocco.

# According to the French Ministry’s “Travel Advice,” which was recently updated following the suicide bombing that shook Istanbul, Morocco is the only recommended country for French nationals to visit in the MENA region.

# In 2015, the popular Trip Advisor travel website’s users have chosen Marrakech as the top destination in the world. Furthermore, in the 2016 Travelers Choice, Marrakech was Africa’s top destination.

# The US State Department lauded Morocco’s “comprehensive” counter-terrorism strategy, underlining the country’s adherence to human rights standards and the increased transparency of law enforcement procedures. Among other things, the report states that: “in the past decade, Morocco has focused on upgrading mosques, promoting the teaching of relatively moderate Islam"

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KING MOHAMED 6

It is without a doubt that Morocco owes largely its political stability and social security to its king. Having taken on the throne from its father King Hassan 2 in 1999, Mohamed 6 enacted social reforms, including important steps towards gender equality and migrant integration.

In August 2016, the King Mohamed 6 took publicly a stark stand on terrorism and was one of the few, if not the only, chief of state from outside the Western world, to publicly condemn the murdering of innocent people and outcast those who perpetrate these in the name of Islam. "Is it conceivable that God could order someone to blow himself up or kill innocent people? Islam, as a matter of fact, does not permit any kind of suicide - whatever the reasons or circumstances."

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Mandy Sinclair, owner of Tasting Marrakech (food and cultural tours of Jemaa el Fna) has been living in Marrakech for 6 years. While she agrees that the world in 2016 is a less safe place to travel, she feels safer in Morocco than in Europe or the US, although she prefers the less- than- obvious locations: ‘The initiatives the government is taking to ensure the safety of its people and travelers is second to none. As a single woman living in Marrakech, I feel safer here than in most major European and North American cities. I travel frequently around Morocco and always feel at ease, especially in smaller villages in the Atlas Mountains, Moulay Idriss and Essaouira’.

At the same time, countries such as Spain and Portugal have seen almost record number of tourists these past 2 years. Does that mean that you should feel safer in Spain or Portugal than you would feel in Morocco ? Travel writer Alice Morrison agrees: ‘Unfortunately, I don’t think it is 100% safe anywhere in 2016. What I can say is that I feel as safe living here in Marrakech as I would in the UK. I was actually more worried going to London a couple of weeks ago and getting on the underground, than I am going down to the Medina here.’ Alice Morrison is an adventurer who has lived in Marrakech since January 2014. She, of all people, has some insight into Africa, since she crossed the continent on a bike, a race of 8000 km and has written a book about it.

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Personally, I could say that the seeds for this article were planted during conversations with our guests at the end of their private tour of Morocco. In the shade of their riad in Marrakech, most of them would relate the same experience. ‘Cristian, I know we asked a lot of questions before travelling to Morocco as we were a little worried about the safety here. But we want you to know that we hardly felt any safer and more welcomed anywhere else we travelled before’. That raised a question: how many other travelers like them felt that initial apprehension and never venture? When the grim statistics were published in July 2016, I decided it was about time to publish the long- due article and get people involved. And I thought the best is to start by researching how thorough the Moroccan authorities have made Morocco safer, on the ground.

MOROCCO’S FBI AND OTHER TECHNICAL DATA

If you journeyed to Morocco in the last two years, you may have noticed police and military patrol the streets in groups of 3. Scanning devices have been installed at hotels, restaurants and malls entrances. Thorough checks are in place at airports across Morocco. In the local media, many terrorist cells have been dismantled in the past 18 months. But this is merely the tip of the iceberg.

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The Moroccan government has treated counterterrorism as a top policy priority since 2003. In June 2015, the Government of Morocco enacted significant amendments to the criminal code to address the foreign terrorist fighter phenomenon. To further show that Morocco is serious about combatting terrorism, it has created a law enforcement agency that deals specifically with terrorism threat: The Morocco Central Bureau of Judicial Investigation (BCIJ), nicknamed ‘the Moroccan FBI’. As about its efficiency, the BCIJ has dismantled quite a few terrorist cells since its creation.

Law enforcement officials and private carriers work regularly with the United States to detect and deter individuals attempting to transit illegally. At the end of 2014, the parliament voted to support the Council of Europe Convention on Laundering, Search, Seizure, and Confiscation of the Proceeds from Crime and on the Financing of Terrorism.

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On the other hand, one of the most important measures taken by Morocco in recent years was the creation of the new security mechanism “Hadar”, which incorporates elements of the Royal Armed Forces, Royal Gendarmerie, the Police, and Auxiliary Force. 

In the past decade, Morocco has focused on upgrading mosques, promoting the teaching of relatively moderate Islam, and strengthening the Ministry of Endowments and Islamic Affairs (MEIA). The MEIA is educating Morocco’s nearly 50,000 imams in a version of relatively moderate Sunni Islam. 

FIGHTING POVERTY

Besides the security measures and the counter radicalization of the mosques, the Moroccan authorities understood that the radicalization of some youth stems from lack of opportunities and unemployment. The Moroccan government engaged in a policy of heavy public investments in infrastructure and the social sector with the ultimate goal of fighting poverty. According to a study published on the Carnegie Middle East Center in 2010, Morocco succeeded to lift 1.7 million people out of poverty during the period 2000-2010. The same study shows that poverty rates in the country decreased by more than 40 per cent during the same period.

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SO WHERE DOES THE CONFUSION COME FROM ?

Morocco's association with the turmoil of the neighbouring countries is the external and main cause of its drop in tourists. The internal and lesser cause may be the transparency and overzeal of the local media to relate about the dismantling of the terrorist cells. As the editor in chief sums it: ‘The kingdom is also a victim of the effectiveness of its anti-terrorism strategy. Indeed, every other month the authorities announced that a terrorist cell was dismantled.’

Patrick Simon is vice president of Regional Tourism Council of Guelmin – Semara region in the south of Morocco and owner of Dar Infiane guesthouse. Of French origin, he has lived in Morocco for 41 years. He agrees: ‘I’d like to point out that the regular press releases claiming good results in the dismantling of terrorist cells was a choice of the government and especially the Ministry of the Interior, thus insisting to show nationals and tourists that all means were used to ensure maximum security’. So it seems that the security forces are very good at doing their job and like to convey it to the press. In the long term, it's still to be seen whether the transparency is the best policy in this case. 

Did you visit Morocco in the last 5 years ? Did you feel safe ? Did you fear for your safety ? We've created a special platform for you to vote and/ or leave your feeback here. 

The river at a turn

© Sun Trails 2016. 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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8 things to do in Essaouira right now

With little to do but wander, Essaouira remains a hippy hang-out where Jimi Hendrix is said to have penned Castles in the Sand. Today though, a more Bohemian crowd flocks for the laid-back ambiance, delicious local cuisine, and miles of beach perfect for walking (even as far as the castle in the sand said to inspire Hendrix’s song).  Laid-back Essaouira is a must-do either as part of a custom Morocco tour or an excursion from Marrakech.

Sip local wines

It is believed that viticulture may have been introduced by the Phoenicians and at Domaine de Val d’Argan in the Essaouira region, Charles Melia from Châteauneuf du Pape in France, creates a range of white, red, rosé and Moroccan gris wines. Customize your itinerary with a sampling and lunch at the winery either en route during a day trip from Marrakech or as an extra activity while in Essaouira, part of your multi-day private tour of Morocco .

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Set off in to the sun

Ride off in to the sun- set Arabian horseback style! The friendly folks at Equi Evasion organize a two-hour sunset trek that is sure to take your breath away as the sun sets over the Atlantic Ocean with views of the ruined castles and mosque in the background. Or sail off towards the Iles Purpuraires as they are known locally during a two-hour sail around the bay. As human access is restricted to protect the precious birdlife (the island is a breeding ground for Eleanora’s falcons) that exists on the islands, this is the closest way to get up close and personal.

Known as the windy city, Essaouira is also a popular destination for kite-surfing and surfers and a day riding the waves (even for the most amateur of surfers) with Explora is always fun !

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Eat well

The restaurant scene in Essaouira is hotting up with local hotspots UMIA’s Ottolenghi-inspired menu featuring fresh seafood in a cool setting, One Up, located in the former British consulate building is beautifully decorated and serving up an eclectic menu and a rooftop terrace where lunches will be served opening soon.

Newby La Tete dans les Etoiles is popular for sushi on Saturdays and the regular live music fusions on Saturday evenings while nearby Le Chalet de Plage is a popular institution amongst the bohemian jet set who prefer a seafood feast overlooking the ocean. If you’re not put off by somewhat slow service ( after all, Essouira doesn’t quite transpire urgency), head to Ocean Vagabond for the most delicious fresh tuna steaks and grilled sea food.

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Foodies will want to head to La Fromagerie for locally produced sheep, cow and goat’s cheeses served over several courses under the shade of the olive trees. Jolly cheese-producer and owner Abderrazzak casually greets guests, sharing a few laughs and explaining the cheese-making process done on site.

Shop local

The only region in the world where the famous argan tree grows, picking up a bottle of both the culinary and cosmetic oils is a must! For the best, forget small spice shops and purchase only the oil produced by nearby Sidi Yassine .

We love visiting the little workshops on Rue Chbenate for wooden bowls, spoons and serving ware made from locally sourced thuya and olive wood while watching the craftsmen spin their creations.

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Essaouira is known for its raffia craft and the small boutiques throughout the medina sell a range of colourful shoe styles – loafers, slip-ons – that are perfect for warm summer days wherever your next stop on your tailor made Morocco tour!

Learn from a local

While Essaouira is known for its relatively few sites, hiring a guide is one of the best ways to understand the old city steeped in history. Once home to a thriving Jewish, Christian and Muslim population peacefully living together, today only one Jewish resident remains and some Christian expats remain in this Muslim dominant town. Yet the proof remains - Star of David, Flower of Life and the Islamic crescent engraved throughout the medina that was once a bustling Portuguese port and known also as the Timbuktu port as it marked the end of the trade route as caravans made their way across the Sahara desert. In fact, today many of the local Jewish synagogues are undergoing restoration works with foreign aid.

Sunset drinks with a view

Whether visiting Essaouira as part of a day trip from Marrakech or an overnight as part of a private Morocco tour, watching the sun set over the Atlantic Ocean as the call to prayer rings out over the medina, seagulls overhead and surfers winding down for the day is a must. For a casual drink, head to the top terrace of Taros where the energy is upbeat and fun or to Ocean Vagabond where locals and expats flock to wind down for the day, a true local Cafe del Mar. For fancy cocktails the rooftop terrace of Palais Heure Bleue cannot be beat!

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Roll up your sleeves

Many cities offer cooking classes, but we think those offered at Khadjia’s Kuzina are rather special. Offered in Khadija’s home, guests create a custom menu that mixes traditional with creative menu options including appetizer, main course, fresh juice and fruit-based dessert before eating together in the comfort of her traditional Moroccan salon (living room). If you fancy something more elaborate, Madada Mogador’s Atelier Madada , a cooking school in a former almond factory. You will have a 4 hour workshop under the supervision of Allison and Mona, complete with a trip to the nearby spice souk. You will then prepare and eat a full multicourse lunch.

Atelier de cuisine

Deep-rooted music scene

The wildly popular Gnaoua and World Music Festival attracts festival-goers young and old as some of the top maalem (master Gnaoui musicians) are invited to share the stage with international, often jazz and blues acts, to fuse with the traditional music with African/Islamic roots. The stages are often alive until the wee hours of the morning as concert-goers flying in from around the world and travelling from across Morocco dance the night away in the famous Place Moulay Hassan. The 2017 festival is scheduled for 29 June to 2 July.

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For a more refined concert experience, the Andalusian Music Festival (known locally as the Festival des Andalousies Atlantiques d'Essaouira) is held annually the last weekend of October and celebrates the rich Jewish legacy and the shared Arabo-Andalusian heritage between Morocco and Spain. Afternoon concerts set in the Andalusian-style Dar Souiri are intimate and popular, making it feasible for visitors on a day trip from Marrakech to enjoy some live music.

About the author:

In 2010, Mandy Sinclair arrived in Morocco on an 18-day holiday. Little did she know her life was about to change as she fell in love with the country, the music, the food, the culture and the people. Within five months she returned and in 2014 she established Say Something Communications, an English PR agency in Marrakech, and Tasting Marrakech, private food and cultural tours of Jemaa el Fna. Her writing has been featured in Brownbook, Time Out Marrakech, and H.O.M.E. interiors magazine.

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Marrakech to Sahara by small plane

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You are in Marrakech for a few days. You’d love to spend a night in the Sahara but are put off by spending 9 to 10 hours each way inside a 4x4 ? Or perhaps you wish to make your other half a very special surprise and take her/ him to lunch on top of the dunes ? Just for the afternoon. What if we could arrange for you a private flight from Marrakech to the Sahara desert ? And if you’re thinking about ultra luxury fully staffed private jets with champagne on board, think again. We mean a 4-seater modern, safe, single- engine, propeller aircraft. Yes, like the ones you see at airshows. Or the one from the The English Patient. Well, not as old as that one, of course.

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The aircraft in question is a Cirrus 22 SR, from 21st century, boasts state-of-the-art technology on board and leather seats. It can take up to 3 adult passengers with cabin luggage. The pilot speaks English and will answer all your questions during the flight while also pointing out the most interesting sites as you fly over them: the highest peak in North Africa, the scattered Berber villages, the Eddhabi lake or the Draa Valley, that long green ribbon you see from your passenger seat, minutes after flying over the High Atlas mountains. The pics featured here were taken by Sloane and William, our guests in May 2017 that flew out on a Saturday, spent the night in a luxury tent in the dunes, had tea with the nomads, rode camels and flew back on Sunday.

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This little marvel would fly from Marrakech over the snowy peaks of the High Atlas mountains and land at the airport in Zagora or Errachidia in about one hour. On the ground, a Moroccan private English fluent driver– guide and a spotless modern air conditioned 4x4 await you. In little more than a couple of hours you will reach your luxury desert camp in the dunes of Erg Chigaga or your open- air picnic spot, if you opted for just lunch. But perhaps you would like to take your time along the way and first have a guided tour of a palm grove in Zagora with a local. Stop and visit the Jewish old district or the earth ovens in Tamegroute casting that unique green pottery. Then have a wander through a traditional honey- comb ksour  and its wells of light. Enjoy a hearty couscous with a local Berber family.

If you're tempted by the dunes of Erg Chebbi, you will land in Errachidia and spend the afternoon discovering pre Islamic dwellings, prying out fossils, visit the dinosaur sites or the rock engravings and have tea with the nomads.

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Ultimately, reach your luxury Sahara tent after a swift camel ride and have a mint tea on the top of the dunes, gazing at the oceans of sand.

If safety is your worry, not only flying is the safest way of transportation in the world (The National Highway Transportation Safety Administration states that airlines and business aviation (Biz-Av) are about ten times safer than auto travel), but the CAP system on the Cirrus 22 SR aircraft is designed to lower the aircraft to the ground after deployment using a whole- airplane parachute, in the unlikely event of an emergency. 

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Private flights in Morocco were mostly the domain of helicopter flights until recently. 2016 has seen the opening of a company that offers private jets. While both these choices are convenient for groups of 6 or more persons travelling together, their rates are prohibitive with prices for a flight from Marrakech to Zagora or Errachidia starting at 6000 euros each way. So, if in Marrakech and short on time, book a flight with us and live the magic of the Sahara for one night. 

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Private flights by small plane from Marrakech to the Sahara desert are available starting at 2000 euros per person, including return flights, return transfers by 4x4 to and from the camp, a private luxury ensuite tent with own showers and toilets, dinner and breakfast for two.  

For more details about rates and customized itineraries, contact us at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or call us at +212 638 636 719/ + 212 666 915 384.

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Rick's cafe Casablanca

Rick's cafe Casablanca - 5.0 out of 5 based on 2 votes

Outside view

The things to do in Casablanca aren't that many. Despite the glamor that is associated with the name, Casablanca is not exactly Bangkok. Or Cairo. Besides the third largest mosque in the world, the city boasts little more than a few architectural jewels in the way of monuments. There’s one thing to do in Casablanca – go and have dinner or a drink at Rick’s. Never heard of ? It’s the restaurant that looks like the one in the Hollywood blockbuster. But how is that a restaurant could become ' a thing to do' in Casablanca ? Way before “Hideous Kinky” or “The Sheltering Sky” came around, “Casablanca” must have been the film that lit up imaginations on the idea of travelling to an Arab country. Even though most of the action happens inside Rick’s Cafe Americain, the few scenes shot outside show bustling markets, the complicated art of bargaining and one or two glimpses into a strange yet mystifying culture, in contrast with the few scenes portraying Paris. But... hold on a second. No one involved with the production of the film ever set foot in Morocco. Yep, that’s true, it was all shot in the studios of Hollywood. And that’s one of the reasons that pushed Kathy Kriger, an American expat with a background in diplomacy and travel industry, to open a restaurant that would become much more than the pastiche of the movie, a Casablanca institution, mixing together good cuisine, a spot where expats could meet and the desire to entertain. For a restaurant requiring a dress code yet having its general manager ( Issam) playing the piano, it might as well come out of a movie. It was everything but easy, but 11 years down the road, Kathy would play, I mean do it again. She was kind enough to agree to an in- depth interview where she details her love of Morocco, talks about nowadays Casablanca, jazz sessions, Bill Willis, Yves Saint Laurent and the ‘Monday’ syndrome.

Sun Trails: Is it true that you watched Casablanca in 1974 in a cinema in Portland and the audience stood up and applauded at the end of the movie ?

Kathy Kriger: It was the same year I’d opened up my travel agency, and we shared space in the retail outlet of an outdoor/leisure catalog operation headquartered in Portland. I went with friends from the store. It was a black & white film series and “Casablanca” just had an emotional impact on the entire audience. One in our group recounted how his father had been based in Casablanca after the Allied embarkation and they showed the film “Casablanca” to the troops in a tent. His mother always added that she and other wives whose husbands were away all watched “Casablanca” at the Blue Mouse (a Portland theatre) and cried all the way through it.

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ST: You had a background in travel business and diplomacy. Why a restaurant ? How do you feel about your choice 11 years down the road ?

KK: My first plunge into entrepreneurship was starting the travel agency in 1974 with $800, encountering all the usual financial problems and unexpected crises. Eventually a friend joined me and it became very successful. Sue, my partner in the travel business, and I at the same time took a variety of cooking classes – it was just at the outset of California Cuisine – and we used to cook a lot together. Many of the dishes on our menu are adaptations of recipes I learned back in the late 1970’s. I knew Rick’s would always be more than a restaurant, but a dramatic setting that would give rise to the fantasy sought by a tourist, or a nostalgic ambiance appealing to the sophisticated Casablanca clientele. It was the best thing I ever did, as it has combined all of the things I love. I used to say after the restaurant opened that it was perfect, as I loved to entertain, but never liked cleaning up after!

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ST: Life for a single expat woman isn’t easy in Morocco, let alone when she undertakes the restoration of an ancient house and wishes to open it as a restaurant in the medina of Casablanca. Do you feel that experience helped you understand more Morocco ? Would you do it all over again?

KK: I had some inkling of what I was getting into as I’d had 4 years as a diplomat, but wasn’t prepared for the degree in which things changed after I was on my own. Fortunately I have some very good friends here in Morocco as well as a lot of friends scattered around the globe, and their confidence in me, and willingness to invest in “The Usual Suspects” kept me going. I learned a lot in the 2 ½ years it took to get Rick’s open, learned more in the first 3 difficult years and am still learning about Morocco today! I’d do it again, and looking back I feel I was meant to – there were so many coincidences of fate or destiny.

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ST: Some opinions on the internet portray Rick’s Cafe as a tourist trap. What would you say to them ?

KK: Rick’s is anything but a tourist trap – we’ve deliberately made the commercial tie- in with the film understated, dedicating our Lounge to the movie and old posters of the film. Otherwise what you see looks like the scenes in the movie, and people can pretend they are the stars. When I look at these “tourist trap” comments on the internet I always suspect they’re people who didn’t get through the door as we have a reasonable dress code. Certain types get very outraged when told their attire is not acceptable.

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ST: Last year I had dinner at Rick’s and I remember mostly the stunning lamps and the excellent saxophone player and band. I believe it was a Sunday evening. Is that a regular thing ?

KK: Thank you for noticing the stunning lamps… I set about buying them when a bank loan had come through but construction was months away. Encouraged by Bill Willis and our local architect Hakim Benjelloun as we needed ambiance, I was amazed to find lamps that look exactly like some of the pieces in the film. I learned later that I really shouldn’t have been spending the loan money on lighting, but frankly if I hadn’t bought them at the time, you would have been dining in the dark!

Sunday night jazz jam sessions were introduced a few months after we opened. A Casablanca resident reminisced about going out with friends many years ago on Sunday nights to overcome what they called the “Monday syndrome” – a place usually with live music where they could squeeze out the last hours of their weekend. The Jam Session was an immediate success and today we have a regular combo and from time to time guest musicians.

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ST: How did you find Sam, the piano player ?

KK: Finding Issam to play piano was a major sign that creating Rick’s was my destiny! A friend who plays as a hobby was searching around and he called one day with the news he’d located a pianist… named Issam! I was amazed at the connection to Rick Blaine’s best friend, the pianist Sam, from the film “Casablanca” and said I hoped he could play the piano as the name alone had him the job. When Issam came to audition, and I heard him play “As Time Goes By” in a way that sounded like the film soundtrack, as well as other songs from the epoch, it was the sort of affirmation I was seeking that Rick’s was meant to exist.

Over the years he’s done all our graphics, our website, finally directing personnel to the point where he is the General Manager…while still playing piano.

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ST: I feel that there could be more done to attract tourists to Casablanca. It certainly doesn’t have the cosmopolitan air and riads of Marrakech or the heritage of Fes, but a lot of people would love to find things to do in Casablanca. What do you think can be done to attract more visitors to the city ?

KK: Because of my experience in the travel business, and having traveled extensively, I see a lot of potential for Casablanca. One problem is that it has so long been associated as the business center, that it’s difficult to convince local authorities to do some of the things necessary to attract tourism investment.

When I first broached the idea of Rick’s Café to Driss Benhima when he was the Wali of Casablanca he was the one who suggested I find an old house in the Ancienne Medina to restore. He said it would then help attract other investors to the Ancienne Medina. I considered that an excellent idea, as I’d see what preservation had done to my own hometown, Portland, and places all over the world, from Havana to Dubrovnik to New Orleans to Barcelona.

I’m optimistic that soon there will be some initiatives launched that will upgrade the old downtown area of the Marche Central and the Hotel Lincoln. Unfortunately investing in the Ancienne Medina is complicated.

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ST: Did you choose Casablanca because of the film or were there other reasons as well ?

KK: I liked Marrakech most when I first visited Morocco in 1997, and when I arrived to take up my diplomatic post in 1998 I’d visit often and thought Marrakech was where I’d retire one day. In April 1999 I had the chance to buy a small riad in the middle of the souk that had been undergoing restoration, and was almost finished. The Singaporean woman owner had suffered in the Asian financial crisis and could no longer afford to retire and move to Morocco. I took out a bank loan and got some taste of construction projects as I got the place finished and decorated. It was a magical house with a terrace that looked into the souk on one side and to the Atlas mountains from the other. I went to Marrakech on the weekends and loved entertaining there.

