- Dades Gorge
Day 1: Casablanca to Rabat
We’re so happy to be in Morocco!
We arrived in Casablanca this morning, and were picked up by our driver Karim. We connected immediately — Karim is friendly, attentive, and makes us laugh. He’s of Berber origin (the north African indigenous people), and is fluent in five languages. Driving around Casablanca, we could see that it’s a cosmopolitan city, with a vibrant mix of different cultures. Some aspects of the city reminded us of other Muslim countries we’ve been to, and others reminded us of southern Portugal and Spain, but for the most part it felt culturally distinct with a personality of its own.
Our first stop was the Casablanca mosque, a very large structure adorned with ornate tile and beautiful arches, surrounded by a large plaza paved in geometric patterns. The weather was pleasant, and we took our time walking around and enjoying the architectural details.
Our next stop was Rabat, the capital of Morocco. We visited a few historical attractions, then checked into our Airbnb, a traditional riad (courtyard house) in the middle of the medina (the old walled city). As our host showed us around the house, we could barely contain our excitement. The layout and decor of the house are spot-on, with a distinctively Moroccan flair.
Karim, our driver for the duration of our stay in Morocco.
Hassan II Mosque in Casablanca.
Mausoleum of Mohammed V in Rabat.
The winding alleys of Rabat’s medina lead to many beautiful doors.
Days 2 and 3: Chefchaouen
Breakfast in Rabat was noteworthy - we walked by a wholesale bakery just as they were loading up warm khobz (bread) into a cart for distribution, and decided to buy some right there. We then got some amlou from a store (a paste made of almonds, honey, and argan oil) and ate it with the bread. Heavenly.
After breakfast, we departed to Chefchaouen, a small village in the Rif mountains, where we spent the following two days. Chefchaouen is a cute town where almost every house is painted in some shade of blue. Why blue? We got a different answer each time we asked; but regardless of the reason, it was a good aesthetic decision. We meandered through the narrow lanes, getting lost and found again, and soaking up every bit of the atmosphere. Kids played soccer in tiny spaces, old women watered the million potted plants hanging on their walls, young people talked to us to practice their English. This type of aimless exploration is exactly how we like to travel, so we were particularly happy here.
Our Airbnb in Chefchaouen is just as inspiring as the previous one. It’s an old but nicely remodeled small stucco house, with lots of nice touches and Moroccan patterns everywhere. We’re impressed with the level of care hosts put into their Airbnbs here.
Chefchaouen — the blue city.
Days 4 and 5: Fez
We had a fantastic time in Fez over the last couple of days. We decided to hire a guide, and were lucky to get Marjane — he was knowledgeable, engaging, and added a lot to the experience. Fez is a religious center with many mosques and Islamic schools, and it’s a pilgrimage destination for the Tijani Sufi muslims (practiced mostly in western Africa). It’s also a cultural center, and is home to the oldest university in the world, founded in 857 by a woman, as well as one of the oldest tanneries in the world. The medina of Fez is a UNESCO world heritage site, and it’s a maze of very narrow alleys — some of them so narrow that we could barely fit facing forward! Marjane called those “couscous streets,” explaining “if you eat too much couscous, you won’t fit through.”
We were blown away by our Airbnb! In fact, it’s one of the most beautiful Airbnbs we’ve ever stayed in. It’s a large riad from the 17th century, that was painstakingly restored by its French owner, and tastefully decorated with traditional Moroccan furniture and art. Incredible craftsmanship is on display everywhere, including the wall mosaics, the carved wooden doors, the woven rugs, and the handmade lamps. We spent quite a bit of time photographing the place, noticing every detail. And to top it off, we had amazing meals prepared by our very friendly local host, Hayat. We couldn’t have asked for a better stay.
Marjane, our guide in Fez.
An artisan painting ceramics with organic glazes.
In the souk.
Bou Inania Madrasa.
The endless medina of Fez.
Hayat made delicious meals for us in our riad.
Our Airbnb in Fez was a beautifully restored riad.
Day 6: Merzouga
We had high expectations for our time in the desert, and our Airbnb host Omar made sure they were met. We stayed in one of his safari-style tents at the edge of the desert, where we enjoyed the typical hospitality and food of the local Berber people. There’s so much to do in the desert, but having experienced it several times in our travels, we were most excited about 4x4 desert driving. Omar’s reputation as a dune driver is legendary — he’s helped Porsche and Mercedes test new models — so we couldn’t wait to experience his driving.
Riding with Omar was everything we had hoped for. We went up and down dunes so steep that we often felt that the car might slide or roll. But we trusted Omar’s skills. His big personality was contagious: with Berber music blasting on the car stereo, and Omar singing and drumming to every song, we couldn’t help but smile the entire way. We got stuck in the soft sand several times during our ride, but Omar solved every challenge, and seemed to get a thrill out of it. At one point, we made it all the way up the tallest dune, and the car got stuck right at the peak! It took a lot of digging and his expert driving to get the car unstuck, but he didn’t seem worried about it for one moment. And we got to experience one of the most exciting sunsets of our life.
Omar, our fun-loving dune-bashing driver and desert camp host.
A Berber camel herder that we met while driving in the dunes.
Our desert camp.
Days 7 and 8: Dades Gorge and Tasselmante
We spent the last couple of days driving through the Atlas mountains. We explored small villages, visited kasbahs, and met many interesting people. Our driver Karim grew up in this area, and knows everybody. We also got to hike along a canyon and experience a bit of nature. The geological formations and red soil in this part of the country are beautiful, and remind us of Utah.
We stayed at two great places in this area: a hotel in Dades Gorge and an Airbnb in Tasselmante. They both look like Berber rammed-earth houses on the outside, and have been tastefully decorated with local crafts on the inside. The Airbnb in Tasselmante in particular was a highlight for us, because it has its own private hammam (Moroccan steam bath) heated traditionally by a wood fire. Aisha, the hammam assistant, guided us through the whole experience, which we loved. Our French host Johanna was also a delight to chat with. With more time, we would love to come back for a few weeks, to enjoy the Airbnb and explore the local villages.
Our driver Karim encountered friends wherever we went.
Ksar El Khorbat.
Days 9 through 11: Marrakesh
We planned three days for Marrakesh because we had a feeling we would love it, and we did! We spent our first day with Mohamed as our guide — he was a great storyteller and helped us understand the history behind the city’s main sights. The remaining two days, we wandered through the medina on our own, talking to people, trying new food, and exploring the souks (markets). Marrakesh is a city of contrasts. On one hand, it holds on firmly to its traditions — we saw so many highly specialized artisans in the souks, including knife sharpeners, book binders, leather workers, plaster carvers, and more. On the other hand, it’s glitzy and glamorous, and a magnet for creativity — Yves Saint Laurent found fashion inspiration while in his Marrakesh villa, stores offer funky new takes on traditional decor, and galleries display creative photography. We loved exploring the duality of this city.
We stayed in a beautiful and inspiring riad in the medina, with decor that blends old and new designs. Thankfully, our Airbnb was not impacted by the earthquake that struck Morocco just a few months ago. The earthquake caused quite a bit of damage to older buildings in Marrakesh, and we saw many that are still being repaired.
This is the end of the trip for us. We leave with so many memories of fantastic experiences, and a great appreciation for Moroccan culture. Thank you Morocco for the hospitality!
Mohamed, our guide in Marrakesh.
Ben Youssef Madrasa.
A knife sharpener in the souk.
Yves Saint Laurent’s villa in Majorelle gardens.