We landed in Casablanca and stayed one night before we traveled to Rabat and then Fez. We stayed at the Melibur Apartment Hotel which has a great location, very close to the Hassan II mosque.
In Fez we will staying at the Riad Alkantara.
In Marrakesh we stay at the Riad Palais Sebban.
In Essaouira we stay at Le Medina Essaouira Hotel Thalassa Sea & Spa.
Photography notes from articles indicate:
Do's and Don'ts
This was our view from our patio, the roof tops and the colour TV satellite dishes. Just behind is the Hassan II Mosque.
We flew from Vancouver to Paris, and then to Casablanca. It was another good flight on Air France. The non-stop Vancouver to Paris flight is a great way to travel to Europe.
We arrived in Casablanca a few days before the start of Ramadan, which is the 9th month of the Islamic calendar. Muslims observe this as a month of fasting. This takes place from dawn to sunset. During this time Morocco cancels daylight savings time. We were worried about traveling in the country during Ramadan, but in the end it was a non-issue.
Restaurants and faces stay open, and tourists eat during the day. Monuments, historical sites, and other attractions may adjust their hours and have shorter times when they are open.
Photography was a bit of the challenge. Moroccan people do not like having their picture taken. But, it seems for money, everything is an option. In any regard, the whole demanding money was a bit of a turn-off.
This was our arrival and departure city and to be fair, we did not spend enough time in Casablanca to really know what was or was not there. By the drive into the city from the airport, and from some of the reviews posted on-line, it is a big commercial center. My impression of Casablanca? Traffic. Traffic that seem to just clog the streets. There was a mix of different types of development in different areas.
The most significant site is the Hassan II Mosque. The mosque and the area around it are impressive. We were lucky to be staying at the Meibur Apartment Hotel. We had a patio on the 5th floor that overlooked the mosque. In the evening, the prayers would be broadcast on speakers outside the mosque. The almost hypnotic melody would just float through the air. It was very moving.
There is a Medina in Casalbanca. We walked through it on our return visit and found the Medina to be a big let down. Instead of a range of interesting stalls and stores there was just a lot of low end junk.
The mosque exterior provided lots of photo opportunities and non-Muslims can freely walk about, but entrance inside is restricted to set time. Because Ramadan was underway, the tour schedule was more limited and we were unable to get inside.
We arranged for a driver to take us from Casablanca to Fez, and he arranged a stop for us in Rabat and we walked about the old castle area. Blue and white, lots of stones, a very scenic town. It is where we got our first lesson on the tour guide. Someone will say something to you. If you acknowledge them, the polite thing to do, then they attach themselves to you and talk about the street and the buildings and then, demand money for the tour. Very hard to shake them!
We walked down one pleasant street. Ended up having a tour of a house, that was interesting, but of course all that was at a price. This was our first day in Morocco. I was having a hard time getting used to the value of Moroccan money. I guess my $2 CDN tip did not go over that well!
This was one of the more pleasant stays in Morocco and one of the cities that we would return to. This is a 1,200 year-old city and it has charm despite being a city with over a million people. You will most likely staff and explore the old historic core – Fez el-Bali (Old Fez).
We stayed inside the walled city. If you are staying a bit further out at one point you may find yourself walking through the Bab Boujloud (Blue Gate) which starts your adventure of walking the maze. I read lots of warnings about getting lost in the winding maze of narrow alleyways. My fear of getting lost made me a bit over cautious. Once I figured out the street of our Riad, and how that connected with one of the main thoroughfares, I started to venture out on my own with more confidence.
We arranged for a private tour for our first full day in Fez. Our guide met us at our Riad and then we headed out to see a range of historical buildings and site as well as the Medina.
The center of the old city is the Kairaouine Mosque, one of the largest in Africa, where 20,000 can pray. There is no admittance to non-Muslims. If you are in some of the other buildings you can look out over the green tile roofs of the mosque. Next to it is the Zawiya Moulay Idriss II, said to be the world’s oldest university— established in 859. Not only is getting into the mosque restricted, but you will see wood bars that go across the narrow streets around the mosque. We were told the bars prevent people from taking donkeys on a street that gives access to the mosque entrance. Of yes, you will see donkeys everywhere carrying goods to the shops of the Medina.
Lots of fountains in the city, over 60. They are not just decorative as some do not have water supplied to their houses.
Our stay at the Riad Alkantara was very pleasant, and one of the highlights of our time in Morocco. This Riad had five rooms. We felt we were staying in a palace. The pool was great. It was family run and the meals we had were very good. Small family run hotels do not have alcohol so no wine with meals, but it was good to “dry out”!
The Chouara Tannery, dates back to the 11th Century and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. This is located in the heart of the ancient medina is very interesting. You will smell it before you see it! There are dried-earth pits filled with a range of dyes and liquids, where raw animal skins are treated, scraped and dyed. The leather stores that run along the tannery have elevated patios, and yes our guide took us to one of the stores so we could have the view. You can get a sprig of mint and hold that under your nose if the smell of the leather works becomes too much.
Talk about pressure to buy. The guys in the store just never gave up. I thought I had made an error with my camera settings so I returned by myself the next day. I was able to walk down and find the tannery with ease. This time, Roberto, one of the workers waved at me, asked me if I wanted to come down to the vats, and I walked around with Roberto for close to an hour getting quite the tool of the entire operation of preparing and treating the sheets of leather.
The Medina is amazing. It is large and complex. At times it seems to go on for ever. You can easily spend time and nicely get lost. It is said to be one of the largest car-free urban zones in the world. Oh if you get lost, there is Medina GPS. I found out what the GPS is, it is young boys who follow you and then spring up when it is obvious you are lost. They will lead you back to where you are going, for some money of course. In my case I was hopelessly lost. If only I could find the Blue Gate, then I would be after to connect with the main street and make it back to the Riad. No problem once I got Medina GPS! Best money I spent that day!
This was our next stop and one of the cities that we did not enjoy as much as the other locations. There was lots to see, however, the hectic pace of the pressure to buy things, and people demanding money started to really wear on out while we were here.
Our hotel was located in the Medina and very pleasant. This was a larger hotel and catered to tourists so it did have a bar. I must admit, having a beer was a great treat! Even with meals we could order wine. I would say that wine, if you order it, is very expensive in Morocco. The Government really taxes alcohol.
For photography, Glenn made arrangements to meet two local professional photographers -- Véronique & Marc -- who run a photography workshop. It was a great morning walking around the less touristy areas of Marrakech. Veronique and Marc have a real passion for photography. They are well known in their area knowing the market people well and paving the way for some photos. Don’t shoot their faces is a phrase often noted!
We both took a break from the pace of the city. Karen made it a spa day and I took a tour to the Atlas Mountains. The spa day was very relaxing with mud scrubs and baths. The tour in the mountains and the walk up to a waterfall was scenic and enjoyable. The small group of 5 was just the right size.
This was our last stay in Morocco and we really enjoyed being in this old coastal city. It is a walled town with a complex and interesting city within the walls. Our hotel and room faced the sea and was located about a five minute walk from the gates of the town. Again, be careful with a camera. If someone thinks you have taken their picture, they will approach you. I had one fell demand to see what photos I had on my camera. Once he realized that while he was in the photo in the distance, but you could not really see him, he said fine and left!
We booked an evening camel ride that was very pleasant. We rode down the beach and then into an area of sand dunes for a mini-desert feeling. While we enjoyed the ride, I am doubt we would want to take a multi-day ride through the desert.
We received a recommendation for a restaurant. It was French-Moroccan food and eating there was quite a treat.