When I decided to stay in Morocco after 9/11 I considered the choice between buying the place across the street in Marrakech and operating a “Maison d’Hôtes” or remaining in Casablanca to open Rick’s. It was really a no-brainer, as Rick’s Café would be unique, it had over 60 years of institutional memory behind it, and I would have no competition.

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ST: Do you feel the city has changed in the last 10 years ? How ?

KK: Many changes. First, it was hard to find places, no good maps. Now with Google Maps and GPS there aren’t the problems of finding places.

When I was working on the project, the underground pedestrian tunnels that linked one side of Place Nations Unies with the other (the BMCI, Blvd Mohammed V side with the Hyatt, Ancienne Medina side) were open, functional and one could cross with ease, with a Police box in the underground and no hassles. Unfortunately they closed the tunnels, and while the construction of the tramway made it possible to open them again, I’ve heard that there was little effort put into making them viable, and they’ve been closed up again.

There was not as grand a range of restaurants as there are now – very few Chinese, Asian restos, and I think the first sushi arrived in 2002. But the fine restaurants in Casablanca when I first came had the weight of history going for them, and were distinctive: Le Cabestan in the days of Mme Viot greeting clients at the door with her little Yorkies by her side, and André Halbert presiding over A Ma Bretagne with its striking modern architecture which perfectly compliments his impeccable cuisine. Mme Viot retired to France, and the Cabestan has been re-designed; A Ma Bretagne is now squeezed between the Morocco Mall and an intrusive neighbors construction site, but Maitre Halbert is still holding on.

New places have come along, catering to people living here by providing food and service to draw clients back. Among the new arrivals are the Rouget de l’Isle (new French), Iloli (Japanese gastronomic) and Churrascaria Marius (Brazilian).

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One big change is the art scene with many Galleries opening up – Atelier 21, the Loft Gallery as two examples joining the venerable Venise Cadre. The Museum of the Foundation Abderrahmane Slaoui Museum displays a lovely collection of Orientalist Posters and other objects in a beautiful art deco villa.

Back then “around the turn of the century” the Marche Central was THE place to shop and see friends. The stalls were full and it was bustling. I remember seeing Mme Viot walking through the Marche in the morning with her Yorkies, and the Chef from the Sheraton had a reserved seat at the vegetable stand. Today it has declined rapidly hastened by the traffic and parking problems, closed stands and a proliferation of open air snack shops. The Marche Maarif back then was small and basic. Today, it is the vibrant, lively market that the Marche Central once was.

The Centre Ville with its art deco/art nouveau architecture is a priceless piece of patrimony, and with the introduction of the Tramway and designating this part of Boulevard Mohammed V a pedestrian street I’m hopeful that the City will finally address the restoration of the Hotel Lincoln and the revitalization of the Marche Central.

One change I don’t so much appreciate is the development of the Marina in a way that completely blocks the view of the Ocean. While the project will bring some much-needed economic and touristic benefits with the Convention Center and Cruise Terminal, I feel it could have been better designed with open spaces allowing the local population to enjoy the space and the view.

ground floor with band

ST:What is the menu on a regular day ? What are some of your favorite dishes?
KK:Our menu is printed daily, with 6 Starters: the Prawn (Gambas) salad Tropicana is an adaptation from my cooking class in the 70’s; the Goat Cheese and Fig salad I created the summer before we opened when I had an apartment near the Marche Central and discovered fresh figs; the Crabe Louis is after that served at the Dan & Louis Oyster Bar in Portland. 6 Meat & Poultry dishes: Favorites are our beef filet mignon and a T-bone, and there’s also lamb chops and duck. 3 Fish & Seafood dishes: Right now we have St. Pierre/John Dory, Sea Bass/Loup and Swordfish/Espadon, but these can change according to availability.

In addition to our standard menu we have four daily specials; “Moroccan Touch” featuring a lamb tagine, lamb and vegetable couscous and Moroccan lemon roasted chicken. All our Moroccan dishes and many of our other plates feature ingredients from Moroccan cooperatives available at the Magasin Solidaire et Equitable (located off the small street that runs between the Sofitel and Royal Mansour). We also have some pasta selections and Vegetarian plates. For dessert our menu has 5 choices and in addition there’s a special ice cream menu.

piano and tables

ST: What is that sets Rick’s apart from other restaurants in Casablanca, besides its name ?

KK: As you can see from above, I think one distinction is the variety of the menu and the care we take to use the very best possible ingredients. Another is the quality and professionalism of our service staff – all young people who have adapted to our own training system emphasizing teamwork. I have to say that the decoration and ambience with the piano music and lighting makes Rick’s a standout even if it weren’t for its association with “Casablanca”. We have more than 60 full time employees, with Security, Housekeeping and Administrative sections in addition to the service and cooking departments.

Our overall attention to detail and maintenance is apparent and clients can clearly see we are continuing to invest and innovate.

ST: What is the profile of your regular customer ?
KK: We have many Moroccan clients who don’t come to “ see and be seen”, but appreciate good food and music; expatriate diplomats and business people who come informally or for entertaining; foreigners who regularly come to Casa on business, tourists from the world over: China, Japan, Thailand, Brazil, Mexico, Iran, Russia, Australia as well as good numbers from the U.S., Europe and other parts of the Middle East and Africa.

corner day time

ST:Bill Willis helped you decorate some parts of the restaurant. He is quite known for being a friend of the Gettys and working with Yves Saint Laurent. Could you tell us a little more about him ?

KK: Bill was probably the most fascinating person I’ve ever met and I adored him. He had an amazing tolerance for people who were his friends, but did not suffer fools gladly – and it didn’t matter who you were. I was lucky that we clicked on our first meeting – in the bar of the Mamounia after a reception that had been given for the visiting then- First Lady Hillary Clinton by the then- Crown Prince Mohammed. When I had the idea for the project – even before I found the house – I went to see Bill at his labyrinthine home in Marrakech, the former harem wing of an old palace. He loved the movie and said he’d love to work on it – “Just call me your aesthetic advisor, My Dear.”

Once I’d found the house and finally bought it, Bill went to town. As I was buying lamps, he was designing everything major (the wood doors and entrance look just like the movie, and our downstairs bar is the exact same shape as the film’s – only with golden palms instead of colums), minor (the distinctive beaded table lamps on each table were designed from a beat-up brass and enamel lamp he’d carried with him when he arrived in Tangier by ferry in 1966. He pulled it out from under an armchair in his sitting room one afternoon after lunch when be began talking about the “lamp”. “I think this will work” he said and it surely did.), and many things that moved beyond a film set (four fireplaces, central staircase with terra cotta tile and zellige, a private dining room with oak floors, tadelakt walls and a view to the port, intricate moucharabieh carved wood panels between arches) plus an upstairs apartment for me! In a book that Pierre Bergé produced (sadly Bill died before the book was published, but it is a lovely testament to his talent) he says the basis for his design of Rick’s was “giving my friend Kathy a place to entertain!” Well, that he did.

Bill moved to Morocco from Rome in 1966. Just before leaving Rome he’d met and befriended John Paul Getty Jr. Six months after his arrival in Morocco, Getty invited Bill to come to Rome for his wedding to Talitha. Bill demurred and suggested instead the Gettys come to Morocco and he would escort them on their Honeymoon. In Marrakech they fell in love with an old palace near the Mamounia and bought it on the spot, hiring Bill to restore, repair and decorate it – his first commission in Morocco! He was friends with Yves Saint Laurent and Pierre Bergé and in 1974 when they bought the Dar Es Saada – neighboring the Majorelle property – they hired Bill to do the renovation and interiors. Later, after they had bought the Majorelle estate and the garden, he was involved in the restoration of the Villa Oasis.

fireplace and table

ST: What is your favorite hidden gem in Casablanca ? Why ?

KK: I’d have to say the Spice Market – it’s hard to find, but a real space apart. The setting is marked by some leafy trees at the entrance and one passes through the Henna section with decorative signage and booths, and then a series of spice stalls – very colorful – with herbalists (the old fashioned variety, dried animals and reptiles on display) on the opposite. There we have our favorite “spice guy”, Redouan, who picks out the spices with a long paddle and displays them on a flat tray – holding it up for photos - before he grinds. We’ve had him make ras al hanout with over 40 different components, and he’s also made curry powder for us (“kari” in his recipe book). Saffron is taken from a safe where it’s carefully wrapped in muslin, out of the light.

If one goes down a level there is a long hall of more spice stalls, and from there a real market with poultry and meat. If you go all the way through the market and onto the back street there are a variety of street-side stalls, among which the only purveyor of live escargot ( snail) we know of in Casablanca. I know this as we had to buy them for a chef who was coming to film a segment at Rick’s for the Food Network. She was due to film on the day the Market is closed, so asked us to buy the escargot the day before. We couldn’t leave them in the plastic sack the vendor placed them in, so had the kitchen divide them into two plastic containers with open grilling. The containers were carefully wrapped in transparent film, and placed upstairs on the terrace. The next morning when I walked out on the terrace I was shocked to find the two containers empty… and snails all over the terrace! I called security and housekeeping and between the two they were gathered up and put in more secure surroundings. For several weeks thereafter I’d confront one who’d got away….

The video team got a real kick out of this anecdote and in doing some wrap up shooting had the chef and I at an upstairs table on one side of the courtyard, and on the opposite side an escargot poised on the balustrade. They recorded the chef saying, “You know, Kathy, I have a feeling we’re not alone.” It didn’t make the cut, but for us was a perfect ending to a hilarious anecdote. Needless to say we have never – and will never – serve escargots at Rick’s!

© Sun Trails 2015. 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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Morocco desert experience

Morocco desert experience - 5.0 out of 5 based on 1 vote

erg chigaga dunes and tent

What is it that draws us to the immensity of the dunes ? The oceans of sand. Where does it spark from, this longing to gaze at wave after wave of sand disappearing on the horizon?...  All else irrelevant. There, on top of the highest dune. Minutes ago, you were cresting the dunes on the back of a camel. Presently, you are sitting down and conjuring all the majesty of saffron dunes, changing color as the sun gradually sinks. Nothing compares to waking up at night with the Milky Way above you and falling back asleep. And perhaps, the desert, because of its solitude, is what makes the locals more welcoming. 

Here, by the dunes of Erg Chigaga, despite of all the apparent scarcity, water runs just below the surface, a secret well kept under layers of sand. The desert also makes grown- ups children again. The most reserved of persons can’t resist the urge to climb up the highest dune and jump in the sand, the face lit with a wide childish grin. 

camel ride into the dunes                                              Camels ready for the ride in the dunes

In the collective imaginary, there is hardly anything more exotic, than those tougher- than- life Bedouin men crossing the desert, carrying precious loads of gold, ivory, slaves, textiles, spices or salt on the back of their sturdy camels. Or the bandits constantly threatening to attack the caravan, unless the due tax was paid at different custom points. It used to take the caravans 7 to 8 weeks to cross from one side to the other and some were losing half their personnel on the way. What has become of these men nowadays, when,  not so long ago, camels were replaced by trucks ? Whilst some camel trading still takes place in some parts of Niger where the Azalai sees thousands of camels travel across the vast teritorry, camels in Morocco are not used for caravan trading anymore. In the modern age, the nomads are mostly employed by the on site numerous desert camps that have cropped up on the fringes of the Sahara. Some also went to university, learnt English and became drivers and guides for the numerous foreign visitors taking a private tour of Morocco. We are lucky enough to have some of them work for Sun Trails. And every time they return to the desert, they feel at home, still very much nomads at heart.

erg chigaga dinner                                                   Dinner by candle light in the dunes at Azalai Camp

For some of those travelling to Morocco, spending a night in the Sahara is ticking off a box on a travel notebook. For others, it is a lifelong dream. Naturally then, you don’t want to ruin that experience and so you should carefully choose the right Morocco travel planner. Your agent should make sure you won't have to put up with a party at the camp next to you, the racket of a noisy generator or quad bikers blazing past your tent when you least expect it.

ERG CHEBBI DUNES VERSUS ERG CHIGAGA DUNES

Any forum on Trip Advisor or Fodor will tell you that there are two places in Morocco where you can actually spend a night in the desert: the dunes of Erg Chebbi and the dunes of Erg Chigaga. The route from Marrakech over the High Atlas mountains is one of the most dramatic in Moroco and reaches Ouarzazate on the other side. From here, there are two options: Erg Chebbi dunes– east through Skoura, Dades Gorge, Tinerir, Rissani and finally Merzouga; and Erg Chigaga dunes- west, following the Draa Valley through Agdz, Zagora, Tamegroute and finally Mhamid. From my own experience and feedback over the years, indeed, the dunes of Erg Chigaga get a fair amount less of visitors. The distance and driving time to both these dune locations is more or less similar, about 5- 6 hours drive. 

erg chigaga luxury camp inside tent                                                       Azalai Camp luxury tent interior

The dunes of Erg Chebbi owe their popularity partly to their being easily accessible : a bus will take you to literally the foot of the dunes from Marrakech in a 10 hour drive. When people want to do the classical imperial cities tour, the Erg Chebbi dunes are easier to include in the itinerary, given their location. If you are ready to give Fes a miss, then the dunes of Erg Chigaga are the ones to go for. Especially since they are two hours drive away from the closest bit of tarmac and you would be a fool not to loop your way back to Marrakech on a different route, thus experiencing all different formations of the desert:  sand dunes, stone plateaus, gravel plains, dry valleys and salt flats. To not mention the legendary Draa Valley, a caravan highway for centuries, where the river is flanked by one of the largest palm groves in the world along with Biblical villages and century old kasbahs. Then, is it impossible to experience the desert in a camp at Erg Chebbi ? Not at all. Your travel planner can suggest a more distant camp, deep in the dunes. 

erg chebbi luxury camp                                                    Erg Chebbi luxury camp by dawn

SAFETY

Although the border with Algeria is not far, until this day there has been no registered case of kidnapping or activity of a terrorist organization in these areas. Security at the border is very tough. In the very hot season ( July – August), there may be very rare cases of scorpions or snakes, but they never enter areas where they feel human presence. If you want to be 100 % sure, make sure you spend the night inside your tent and that your mattress is not laid straight on the ground. For more details on whether it is safe to travel to Morocco, please read our in- depth article

erg chigaga VIP tent                                                       VIP tent with private butler

BASIC DESERT TENT VERSUS LUXURY DESERT TENT

Nowadays, there are more and more luxurious desert camps to complement the regular ones. Most regular camps offer spartan but clean double beds with mattress and frame and plenty of blankets to keep you warm in the night, if chilly. Toilets and showers are shared and running water is scarce. Luxury camps offer wider tents with en suite showers and toilets, extensive furniture and fittings, and king size beds. The dinner menu is also more comprehensive. In the past 2- 3 years, the luxury camps also offer a higher level of standard, the VIP desert tents. These tents tend to be further away from the main camp, more accommodating and complete with a private butler. A normal basic camp accommodates 10- 12 double tents with a larger tent for restaurant. The typical luxury camp accommodates 4- 5 en- suite tents with a restaurant tent.

Although the typical nomad tents are wool tents secured with wood hooks and ropes, set up in a cone- like pattern, the camp tents nowadays tend to be box- shaped units set up on a solid (usually metal ) frame. Less traditional, they are much more resistant this way to strong winds and provide a better insulation from sand grains or any eventual insects ( mostly flies). However, if your only reason for booking a luxury camp tent is having private showers and toilet, you should know that you can still have a shower both in the afternoon arriving at and the morning departing from the desert lodge. Normally you have that choice, when arriving in the afternoon, before leaving the asphalt. After a 30 – 45 minute camel ride ( optional), you arrive at the desert camp as the sun sets, where you will have your dinner and spend the night. Naturally, the camp is fully staffed. Next morning, you should try and not miss the sunrise. Then, you will be taken back to the same lodge where you had arrived the previous afternoon and have a proper breakfast, before proceeding with your Morocco itinerary.

erg chebbi basic camp                                                Basic camp in the dunes of Erg Chebbi

ONE NIGHT OR TWO NIGHTS ?

In winter ( mid November to mid March) days are short and the sun sets around 5- 6 PM. If you're on a tour of Morocco, it is likely you will arrive at the camp just before sunset and will leave after breakfast. Which doesn't leave you with much time to enjoy the dunes. Ideally, forecast two nights in the desert in winter then. If you are worried about not having much to do, you may be wrong: tea with the nomads, rock engravings, prying out fossils, lunch in the oasis, the Black People village, dinosaur sites, quad biking, sand boarding are plenty of choice. The downside is that if a sand storm is blowing in ( very rare but possible), you will have no choice but to spend the morning or afternoon inside your tent. 

ALCOHOL

Given the alcohol regulations in Morocco, very few camps ( even among luxury ones) sell alcohol on site. Therefore the best way to go about it is to get yourself your supplies in Marrakch or Ouarzazate ( cca. half way between Marrakech and the dunes and the largest town in the south). Otherwise, you may end up paying 3 or 4 times the price if you want to acquire it in a hotel by the dunes. All you need to do is ask for your driver to stop you at a special store. He will then stock it for you in the 4x4’s freezer box, if need be.

erg chigaga basic camp inside                                                            Basic tent interior

CLOTHING AND TEMPERATURES

Cotton/ linen clothes and sneakers/ sandals are best for travelling around Morocco including the desert. A fleece or rain jacket is always a good addition for late nights/ early mornings. Outside the summer season, nights in the desert tend to be fresh/ chilly and in December/ January temperatures can get down to 35°F/ 2°C. Even with the basic tent accommodation, you will get as many blankets as necessary to keep you warm. That being said, it’s not a bad idea to bring over your sleeping bag, if space is available in your luggage. Day time, when the sun is out, temperatures can vary from 70°F/20°C in the winter months to the 113°F/ 45°C and more in July and August. In general we will not recommend taking a Morocco tour to the desert in summer but for some, it is the only time of the year they can come. Have you booked to spend the night in the desert in the summer and you find it too hot to be there ? Worry not. Sun Trails will accommodate you at no extra charge, back at the lodge by the dunes, where you will have the comfort of an air conditioned room and a fresh pool giving onto the dunes. Early next morning, you can still enjoy your camel ride over the Sahara dunes while the sun is rising.

Sun Trails offers both basic and luxury camp options in the desert for those booking bespoke tours of Morocco. For more details, please send your enquiry here .

erg chebbi luxury tent inside                                                    Luxury tent Erg Chebbi interior

 © Sun Trails. 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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Family holidays in Morocco

Family holidays in Morocco - 5.0 out of 5 based on 1 vote

jardins de douars poolYou may think that Morocco is not the best place for your family on holidays. Think again. In the last few years, a new breed of hotels caters specifically for families with children and teenagers. And we don't mean trampolin and water slides all- inclusive- resorts. We mean treasure hunt, camel rides into the dunes, surf lessons on the Atlantic, spending time with animals on an organic farm or trekking with mules into the Atlas Mountains.

To begin with, flights to Morocco are short – a 3 hour flight from London or an 8 hour flight from New York. Children will find a host of activities to enjoy on a holiday to Morocco. They can explore the ancient medinas which look like something from a Harry Potter movie or the Arabian Nights. With all those alleys, souks and mysterious apothecary stalls they’ll be fascinated and have a lot of stories for friends back home. There are sandy beaches on the Atlantic Coast too with great water sports and even a camel ride or two in the dunes. The majestic Atlas Mountains are a cooler alternative with easy day walks and delightful Berber villages which are very hospitable. In July and August, when everywhere else charges peak prices, the rates for a holiday in Morocco are at their lowest. And best of all, a new breed of hotels is now offering specific activities for children on holidays in Morocco

adounia camp beachWhilst the summer may not be the best time to visit the Sahara, Morocco offers other sites that would be perfect for a family at that time of year. The cooler Atlas Mountains are ideal, or there are the medieval cities of Fez and Marrakech. The Atlantic coast is also perfect during July and August and there are less crowds than in the cities, if you know some secret beaches. Well, we do. One of the best ways of experiencing the country is splitting the holiday between contrasting areas to get the best of both worlds. You can combine a camel trek in the sand dunes on the Atlantic with a few days wandering the souks of Marrakech or Fez.

douar samra terraceWhy not spend some time walking in the Atlas Mountains and enjoying the hospitality of the Berber villages before relaxing on the coast at Essaouira. Kids will adore learning to catch fish and cook it for a rustic lunch or take surf lessons. There are all those velvety night skies with thousands of stars to gaze at too. For some creative ways of spending the family holidays in Morocco, take a look at these hand- picked destinations which include hotels with sheltered lush gardens, air conditioning, pools, and offer specific have activities for children. The hotels and guest houses have been picked for their family friendly focus and ambiance. You’ll find that when you look at the accommodation so you won’t be in a situation where your 'suite' consists of a double bed and an armchair or a small shower in the bathroom. These Morocco family friendly guest houses are not an all-inclusive destination, but rather focused on giving their guests an opportunity to relax and switch off from the pressures of everyday life. Some have teen friendly things to do to get them away from their iPhones and enjoying the Moroccan outdoors. Some guest houses accept children for free and others offer discounts depending on the child's age.

12 fellah kids Fellah Hotel is a luxury boutique hotel just 20 minutes from the centre of Marrakech and a world away from the busy medina. It is very minimalist in design and is typical of a rural building in this region. The hotel has 10 villas with 69 rooms and many are furnished with locally produced crafts. But there is a lot more to the Fellah Hotel than just accommodation. It is home to Dar al-Ma'mûn- a non-profits arts centre and the only one of its kind in North Africa to receive UNESCO-Aschberg status. Dar al-Ma'mûn is supported by visitors to Fellah Hotel and not only helps with bringing international art and culture to Morocco but is renowned for its innovative approach to literacy and local education issues. There are a number of outreach projects in the local area coordinated by Dar al-Ma'mûn including a preschool programme for 250 children where dropout rates can be high, and a literacy class for women.

hotel fellah main pool
Another reason to stay at the Fellah Hotel is that it is home to Morocco’s only Wat Po Massage Centre. Therapists have been trained at Wat Po Temple in Bangkok – the centre of arts and learning. They provide a wide range of holistic therapies and signature treatments which are perfect for chilling out on holiday and escaping the stresses of everyday life. Whilst you relax in the spa there are lots of child friendly activities around the hotel to keep the kids occupied. And talking about the kids there’s a Fellah Kids Club which will keep them entertained. With a wide range of activities for children scheduled every day from 9 to 5 you can chill out whist they get down to a little Moroccan pottery, cookery, painting and even a treasure hunt. They can also enjoy theatre and games which are aimed at children between the ages of 4 and 11. It is the only hotel we’re aware of that has this level of planned entertainment for kids. Fellah Hotel is ideal for teenagers and children with double rooms available on a bed and breakfast basis from 170 Euros.

la pause marrakech landscape
For another unique and amazing experience try a 4x4 drive to the Desert of Marrakech. The sci- fi landscape will fascinate children and adults alike and it is the perfect place to have an impromptu geology lesson. Another bonus is the magnificent night sky in this area with skies full of glittering stars. In the distance the lofty peaks of the High Atlas Mountains rise above the landscape at 4000m and the busy medina in Marrakech is a short distance away. One of the best places to stay here is La Pause, a luxury eco-lodge on the outskirts of Marrakech. Remarkably, this hotel uses no electricity and yet manages to supply hot water, crisp Egyptian cotton sheets, log fires, refined Moroccan cuisine and more. Just a short distance away is the 9 hole golf course in a dried- out river bed. You’ll have your own personal donkey to carry golf clubs and be guided round the course by the caddie handler.

la pause marrakech suiteThere are other interesting excursions here including mountain biking and horse riding across the desert and along secluded oases. You’ll find cookery lessons too and the chance to have lunch in the home of a local villager. For children it will be the enticing landscape that enchants them on a holiday like this and will really set their imagination alight. Rooms are lit with magical lanterns and candles creating an intimate warmth at night. This hotel is best suited to teenage children and a double bungalow is priced at 250 euros on a half board basis.

jnane tihihit gardens
Lalla Takerkoust Lake is a 45 minute drive from Marrakech and has a welcoming place to stay close by with views of the Atlas Mountains. Jnane Tihihit is a cluster of adobe bungalows owned by a Belgian couple who serve the most organic cuisine. Everything comes from their farm and garden and kids will enjoy meeting the collection of animals including pigs, mules, horses, donkeys, cows, chickens, and pigeons. There are lots of child friendly activities here to which will keep kids entertained. From learning to cook a tagine to riding a horse and making pots there is something for everyone. When it gets a little too hot there’s always the swimming pool to cool off in. There are also opportunities to go mountain biking and enjoy a picnic with views of the Atlas Mountains by the lake. Babysitting services are available at this hotel. Jnane Tihihit is recommended for children, and teenagers. Double rooms start at 76 Euros per night.

douar samra roof terrace
For a Berber chalet look no further than Douar Samra. It may be just an hour away from Marrakech but the Imlil Valley is a completely different environment and located right in the heart of the Berber homeland. Douar Samla has been exquisitely restored by Jacqueline who aimed to recreate a Swiss chalet ambiance in the Atlas Mountains. There are lush gardens with cherry and nut trees and the chalet has log fires and quite a few breath- taking- view terraces. You’ll find a chilled out atmosphere in the village which kids will enjoy exploring. For small children the three dogs, Jules the donkey and the ducks will be a fascination and the colourful interior with splashes of pink and purple will brighten everyone’s day. For somewhere to relax the sunny terrace with its views of the mountains is the ideal place to curl up with a book or just gaze out at that endless panorama.

Kran room Douar Samra ToubkalAnd as for the tree house and hammocks in the garden- well what child won’t enjoy those ? Kids will be running around and enjoying simple things in no time. There are also some captivating Atlas Mountains day treks from Douar Samra which are ideal for all the family. One of the best is a five hour waterfall trek which passes the village of Armed before a fifteen minute walk to the cascade itself where a picnic lunch is waiting. Another highlight of Douar Samla is that it is one of the few places in the area offering a traditional wood- burning Moroccan hammam – an idea way to relax after a day of walking. Douar Samra is ideal for teenagers and children, although children should be supervised on the roof terrace. Double rooms start at 94 euros on a half board basis.

adounia camp camels
One of the most fascinating places to visit in Morocco is the UNESCO world heritage site of Essaouira on the Atlantic Coast. This chilled out town is less chaotic than Marrakech ( and much cooler in the summer) and is a delightful place for families. The light has attracted artists for years to this fishing port and today the town has a vibrant music and arts scene. Children will delight at the old town ramparts where they can walk to see the historic cannons and bastions. There are lots of places to enjoy a drink or an ice cream in town and the medina is a lot calmer than those of the imperial cities. The beach is popular with families and just the place for a few ball games or water sports. The area has a milder climate than other parts of Morocco and there are several lovely places to stay within a short drive of Essaouira.

jardin des douars piscine
Le Jardin Des Douars is located in the hills above Essaouira and is ideal for families. It is surrounded by argan trees and has magnificent botanical gardens, two pools and a hammam. There are also two restaurants and the hotel has a rustic Moroccan style and is decorated tastefully. It is popular with couples as well as families and is designed for a relaxing time in a tranquil setting. Essaouira is a ten minute drive away so guests can enjoy the peace of the countryside or head into down for a dose of culture in the centre of town. This is a destination where you really can divide your time between a rural setting and a historic town with good shopping and restaurants. One of the particularities of Le Jardin Des Douars is that the air conditioned accommodation has a variety of room options to suit most people. There are private houses which come complete with a cook.

6234The domed Royal Suite comes with two bedrooms, a terrace, and a lounge. Simple Relax Rooms have a small terrace and queen sized bed. Whatever your requirements, there will most likely be a room to suit. The décor is typically North African with Berber rugs, carved doors, and wooden masks. This hotel has a family pool and another adult’s only swimming pool with wrought iron loungers. There is an adult’s only restaurant at La Table des Douars whilst families will enjoy the views at Le Ksar Restaurant. Both serve delicious North African cuisine. There are lots of activities available from Le Jardin Des Douars. From cocktails on the terrace to petanque and a library the hotel caters for adults with lots of things for kids. There’s also a hammam and spa for those chill out moments. Trekking is available from the hotel to secret beaches and rushing waterfalls. There is surfing nearby too and shopping opportunities in the souk. Jardins des Douars is suited to teenagers and children. Rates start at 109 euros a night on a bed and breakfast basis.

adounia camp by nightIf you have a sense of adventure and want a holiday in a remote area, then why not take a look at a Moroccan luxury beach camp. These are located on the Atlantic coast by secluded beaches. Camp Adounia is such an example Guests can enjoy night skies with thousands of stars, deserted beaches, and Morocco’s unspoiled coastline. Camp Adounia is an eco-friendly camp to minimise impact on the environment and is miles away from the crowded beaches at Essaouira. Guests will have golden sands to themselves and some excellent surfing to enjoy. This is a wild and remote coast and ideal for those who want to escape the holiday crowds common in other resorts.

adounia camp tentA cooling breeze will take the edge of the summer sun here. The tents are on the beach and the sound of the waves will lull you into a deep sleep at night. Camp Adounia is a simple set up but has a touch of luxury. There is a resident chef who can conjure up delicious meals and a team of guides who can help guests get to know the area. The camp is all inclusive and its highlight is being at one with nature and living very simply. There are some great activities for kids including beach walking and private surfing lessons. The camel trekking along the sand dunes will delight most children and adults and is really popular. There are opportunities to catch fish for lunch and simply relax in a beautiful setting. Local food and resources are used, minimising impact on the environment. There are comfortable beds with Egyptian cotton sheets at the campsite and ensuite bathrooms. Washing is done in the traditional hammam style. You’ll also find a kettle in your tent with water for washing and brushing teeth. Camp Adounia is recommended for teenagers. Rates start at 210 euros per adult on an all-inclusive basis.


We can help you get the best rates at any of the accommodations above or craft a private customized family tour of Morocco to include Fes or Marrakech, the Atlas Mountains and the Atlantic coast. For enquiries please click here

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Medieval Morocco - exhibition of the year

Medieval Morocco - exhibition of the year - 5.0 out of 5 based on 1 vote

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On a beautiful morning in March we are entering the newly opened Museum Mohamed 6 in Rabat. The previous months built quite an expectation since the exhibition on medieval Morocco had been hosted by none other than Louvre Museum ( yes, the one in Paris) and proved to be quite a success in France, having received 170 000 visitors. It was now presented in Rabat at the Museum Mohamed 6 and it is the most comprehensive exhibition ever presented on medieval Morocco with more than 220 items brought over from Moroccan, Spanish, Portuguese and Italian museums. 

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The loud group of children that had been brought to visit that morning, on a school visit it seemed, proved to be quite useful in the end, having kept the security guards busy while I managed to snatch a few photos of the items exposed, otherwise forbidden. 

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And now for the technical sort of data: this exhibition provides a rereading of the era spanning the XIth century in XVth century, which represents the golden age of western Arabic civilization, headed successively by the Almoravid, Almohad and Merinides dynasties. These last ones were able to realize a political unity over a wide area bringing together the areas from 'Sub-Saharan Africa, Andalusia and the provinces of North African countries.

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The exhibition includes nearly 220 artistic works, which reflect what Morocco had accomplished during this period in the fields of medieval architecture, ceramics, textiles, calligraphy and book manufacturing. It shows the innovative achievements in science and technology, achievements that had a profound effect on the European Renaissance. This exhibition brings together highly symbolic artistic and religious masterpieces, such as the candelabrum of Qarawiyyin mosque and minbars of various mosques as well as architectural artefacts and samples. It also showcases daily life objects such as dishes and ceramic jars, chests for conservation of textiles, candelabrum lamps and instruments used for water extraction techniques. It also presents various Korans and manuscripts related to religious and artistic topics, in addition to many coins and flag models.

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These masterpieces are brought together from Moroccan, Portuguese, Spanish and French museums. This exhibition is an opportunity to discover the monuments and to throw a light on the authenticity of Morocco, the consistence of its unity and its civilizational outflow. It highlights the cultural sources that has inspired Moroccan civilization as well as the influences of varioius spaces within itself and the role that Morocco has played in the circulation of ideas between the far Arabic east and the Andalusian culture.

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The author and his insightful companion, the owner of an influential travel blog in Morocco , both agreed that it was probably the most comprehensive exhibtion they ever witnessed in Morocco and most definitely one to attend to if you are visiting Morocco and Rabat. The exhibition is currently included with all of our Morocco private tours and is open to public every day except on Tuesdays. 

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Agafay Desert Lodge & Camp

Agafay Desert Lodge & Camp - 4.5 out of 5 based on 2 votes

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Only 40 minutes drive of Marrakech lies the desert of Agafay. It isn’t sand dunes like the Sahara. Yet layer after layer of rock dunes instill a similar feeling of remoteness. Of nothingness. Only troubled by the occasional douar, local hamlets with their mud houses which seem to slowly return to the adobe they’ve been molded from. There is no living soul in sight, if not for the solitary camel grazing by. It is one of the few places in Morocco where near- total desolation manifests with such exquisite beauty. Some in- the- know travelers move through this desert as part of a 4x4 day trip from Marrakech into the High Atlas mountains. But they don't suspect one can also spend the night in Agafay desert, without having to rough it up. Also, for those newly wed, it is hard to find any place more romantic to include on a honey moon in Morocco. 

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One of these places offers both exquisite adobe-and-tadelakt bungalows and spacious air-tight tents. The French owner, with a passion for Africa and the desert, was driving aimlessely around Agafay some many years ago, when he stumbled upon an oasis and a ruined house. It immediately occured to him that this would be the perfect spot for an eco- lodge that would reflect his love of desert and remoteness. The oasis would provide the water, the desert - the views. Nowadays, this remote eco- lodge offers adobe bungalows, comfortable tents, a restaurant area, shady gardens, a refreshing pool and a miniature golf course, among other things. But it’s the views and complete remoteness that make it worth spending the night or two here.

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You may think that the beautiful lanterns lit at night are there just for the effect. You're wrong. The whole place works without one watt of electricity. Which makes for the starriest sky at night, the one you'd normally sight in the Sahara. And if you think that this means roughing it up, think again. Soft cotton sheets, luxurious bath products, running hot water, wood burning stoves and even a wifi hot point offer all the necessities you may need. Protecting the environment, but not suffering for it. 

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A few miles away, tucked behind mounds of moon rocks, you will find a 12- tent camp. Spacious white canvas tents accommodate comfortable beds. In one suite tent, an antique globe sits atop a stack of vintage leather suitcases; in the reception pavilion a zebra skin graces the floor next to a folding campaign table piled high with well-thumbed expedition and photography books. Iron candle-lamps are suspended on posts; hammered-silver urns trickle fresh water into basins in the bathroom tents. The interiors seem to come out straight of ‘Out of Africa’ and you may be forgiven for thinking that you are somewhere in Kenya and not less than an hour drive of bustling Marrakech.

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If having a romantic dinner and night in the middle of nowhere, take in the immensity of landscapes and disconnecting from a busy lifestyle is not enough for you, worry not. From guided treks along the oasis to yoga sessions with nothing in sight at 360°, there is plenty to occupy your time here. Horse riding , quad biking, camel riding, reiki massages, mountain biking are but some of the ways to explore the Agafay desert and can all be arranged locally. 

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Better still, why not make staying one night in Agafay desert part of a 2- day private 4x4 tour and discover the diverse area just south of Marrakech ? The desert, the High Atlas, the Kik Plateau, the local waterfalls, Lalla Takerkoust lake – so many contrasts just in two day. Perhaps start with the Ourika Valley, hike up into the High Atlas, have lunch with a Berber family. Freshen up by the local waterfalls, see how the argan is turned into oil into a local cooperative. Discover the 12th century mosque of Tinmel, have a tea by the Lalla Takerkoust lake, lunch at Richard Branson's High Atlas retreat or trek in the Atlas mountains. And, after all the lushness of the High Atlas, have a little bit of desert. Arrive in the Agafay desert by the afternoon and, after settling in, have the most romantic dinner by candle light under the starriest sky, out in the open. Spend a night inside an adobe bungalow or white canvas tent and explore the surroundings next day by foot, camel, horse of mountain bike. 

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Private tents at Scarabeo Camp available from 201 €/ 161 £/ 274 $ per night per tent with half board;
Private bungalow at La Pause available from 300 €/ 250 £/ 335 $ per night per bungalow with half board;
2 day private 4x4 tour to include a night in the desert available from 300 €/ 250 £/ 335 $ per person.

To book or enquire about any of the above, please send us an enquiry at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.   or fill in the form on our contact page

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Is Morocco Safe ?

Is Morocco Safe ? - 3.7 out of 5 based on 3 votes

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Less people travel to Morocco in 2016. These are the official figures from the Moroccan Tourism Observatory. But why? Why are travelers avoiding a land rich in cultural diversity, stunning landscapes and natural- born hospitality? We cannot help but wonder if the kingdom’s location in Middle East North Africa ( MENA) region may have something to do with it. After all, the region is no stranger to terrorist attacks, civil unrest and political instability in recent years. Whenever a new attack is carried out, many potential travellers stay away from Morocco too, simply because it’s in the ‘same’ part of the world. But is it really the ‘same’ ?

Vanessa Bonnin is the manager of Dar Roumana, a stunning riad in the medina of Fes and has lived in Morocco for the last 7 years. Fes, although one of the most fascinating medinas in the Arab world, has seen its numbers drop by 25 % compared to last year. ‘Morocco is unfairly tarred with the same brush as being part of a troubled region, however for me, this type of thinking is like choosing not to visit Germany because of troubles in France.’

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The chief editor of a Moroccan newspaper agrees : ‘Morocco is a victim of its location. Many tourists mistakenly think that the terrorist threat is more important in a Muslim country in the MENA region (Middle East and Maghreb). But despite all this, foreign tourists have no reason to worry, given that since the emergence of ISIS and its supporters around the world, there was no attack in Morocco.’ And it is the terrorist attacks and political instability that have made other countries in the region see a drop in tourism by up to 40 % compared to previous year.

PRAISE FROM FOREIGN MEDIA AND INSTITUTIONS:

There is little talk in foreign media about Morocco and its security measures. Yet the information is there, if one scratches the surface. ‘"People's perception of how Morocco fits into the region needs to change. I would ask potential visitors to see Morocco as its own country and people, and to make choices based on facts not fear’, adds Vanessa. Speaking of facts:

# The UK based Independent magazine has compiled in July 2016 a map of the most dangerous countries in the world by collating the foreign office travel advice for all countries in the world. On that map, Morocco is as dangerous as say Denmark or Canada.

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# The Global Terrorism Index measures the impact of terrorism in 162 countries. To account for the lasting effects of terrorism, each country is given a score that represents a five year weighted average. On this index, Syria ranks #5, United States ranks # 35 and Morocco ranks 92 out of 163 countries. 

# According to the Global Terrorism Database, published by the National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism (START) at the University of Maryland, terrorist attacks in the Maghreb region multiplied by 47 times between 2011 and 2014, increasing from 15 to 1,105. Of these attacks, only one targeted Morocco.

# According to the French Ministry’s “Travel Advice,” which was recently updated following the suicide bombing that shook Istanbul, Morocco is the only recommended country for French nationals to visit in the MENA region.

# In 2015, the popular Trip Advisor travel website’s users have chosen Marrakech as the top destination in the world. Furthermore, in the 2016 Travelers Choice, Marrakech was Africa’s top destination.

# The US State Department lauded Morocco’s “comprehensive” counter-terrorism strategy, underlining the country’s adherence to human rights standards and the increased transparency of law enforcement procedures. Among other things, the report states that: “in the past decade, Morocco has focused on upgrading mosques, promoting the teaching of relatively moderate Islam"

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KING MOHAMED 6

It is without a doubt that Morocco owes largely its political stability and social security to its king. Having taken on the throne from its father King Hassan 2 in 1999, Mohamed 6 enacted social reforms, including important steps towards gender equality and migrant integration.

In August 2016, the King Mohamed 6 took publicly a stark stand on terrorism and was one of the few, if not the only, chief of state from outside the Western world, to publicly condemn the murdering of innocent people and outcast those who perpetrate these in the name of Islam. "Is it conceivable that God could order someone to blow himself up or kill innocent people? Islam, as a matter of fact, does not permit any kind of suicide - whatever the reasons or circumstances."

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Mandy Sinclair, owner of Tasting Marrakech (food and cultural tours of Jemaa el Fna) has been living in Marrakech for 6 years. While she agrees that the world in 2016 is a less safe place to travel, she feels safer in Morocco than in Europe or the US, although she prefers the less- than- obvious locations: ‘The initiatives the government is taking to ensure the safety of its people and travelers is second to none. As a single woman living in Marrakech, I feel safer here than in most major European and North American cities. I travel frequently around Morocco and always feel at ease, especially in smaller villages in the Atlas Mountains, Moulay Idriss and Essaouira’.

At the same time, countries such as Spain and Portugal have seen almost record number of tourists these past 2 years. Does that mean that you should feel safer in Spain or Portugal than you would feel in Morocco ? Travel writer Alice Morrison agrees: ‘Unfortunately, I don’t think it is 100% safe anywhere in 2016. What I can say is that I feel as safe living here in Marrakech as I would in the UK. I was actually more worried going to London a couple of weeks ago and getting on the underground, than I am going down to the Medina here.’ Alice Morrison is an adventurer who has lived in Marrakech since January 2014. She, of all people, has some insight into Africa, since she crossed the continent on a bike, a race of 8000 km and has written a book about it.

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Personally, I could say that the seeds for this article were planted during conversations with our guests at the end of their private tour of Morocco. In the shade of their riad in Marrakech, most of them would relate the same experience. ‘Cristian, I know we asked a lot of questions before travelling to Morocco as we were a little worried about the safety here. But we want you to know that we hardly felt any safer and more welcomed anywhere else we travelled before’. That raised a question: how many other travelers like them felt that initial apprehension and never venture? When the grim statistics were published in July 2016, I decided it was about time to publish the long- due article and get people involved. And I thought the best is to start by researching how thorough the Moroccan authorities have made Morocco safer, on the ground.

MOROCCO’S FBI AND OTHER TECHNICAL DATA

If you journeyed to Morocco in the last two years, you may have noticed police and military patrol the streets in groups of 3. Scanning devices have been installed at hotels, restaurants and malls entrances. Thorough checks are in place at airports across Morocco. In the local media, many terrorist cells have been dismantled in the past 18 months. But this is merely the tip of the iceberg.

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The Moroccan government has treated counterterrorism as a top policy priority since 2003. In June 2015, the Government of Morocco enacted significant amendments to the criminal code to address the foreign terrorist fighter phenomenon. To further show that Morocco is serious about combatting terrorism, it has created a law enforcement agency that deals specifically with terrorism threat: The Morocco Central Bureau of Judicial Investigation (BCIJ), nicknamed ‘the Moroccan FBI’. As about its efficiency, the BCIJ has dismantled quite a few terrorist cells since its creation.

Law enforcement officials and private carriers work regularly with the United States to detect and deter individuals attempting to transit illegally. At the end of 2014, the parliament voted to support the Council of Europe Convention on Laundering, Search, Seizure, and Confiscation of the Proceeds from Crime and on the Financing of Terrorism.

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On the other hand, one of the most important measures taken by Morocco in recent years was the creation of the new security mechanism “Hadar”, which incorporates elements of the Royal Armed Forces, Royal Gendarmerie, the Police, and Auxiliary Force. 

In the past decade, Morocco has focused on upgrading mosques, promoting the teaching of relatively moderate Islam, and strengthening the Ministry of Endowments and Islamic Affairs (MEIA). The MEIA is educating Morocco’s nearly 50,000 imams in a version of relatively moderate Sunni Islam. 

FIGHTING POVERTY

Besides the security measures and the counter radicalization of the mosques, the Moroccan authorities understood that the radicalization of some youth stems from lack of opportunities and unemployment. The Moroccan government engaged in a policy of heavy public investments in infrastructure and the social sector with the ultimate goal of fighting poverty. According to a study published on the Carnegie Middle East Center in 2010, Morocco succeeded to lift 1.7 million people out of poverty during the period 2000-2010. The same study shows that poverty rates in the country decreased by more than 40 per cent during the same period.

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SO WHERE DOES THE CONFUSION COME FROM ?

Morocco's association with the turmoil of the neighbouring countries is the external and main cause of its drop in tourists. The internal and lesser cause may be the transparency and overzeal of the local media to relate about the dismantling of the terrorist cells. As the editor in chief sums it: ‘The kingdom is also a victim of the effectiveness of its anti-terrorism strategy. Indeed, every other month the authorities announced that a terrorist cell was dismantled.’

Patrick Simon is vice president of Regional Tourism Council of Guelmin – Semara region in the south of Morocco and owner of Dar Infiane guesthouse. Of French origin, he has lived in Morocco for 41 years. He agrees: ‘I’d like to point out that the regular press releases claiming good results in the dismantling of terrorist cells was a choice of the government and especially the Ministry of the Interior, thus insisting to show nationals and tourists that all means were used to ensure maximum security’. So it seems that the security forces are very good at doing their job and like to convey it to the press. In the long term, it's still to be seen whether the transparency is the best policy in this case. 

Did you visit Morocco in the last 5 years ? Did you feel safe ? Did you fear for your safety ? We've created a special platform for you to vote and/ or leave your feeback here. 

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© Sun Trails 2016. 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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8 things to do in Essaouira right now

With little to do but wander, Essaouira remains a hippy hang-out where Jimi Hendrix is said to have penned Castles in the Sand. Today though, a more Bohemian crowd flocks for the laid-back ambiance, delicious local cuisine, and miles of beach perfect for walking (even as far as the castle in the sand said to inspire Hendrix’s song).  Laid-back Essaouira is a must-do either as part of a custom Morocco tour or an excursion from Marrakech.

Sip local wines

It is believed that viticulture may have been introduced by the Phoenicians and at Domaine de Val d’Argan in the Essaouira region, Charles Melia from Châteauneuf du Pape in France, creates a range of white, red, rosé and Moroccan gris wines. Customize your itinerary with a sampling and lunch at the winery either en route during a day trip from Marrakech or as an extra activity while in Essaouira, part of your multi-day private tour of Morocco .

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Set off in to the sun

Ride off in to the sun- set Arabian horseback style! The friendly folks at Equi Evasion organize a two-hour sunset trek that is sure to take your breath away as the sun sets over the Atlantic Ocean with views of the ruined castles and mosque in the background. Or sail off towards the Iles Purpuraires as they are known locally during a two-hour sail around the bay. As human access is restricted to protect the precious birdlife (the island is a breeding ground for Eleanora’s falcons) that exists on the islands, this is the closest way to get up close and personal.

Known as the windy city, Essaouira is also a popular destination for kite-surfing and surfers and a day riding the waves (even for the most amateur of surfers) with Explora is always fun !

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Eat well

The restaurant scene in Essaouira is hotting up with local hotspots UMIA’s Ottolenghi-inspired menu featuring fresh seafood in a cool setting, One Up, located in the former British consulate building is beautifully decorated and serving up an eclectic menu and a rooftop terrace where lunches will be served opening soon.

Newby La Tete dans les Etoiles is popular for sushi on Saturdays and the regular live music fusions on Saturday evenings while nearby Le Chalet de Plage is a popular institution amongst the bohemian jet set who prefer a seafood feast overlooking the ocean. If you’re not put off by somewhat slow service ( after all, Essouira doesn’t quite transpire urgency), head to Ocean Vagabond for the most delicious fresh tuna steaks and grilled sea food.

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Foodies will want to head to La Fromagerie for locally produced sheep, cow and goat’s cheeses served over several courses under the shade of the olive trees. Jolly cheese-producer and owner Abderrazzak casually greets guests, sharing a few laughs and explaining the cheese-making process done on site.

Shop local

The only region in the world where the famous argan tree grows, picking up a bottle of both the culinary and cosmetic oils is a must! For the best, forget small spice shops and purchase only the oil produced by nearby Sidi Yassine .

We love visiting the little workshops on Rue Chbenate for wooden bowls, spoons and serving ware made from locally sourced thuya and olive wood while watching the craftsmen spin their creations.

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Essaouira is known for its raffia craft and the small boutiques throughout the medina sell a range of colourful shoe styles – loafers, slip-ons – that are perfect for warm summer days wherever your next stop on your tailor made Morocco tour!

Learn from a local

While Essaouira is known for its relatively few sites, hiring a guide is one of the best ways to understand the old city steeped in history. Once home to a thriving Jewish, Christian and Muslim population peacefully living together, today only one Jewish resident remains and some Christian expats remain in this Muslim dominant town. Yet the proof remains - Star of David, Flower of Life and the Islamic crescent engraved throughout the medina that was once a bustling Portuguese port and known also as the Timbuktu port as it marked the end of the trade route as caravans made their way across the Sahara desert. In fact, today many of the local Jewish synagogues are undergoing restoration works with foreign aid.

Sunset drinks with a view

Whether visiting Essaouira as part of a day trip from Marrakech or an overnight as part of a private Morocco tour, watching the sun set over the Atlantic Ocean as the call to prayer rings out over the medina, seagulls overhead and surfers winding down for the day is a must. For a casual drink, head to the top terrace of Taros where the energy is upbeat and fun or to Ocean Vagabond where locals and expats flock to wind down for the day, a true local Cafe del Mar. For fancy cocktails the rooftop terrace of Palais Heure Bleue cannot be beat!

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Roll up your sleeves

Many cities offer cooking classes, but we think those offered at Khadjia’s Kuzina are rather special. Offered in Khadija’s home, guests create a custom menu that mixes traditional with creative menu options including appetizer, main course, fresh juice and fruit-based dessert before eating together in the comfort of her traditional Moroccan salon (living room). If you fancy something more elaborate, Madada Mogador’s Atelier Madada , a cooking school in a former almond factory. You will have a 4 hour workshop under the supervision of Allison and Mona, complete with a trip to the nearby spice souk. You will then prepare and eat a full multicourse lunch.

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Deep-rooted music scene

The wildly popular Gnaoua and World Music Festival attracts festival-goers young and old as some of the top maalem (master Gnaoui musicians) are invited to share the stage with international, often jazz and blues acts, to fuse with the traditional music with African/Islamic roots. The stages are often alive until the wee hours of the morning as concert-goers flying in from around the world and travelling from across Morocco dance the night away in the famous Place Moulay Hassan. The 2017 festival is scheduled for 29 June to 2 July.

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For a more refined concert experience, the Andalusian Music Festival (known locally as the Festival des Andalousies Atlantiques d'Essaouira) is held annually the last weekend of October and celebrates the rich Jewish legacy and the shared Arabo-Andalusian heritage between Morocco and Spain. Afternoon concerts set in the Andalusian-style Dar Souiri are intimate and popular, making it feasible for visitors on a day trip from Marrakech to enjoy some live music.

About the author:

In 2010, Mandy Sinclair arrived in Morocco on an 18-day holiday. Little did she know her life was about to change as she fell in love with the country, the music, the food, the culture and the people. Within five months she returned and in 2014 she established Say Something Communications, an English PR agency in Marrakech, and Tasting Marrakech, private food and cultural tours of Jemaa el Fna. Her writing has been featured in Brownbook, Time Out Marrakech, and H.O.M.E. interiors magazine.

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Marrakech to Sahara by small plane

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You are in Marrakech for a few days. You’d love to spend a night in the Sahara but are put off by spending 9 to 10 hours each way inside a 4x4 ? Or perhaps you wish to make your other half a very special surprise and take her/ him to lunch on top of the dunes ? Just for the afternoon. What if we could arrange for you a private flight from Marrakech to the Sahara desert ? And if you’re thinking about ultra luxury fully staffed private jets with champagne on board, think again. We mean a 4-seater modern, safe, single- engine, propeller aircraft. Yes, like the ones you see at airshows. Or the one from the The English Patient. Well, not as old as that one, of course.

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The aircraft in question is a Cirrus 22 SR, from 21st century, boasts state-of-the-art technology on board and leather seats. It can take up to 3 adult passengers with cabin luggage. The pilot speaks English and will answer all your questions during the flight while also pointing out the most interesting sites as you fly over them: the highest peak in North Africa, the scattered Berber villages, the Eddhabi lake or the Draa Valley, that long green ribbon you see from your passenger seat, minutes after flying over the High Atlas mountains. The pics featured here were taken by Sloane and William, our guests in May 2017 that flew out on a Saturday, spent the night in a luxury tent in the dunes, had tea with the nomads, rode camels and flew back on Sunday.

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This little marvel would fly from Marrakech over the snowy peaks of the High Atlas mountains and land at the airport in Zagora or Errachidia in about one hour. On the ground, a Moroccan private English fluent driver– guide and a spotless modern air conditioned 4x4 await you. In little more than a couple of hours you will reach your luxury desert camp in the dunes of Erg Chigaga or your open- air picnic spot, if you opted for just lunch. But perhaps you would like to take your time along the way and first have a guided tour of a palm grove in Zagora with a local. Stop and visit the Jewish old district or the earth ovens in Tamegroute casting that unique green pottery. Then have a wander through a traditional honey- comb ksour  and its wells of light. Enjoy a hearty couscous with a local Berber family.

If you're tempted by the dunes of Erg Chebbi, you will land in Errachidia and spend the afternoon discovering pre Islamic dwellings, prying out fossils, visit the dinosaur sites or the rock engravings and have tea with the nomads.

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Ultimately, reach your luxury Sahara tent after a swift camel ride and have a mint tea on the top of the dunes, gazing at the oceans of sand.

If safety is your worry, not only flying is the safest way of transportation in the world (The National Highway Transportation Safety Administration states that airlines and business aviation (Biz-Av) are about ten times safer than auto travel), but the CAP system on the Cirrus 22 SR aircraft is designed to lower the aircraft to the ground after deployment using a whole- airplane parachute, in the unlikely event of an emergency. 

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Private flights in Morocco were mostly the domain of helicopter flights until recently. 2016 has seen the opening of a company that offers private jets. While both these choices are convenient for groups of 6 or more persons travelling together, their rates are prohibitive with prices for a flight from Marrakech to Zagora or Errachidia starting at 6000 euros each way. So, if in Marrakech and short on time, book a flight with us and live the magic of the Sahara for one night. 

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Private flights by small plane from Marrakech to the Sahara desert are available starting at 2000 euros per person, including return flights, return transfers by 4x4 to and from the camp, a private luxury ensuite tent with own showers and toilets, dinner and breakfast for two.  

For more details about rates and customized itineraries, contact us at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or call us at +212 638 636 719/ + 212 666 915 384.

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Rick's cafe Casablanca

Rick's cafe Casablanca - 5.0 out of 5 based on 2 votes

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The things to do in Casablanca aren't that many. Despite the glamor that is associated with the name, Casablanca is not exactly Bangkok. Or Cairo. Besides the third largest mosque in the world, the city boasts little more than a few architectural jewels in the way of monuments. There’s one thing to do in Casablanca – go and have dinner or a drink at Rick’s. Never heard of ? It’s the restaurant that looks like the one in the Hollywood blockbuster. But how is that a restaurant could become ' a thing to do' in Casablanca ? Way before “Hideous Kinky” or “The Sheltering Sky” came around, “Casablanca” must have been the film that lit up imaginations on the idea of travelling to an Arab country. Even though most of the action happens inside Rick’s Cafe Americain, the few scenes shot outside show bustling markets, the complicated art of bargaining and one or two glimpses into a strange yet mystifying culture, in contrast with the few scenes portraying Paris. But... hold on a second. No one involved with the production of the film ever set foot in Morocco. Yep, that’s true, it was all shot in the studios of Hollywood. And that’s one of the reasons that pushed Kathy Kriger, an American expat with a background in diplomacy and travel industry, to open a restaurant that would become much more than the pastiche of the movie, a Casablanca institution, mixing together good cuisine, a spot where expats could meet and the desire to entertain. For a restaurant requiring a dress code yet having its general manager ( Issam) playing the piano, it might as well come out of a movie. It was everything but easy, but 11 years down the road, Kathy would play, I mean do it again. She was kind enough to agree to an in- depth interview where she details her love of Morocco, talks about nowadays Casablanca, jazz sessions, Bill Willis, Yves Saint Laurent and the ‘Monday’ syndrome.

Sun Trails: Is it true that you watched Casablanca in 1974 in a cinema in Portland and the audience stood up and applauded at the end of the movie ?

Kathy Kriger: It was the same year I’d opened up my travel agency, and we shared space in the retail outlet of an outdoor/leisure catalog operation headquartered in Portland. I went with friends from the store. It was a black & white film series and “Casablanca” just had an emotional impact on the entire audience. One in our group recounted how his father had been based in Casablanca after the Allied embarkation and they showed the film “Casablanca” to the troops in a tent. His mother always added that she and other wives whose husbands were away all watched “Casablanca” at the Blue Mouse (a Portland theatre) and cried all the way through it.

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ST: You had a background in travel business and diplomacy. Why a restaurant ? How do you feel about your choice 11 years down the road ?

KK: My first plunge into entrepreneurship was starting the travel agency in 1974 with $800, encountering all the usual financial problems and unexpected crises. Eventually a friend joined me and it became very successful. Sue, my partner in the travel business, and I at the same time took a variety of cooking classes – it was just at the outset of California Cuisine – and we used to cook a lot together. Many of the dishes on our menu are adaptations of recipes I learned back in the late 1970’s. I knew Rick’s would always be more than a restaurant, but a dramatic setting that would give rise to the fantasy sought by a tourist, or a nostalgic ambiance appealing to the sophisticated Casablanca clientele. It was the best thing I ever did, as it has combined all of the things I love. I used to say after the restaurant opened that it was perfect, as I loved to entertain, but never liked cleaning up after!

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ST: Life for a single expat woman isn’t easy in Morocco, let alone when she undertakes the restoration of an ancient house and wishes to open it as a restaurant in the medina of Casablanca. Do you feel that experience helped you understand more Morocco ? Would you do it all over again?

KK: I had some inkling of what I was getting into as I’d had 4 years as a diplomat, but wasn’t prepared for the degree in which things changed after I was on my own. Fortunately I have some very good friends here in Morocco as well as a lot of friends scattered around the globe, and their confidence in me, and willingness to invest in “The Usual Suspects” kept me going. I learned a lot in the 2 ½ years it took to get Rick’s open, learned more in the first 3 difficult years and am still learning about Morocco today! I’d do it again, and looking back I feel I was meant to – there were so many coincidences of fate or destiny.

bar and table

ST: Some opinions on the internet portray Rick’s Cafe as a tourist trap. What would you say to them ?

KK: Rick’s is anything but a tourist trap – we’ve deliberately made the commercial tie- in with the film understated, dedicating our Lounge to the movie and old posters of the film. Otherwise what you see looks like the scenes in the movie, and people can pretend they are the stars. When I look at these “tourist trap” comments on the internet I always suspect they’re people who didn’t get through the door as we have a reasonable dress code. Certain types get very outraged when told their attire is not acceptable.

jazz band playing

ST: Last year I had dinner at Rick’s and I remember mostly the stunning lamps and the excellent saxophone player and band. I believe it was a Sunday evening. Is that a regular thing ?

KK: Thank you for noticing the stunning lamps… I set about buying them when a bank loan had come through but construction was months away. Encouraged by Bill Willis and our local architect Hakim Benjelloun as we needed ambiance, I was amazed to find lamps that look exactly like some of the pieces in the film. I learned later that I really shouldn’t have been spending the loan money on lighting, but frankly if I hadn’t bought them at the time, you would have been dining in the dark!

Sunday night jazz jam sessions were introduced a few months after we opened. A Casablanca resident reminisced about going out with friends many years ago on Sunday nights to overcome what they called the “Monday syndrome” – a place usually with live music where they could squeeze out the last hours of their weekend. The Jam Session was an immediate success and today we have a regular combo and from time to time guest musicians.

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ST: How did you find Sam, the piano player ?

KK: Finding Issam to play piano was a major sign that creating Rick’s was my destiny! A friend who plays as a hobby was searching around and he called one day with the news he’d located a pianist… named Issam! I was amazed at the connection to Rick Blaine’s best friend, the pianist Sam, from the film “Casablanca” and said I hoped he could play the piano as the name alone had him the job. When Issam came to audition, and I heard him play “As Time Goes By” in a way that sounded like the film soundtrack, as well as other songs from the epoch, it was the sort of affirmation I was seeking that Rick’s was meant to exist.

Over the years he’s done all our graphics, our website, finally directing personnel to the point where he is the General Manager…while still playing piano.

casablanca playing

ST: I feel that there could be more done to attract tourists to Casablanca. It certainly doesn’t have the cosmopolitan air and riads of Marrakech or the heritage of Fes, but a lot of people would love to find things to do in Casablanca. What do you think can be done to attract more visitors to the city ?

KK: Because of my experience in the travel business, and having traveled extensively, I see a lot of potential for Casablanca. One problem is that it has so long been associated as the business center, that it’s difficult to convince local authorities to do some of the things necessary to attract tourism investment.

When I first broached the idea of Rick’s Café to Driss Benhima when he was the Wali of Casablanca he was the one who suggested I find an old house in the Ancienne Medina to restore. He said it would then help attract other investors to the Ancienne Medina. I considered that an excellent idea, as I’d see what preservation had done to my own hometown, Portland, and places all over the world, from Havana to Dubrovnik to New Orleans to Barcelona.

I’m optimistic that soon there will be some initiatives launched that will upgrade the old downtown area of the Marche Central and the Hotel Lincoln. Unfortunately investing in the Ancienne Medina is complicated.

waiter and lights

ST: Did you choose Casablanca because of the film or were there other reasons as well ?

KK: I liked Marrakech most when I first visited Morocco in 1997, and when I arrived to take up my diplomatic post in 1998 I’d visit often and thought Marrakech was where I’d retire one day. In April 1999 I had the chance to buy a small riad in the middle of the souk that had been undergoing restoration, and was almost finished. The Singaporean woman owner had suffered in the Asian financial crisis and could no longer afford to retire and move to Morocco. I took out a bank loan and got some taste of construction projects as I got the place finished and decorated. It was a magical house with a terrace that looked into the souk on one side and to the Atlas mountains from the other. I went to Marrakech on the weekends and loved entertaining there.

When I decided to stay in Morocco after 9/11 I considered the choice between buying the place across the street in Marrakech and operating a “Maison d’Hôtes” or remaining in Casablanca to open Rick’s. It was really a no-brainer, as Rick’s Café would be unique, it had over 60 years of institutional memory behind it, and I would have no competition.

lamp and table

ST: Do you feel the city has changed in the last 10 years ? How ?

KK: Many changes. First, it was hard to find places, no good maps. Now with Google Maps and GPS there aren’t the problems of finding places.

When I was working on the project, the underground pedestrian tunnels that linked one side of Place Nations Unies with the other (the BMCI, Blvd Mohammed V side with the Hyatt, Ancienne Medina side) were open, functional and one could cross with ease, with a Police box in the underground and no hassles. Unfortunately they closed the tunnels, and while the construction of the tramway made it possible to open them again, I’ve heard that there was little effort put into making them viable, and they’ve been closed up again.

There was not as grand a range of restaurants as there are now – very few Chinese, Asian restos, and I think the first sushi arrived in 2002. But the fine restaurants in Casablanca when I first came had the weight of history going for them, and were distinctive: Le Cabestan in the days of Mme Viot greeting clients at the door with her little Yorkies by her side, and André Halbert presiding over A Ma Bretagne with its striking modern architecture which perfectly compliments his impeccable cuisine. Mme Viot retired to France, and the Cabestan has been re-designed; A Ma Bretagne is now squeezed between the Morocco Mall and an intrusive neighbors construction site, but Maitre Halbert is still holding on.

New places have come along, catering to people living here by providing food and service to draw clients back. Among the new arrivals are the Rouget de l’Isle (new French), Iloli (Japanese gastronomic) and Churrascaria Marius (Brazilian).

large table and windows

One big change is the art scene with many Galleries opening up – Atelier 21, the Loft Gallery as two examples joining the venerable Venise Cadre. The Museum of the Foundation Abderrahmane Slaoui Museum displays a lovely collection of Orientalist Posters and other objects in a beautiful art deco villa.

Back then “around the turn of the century” the Marche Central was THE place to shop and see friends. The stalls were full and it was bustling. I remember seeing Mme Viot walking through the Marche in the morning with her Yorkies, and the Chef from the Sheraton had a reserved seat at the vegetable stand. Today it has declined rapidly hastened by the traffic and parking problems, closed stands and a proliferation of open air snack shops. The Marche Maarif back then was small and basic. Today, it is the vibrant, lively market that the Marche Central once was.

The Centre Ville with its art deco/art nouveau architecture is a priceless piece of patrimony, and with the introduction of the Tramway and designating this part of Boulevard Mohammed V a pedestrian street I’m hopeful that the City will finally address the restoration of the Hotel Lincoln and the revitalization of the Marche Central.

One change I don’t so much appreciate is the development of the Marina in a way that completely blocks the view of the Ocean. While the project will bring some much-needed economic and touristic benefits with the Convention Center and Cruise Terminal, I feel it could have been better designed with open spaces allowing the local population to enjoy the space and the view.

ground floor with band

ST:What is the menu on a regular day ? What are some of your favorite dishes?
KK:Our menu is printed daily, with 6 Starters: the Prawn (Gambas) salad Tropicana is an adaptation from my cooking class in the 70’s; the Goat Cheese and Fig salad I created the summer before we opened when I had an apartment near the Marche Central and discovered fresh figs; the Crabe Louis is after that served at the Dan & Louis Oyster Bar in Portland. 6 Meat & Poultry dishes: Favorites are our beef filet mignon and a T-bone, and there’s also lamb chops and duck. 3 Fish & Seafood dishes: Right now we have St. Pierre/John Dory, Sea Bass/Loup and Swordfish/Espadon, but these can change according to availability.

In addition to our standard menu we have four daily specials; “Moroccan Touch” featuring a lamb tagine, lamb and vegetable couscous and Moroccan lemon roasted chicken. All our Moroccan dishes and many of our other plates feature ingredients from Moroccan cooperatives available at the Magasin Solidaire et Equitable (located off the small street that runs between the Sofitel and Royal Mansour). We also have some pasta selections and Vegetarian plates. For dessert our menu has 5 choices and in addition there’s a special ice cream menu.

piano and tables

ST: What is that sets Rick’s apart from other restaurants in Casablanca, besides its name ?

KK: As you can see from above, I think one distinction is the variety of the menu and the care we take to use the very best possible ingredients. Another is the quality and professionalism of our service staff – all young people who have adapted to our own training system emphasizing teamwork. I have to say that the decoration and ambience with the piano music and lighting makes Rick’s a standout even if it weren’t for its association with “Casablanca”. We have more than 60 full time employees, with Security, Housekeeping and Administrative sections in addition to the service and cooking departments.

Our overall attention to detail and maintenance is apparent and clients can clearly see we are continuing to invest and innovate.

ST: What is the profile of your regular customer ?
KK: We have many Moroccan clients who don’t come to “ see and be seen”, but appreciate good food and music; expatriate diplomats and business people who come informally or for entertaining; foreigners who regularly come to Casa on business, tourists from the world over: China, Japan, Thailand, Brazil, Mexico, Iran, Russia, Australia as well as good numbers from the U.S., Europe and other parts of the Middle East and Africa.

corner day time

ST:Bill Willis helped you decorate some parts of the restaurant. He is quite known for being a friend of the Gettys and working with Yves Saint Laurent. Could you tell us a little more about him ?

KK: Bill was probably the most fascinating person I’ve ever met and I adored him. He had an amazing tolerance for people who were his friends, but did not suffer fools gladly – and it didn’t matter who you were. I was lucky that we clicked on our first meeting – in the bar of the Mamounia after a reception that had been given for the visiting then- First Lady Hillary Clinton by the then- Crown Prince Mohammed. When I had the idea for the project – even before I found the house – I went to see Bill at his labyrinthine home in Marrakech, the former harem wing of an old palace. He loved the movie and said he’d love to work on it – “Just call me your aesthetic advisor, My Dear.”

Once I’d found the house and finally bought it, Bill went to town. As I was buying lamps, he was designing everything major (the wood doors and entrance look just like the movie, and our downstairs bar is the exact same shape as the film’s – only with golden palms instead of colums), minor (the distinctive beaded table lamps on each table were designed from a beat-up brass and enamel lamp he’d carried with him when he arrived in Tangier by ferry in 1966. He pulled it out from under an armchair in his sitting room one afternoon after lunch when be began talking about the “lamp”. “I think this will work” he said and it surely did.), and many things that moved beyond a film set (four fireplaces, central staircase with terra cotta tile and zellige, a private dining room with oak floors, tadelakt walls and a view to the port, intricate moucharabieh carved wood panels between arches) plus an upstairs apartment for me! In a book that Pierre Bergé produced (sadly Bill died before the book was published, but it is a lovely testament to his talent) he says the basis for his design of Rick’s was “giving my friend Kathy a place to entertain!” Well, that he did.

Bill moved to Morocco from Rome in 1966. Just before leaving Rome he’d met and befriended John Paul Getty Jr. Six months after his arrival in Morocco, Getty invited Bill to come to Rome for his wedding to Talitha. Bill demurred and suggested instead the Gettys come to Morocco and he would escort them on their Honeymoon. In Marrakech they fell in love with an old palace near the Mamounia and bought it on the spot, hiring Bill to restore, repair and decorate it – his first commission in Morocco! He was friends with Yves Saint Laurent and Pierre Bergé and in 1974 when they bought the Dar Es Saada – neighboring the Majorelle property – they hired Bill to do the renovation and interiors. Later, after they had bought the Majorelle estate and the garden, he was involved in the restoration of the Villa Oasis.

fireplace and table

ST: What is your favorite hidden gem in Casablanca ? Why ?

KK: I’d have to say the Spice Market – it’s hard to find, but a real space apart. The setting is marked by some leafy trees at the entrance and one passes through the Henna section with decorative signage and booths, and then a series of spice stalls – very colorful – with herbalists (the old fashioned variety, dried animals and reptiles on display) on the opposite. There we have our favorite “spice guy”, Redouan, who picks out the spices with a long paddle and displays them on a flat tray – holding it up for photos - before he grinds. We’ve had him make ras al hanout with over 40 different components, and he’s also made curry powder for us (“kari” in his recipe book). Saffron is taken from a safe where it’s carefully wrapped in muslin, out of the light.

If one goes down a level there is a long hall of more spice stalls, and from there a real market with poultry and meat. If you go all the way through the market and onto the back street there are a variety of street-side stalls, among which the only purveyor of live escargot ( snail) we know of in Casablanca. I know this as we had to buy them for a chef who was coming to film a segment at Rick’s for the Food Network. She was due to film on the day the Market is closed, so asked us to buy the escargot the day before. We couldn’t leave them in the plastic sack the vendor placed them in, so had the kitchen divide them into two plastic containers with open grilling. The containers were carefully wrapped in transparent film, and placed upstairs on the terrace. The next morning when I walked out on the terrace I was shocked to find the two containers empty… and snails all over the terrace! I called security and housekeeping and between the two they were gathered up and put in more secure surroundings. For several weeks thereafter I’d confront one who’d got away….

The video team got a real kick out of this anecdote and in doing some wrap up shooting had the chef and I at an upstairs table on one side of the courtyard, and on the opposite side an escargot poised on the balustrade. They recorded the chef saying, “You know, Kathy, I have a feeling we’re not alone.” It didn’t make the cut, but for us was a perfect ending to a hilarious anecdote. Needless to say we have never – and will never – serve escargots at Rick’s!

© Sun Trails 2015. 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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Morocco desert experience

Morocco desert experience - 5.0 out of 5 based on 1 vote

erg chigaga dunes and tent

What is it that draws us to the immensity of the dunes ? The oceans of sand. Where does it spark from, this longing to gaze at wave after wave of sand disappearing on the horizon?...  All else irrelevant. There, on top of the highest dune. Minutes ago, you were cresting the dunes on the back of a camel. Presently, you are sitting down and conjuring all the majesty of saffron dunes, changing color as the sun gradually sinks. Nothing compares to waking up at night with the Milky Way above you and falling back asleep. And perhaps, the desert, because of its solitude, is what makes the locals more welcoming. 

Here, by the dunes of Erg Chigaga, despite of all the apparent scarcity, water runs just below the surface, a secret well kept under layers of sand. The desert also makes grown- ups children again. The most reserved of persons can’t resist the urge to climb up the highest dune and jump in the sand, the face lit with a wide childish grin. 

camel ride into the dunes                                              Camels ready for the ride in the dunes

In the collective imaginary, there is hardly anything more exotic, than those tougher- than- life Bedouin men crossing the desert, carrying precious loads of gold, ivory, slaves, textiles, spices or salt on the back of their sturdy camels. Or the bandits constantly threatening to attack the caravan, unless the due tax was paid at different custom points. It used to take the caravans 7 to 8 weeks to cross from one side to the other and some were losing half their personnel on the way. What has become of these men nowadays, when,  not so long ago, camels were replaced by trucks ? Whilst some camel trading still takes place in some parts of Niger where the Azalai sees thousands of camels travel across the vast teritorry, camels in Morocco are not used for caravan trading anymore. In the modern age, the nomads are mostly employed by the on site numerous desert camps that have cropped up on the fringes of the Sahara. Some also went to university, learnt English and became drivers and guides for the numerous foreign visitors taking a private tour of Morocco. We are lucky enough to have some of them work for Sun Trails. And every time they return to the desert, they feel at home, still very much nomads at heart.

erg chigaga dinner                                                   Dinner by candle light in the dunes at Azalai Camp

For some of those travelling to Morocco, spending a night in the Sahara is ticking off a box on a travel notebook. For others, it is a lifelong dream. Naturally then, you don’t want to ruin that experience and so you should carefully choose the right Morocco travel planner. Your agent should make sure you won't have to put up with a party at the camp next to you, the racket of a noisy generator or quad bikers blazing past your tent when you least expect it.

ERG CHEBBI DUNES VERSUS ERG CHIGAGA DUNES

Any forum on Trip Advisor or Fodor will tell you that there are two places in Morocco where you can actually spend a night in the desert: the dunes of Erg Chebbi and the dunes of Erg Chigaga. The route from Marrakech over the High Atlas mountains is one of the most dramatic in Moroco and reaches Ouarzazate on the other side. From here, there are two options: Erg Chebbi dunes– east through Skoura, Dades Gorge, Tinerir, Rissani and finally Merzouga; and Erg Chigaga dunes- west, following the Draa Valley through Agdz, Zagora, Tamegroute and finally Mhamid. From my own experience and feedback over the years, indeed, the dunes of Erg Chigaga get a fair amount less of visitors. The distance and driving time to both these dune locations is more or less similar, about 5- 6 hours drive. 

erg chigaga luxury camp inside tent                                                       Azalai Camp luxury tent interior

The dunes of Erg Chebbi owe their popularity partly to their being easily accessible : a bus will take you to literally the foot of the dunes from Marrakech in a 10 hour drive. When people want to do the classical imperial cities tour, the Erg Chebbi dunes are easier to include in the itinerary, given their location. If you are ready to give Fes a miss, then the dunes of Erg Chigaga are the ones to go for. Especially since they are two hours drive away from the closest bit of tarmac and you would be a fool not to loop your way back to Marrakech on a different route, thus experiencing all different formations of the desert:  sand dunes, stone plateaus, gravel plains, dry valleys and salt flats. To not mention the legendary Draa Valley, a caravan highway for centuries, where the river is flanked by one of the largest palm groves in the world along with Biblical villages and century old kasbahs. Then, is it impossible to experience the desert in a camp at Erg Chebbi ? Not at all. Your travel planner can suggest a more distant camp, deep in the dunes. 

erg chebbi luxury camp                                                    Erg Chebbi luxury camp by dawn

SAFETY

Although the border with Algeria is not far, until this day there has been no registered case of kidnapping or activity of a terrorist organization in these areas. Security at the border is very tough. In the very hot season ( July – August), there may be very rare cases of scorpions or snakes, but they never enter areas where they feel human presence. If you want to be 100 % sure, make sure you spend the night inside your tent and that your mattress is not laid straight on the ground. For more details on whether it is safe to travel to Morocco, please read our in- depth article

erg chigaga VIP tent                                                       VIP tent with private butler

BASIC DESERT TENT VERSUS LUXURY DESERT TENT

Nowadays, there are more and more luxurious desert camps to complement the regular ones. Most regular camps offer spartan but clean double beds with mattress and frame and plenty of blankets to keep you warm in the night, if chilly. Toilets and showers are shared and running water is scarce. Luxury camps offer wider tents with en suite showers and toilets, extensive furniture and fittings, and king size beds. The dinner menu is also more comprehensive. In the past 2- 3 years, the luxury camps also offer a higher level of standard, the VIP desert tents. These tents tend to be further away from the main camp, more accommodating and complete with a private butler. A normal basic camp accommodates 10- 12 double tents with a larger tent for restaurant. The typical luxury camp accommodates 4- 5 en- suite tents with a restaurant tent.

Although the typical nomad tents are wool tents secured with wood hooks and ropes, set up in a cone- like pattern, the camp tents nowadays tend to be box- shaped units set up on a solid (usually metal ) frame. Less traditional, they are much more resistant this way to strong winds and provide a better insulation from sand grains or any eventual insects ( mostly flies). However, if your only reason for booking a luxury camp tent is having private showers and toilet, you should know that you can still have a shower both in the afternoon arriving at and the morning departing from the desert lodge. Normally you have that choice, when arriving in the afternoon, before leaving the asphalt. After a 30 – 45 minute camel ride ( optional), you arrive at the desert camp as the sun sets, where you will have your dinner and spend the night. Naturally, the camp is fully staffed. Next morning, you should try and not miss the sunrise. Then, you will be taken back to the same lodge where you had arrived the previous afternoon and have a proper breakfast, before proceeding with your Morocco itinerary.

erg chebbi basic camp                                                Basic camp in the dunes of Erg Chebbi

ONE NIGHT OR TWO NIGHTS ?

In winter ( mid November to mid March) days are short and the sun sets around 5- 6 PM. If you're on a tour of Morocco, it is likely you will arrive at the camp just before sunset and will leave after breakfast. Which doesn't leave you with much time to enjoy the dunes. Ideally, forecast two nights in the desert in winter then. If you are worried about not having much to do, you may be wrong: tea with the nomads, rock engravings, prying out fossils, lunch in the oasis, the Black People village, dinosaur sites, quad biking, sand boarding are plenty of choice. The downside is that if a sand storm is blowing in ( very rare but possible), you will have no choice but to spend the morning or afternoon inside your tent. 

ALCOHOL

Given the alcohol regulations in Morocco, very few camps ( even among luxury ones) sell alcohol on site. Therefore the best way to go about it is to get yourself your supplies in Marrakch or Ouarzazate ( cca. half way between Marrakech and the dunes and the largest town in the south). Otherwise, you may end up paying 3 or 4 times the price if you want to acquire it in a hotel by the dunes. All you need to do is ask for your driver to stop you at a special store. He will then stock it for you in the 4x4’s freezer box, if need be.

erg chigaga basic camp inside                                                            Basic tent interior

CLOTHING AND TEMPERATURES

Cotton/ linen clothes and sneakers/ sandals are best for travelling around Morocco including the desert. A fleece or rain jacket is always a good addition for late nights/ early mornings. Outside the summer season, nights in the desert tend to be fresh/ chilly and in December/ January temperatures can get down to 35°F/ 2°C. Even with the basic tent accommodation, you will get as many blankets as necessary to keep you warm. That being said, it’s not a bad idea to bring over your sleeping bag, if space is available in your luggage. Day time, when the sun is out, temperatures can vary from 70°F/20°C in the winter months to the 113°F/ 45°C and more in July and August. In general we will not recommend taking a Morocco tour to the desert in summer but for some, it is the only time of the year they can come. Have you booked to spend the night in the desert in the summer and you find it too hot to be there ? Worry not. Sun Trails will accommodate you at no extra charge, back at the lodge by the dunes, where you will have the comfort of an air conditioned room and a fresh pool giving onto the dunes. Early next morning, you can still enjoy your camel ride over the Sahara dunes while the sun is rising.

Sun Trails offers both basic and luxury camp options in the desert for those booking bespoke tours of Morocco. For more details, please send your enquiry here .

erg chebbi luxury tent inside                                                    Luxury tent Erg Chebbi interior

 © Sun Trails. 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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Family holidays in Morocco

Family holidays in Morocco - 5.0 out of 5 based on 1 vote

jardins de douars poolYou may think that Morocco is not the best place for your family on holidays. Think again. In the last few years, a new breed of hotels caters specifically for families with children and teenagers. And we don't mean trampolin and water slides all- inclusive- resorts. We mean treasure hunt, camel rides into the dunes, surf lessons on the Atlantic, spending time with animals on an organic farm or trekking with mules into the Atlas Mountains.

To begin with, flights to Morocco are short – a 3 hour flight from London or an 8 hour flight from New York. Children will find a host of activities to enjoy on a holiday to Morocco. They can explore the ancient medinas which look like something from a Harry Potter movie or the Arabian Nights. With all those alleys, souks and mysterious apothecary stalls they’ll be fascinated and have a lot of stories for friends back home. There are sandy beaches on the Atlantic Coast too with great water sports and even a camel ride or two in the dunes. The majestic Atlas Mountains are a cooler alternative with easy day walks and delightful Berber villages which are very hospitable. In July and August, when everywhere else charges peak prices, the rates for a holiday in Morocco are at their lowest. And best of all, a new breed of hotels is now offering specific activities for children on holidays in Morocco

adounia camp beachWhilst the summer may not be the best time to visit the Sahara, Morocco offers other sites that would be perfect for a family at that time of year. The cooler Atlas Mountains are ideal, or there are the medieval cities of Fez and Marrakech. The Atlantic coast is also perfect during July and August and there are less crowds than in the cities, if you know some secret beaches. Well, we do. One of the best ways of experiencing the country is splitting the holiday between contrasting areas to get the best of both worlds. You can combine a camel trek in the sand dunes on the Atlantic with a few days wandering the souks of Marrakech or Fez.

douar samra terraceWhy not spend some time walking in the Atlas Mountains and enjoying the hospitality of the Berber villages before relaxing on the coast at Essaouira. Kids will adore learning to catch fish and cook it for a rustic lunch or take surf lessons. There are all those velvety night skies with thousands of stars to gaze at too. For some creative ways of spending the family holidays in Morocco, take a look at these hand- picked destinations which include hotels with sheltered lush gardens, air conditioning, pools, and offer specific have activities for children. The hotels and guest houses have been picked for their family friendly focus and ambiance. You’ll find that when you look at the accommodation so you won’t be in a situation where your 'suite' consists of a double bed and an armchair or a small shower in the bathroom. These Morocco family friendly guest houses are not an all-inclusive destination, but rather focused on giving their guests an opportunity to relax and switch off from the pressures of everyday life. Some have teen friendly things to do to get them away from their iPhones and enjoying the Moroccan outdoors. Some guest houses accept children for free and others offer discounts depending on the child's age.

12 fellah kids Fellah Hotel is a luxury boutique hotel just 20 minutes from the centre of Marrakech and a world away from the busy medina. It is very minimalist in design and is typical of a rural building in this region. The hotel has 10 villas with 69 rooms and many are furnished with locally produced crafts. But there is a lot more to the Fellah Hotel than just accommodation. It is home to Dar al-Ma'mûn- a non-profits arts centre and the only one of its kind in North Africa to receive UNESCO-Aschberg status. Dar al-Ma'mûn is supported by visitors to Fellah Hotel and not only helps with bringing international art and culture to Morocco but is renowned for its innovative approach to literacy and local education issues. There are a number of outreach projects in the local area coordinated by Dar al-Ma'mûn including a preschool programme for 250 children where dropout rates can be high, and a literacy class for women.

hotel fellah main pool
Another reason to stay at the Fellah Hotel is that it is home to Morocco’s only Wat Po Massage Centre. Therapists have been trained at Wat Po Temple in Bangkok – the centre of arts and learning. They provide a wide range of holistic therapies and signature treatments which are perfect for chilling out on holiday and escaping the stresses of everyday life. Whilst you relax in the spa there are lots of child friendly activities around the hotel to keep the kids occupied. And talking about the kids there’s a Fellah Kids Club which will keep them entertained. With a wide range of activities for children scheduled every day from 9 to 5 you can chill out whist they get down to a little Moroccan pottery, cookery, painting and even a treasure hunt. They can also enjoy theatre and games which are aimed at children between the ages of 4 and 11. It is the only hotel we’re aware of that has this level of planned entertainment for kids. Fellah Hotel is ideal for teenagers and children with double rooms available on a bed and breakfast basis from 170 Euros.

la pause marrakech landscape
For another unique and amazing experience try a 4x4 drive to the Desert of Marrakech. The sci- fi landscape will fascinate children and adults alike and it is the perfect place to have an impromptu geology lesson. Another bonus is the magnificent night sky in this area with skies full of glittering stars. In the distance the lofty peaks of the High Atlas Mountains rise above the landscape at 4000m and the busy medina in Marrakech is a short distance away. One of the best places to stay here is La Pause, a luxury eco-lodge on the outskirts of Marrakech. Remarkably, this hotel uses no electricity and yet manages to supply hot water, crisp Egyptian cotton sheets, log fires, refined Moroccan cuisine and more. Just a short distance away is the 9 hole golf course in a dried- out river bed. You’ll have your own personal donkey to carry golf clubs and be guided round the course by the caddie handler.

la pause marrakech suiteThere are other interesting excursions here including mountain biking and horse riding across the desert and along secluded oases. You’ll find cookery lessons too and the chance to have lunch in the home of a local villager. For children it will be the enticing landscape that enchants them on a holiday like this and will really set their imagination alight. Rooms are lit with magical lanterns and candles creating an intimate warmth at night. This hotel is best suited to teenage children and a double bungalow is priced at 250 euros on a half board basis.

jnane tihihit gardens
Lalla Takerkoust Lake is a 45 minute drive from Marrakech and has a welcoming place to stay close by with views of the Atlas Mountains. Jnane Tihihit is a cluster of adobe bungalows owned by a Belgian couple who serve the most organic cuisine. Everything comes from their farm and garden and kids will enjoy meeting the collection of animals including pigs, mules, horses, donkeys, cows, chickens, and pigeons. There are lots of child friendly activities here to which will keep kids entertained. From learning to cook a tagine to riding a horse and making pots there is something for everyone. When it gets a little too hot there’s always the swimming pool to cool off in. There are also opportunities to go mountain biking and enjoy a picnic with views of the Atlas Mountains by the lake. Babysitting services are available at this hotel. Jnane Tihihit is recommended for children, and teenagers. Double rooms start at 76 Euros per night.

douar samra roof terrace
For a Berber chalet look no further than Douar Samra. It may be just an hour away from Marrakech but the Imlil Valley is a completely different environment and located right in the heart of the Berber homeland. Douar Samla has been exquisitely restored by Jacqueline who aimed to recreate a Swiss chalet ambiance in the Atlas Mountains. There are lush gardens with cherry and nut trees and the chalet has log fires and quite a few breath- taking- view terraces. You’ll find a chilled out atmosphere in the village which kids will enjoy exploring. For small children the three dogs, Jules the donkey and the ducks will be a fascination and the colourful interior with splashes of pink and purple will brighten everyone’s day. For somewhere to relax the sunny terrace with its views of the mountains is the ideal place to curl up with a book or just gaze out at that endless panorama.

Kran room Douar Samra ToubkalAnd as for the tree house and hammocks in the garden- well what child won’t enjoy those ? Kids will be running around and enjoying simple things in no time. There are also some captivating Atlas Mountains day treks from Douar Samra which are ideal for all the family. One of the best is a five hour waterfall trek which passes the village of Armed before a fifteen minute walk to the cascade itself where a picnic lunch is waiting. Another highlight of Douar Samla is that it is one of the few places in the area offering a traditional wood- burning Moroccan hammam – an idea way to relax after a day of walking. Douar Samra is ideal for teenagers and children, although children should be supervised on the roof terrace. Double rooms start at 94 euros on a half board basis.

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One of the most fascinating places to visit in Morocco is the UNESCO world heritage site of Essaouira on the Atlantic Coast. This chilled out town is less chaotic than Marrakech ( and much cooler in the summer) and is a delightful place for families. The light has attracted artists for years to this fishing port and today the town has a vibrant music and arts scene. Children will delight at the old town ramparts where they can walk to see the historic cannons and bastions. There are lots of places to enjoy a drink or an ice cream in town and the medina is a lot calmer than those of the imperial cities. The beach is popular with families and just the place for a few ball games or water sports. The area has a milder climate than other parts of Morocco and there are several lovely places to stay within a short drive of Essaouira.

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Le Jardin Des Douars is located in the hills above Essaouira and is ideal for families. It is surrounded by argan trees and has magnificent botanical gardens, two pools and a hammam. There are also two restaurants and the hotel has a rustic Moroccan style and is decorated tastefully. It is popular with couples as well as families and is designed for a relaxing time in a tranquil setting. Essaouira is a ten minute drive away so guests can enjoy the peace of the countryside or head into down for a dose of culture in the centre of town. This is a destination where you really can divide your time between a rural setting and a historic town with good shopping and restaurants. One of the particularities of Le Jardin Des Douars is that the air conditioned accommodation has a variety of room options to suit most people. There are private houses which come complete with a cook.

6234The domed Royal Suite comes with two bedrooms, a terrace, and a lounge. Simple Relax Rooms have a small terrace and queen sized bed. Whatever your requirements, there will most likely be a room to suit. The décor is typically North African with Berber rugs, carved doors, and wooden masks. This hotel has a family pool and another adult’s only swimming pool with wrought iron loungers. There is an adult’s only restaurant at La Table des Douars whilst families will enjoy the views at Le Ksar Restaurant. Both serve delicious North African cuisine. There are lots of activities available from Le Jardin Des Douars. From cocktails on the terrace to petanque and a library the hotel caters for adults with lots of things for kids. There’s also a hammam and spa for those chill out moments. Trekking is available from the hotel to secret beaches and rushing waterfalls. There is surfing nearby too and shopping opportunities in the souk. Jardins des Douars is suited to teenagers and children. Rates start at 109 euros a night on a bed and breakfast basis.

adounia camp by nightIf you have a sense of adventure and want a holiday in a remote area, then why not take a look at a Moroccan luxury beach camp. These are located on the Atlantic coast by secluded beaches. Camp Adounia is such an example Guests can enjoy night skies with thousands of stars, deserted beaches, and Morocco’s unspoiled coastline. Camp Adounia is an eco-friendly camp to minimise impact on the environment and is miles away from the crowded beaches at Essaouira. Guests will have golden sands to themselves and some excellent surfing to enjoy. This is a wild and remote coast and ideal for those who want to escape the holiday crowds common in other resorts.

adounia camp tentA cooling breeze will take the edge of the summer sun here. The tents are on the beach and the sound of the waves will lull you into a deep sleep at night. Camp Adounia is a simple set up but has a touch of luxury. There is a resident chef who can conjure up delicious meals and a team of guides who can help guests get to know the area. The camp is all inclusive and its highlight is being at one with nature and living very simply. There are some great activities for kids including beach walking and private surfing lessons. The camel trekking along the sand dunes will delight most children and adults and is really popular. There are opportunities to catch fish for lunch and simply relax in a beautiful setting. Local food and resources are used, minimising impact on the environment. There are comfortable beds with Egyptian cotton sheets at the campsite and ensuite bathrooms. Washing is done in the traditional hammam style. You’ll also find a kettle in your tent with water for washing and brushing teeth. Camp Adounia is recommended for teenagers. Rates start at 210 euros per adult on an all-inclusive basis.


We can help you get the best rates at any of the accommodations above or craft a private customized family tour of Morocco to include Fes or Marrakech, the Atlas Mountains and the Atlantic coast. For enquiries please click here

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Medieval Morocco - exhibition of the year

Medieval Morocco - exhibition of the year - 5.0 out of 5 based on 1 vote

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On a beautiful morning in March we are entering the newly opened Museum Mohamed 6 in Rabat. The previous months built quite an expectation since the exhibition on medieval Morocco had been hosted by none other than Louvre Museum ( yes, the one in Paris) and proved to be quite a success in France, having received 170 000 visitors. It was now presented in Rabat at the Museum Mohamed 6 and it is the most comprehensive exhibition ever presented on medieval Morocco with more than 220 items brought over from Moroccan, Spanish, Portuguese and Italian museums. 

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The loud group of children that had been brought to visit that morning, on a school visit it seemed, proved to be quite useful in the end, having kept the security guards busy while I managed to snatch a few photos of the items exposed, otherwise forbidden. 

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And now for the technical sort of data: this exhibition provides a rereading of the era spanning the XIth century in XVth century, which represents the golden age of western Arabic civilization, headed successively by the Almoravid, Almohad and Merinides dynasties. These last ones were able to realize a political unity over a wide area bringing together the areas from 'Sub-Saharan Africa, Andalusia and the provinces of North African countries.

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The exhibition includes nearly 220 artistic works, which reflect what Morocco had accomplished during this period in the fields of medieval architecture, ceramics, textiles, calligraphy and book manufacturing. It shows the innovative achievements in science and technology, achievements that had a profound effect on the European Renaissance. This exhibition brings together highly symbolic artistic and religious masterpieces, such as the candelabrum of Qarawiyyin mosque and minbars of various mosques as well as architectural artefacts and samples. It also showcases daily life objects such as dishes and ceramic jars, chests for conservation of textiles, candelabrum lamps and instruments used for water extraction techniques. It also presents various Korans and manuscripts related to religious and artistic topics, in addition to many coins and flag models.

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These masterpieces are brought together from Moroccan, Portuguese, Spanish and French museums. This exhibition is an opportunity to discover the monuments and to throw a light on the authenticity of Morocco, the consistence of its unity and its civilizational outflow. It highlights the cultural sources that has inspired Moroccan civilization as well as the influences of varioius spaces within itself and the role that Morocco has played in the circulation of ideas between the far Arabic east and the Andalusian culture.

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The author and his insightful companion, the owner of an influential travel blog in Morocco , both agreed that it was probably the most comprehensive exhibtion they ever witnessed in Morocco and most definitely one to attend to if you are visiting Morocco and Rabat. The exhibition is currently included with all of our Morocco private tours and is open to public every day except on Tuesdays. 

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Agafay Desert Lodge & Camp

Agafay Desert Lodge & Camp - 4.5 out of 5 based on 2 votes

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Only 40 minutes drive of Marrakech lies the desert of Agafay. It isn’t sand dunes like the Sahara. Yet layer after layer of rock dunes instill a similar feeling of remoteness. Of nothingness. Only troubled by the occasional douar, local hamlets with their mud houses which seem to slowly return to the adobe they’ve been molded from. There is no living soul in sight, if not for the solitary camel grazing by. It is one of the few places in Morocco where near- total desolation manifests with such exquisite beauty. Some in- the- know travelers move through this desert as part of a 4x4 day trip from Marrakech into the High Atlas mountains. But they don't suspect one can also spend the night in Agafay desert, without having to rough it up. Also, for those newly wed, it is hard to find any place more romantic to include on a honey moon in Morocco. 

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One of these places offers both exquisite adobe-and-tadelakt bungalows and spacious air-tight tents. The French owner, with a passion for Africa and the desert, was driving aimlessely around Agafay some many years ago, when he stumbled upon an oasis and a ruined house. It immediately occured to him that this would be the perfect spot for an eco- lodge that would reflect his love of desert and remoteness. The oasis would provide the water, the desert - the views. Nowadays, this remote eco- lodge offers adobe bungalows, comfortable tents, a restaurant area, shady gardens, a refreshing pool and a miniature golf course, among other things. But it’s the views and complete remoteness that make it worth spending the night or two here.

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You may think that the beautiful lanterns lit at night are there just for the effect. You're wrong. The whole place works without one watt of electricity. Which makes for the starriest sky at night, the one you'd normally sight in the Sahara. And if you think that this means roughing it up, think again. Soft cotton sheets, luxurious bath products, running hot water, wood burning stoves and even a wifi hot point offer all the necessities you may need. Protecting the environment, but not suffering for it. 

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A few miles away, tucked behind mounds of moon rocks, you will find a 12- tent camp. Spacious white canvas tents accommodate comfortable beds. In one suite tent, an antique globe sits atop a stack of vintage leather suitcases; in the reception pavilion a zebra skin graces the floor next to a folding campaign table piled high with well-thumbed expedition and photography books. Iron candle-lamps are suspended on posts; hammered-silver urns trickle fresh water into basins in the bathroom tents. The interiors seem to come out straight of ‘Out of Africa’ and you may be forgiven for thinking that you are somewhere in Kenya and not less than an hour drive of bustling Marrakech.

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If having a romantic dinner and night in the middle of nowhere, take in the immensity of landscapes and disconnecting from a busy lifestyle is not enough for you, worry not. From guided treks along the oasis to yoga sessions with nothing in sight at 360°, there is plenty to occupy your time here. Horse riding , quad biking, camel riding, reiki massages, mountain biking are but some of the ways to explore the Agafay desert and can all be arranged locally. 

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Better still, why not make staying one night in Agafay desert part of a 2- day private 4x4 tour and discover the diverse area just south of Marrakech ? The desert, the High Atlas, the Kik Plateau, the local waterfalls, Lalla Takerkoust lake – so many contrasts just in two day. Perhaps start with the Ourika Valley, hike up into the High Atlas, have lunch with a Berber family. Freshen up by the local waterfalls, see how the argan is turned into oil into a local cooperative. Discover the 12th century mosque of Tinmel, have a tea by the Lalla Takerkoust lake, lunch at Richard Branson's High Atlas retreat or trek in the Atlas mountains. And, after all the lushness of the High Atlas, have a little bit of desert. Arrive in the Agafay desert by the afternoon and, after settling in, have the most romantic dinner by candle light under the starriest sky, out in the open. Spend a night inside an adobe bungalow or white canvas tent and explore the surroundings next day by foot, camel, horse of mountain bike. 

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Private tents at Scarabeo Camp available from 201 €/ 161 £/ 274 $ per night per tent with half board;
Private bungalow at La Pause available from 300 €/ 250 £/ 335 $ per night per bungalow with half board;
2 day private 4x4 tour to include a night in the desert available from 300 €/ 250 £/ 335 $ per person.

To book or enquire about any of the above, please send us an enquiry at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.   or fill in the form on our contact page

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Is Morocco Safe ?

Is Morocco Safe ? - 3.7 out of 5 based on 3 votes

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Less people travel to Morocco in 2016. These are the official figures from the Moroccan Tourism Observatory. But why? Why are travelers avoiding a land rich in cultural diversity, stunning landscapes and natural- born hospitality? We cannot help but wonder if the kingdom’s location in Middle East North Africa ( MENA) region may have something to do with it. After all, the region is no stranger to terrorist attacks, civil unrest and political instability in recent years. Whenever a new attack is carried out, many potential travellers stay away from Morocco too, simply because it’s in the ‘same’ part of the world. But is it really the ‘same’ ?

Vanessa Bonnin is the manager of Dar Roumana, a stunning riad in the medina of Fes and has lived in Morocco for the last 7 years. Fes, although one of the most fascinating medinas in the Arab world, has seen its numbers drop by 25 % compared to last year. ‘Morocco is unfairly tarred with the same brush as being part of a troubled region, however for me, this type of thinking is like choosing not to visit Germany because of troubles in France.’

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The chief editor of a Moroccan newspaper agrees : ‘Morocco is a victim of its location. Many tourists mistakenly think that the terrorist threat is more important in a Muslim country in the MENA region (Middle East and Maghreb). But despite all this, foreign tourists have no reason to worry, given that since the emergence of ISIS and its supporters around the world, there was no attack in Morocco.’ And it is the terrorist attacks and political instability that have made other countries in the region see a drop in tourism by up to 40 % compared to previous year.

PRAISE FROM FOREIGN MEDIA AND INSTITUTIONS:

There is little talk in foreign media about Morocco and its security measures. Yet the information is there, if one scratches the surface. ‘"People's perception of how Morocco fits into the region needs to change. I would ask potential visitors to see Morocco as its own country and people, and to make choices based on facts not fear’, adds Vanessa. Speaking of facts:

# The UK based Independent magazine has compiled in July 2016 a map of the most dangerous countries in the world by collating the foreign office travel advice for all countries in the world. On that map, Morocco is as dangerous as say Denmark or Canada.

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# The Global Terrorism Index measures the impact of terrorism in 162 countries. To account for the lasting effects of terrorism, each country is given a score that represents a five year weighted average. On this index, Syria ranks #5, United States ranks # 35 and Morocco ranks 92 out of 163 countries. 

# According to the Global Terrorism Database, published by the National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism (START) at the University of Maryland, terrorist attacks in the Maghreb region multiplied by 47 times between 2011 and 2014, increasing from 15 to 1,105. Of these attacks, only one targeted Morocco.

# According to the French Ministry’s “Travel Advice,” which was recently updated following the suicide bombing that shook Istanbul, Morocco is the only recommended country for French nationals to visit in the MENA region.

# In 2015, the popular Trip Advisor travel website’s users have chosen Marrakech as the top destination in the world. Furthermore, in the 2016 Travelers Choice, Marrakech was Africa’s top destination.

# The US State Department lauded Morocco’s “comprehensive” counter-terrorism strategy, underlining the country’s adherence to human rights standards and the increased transparency of law enforcement procedures. Among other things, the report states that: “in the past decade, Morocco has focused on upgrading mosques, promoting the teaching of relatively moderate Islam"

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KING MOHAMED 6

It is without a doubt that Morocco owes largely its political stability and social security to its king. Having taken on the throne from its father King Hassan 2 in 1999, Mohamed 6 enacted social reforms, including important steps towards gender equality and migrant integration.

In August 2016, the King Mohamed 6 took publicly a stark stand on terrorism and was one of the few, if not the only, chief of state from outside the Western world, to publicly condemn the murdering of innocent people and outcast those who perpetrate these in the name of Islam. "Is it conceivable that God could order someone to blow himself up or kill innocent people? Islam, as a matter of fact, does not permit any kind of suicide - whatever the reasons or circumstances."

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Mandy Sinclair, owner of Tasting Marrakech (food and cultural tours of Jemaa el Fna) has been living in Marrakech for 6 years. While she agrees that the world in 2016 is a less safe place to travel, she feels safer in Morocco than in Europe or the US, although she prefers the less- than- obvious locations: ‘The initiatives the government is taking to ensure the safety of its people and travelers is second to none. As a single woman living in Marrakech, I feel safer here than in most major European and North American cities. I travel frequently around Morocco and always feel at ease, especially in smaller villages in the Atlas Mountains, Moulay Idriss and Essaouira’.

At the same time, countries such as Spain and Portugal have seen almost record number of tourists these past 2 years. Does that mean that you should feel safer in Spain or Portugal than you would feel in Morocco ? Travel writer Alice Morrison agrees: ‘Unfortunately, I don’t think it is 100% safe anywhere in 2016. What I can say is that I feel as safe living here in Marrakech as I would in the UK. I was actually more worried going to London a couple of weeks ago and getting on the underground, than I am going down to the Medina here.’ Alice Morrison is an adventurer who has lived in Marrakech since January 2014. She, of all people, has some insight into Africa, since she crossed the continent on a bike, a race of 8000 km and has written a book about it.

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Personally, I could say that the seeds for this article were planted during conversations with our guests at the end of their private tour of Morocco. In the shade of their riad in Marrakech, most of them would relate the same experience. ‘Cristian, I know we asked a lot of questions before travelling to Morocco as we were a little worried about the safety here. But we want you to know that we hardly felt any safer and more welcomed anywhere else we travelled before’. That raised a question: how many other travelers like them felt that initial apprehension and never venture? When the grim statistics were published in July 2016, I decided it was about time to publish the long- due article and get people involved. And I thought the best is to start by researching how thorough the Moroccan authorities have made Morocco safer, on the ground.

MOROCCO’S FBI AND OTHER TECHNICAL DATA

If you journeyed to Morocco in the last two years, you may have noticed police and military patrol the streets in groups of 3. Scanning devices have been installed at hotels, restaurants and malls entrances. Thorough checks are in place at airports across Morocco. In the local media, many terrorist cells have been dismantled in the past 18 months. But this is merely the tip of the iceberg.

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The Moroccan government has treated counterterrorism as a top policy priority since 2003. In June 2015, the Government of Morocco enacted significant amendments to the criminal code to address the foreign terrorist fighter phenomenon. To further show that Morocco is serious about combatting terrorism, it has created a law enforcement agency that deals specifically with terrorism threat: The Morocco Central Bureau of Judicial Investigation (BCIJ), nicknamed ‘the Moroccan FBI’. As about its efficiency, the BCIJ has dismantled quite a few terrorist cells since its creation.

Law enforcement officials and private carriers work regularly with the United States to detect and deter individuals attempting to transit illegally. At the end of 2014, the parliament voted to support the Council of Europe Convention on Laundering, Search, Seizure, and Confiscation of the Proceeds from Crime and on the Financing of Terrorism.

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On the other hand, one of the most important measures taken by Morocco in recent years was the creation of the new security mechanism “Hadar”, which incorporates elements of the Royal Armed Forces, Royal Gendarmerie, the Police, and Auxiliary Force. 

In the past decade, Morocco has focused on upgrading mosques, promoting the teaching of relatively moderate Islam, and strengthening the Ministry of Endowments and Islamic Affairs (MEIA). The MEIA is educating Morocco’s nearly 50,000 imams in a version of relatively moderate Sunni Islam. 

FIGHTING POVERTY

Besides the security measures and the counter radicalization of the mosques, the Moroccan authorities understood that the radicalization of some youth stems from lack of opportunities and unemployment. The Moroccan government engaged in a policy of heavy public investments in infrastructure and the social sector with the ultimate goal of fighting poverty. According to a study published on the Carnegie Middle East Center in 2010, Morocco succeeded to lift 1.7 million people out of poverty during the period 2000-2010. The same study shows that poverty rates in the country decreased by more than 40 per cent during the same period.

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SO WHERE DOES THE CONFUSION COME FROM ?

Morocco's association with the turmoil of the neighbouring countries is the external and main cause of its drop in tourists. The internal and lesser cause may be the transparency and overzeal of the local media to relate about the dismantling of the terrorist cells. As the editor in chief sums it: ‘The kingdom is also a victim of the effectiveness of its anti-terrorism strategy. Indeed, every other month the authorities announced that a terrorist cell was dismantled.’

Patrick Simon is vice president of Regional Tourism Council of Guelmin – Semara region in the south of Morocco and owner of Dar Infiane guesthouse. Of French origin, he has lived in Morocco for 41 years. He agrees: ‘I’d like to point out that the regular press releases claiming good results in the dismantling of terrorist cells was a choice of the government and especially the Ministry of the Interior, thus insisting to show nationals and tourists that all means were used to ensure maximum security’. So it seems that the security forces are very good at doing their job and like to convey it to the press. In the long term, it's still to be seen whether the transparency is the best policy in this case. 

Did you visit Morocco in the last 5 years ? Did you feel safe ? Did you fear for your safety ? We've created a special platform for you to vote and/ or leave your feeback here. 

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© Sun Trails 2016. 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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8 things to do in Essaouira right now

With little to do but wander, Essaouira remains a hippy hang-out where Jimi Hendrix is said to have penned Castles in the Sand. Today though, a more Bohemian crowd flocks for the laid-back ambiance, delicious local cuisine, and miles of beach perfect for walking (even as far as the castle in the sand said to inspire Hendrix’s song).  Laid-back Essaouira is a must-do either as part of a custom Morocco tour or an excursion from Marrakech.

Sip local wines

It is believed that viticulture may have been introduced by the Phoenicians and at Domaine de Val d’Argan in the Essaouira region, Charles Melia from Châteauneuf du Pape in France, creates a range of white, red, rosé and Moroccan gris wines. Customize your itinerary with a sampling and lunch at the winery either en route during a day trip from Marrakech or as an extra activity while in Essaouira, part of your multi-day private tour of Morocco .

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Set off in to the sun

Ride off in to the sun- set Arabian horseback style! The friendly folks at Equi Evasion organize a two-hour sunset trek that is sure to take your breath away as the sun sets over the Atlantic Ocean with views of the ruined castles and mosque in the background. Or sail off towards the Iles Purpuraires as they are known locally during a two-hour sail around the bay. As human access is restricted to protect the precious birdlife (the island is a breeding ground for Eleanora’s falcons) that exists on the islands, this is the closest way to get up close and personal.

Known as the windy city, Essaouira is also a popular destination for kite-surfing and surfers and a day riding the waves (even for the most amateur of surfers) with Explora is always fun !

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Eat well

The restaurant scene in Essaouira is hotting up with local hotspots UMIA’s Ottolenghi-inspired menu featuring fresh seafood in a cool setting, One Up, located in the former British consulate building is beautifully decorated and serving up an eclectic menu and a rooftop terrace where lunches will be served opening soon.

Newby La Tete dans les Etoiles is popular for sushi on Saturdays and the regular live music fusions on Saturday evenings while nearby Le Chalet de Plage is a popular institution amongst the bohemian jet set who prefer a seafood feast overlooking the ocean. If you’re not put off by somewhat slow service ( after all, Essouira doesn’t quite transpire urgency), head to Ocean Vagabond for the most delicious fresh tuna steaks and grilled sea food.

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Foodies will want to head to La Fromagerie for locally produced sheep, cow and goat’s cheeses served over several courses under the shade of the olive trees. Jolly cheese-producer and owner Abderrazzak casually greets guests, sharing a few laughs and explaining the cheese-making process done on site.

Shop local

The only region in the world where the famous argan tree grows, picking up a bottle of both the culinary and cosmetic oils is a must! For the best, forget small spice shops and purchase only the oil produced by nearby Sidi Yassine .

We love visiting the little workshops on Rue Chbenate for wooden bowls, spoons and serving ware made from locally sourced thuya and olive wood while watching the craftsmen spin their creations.

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Essaouira is known for its raffia craft and the small boutiques throughout the medina sell a range of colourful shoe styles – loafers, slip-ons – that are perfect for warm summer days wherever your next stop on your tailor made Morocco tour!

Learn from a local

While Essaouira is known for its relatively few sites, hiring a guide is one of the best ways to understand the old city steeped in history. Once home to a thriving Jewish, Christian and Muslim population peacefully living together, today only one Jewish resident remains and some Christian expats remain in this Muslim dominant town. Yet the proof remains - Star of David, Flower of Life and the Islamic crescent engraved throughout the medina that was once a bustling Portuguese port and known also as the Timbuktu port as it marked the end of the trade route as caravans made their way across the Sahara desert. In fact, today many of the local Jewish synagogues are undergoing restoration works with foreign aid.

Sunset drinks with a view

Whether visiting Essaouira as part of a day trip from Marrakech or an overnight as part of a private Morocco tour, watching the sun set over the Atlantic Ocean as the call to prayer rings out over the medina, seagulls overhead and surfers winding down for the day is a must. For a casual drink, head to the top terrace of Taros where the energy is upbeat and fun or to Ocean Vagabond where locals and expats flock to wind down for the day, a true local Cafe del Mar. For fancy cocktails the rooftop terrace of Palais Heure Bleue cannot be beat!

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Roll up your sleeves

Many cities offer cooking classes, but we think those offered at Khadjia’s Kuzina are rather special. Offered in Khadija’s home, guests create a custom menu that mixes traditional with creative menu options including appetizer, main course, fresh juice and fruit-based dessert before eating together in the comfort of her traditional Moroccan salon (living room). If you fancy something more elaborate, Madada Mogador’s Atelier Madada , a cooking school in a former almond factory. You will have a 4 hour workshop under the supervision of Allison and Mona, complete with a trip to the nearby spice souk. You will then prepare and eat a full multicourse lunch.

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Deep-rooted music scene

The wildly popular Gnaoua and World Music Festival attracts festival-goers young and old as some of the top maalem (master Gnaoui musicians) are invited to share the stage with international, often jazz and blues acts, to fuse with the traditional music with African/Islamic roots. The stages are often alive until the wee hours of the morning as concert-goers flying in from around the world and travelling from across Morocco dance the night away in the famous Place Moulay Hassan. The 2017 festival is scheduled for 29 June to 2 July.

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For a more refined concert experience, the Andalusian Music Festival (known locally as the Festival des Andalousies Atlantiques d'Essaouira) is held annually the last weekend of October and celebrates the rich Jewish legacy and the shared Arabo-Andalusian heritage between Morocco and Spain. Afternoon concerts set in the Andalusian-style Dar Souiri are intimate and popular, making it feasible for visitors on a day trip from Marrakech to enjoy some live music.

About the author:

In 2010, Mandy Sinclair arrived in Morocco on an 18-day holiday. Little did she know her life was about to change as she fell in love with the country, the music, the food, the culture and the people. Within five months she returned and in 2014 she established Say Something Communications, an English PR agency in Marrakech, and Tasting Marrakech, private food and cultural tours of Jemaa el Fna. Her writing has been featured in Brownbook, Time Out Marrakech, and H.O.M.E. interiors magazine.

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Marrakech to Sahara by small plane

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You are in Marrakech for a few days. You’d love to spend a night in the Sahara but are put off by spending 9 to 10 hours each way inside a 4x4 ? Or perhaps you wish to make your other half a very special surprise and take her/ him to lunch on top of the dunes ? Just for the afternoon. What if we could arrange for you a private flight from Marrakech to the Sahara desert ? And if you’re thinking about ultra luxury fully staffed private jets with champagne on board, think again. We mean a 4-seater modern, safe, single- engine, propeller aircraft. Yes, like the ones you see at airshows. Or the one from the The English Patient. Well, not as old as that one, of course.

on top of the dunes sahara

The aircraft in question is a Cirrus 22 SR, from 21st century, boasts state-of-the-art technology on board and leather seats. It can take up to 3 adult passengers with cabin luggage. The pilot speaks English and will answer all your questions during the flight while also pointing out the most interesting sites as you fly over them: the highest peak in North Africa, the scattered Berber villages, the Eddhabi lake or the Draa Valley, that long green ribbon you see from your passenger seat, minutes after flying over the High Atlas mountains. The pics featured here were taken by Sloane and William, our guests in May 2017 that flew out on a Saturday, spent the night in a luxury tent in the dunes, had tea with the nomads, rode camels and flew back on Sunday.

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This little marvel would fly from Marrakech over the snowy peaks of the High Atlas mountains and land at the airport in Zagora or Errachidia in about one hour. On the ground, a Moroccan private English fluent driver– guide and a spotless modern air conditioned 4x4 await you. In little more than a couple of hours you will reach your luxury desert camp in the dunes of Erg Chigaga or your open- air picnic spot, if you opted for just lunch. But perhaps you would like to take your time along the way and first have a guided tour of a palm grove in Zagora with a local. Stop and visit the Jewish old district or the earth ovens in Tamegroute casting that unique green pottery. Then have a wander through a traditional honey- comb ksour  and its wells of light. Enjoy a hearty couscous with a local Berber family.

If you're tempted by the dunes of Erg Chebbi, you will land in Errachidia and spend the afternoon discovering pre Islamic dwellings, prying out fossils, visit the dinosaur sites or the rock engravings and have tea with the nomads.

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Ultimately, reach your luxury Sahara tent after a swift camel ride and have a mint tea on the top of the dunes, gazing at the oceans of sand.

If safety is your worry, not only flying is the safest way of transportation in the world (The National Highway Transportation Safety Administration states that airlines and business aviation (Biz-Av) are about ten times safer than auto travel), but the CAP system on the Cirrus 22 SR aircraft is designed to lower the aircraft to the ground after deployment using a whole- airplane parachute, in the unlikely event of an emergency. 

tea with nomads SAhara

Private flights in Morocco were mostly the domain of helicopter flights until recently. 2016 has seen the opening of a company that offers private jets. While both these choices are convenient for groups of 6 or more persons travelling together, their rates are prohibitive with prices for a flight from Marrakech to Zagora or Errachidia starting at 6000 euros each way. So, if in Marrakech and short on time, book a flight with us and live the magic of the Sahara for one night. 

luxury tent erg chigaga

Private flights by small plane from Marrakech to the Sahara desert are available starting at 2000 euros per person, including return flights, return transfers by 4x4 to and from the camp, a private luxury ensuite tent with own showers and toilets, dinner and breakfast for two.  

For more details about rates and customized itineraries, contact us at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or call us at +212 638 636 719/ + 212 666 915 384.

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Rick's cafe Casablanca

Rick's cafe Casablanca - 5.0 out of 5 based on 2 votes

Outside view

The things to do in Casablanca aren't that many. Despite the glamor that is associated with the name, Casablanca is not exactly Bangkok. Or Cairo. Besides the third largest mosque in the world, the city boasts little more than a few architectural jewels in the way of monuments. There’s one thing to do in Casablanca – go and have dinner or a drink at Rick’s. Never heard of ? It’s the restaurant that looks like the one in the Hollywood blockbuster. But how is that a restaurant could become ' a thing to do' in Casablanca ? Way before “Hideous Kinky” or “The Sheltering Sky” came around, “Casablanca” must have been the film that lit up imaginations on the idea of travelling to an Arab country. Even though most of the action happens inside Rick’s Cafe Americain, the few scenes shot outside show bustling markets, the complicated art of bargaining and one or two glimpses into a strange yet mystifying culture, in contrast with the few scenes portraying Paris. But... hold on a second. No one involved with the production of the film ever set foot in Morocco. Yep, that’s true, it was all shot in the studios of Hollywood. And that’s one of the reasons that pushed Kathy Kriger, an American expat with a background in diplomacy and travel industry, to open a restaurant that would become much more than the pastiche of the movie, a Casablanca institution, mixing together good cuisine, a spot where expats could meet and the desire to entertain. For a restaurant requiring a dress code yet having its general manager ( Issam) playing the piano, it might as well come out of a movie. It was everything but easy, but 11 years down the road, Kathy would play, I mean do it again. She was kind enough to agree to an in- depth interview where she details her love of Morocco, talks about nowadays Casablanca, jazz sessions, Bill Willis, Yves Saint Laurent and the ‘Monday’ syndrome.

Sun Trails: Is it true that you watched Casablanca in 1974 in a cinema in Portland and the audience stood up and applauded at the end of the movie ?

Kathy Kriger: It was the same year I’d opened up my travel agency, and we shared space in the retail outlet of an outdoor/leisure catalog operation headquartered in Portland. I went with friends from the store. It was a black & white film series and “Casablanca” just had an emotional impact on the entire audience. One in our group recounted how his father had been based in Casablanca after the Allied embarkation and they showed the film “Casablanca” to the troops in a tent. His mother always added that she and other wives whose husbands were away all watched “Casablanca” at the Blue Mouse (a Portland theatre) and cried all the way through it.

first floor at night

ST: You had a background in travel business and diplomacy. Why a restaurant ? How do you feel about your choice 11 years down the road ?

KK: My first plunge into entrepreneurship was starting the travel agency in 1974 with $800, encountering all the usual financial problems and unexpected crises. Eventually a friend joined me and it became very successful. Sue, my partner in the travel business, and I at the same time took a variety of cooking classes – it was just at the outset of California Cuisine – and we used to cook a lot together. Many of the dishes on our menu are adaptations of recipes I learned back in the late 1970’s. I knew Rick’s would always be more than a restaurant, but a dramatic setting that would give rise to the fantasy sought by a tourist, or a nostalgic ambiance appealing to the sophisticated Casablanca clientele. It was the best thing I ever did, as it has combined all of the things I love. I used to say after the restaurant opened that it was perfect, as I loved to entertain, but never liked cleaning up after!

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ST: Life for a single expat woman isn’t easy in Morocco, let alone when she undertakes the restoration of an ancient house and wishes to open it as a restaurant in the medina of Casablanca. Do you feel that experience helped you understand more Morocco ? Would you do it all over again?

KK: I had some inkling of what I was getting into as I’d had 4 years as a diplomat, but wasn’t prepared for the degree in which things changed after I was on my own. Fortunately I have some very good friends here in Morocco as well as a lot of friends scattered around the globe, and their confidence in me, and willingness to invest in “The Usual Suspects” kept me going. I learned a lot in the 2 ½ years it took to get Rick’s open, learned more in the first 3 difficult years and am still learning about Morocco today! I’d do it again, and looking back I feel I was meant to – there were so many coincidences of fate or destiny.

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ST: Some opinions on the internet portray Rick’s Cafe as a tourist trap. What would you say to them ?

KK: Rick’s is anything but a tourist trap – we’ve deliberately made the commercial tie- in with the film understated, dedicating our Lounge to the movie and old posters of the film. Otherwise what you see looks like the scenes in the movie, and people can pretend they are the stars. When I look at these “tourist trap” comments on the internet I always suspect they’re people who didn’t get through the door as we have a reasonable dress code. Certain types get very outraged when told their attire is not acceptable.

jazz band playing

ST: Last year I had dinner at Rick’s and I remember mostly the stunning lamps and the excellent saxophone player and band. I believe it was a Sunday evening. Is that a regular thing ?

KK: Thank you for noticing the stunning lamps… I set about buying them when a bank loan had come through but construction was months away. Encouraged by Bill Willis and our local architect Hakim Benjelloun as we needed ambiance, I was amazed to find lamps that look exactly like some of the pieces in the film. I learned later that I really shouldn’t have been spending the loan money on lighting, but frankly if I hadn’t bought them at the time, you would have been dining in the dark!

Sunday night jazz jam sessions were introduced a few months after we opened. A Casablanca resident reminisced about going out with friends many years ago on Sunday nights to overcome what they called the “Monday syndrome” – a place usually with live music where they could squeeze out the last hours of their weekend. The Jam Session was an immediate success and today we have a regular combo and from time to time guest musicians.

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ST: How did you find Sam, the piano player ?

KK: Finding Issam to play piano was a major sign that creating Rick’s was my destiny! A friend who plays as a hobby was searching around and he called one day with the news he’d located a pianist… named Issam! I was amazed at the connection to Rick Blaine’s best friend, the pianist Sam, from the film “Casablanca” and said I hoped he could play the piano as the name alone had him the job. When Issam came to audition, and I heard him play “As Time Goes By” in a way that sounded like the film soundtrack, as well as other songs from the epoch, it was the sort of affirmation I was seeking that Rick’s was meant to exist.

Over the years he’s done all our graphics, our website, finally directing personnel to the point where he is the General Manager…while still playing piano.

casablanca playing

ST: I feel that there could be more done to attract tourists to Casablanca. It certainly doesn’t have the cosmopolitan air and riads of Marrakech or the heritage of Fes, but a lot of people would love to find things to do in Casablanca. What do you think can be done to attract more visitors to the city ?

KK: Because of my experience in the travel business, and having traveled extensively, I see a lot of potential for Casablanca. One problem is that it has so long been associated as the business center, that it’s difficult to convince local authorities to do some of the things necessary to attract tourism investment.

When I first broached the idea of Rick’s Café to Driss Benhima when he was the Wali of Casablanca he was the one who suggested I find an old house in the Ancienne Medina to restore. He said it would then help attract other investors to the Ancienne Medina. I considered that an excellent idea, as I’d see what preservation had done to my own hometown, Portland, and places all over the world, from Havana to Dubrovnik to New Orleans to Barcelona.

I’m optimistic that soon there will be some initiatives launched that will upgrade the old downtown area of the Marche Central and the Hotel Lincoln. Unfortunately investing in the Ancienne Medina is complicated.

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ST: Did you choose Casablanca because of the film or were there other reasons as well ?

KK: I liked Marrakech most when I first visited Morocco in 1997, and when I arrived to take up my diplomatic post in 1998 I’d visit often and thought Marrakech was where I’d retire one day. In April 1999 I had the chance to buy a small riad in the middle of the souk that had been undergoing restoration, and was almost finished. The Singaporean woman owner had suffered in the Asian financial crisis and could no longer afford to retire and move to Morocco. I took out a bank loan and got some taste of construction projects as I got the place finished and decorated. It was a magical house with a terrace that looked into the souk on one side and to the Atlas mountains from the other. I went to Marrakech on the weekends and loved entertaining there.

When I decided to stay in Morocco after 9/11 I considered the choice between buying the place across the street in Marrakech and operating a “Maison d’Hôtes” or remaining in Casablanca to open Rick’s. It was really a no-brainer, as Rick’s Café would be unique, it had over 60 years of institutional memory behind it, and I would have no competition.

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ST: Do you feel the city has changed in the last 10 years ? How ?

KK: Many changes. First, it was hard to find places, no good maps. Now with Google Maps and GPS there aren’t the problems of finding places.

When I was working on the project, the underground pedestrian tunnels that linked one side of Place Nations Unies with the other (the BMCI, Blvd Mohammed V side with the Hyatt, Ancienne Medina side) were open, functional and one could cross with ease, with a Police box in the underground and no hassles. Unfortunately they closed the tunnels, and while the construction of the tramway made it possible to open them again, I’ve heard that there was little effort put into making them viable, and they’ve been closed up again.

There was not as grand a range of restaurants as there are now – very few Chinese, Asian restos, and I think the first sushi arrived in 2002. But the fine restaurants in Casablanca when I first came had the weight of history going for them, and were distinctive: Le Cabestan in the days of Mme Viot greeting clients at the door with her little Yorkies by her side, and André Halbert presiding over A Ma Bretagne with its striking modern architecture which perfectly compliments his impeccable cuisine. Mme Viot retired to France, and the Cabestan has been re-designed; A Ma Bretagne is now squeezed between the Morocco Mall and an intrusive neighbors construction site, but Maitre Halbert is still holding on.

New places have come along, catering to people living here by providing food and service to draw clients back. Among the new arrivals are the Rouget de l’Isle (new French), Iloli (Japanese gastronomic) and Churrascaria Marius (Brazilian).

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One big change is the art scene with many Galleries opening up – Atelier 21, the Loft Gallery as two examples joining the venerable Venise Cadre. The Museum of the Foundation Abderrahmane Slaoui Museum displays a lovely collection of Orientalist Posters and other objects in a beautiful art deco villa.

Back then “around the turn of the century” the Marche Central was THE place to shop and see friends. The stalls were full and it was bustling. I remember seeing Mme Viot walking through the Marche in the morning with her Yorkies, and the Chef from the Sheraton had a reserved seat at the vegetable stand. Today it has declined rapidly hastened by the traffic and parking problems, closed stands and a proliferation of open air snack shops. The Marche Maarif back then was small and basic. Today, it is the vibrant, lively market that the Marche Central once was.

The Centre Ville with its art deco/art nouveau architecture is a priceless piece of patrimony, and with the introduction of the Tramway and designating this part of Boulevard Mohammed V a pedestrian street I’m hopeful that the City will finally address the restoration of the Hotel Lincoln and the revitalization of the Marche Central.

One change I don’t so much appreciate is the development of the Marina in a way that completely blocks the view of the Ocean. While the project will bring some much-needed economic and touristic benefits with the Convention Center and Cruise Terminal, I feel it could have been better designed with open spaces allowing the local population to enjoy the space and the view.

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ST:What is the menu on a regular day ? What are some of your favorite dishes?
KK:Our menu is printed daily, with 6 Starters: the Prawn (Gambas) salad Tropicana is an adaptation from my cooking class in the 70’s; the Goat Cheese and Fig salad I created the summer before we opened when I had an apartment near the Marche Central and discovered fresh figs; the Crabe Louis is after that served at the Dan & Louis Oyster Bar in Portland. 6 Meat & Poultry dishes: Favorites are our beef filet mignon and a T-bone, and there’s also lamb chops and duck. 3 Fish & Seafood dishes: Right now we have St. Pierre/John Dory, Sea Bass/Loup and Swordfish/Espadon, but these can change according to availability.

In addition to our standard menu we have four daily specials; “Moroccan Touch” featuring a lamb tagine, lamb and vegetable couscous and Moroccan lemon roasted chicken. All our Moroccan dishes and many of our other plates feature ingredients from Moroccan cooperatives available at the Magasin Solidaire et Equitable (located off the small street that runs between the Sofitel and Royal Mansour). We also have some pasta selections and Vegetarian plates. For dessert our menu has 5 choices and in addition there’s a special ice cream menu.

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ST: What is that sets Rick’s apart from other restaurants in Casablanca, besides its name ?

KK: As you can see from above, I think one distinction is the variety of the menu and the care we take to use the very best possible ingredients. Another is the quality and professionalism of our service staff – all young people who have adapted to our own training system emphasizing teamwork. I have to say that the decoration and ambience with the piano music and lighting makes Rick’s a standout even if it weren’t for its association with “Casablanca”. We have more than 60 full time employees, with Security, Housekeeping and Administrative sections in addition to the service and cooking departments.

Our overall attention to detail and maintenance is apparent and clients can clearly see we are continuing to invest and innovate.

ST: What is the profile of your regular customer ?
KK: We have many Moroccan clients who don’t come to “ see and be seen”, but appreciate good food and music; expatriate diplomats and business people who come informally or for entertaining; foreigners who regularly come to Casa on business, tourists from the world over: China, Japan, Thailand, Brazil, Mexico, Iran, Russia, Australia as well as good numbers from the U.S., Europe and other parts of the Middle East and Africa.

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ST:Bill Willis helped you decorate some parts of the restaurant. He is quite known for being a friend of the Gettys and working with Yves Saint Laurent. Could you tell us a little more about him ?

KK: Bill was probably the most fascinating person I’ve ever met and I adored him. He had an amazing tolerance for people who were his friends, but did not suffer fools gladly – and it didn’t matter who you were. I was lucky that we clicked on our first meeting – in the bar of the Mamounia after a reception that had been given for the visiting then- First Lady Hillary Clinton by the then- Crown Prince Mohammed. When I had the idea for the project – even before I found the house – I went to see Bill at his labyrinthine home in Marrakech, the former harem wing of an old palace. He loved the movie and said he’d love to work on it – “Just call me your aesthetic advisor, My Dear.”

Once I’d found the house and finally bought it, Bill went to town. As I was buying lamps, he was designing everything major (the wood doors and entrance look just like the movie, and our downstairs bar is the exact same shape as the film’s – only with golden palms instead of colums), minor (the distinctive beaded table lamps on each table were designed from a beat-up brass and enamel lamp he’d carried with him when he arrived in Tangier by ferry in 1966. He pulled it out from under an armchair in his sitting room one afternoon after lunch when be began talking about the “lamp”. “I think this will work” he said and it surely did.), and many things that moved beyond a film set (four fireplaces, central staircase with terra cotta tile and zellige, a private dining room with oak floors, tadelakt walls and a view to the port, intricate moucharabieh carved wood panels between arches) plus an upstairs apartment for me! In a book that Pierre Bergé produced (sadly Bill died before the book was published, but it is a lovely testament to his talent) he says the basis for his design of Rick’s was “giving my friend Kathy a place to entertain!” Well, that he did.

Bill moved to Morocco from Rome in 1966. Just before leaving Rome he’d met and befriended John Paul Getty Jr. Six months after his arrival in Morocco, Getty invited Bill to come to Rome for his wedding to Talitha. Bill demurred and suggested instead the Gettys come to Morocco and he would escort them on their Honeymoon. In Marrakech they fell in love with an old palace near the Mamounia and bought it on the spot, hiring Bill to restore, repair and decorate it – his first commission in Morocco! He was friends with Yves Saint Laurent and Pierre Bergé and in 1974 when they bought the Dar Es Saada – neighboring the Majorelle property – they hired Bill to do the renovation and interiors. Later, after they had bought the Majorelle estate and the garden, he was involved in the restoration of the Villa Oasis.

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ST: What is your favorite hidden gem in Casablanca ? Why ?

KK: I’d have to say the Spice Market – it’s hard to find, but a real space apart. The setting is marked by some leafy trees at the entrance and one passes through the Henna section with decorative signage and booths, and then a series of spice stalls – very colorful – with herbalists (the old fashioned variety, dried animals and reptiles on display) on the opposite. There we have our favorite “spice guy”, Redouan, who picks out the spices with a long paddle and displays them on a flat tray – holding it up for photos - before he grinds. We’ve had him make ras al hanout with over 40 different components, and he’s also made curry powder for us (“kari” in his recipe book). Saffron is taken from a safe where it’s carefully wrapped in muslin, out of the light.

If one goes down a level there is a long hall of more spice stalls, and from there a real market with poultry and meat. If you go all the way through the market and onto the back street there are a variety of street-side stalls, among which the only purveyor of live escargot ( snail) we know of in Casablanca. I know this as we had to buy them for a chef who was coming to film a segment at Rick’s for the Food Network. She was due to film on the day the Market is closed, so asked us to buy the escargot the day before. We couldn’t leave them in the plastic sack the vendor placed them in, so had the kitchen divide them into two plastic containers with open grilling. The containers were carefully wrapped in transparent film, and placed upstairs on the terrace. The next morning when I walked out on the terrace I was shocked to find the two containers empty… and snails all over the terrace! I called security and housekeeping and between the two they were gathered up and put in more secure surroundings. For several weeks thereafter I’d confront one who’d got away….

The video team got a real kick out of this anecdote and in doing some wrap up shooting had the chef and I at an upstairs table on one side of the courtyard, and on the opposite side an escargot poised on the balustrade. They recorded the chef saying, “You know, Kathy, I have a feeling we’re not alone.” It didn’t make the cut, but for us was a perfect ending to a hilarious anecdote. Needless to say we have never – and will never – serve escargots at Rick’s!

© Sun Trails 2015. 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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Morocco desert experience

Morocco desert experience - 5.0 out of 5 based on 1 vote

erg chigaga dunes and tent

What is it that draws us to the immensity of the dunes ? The oceans of sand. Where does it spark from, this longing to gaze at wave after wave of sand disappearing on the horizon?...  All else irrelevant. There, on top of the highest dune. Minutes ago, you were cresting the dunes on the back of a camel. Presently, you are sitting down and conjuring all the majesty of saffron dunes, changing color as the sun gradually sinks. Nothing compares to waking up at night with the Milky Way above you and falling back asleep. And perhaps, the desert, because of its solitude, is what makes the locals more welcoming. 

Here, by the dunes of Erg Chigaga, despite of all the apparent scarcity, water runs just below the surface, a secret well kept under layers of sand. The desert also makes grown- ups children again. The most reserved of persons can’t resist the urge to climb up the highest dune and jump in the sand, the face lit with a wide childish grin. 

camel ride into the dunes                                              Camels ready for the ride in the dunes

In the collective imaginary, there is hardly anything more exotic, than those tougher- than- life Bedouin men crossing the desert, carrying precious loads of gold, ivory, slaves, textiles, spices or salt on the back of their sturdy camels. Or the bandits constantly threatening to attack the caravan, unless the due tax was paid at different custom points. It used to take the caravans 7 to 8 weeks to cross from one side to the other and some were losing half their personnel on the way. What has become of these men nowadays, when,  not so long ago, camels were replaced by trucks ? Whilst some camel trading still takes place in some parts of Niger where the Azalai sees thousands of camels travel across the vast teritorry, camels in Morocco are not used for caravan trading anymore. In the modern age, the nomads are mostly employed by the on site numerous desert camps that have cropped up on the fringes of the Sahara. Some also went to university, learnt English and became drivers and guides for the numerous foreign visitors taking a private tour of Morocco. We are lucky enough to have some of them work for Sun Trails. And every time they return to the desert, they feel at home, still very much nomads at heart.

erg chigaga dinner                                                   Dinner by candle light in the dunes at Azalai Camp

For some of those travelling to Morocco, spending a night in the Sahara is ticking off a box on a travel notebook. For others, it is a lifelong dream. Naturally then, you don’t want to ruin that experience and so you should carefully choose the right Morocco travel planner. Your agent should make sure you won't have to put up with a party at the camp next to you, the racket of a noisy generator or quad bikers blazing past your tent when you least expect it.

ERG CHEBBI DUNES VERSUS ERG CHIGAGA DUNES

Any forum on Trip Advisor or Fodor will tell you that there are two places in Morocco where you can actually spend a night in the desert: the dunes of Erg Chebbi and the dunes of Erg Chigaga. The route from Marrakech over the High Atlas mountains is one of the most dramatic in Moroco and reaches Ouarzazate on the other side. From here, there are two options: Erg Chebbi dunes– east through Skoura, Dades Gorge, Tinerir, Rissani and finally Merzouga; and Erg Chigaga dunes- west, following the Draa Valley through Agdz, Zagora, Tamegroute and finally Mhamid. From my own experience and feedback over the years, indeed, the dunes of Erg Chigaga get a fair amount less of visitors. The distance and driving time to both these dune locations is more or less similar, about 5- 6 hours drive. 

erg chigaga luxury camp inside tent                                                       Azalai Camp luxury tent interior

The dunes of Erg Chebbi owe their popularity partly to their being easily accessible : a bus will take you to literally the foot of the dunes from Marrakech in a 10 hour drive. When people want to do the classical imperial cities tour, the Erg Chebbi dunes are easier to include in the itinerary, given their location. If you are ready to give Fes a miss, then the dunes of Erg Chigaga are the ones to go for. Especially since they are two hours drive away from the closest bit of tarmac and you would be a fool not to loop your way back to Marrakech on a different route, thus experiencing all different formations of the desert:  sand dunes, stone plateaus, gravel plains, dry valleys and salt flats. To not mention the legendary Draa Valley, a caravan highway for centuries, where the river is flanked by one of the largest palm groves in the world along with Biblical villages and century old kasbahs. Then, is it impossible to experience the desert in a camp at Erg Chebbi ? Not at all. Your travel planner can suggest a more distant camp, deep in the dunes. 

erg chebbi luxury camp                                                    Erg Chebbi luxury camp by dawn

SAFETY

Although the border with Algeria is not far, until this day there has been no registered case of kidnapping or activity of a terrorist organization in these areas. Security at the border is very tough. In the very hot season ( July – August), there may be very rare cases of scorpions or snakes, but they never enter areas where they feel human presence. If you want to be 100 % sure, make sure you spend the night inside your tent and that your mattress is not laid straight on the ground. For more details on whether it is safe to travel to Morocco, please read our in- depth article

erg chigaga VIP tent                                                       VIP tent with private butler

BASIC DESERT TENT VERSUS LUXURY DESERT TENT

Nowadays, there are more and more luxurious desert camps to complement the regular ones. Most regular camps offer spartan but clean double beds with mattress and frame and plenty of blankets to keep you warm in the night, if chilly. Toilets and showers are shared and running water is scarce. Luxury camps offer wider tents with en suite showers and toilets, extensive furniture and fittings, and king size beds. The dinner menu is also more comprehensive. In the past 2- 3 years, the luxury camps also offer a higher level of standard, the VIP desert tents. These tents tend to be further away from the main camp, more accommodating and complete with a private butler. A normal basic camp accommodates 10- 12 double tents with a larger tent for restaurant. The typical luxury camp accommodates 4- 5 en- suite tents with a restaurant tent.

Although the typical nomad tents are wool tents secured with wood hooks and ropes, set up in a cone- like pattern, the camp tents nowadays tend to be box- shaped units set up on a solid (usually metal ) frame. Less traditional, they are much more resistant this way to strong winds and provide a better insulation from sand grains or any eventual insects ( mostly flies). However, if your only reason for booking a luxury camp tent is having private showers and toilet, you should know that you can still have a shower both in the afternoon arriving at and the morning departing from the desert lodge. Normally you have that choice, when arriving in the afternoon, before leaving the asphalt. After a 30 – 45 minute camel ride ( optional), you arrive at the desert camp as the sun sets, where you will have your dinner and spend the night. Naturally, the camp is fully staffed. Next morning, you should try and not miss the sunrise. Then, you will be taken back to the same lodge where you had arrived the previous afternoon and have a proper breakfast, before proceeding with your Morocco itinerary.

erg chebbi basic camp                                                Basic camp in the dunes of Erg Chebbi

ONE NIGHT OR TWO NIGHTS ?

In winter ( mid November to mid March) days are short and the sun sets around 5- 6 PM. If you're on a tour of Morocco, it is likely you will arrive at the camp just before sunset and will leave after breakfast. Which doesn't leave you with much time to enjoy the dunes. Ideally, forecast two nights in the desert in winter then. If you are worried about not having much to do, you may be wrong: tea with the nomads, rock engravings, prying out fossils, lunch in the oasis, the Black People village, dinosaur sites, quad biking, sand boarding are plenty of choice. The downside is that if a sand storm is blowing in ( very rare but possible), you will have no choice but to spend the morning or afternoon inside your tent. 

ALCOHOL

Given the alcohol regulations in Morocco, very few camps ( even among luxury ones) sell alcohol on site. Therefore the best way to go about it is to get yourself your supplies in Marrakch or Ouarzazate ( cca. half way between Marrakech and the dunes and the largest town in the south). Otherwise, you may end up paying 3 or 4 times the price if you want to acquire it in a hotel by the dunes. All you need to do is ask for your driver to stop you at a special store. He will then stock it for you in the 4x4’s freezer box, if need be.

erg chigaga basic camp inside                                                            Basic tent interior

CLOTHING AND TEMPERATURES

Cotton/ linen clothes and sneakers/ sandals are best for travelling around Morocco including the desert. A fleece or rain jacket is always a good addition for late nights/ early mornings. Outside the summer season, nights in the desert tend to be fresh/ chilly and in December/ January temperatures can get down to 35°F/ 2°C. Even with the basic tent accommodation, you will get as many blankets as necessary to keep you warm. That being said, it’s not a bad idea to bring over your sleeping bag, if space is available in your luggage. Day time, when the sun is out, temperatures can vary from 70°F/20°C in the winter months to the 113°F/ 45°C and more in July and August. In general we will not recommend taking a Morocco tour to the desert in summer but for some, it is the only time of the year they can come. Have you booked to spend the night in the desert in the summer and you find it too hot to be there ? Worry not. Sun Trails will accommodate you at no extra charge, back at the lodge by the dunes, where you will have the comfort of an air conditioned room and a fresh pool giving onto the dunes. Early next morning, you can still enjoy your camel ride over the Sahara dunes while the sun is rising.

Sun Trails offers both basic and luxury camp options in the desert for those booking bespoke tours of Morocco. For more details, please send your enquiry here .

erg chebbi luxury tent inside                                                    Luxury tent Erg Chebbi interior

 © Sun Trails. 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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Family holidays in Morocco

Family holidays in Morocco - 5.0 out of 5 based on 1 vote

jardins de douars poolYou may think that Morocco is not the best place for your family on holidays. Think again. In the last few years, a new breed of hotels caters specifically for families with children and teenagers. And we don't mean trampolin and water slides all- inclusive- resorts. We mean treasure hunt, camel rides into the dunes, surf lessons on the Atlantic, spending time with animals on an organic farm or trekking with mules into the Atlas Mountains.

To begin with, flights to Morocco are short – a 3 hour flight from London or an 8 hour flight from New York. Children will find a host of activities to enjoy on a holiday to Morocco. They can explore the ancient medinas which look like something from a Harry Potter movie or the Arabian Nights. With all those alleys, souks and mysterious apothecary stalls they’ll be fascinated and have a lot of stories for friends back home. There are sandy beaches on the Atlantic Coast too with great water sports and even a camel ride or two in the dunes. The majestic Atlas Mountains are a cooler alternative with easy day walks and delightful Berber villages which are very hospitable. In July and August, when everywhere else charges peak prices, the rates for a holiday in Morocco are at their lowest. And best of all, a new breed of hotels is now offering specific activities for children on holidays in Morocco

adounia camp beachWhilst the summer may not be the best time to visit the Sahara, Morocco offers other sites that would be perfect for a family at that time of year. The cooler Atlas Mountains are ideal, or there are the medieval cities of Fez and Marrakech. The Atlantic coast is also perfect during July and August and there are less crowds than in the cities, if you know some secret beaches. Well, we do. One of the best ways of experiencing the country is splitting the holiday between contrasting areas to get the best of both worlds. You can combine a camel trek in the sand dunes on the Atlantic with a few days wandering the souks of Marrakech or Fez.

douar samra terraceWhy not spend some time walking in the Atlas Mountains and enjoying the hospitality of the Berber villages before relaxing on the coast at Essaouira. Kids will adore learning to catch fish and cook it for a rustic lunch or take surf lessons. There are all those velvety night skies with thousands of stars to gaze at too. For some creative ways of spending the family holidays in Morocco, take a look at these hand- picked destinations which include hotels with sheltered lush gardens, air conditioning, pools, and offer specific have activities for children. The hotels and guest houses have been picked for their family friendly focus and ambiance. You’ll find that when you look at the accommodation so you won’t be in a situation where your 'suite' consists of a double bed and an armchair or a small shower in the bathroom. These Morocco family friendly guest houses are not an all-inclusive destination, but rather focused on giving their guests an opportunity to relax and switch off from the pressures of everyday life. Some have teen friendly things to do to get them away from their iPhones and enjoying the Moroccan outdoors. Some guest houses accept children for free and others offer discounts depending on the child's age.

12 fellah kids Fellah Hotel is a luxury boutique hotel just 20 minutes from the centre of Marrakech and a world away from the busy medina. It is very minimalist in design and is typical of a rural building in this region. The hotel has 10 villas with 69 rooms and many are furnished with locally produced crafts. But there is a lot more to the Fellah Hotel than just accommodation. It is home to Dar al-Ma'mûn- a non-profits arts centre and the only one of its kind in North Africa to receive UNESCO-Aschberg status. Dar al-Ma'mûn is supported by visitors to Fellah Hotel and not only helps with bringing international art and culture to Morocco but is renowned for its innovative approach to literacy and local education issues. There are a number of outreach projects in the local area coordinated by Dar al-Ma'mûn including a preschool programme for 250 children where dropout rates can be high, and a literacy class for women.

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Another reason to stay at the Fellah Hotel is that it is home to Morocco’s only Wat Po Massage Centre. Therapists have been trained at Wat Po Temple in Bangkok – the centre of arts and learning. They provide a wide range of holistic therapies and signature treatments which are perfect for chilling out on holiday and escaping the stresses of everyday life. Whilst you relax in the spa there are lots of child friendly activities around the hotel to keep the kids occupied. And talking about the kids there’s a Fellah Kids Club which will keep them entertained. With a wide range of activities for children scheduled every day from 9 to 5 you can chill out whist they get down to a little Moroccan pottery, cookery, painting and even a treasure hunt. They can also enjoy theatre and games which are aimed at children between the ages of 4 and 11. It is the only hotel we’re aware of that has this level of planned entertainment for kids. Fellah Hotel is ideal for teenagers and children with double rooms available on a bed and breakfast basis from 170 Euros.

la pause marrakech landscape
For another unique and amazing experience try a 4x4 drive to the Desert of Marrakech. The sci- fi landscape will fascinate children and adults alike and it is the perfect place to have an impromptu geology lesson. Another bonus is the magnificent night sky in this area with skies full of glittering stars. In the distance the lofty peaks of the High Atlas Mountains rise above the landscape at 4000m and the busy medina in Marrakech is a short distance away. One of the best places to stay here is La Pause, a luxury eco-lodge on the outskirts of Marrakech. Remarkably, this hotel uses no electricity and yet manages to supply hot water, crisp Egyptian cotton sheets, log fires, refined Moroccan cuisine and more. Just a short distance away is the 9 hole golf course in a dried- out river bed. You’ll have your own personal donkey to carry golf clubs and be guided round the course by the caddie handler.

la pause marrakech suiteThere are other interesting excursions here including mountain biking and horse riding across the desert and along secluded oases. You’ll find cookery lessons too and the chance to have lunch in the home of a local villager. For children it will be the enticing landscape that enchants them on a holiday like this and will really set their imagination alight. Rooms are lit with magical lanterns and candles creating an intimate warmth at night. This hotel is best suited to teenage children and a double bungalow is priced at 250 euros on a half board basis.

jnane tihihit gardens
Lalla Takerkoust Lake is a 45 minute drive from Marrakech and has a welcoming place to stay close by with views of the Atlas Mountains. Jnane Tihihit is a cluster of adobe bungalows owned by a Belgian couple who serve the most organic cuisine. Everything comes from their farm and garden and kids will enjoy meeting the collection of animals including pigs, mules, horses, donkeys, cows, chickens, and pigeons. There are lots of child friendly activities here to which will keep kids entertained. From learning to cook a tagine to riding a horse and making pots there is something for everyone. When it gets a little too hot there’s always the swimming pool to cool off in. There are also opportunities to go mountain biking and enjoy a picnic with views of the Atlas Mountains by the lake. Babysitting services are available at this hotel. Jnane Tihihit is recommended for children, and teenagers. Double rooms start at 76 Euros per night.

douar samra roof terrace
For a Berber chalet look no further than Douar Samra. It may be just an hour away from Marrakech but the Imlil Valley is a completely different environment and located right in the heart of the Berber homeland. Douar Samla has been exquisitely restored by Jacqueline who aimed to recreate a Swiss chalet ambiance in the Atlas Mountains. There are lush gardens with cherry and nut trees and the chalet has log fires and quite a few breath- taking- view terraces. You’ll find a chilled out atmosphere in the village which kids will enjoy exploring. For small children the three dogs, Jules the donkey and the ducks will be a fascination and the colourful interior with splashes of pink and purple will brighten everyone’s day. For somewhere to relax the sunny terrace with its views of the mountains is the ideal place to curl up with a book or just gaze out at that endless panorama.

Kran room Douar Samra ToubkalAnd as for the tree house and hammocks in the garden- well what child won’t enjoy those ? Kids will be running around and enjoying simple things in no time. There are also some captivating Atlas Mountains day treks from Douar Samra which are ideal for all the family. One of the best is a five hour waterfall trek which passes the village of Armed before a fifteen minute walk to the cascade itself where a picnic lunch is waiting. Another highlight of Douar Samla is that it is one of the few places in the area offering a traditional wood- burning Moroccan hammam – an idea way to relax after a day of walking. Douar Samra is ideal for teenagers and children, although children should be supervised on the roof terrace. Double rooms start at 94 euros on a half board basis.

adounia camp camels
One of the most fascinating places to visit in Morocco is the UNESCO world heritage site of Essaouira on the Atlantic Coast. This chilled out town is less chaotic than Marrakech ( and much cooler in the summer) and is a delightful place for families. The light has attracted artists for years to this fishing port and today the town has a vibrant music and arts scene. Children will delight at the old town ramparts where they can walk to see the historic cannons and bastions. There are lots of places to enjoy a drink or an ice cream in town and the medina is a lot calmer than those of the imperial cities. The beach is popular with families and just the place for a few ball games or water sports. The area has a milder climate than other parts of Morocco and there are several lovely places to stay within a short drive of Essaouira.

jardin des douars piscine
Le Jardin Des Douars is located in the hills above Essaouira and is ideal for families. It is surrounded by argan trees and has magnificent botanical gardens, two pools and a hammam. There are also two restaurants and the hotel has a rustic Moroccan style and is decorated tastefully. It is popular with couples as well as families and is designed for a relaxing time in a tranquil setting. Essaouira is a ten minute drive away so guests can enjoy the peace of the countryside or head into down for a dose of culture in the centre of town. This is a destination where you really can divide your time between a rural setting and a historic town with good shopping and restaurants. One of the particularities of Le Jardin Des Douars is that the air conditioned accommodation has a variety of room options to suit most people. There are private houses which come complete with a cook.

6234The domed Royal Suite comes with two bedrooms, a terrace, and a lounge. Simple Relax Rooms have a small terrace and queen sized bed. Whatever your requirements, there will most likely be a room to suit. The décor is typically North African with Berber rugs, carved doors, and wooden masks. This hotel has a family pool and another adult’s only swimming pool with wrought iron loungers. There is an adult’s only restaurant at La Table des Douars whilst families will enjoy the views at Le Ksar Restaurant. Both serve delicious North African cuisine. There are lots of activities available from Le Jardin Des Douars. From cocktails on the terrace to petanque and a library the hotel caters for adults with lots of things for kids. There’s also a hammam and spa for those chill out moments. Trekking is available from the hotel to secret beaches and rushing waterfalls. There is surfing nearby too and shopping opportunities in the souk. Jardins des Douars is suited to teenagers and children. Rates start at 109 euros a night on a bed and breakfast basis.

adounia camp by nightIf you have a sense of adventure and want a holiday in a remote area, then why not take a look at a Moroccan luxury beach camp. These are located on the Atlantic coast by secluded beaches. Camp Adounia is such an example Guests can enjoy night skies with thousands of stars, deserted beaches, and Morocco’s unspoiled coastline. Camp Adounia is an eco-friendly camp to minimise impact on the environment and is miles away from the crowded beaches at Essaouira. Guests will have golden sands to themselves and some excellent surfing to enjoy. This is a wild and remote coast and ideal for those who want to escape the holiday crowds common in other resorts.

adounia camp tentA cooling breeze will take the edge of the summer sun here. The tents are on the beach and the sound of the waves will lull you into a deep sleep at night. Camp Adounia is a simple set up but has a touch of luxury. There is a resident chef who can conjure up delicious meals and a team of guides who can help guests get to know the area. The camp is all inclusive and its highlight is being at one with nature and living very simply. There are some great activities for kids including beach walking and private surfing lessons. The camel trekking along the sand dunes will delight most children and adults and is really popular. There are opportunities to catch fish for lunch and simply relax in a beautiful setting. Local food and resources are used, minimising impact on the environment. There are comfortable beds with Egyptian cotton sheets at the campsite and ensuite bathrooms. Washing is done in the traditional hammam style. You’ll also find a kettle in your tent with water for washing and brushing teeth. Camp Adounia is recommended for teenagers. Rates start at 210 euros per adult on an all-inclusive basis.


We can help you get the best rates at any of the accommodations above or craft a private customized family tour of Morocco to include Fes or Marrakech, the Atlas Mountains and the Atlantic coast. For enquiries please click here

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Medieval Morocco - exhibition of the year

Medieval Morocco - exhibition of the year - 5.0 out of 5 based on 1 vote

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On a beautiful morning in March we are entering the newly opened Museum Mohamed 6 in Rabat. The previous months built quite an expectation since the exhibition on medieval Morocco had been hosted by none other than Louvre Museum ( yes, the one in Paris) and proved to be quite a success in France, having received 170 000 visitors. It was now presented in Rabat at the Museum Mohamed 6 and it is the most comprehensive exhibition ever presented on medieval Morocco with more than 220 items brought over from Moroccan, Spanish, Portuguese and Italian museums. 

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The loud group of children that had been brought to visit that morning, on a school visit it seemed, proved to be quite useful in the end, having kept the security guards busy while I managed to snatch a few photos of the items exposed, otherwise forbidden. 

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And now for the technical sort of data: this exhibition provides a rereading of the era spanning the XIth century in XVth century, which represents the golden age of western Arabic civilization, headed successively by the Almoravid, Almohad and Merinides dynasties. These last ones were able to realize a political unity over a wide area bringing together the areas from 'Sub-Saharan Africa, Andalusia and the provinces of North African countries.

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The exhibition includes nearly 220 artistic works, which reflect what Morocco had accomplished during this period in the fields of medieval architecture, ceramics, textiles, calligraphy and book manufacturing. It shows the innovative achievements in science and technology, achievements that had a profound effect on the European Renaissance. This exhibition brings together highly symbolic artistic and religious masterpieces, such as the candelabrum of Qarawiyyin mosque and minbars of various mosques as well as architectural artefacts and samples. It also showcases daily life objects such as dishes and ceramic jars, chests for conservation of textiles, candelabrum lamps and instruments used for water extraction techniques. It also presents various Korans and manuscripts related to religious and artistic topics, in addition to many coins and flag models.

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These masterpieces are brought together from Moroccan, Portuguese, Spanish and French museums. This exhibition is an opportunity to discover the monuments and to throw a light on the authenticity of Morocco, the consistence of its unity and its civilizational outflow. It highlights the cultural sources that has inspired Moroccan civilization as well as the influences of varioius spaces within itself and the role that Morocco has played in the circulation of ideas between the far Arabic east and the Andalusian culture.

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The author and his insightful companion, the owner of an influential travel blog in Morocco , both agreed that it was probably the most comprehensive exhibtion they ever witnessed in Morocco and most definitely one to attend to if you are visiting Morocco and Rabat. The exhibition is currently included with all of our Morocco private tours and is open to public every day except on Tuesdays. 

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Agafay Desert Lodge & Camp

Agafay Desert Lodge & Camp - 4.5 out of 5 based on 2 votes

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Only 40 minutes drive of Marrakech lies the desert of Agafay. It isn’t sand dunes like the Sahara. Yet layer after layer of rock dunes instill a similar feeling of remoteness. Of nothingness. Only troubled by the occasional douar, local hamlets with their mud houses which seem to slowly return to the adobe they’ve been molded from. There is no living soul in sight, if not for the solitary camel grazing by. It is one of the few places in Morocco where near- total desolation manifests with such exquisite beauty. Some in- the- know travelers move through this desert as part of a 4x4 day trip from Marrakech into the High Atlas mountains. But they don't suspect one can also spend the night in Agafay desert, without having to rough it up. Also, for those newly wed, it is hard to find any place more romantic to include on a honey moon in Morocco. 

scarabeo camp suite tent

One of these places offers both exquisite adobe-and-tadelakt bungalows and spacious air-tight tents. The French owner, with a passion for Africa and the desert, was driving aimlessely around Agafay some many years ago, when he stumbled upon an oasis and a ruined house. It immediately occured to him that this would be the perfect spot for an eco- lodge that would reflect his love of desert and remoteness. The oasis would provide the water, the desert - the views. Nowadays, this remote eco- lodge offers adobe bungalows, comfortable tents, a restaurant area, shady gardens, a refreshing pool and a miniature golf course, among other things. But it’s the views and complete remoteness that make it worth spending the night or two here.

la pause marrakech suite

You may think that the beautiful lanterns lit at night are there just for the effect. You're wrong. The whole place works without one watt of electricity. Which makes for the starriest sky at night, the one you'd normally sight in the Sahara. And if you think that this means roughing it up, think again. Soft cotton sheets, luxurious bath products, running hot water, wood burning stoves and even a wifi hot point offer all the necessities you may need. Protecting the environment, but not suffering for it. 

la pause marrakech landscape

A few miles away, tucked behind mounds of moon rocks, you will find a 12- tent camp. Spacious white canvas tents accommodate comfortable beds. In one suite tent, an antique globe sits atop a stack of vintage leather suitcases; in the reception pavilion a zebra skin graces the floor next to a folding campaign table piled high with well-thumbed expedition and photography books. Iron candle-lamps are suspended on posts; hammered-silver urns trickle fresh water into basins in the bathroom tents. The interiors seem to come out straight of ‘Out of Africa’ and you may be forgiven for thinking that you are somewhere in Kenya and not less than an hour drive of bustling Marrakech.

la pause marrakech pool

If having a romantic dinner and night in the middle of nowhere, take in the immensity of landscapes and disconnecting from a busy lifestyle is not enough for you, worry not. From guided treks along the oasis to yoga sessions with nothing in sight at 360°, there is plenty to occupy your time here. Horse riding , quad biking, camel riding, reiki massages, mountain biking are but some of the ways to explore the Agafay desert and can all be arranged locally. 

scarabeo camp general view

Better still, why not make staying one night in Agafay desert part of a 2- day private 4x4 tour and discover the diverse area just south of Marrakech ? The desert, the High Atlas, the Kik Plateau, the local waterfalls, Lalla Takerkoust lake – so many contrasts just in two day. Perhaps start with the Ourika Valley, hike up into the High Atlas, have lunch with a Berber family. Freshen up by the local waterfalls, see how the argan is turned into oil into a local cooperative. Discover the 12th century mosque of Tinmel, have a tea by the Lalla Takerkoust lake, lunch at Richard Branson's High Atlas retreat or trek in the Atlas mountains. And, after all the lushness of the High Atlas, have a little bit of desert. Arrive in the Agafay desert by the afternoon and, after settling in, have the most romantic dinner by candle light under the starriest sky, out in the open. Spend a night inside an adobe bungalow or white canvas tent and explore the surroundings next day by foot, camel, horse of mountain bike. 

camel agafay desert

Private tents at Scarabeo Camp available from 201 €/ 161 £/ 274 $ per night per tent with half board;
Private bungalow at La Pause available from 300 €/ 250 £/ 335 $ per night per bungalow with half board;
2 day private 4x4 tour to include a night in the desert available from 300 €/ 250 £/ 335 $ per person.

To book or enquire about any of the above, please send us an enquiry at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.   or fill in the form on our contact page

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Contact Get in touch with us

Sun Trails

14 Avenue Hassan Seghir

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 !