This was definitely a bag full of memories – Topdeck’s 10-day Moroccan Explorer trip is a fantastic way to see the country. I’m sure there’s still more to see, but we were able to cover so much ground.
I’ll admit that I didn’t really know what to expect when I booked the trip to Morocco, I was just intrigued. Turns out you can expect a very interesting place that is also a little confusing for the senses. Located in Africa, Morocco’s culture has been altered by and a number of Islamic conquests as well as European settlements (Romans, French, Spanish, Portuguese). However the native Berber languages and lifestyles have been preserved alongside foreign influences, making it a uniquely diverse country. The main religion is Islam, and languages spoken include Arabic, French, Spanish and various Berber dialects. Prepare to have you’re mind boggled by the somehow seamless blend of cultures.
Things to see/do/try:
ARCHITECTURE AND DESIGN: There are numerous mosques and palaces all over the country, with unique Moroccan architecture and craftsmanship. The amount of detail in the designs of these buildings is staggering. The stand-out sites would be the largest mosque in Morocco, located in Casablanca and the streets of the Kasbah in Rabat.
HANDICRAFTS: Uniquely made from all-natural materials, Moroccan pottery and mosaic work is just stunning. So stunning in fact that when we visited a workshop, I began visualising how these items would look in my non-existent house.
LEATHER: The world famous UNESCO protected tannery in Fes is an interesting lesson in leather production, with all items made with natural colours and dyes.
CITY: The medinas are walled-off city centers, though they are more like labyrinths. They are notoriously difficult to navigate and are packed with shops and ‘souks’ (markets). Some things in there are startling, like camel butcher shops, and some are beautiful, like the tea sets and spice shops. Walking through a Medina is like walking through a scene from Aladdin – the way everything is set out, the way people are dressed, the beautiful handicrafts and fabrics all remind me of the city of Agrabah in Aladdin.
HISTORY: There’s loads of historical sights, but one of the highlights of the trip was the visit to the Roman ruins of the city of Volubilis, including a tour around the ancient remains of houses, streets and public arenas.
GLAMOUR: Ait Ben-Haddou is a UNESCO World Heritage site where a number of hollywood movies have been filmed, as well as scenes from the TV series Game of Thrones.
MOUNTAINS: Morocco is known for it’s rugged terrain and the Atlas mountains. I remember learning about the Atlas mountains in Year 8 geography class and thinking, ‘I really don’t care about these mountains’. I hate to admit it but I ate my words. The Atlas mountains are an absolute must-see. Driving through mid- and high-Atlas was one of the most scenic trips I’ve ever done. It was a refreshing change from visiting man-made attractions.
GORGE: We stayed in Dades Gorge for a night, not much more to be said. Naturally beautiful.
DESERT: Speaking of the Earth’s natural beauty, oh my goodness, this is bucket list stuff right here. The absolute number one highlight of the trip was the camel ride through the Sahara desert and overnight camp. I had the chance to watch the sunset from the top of the tallest sand dunes, spot a shooting star and some desert foxes, have a meal in a traditional Berber camp, play drums with the locals and sleep under the stars. It was a truly unforgettable experience.
FOOD: A lot of people come away from Morocco feeling disappointed about the food, and I totally understand this. I don’t know whether a lot of the food is made milder for tourists, but it can be very hit and miss and very repetitive. There wasn’t anything that I was really sick of, but you definitely have to do some exploring and experimenting to find the more interesting foods. The best meals were probably the various tagines.
Tagines are ceramic dishes in which meat or poultry is slow-cooked with Moroccan spices – this is traditional Moroccan food. Tagine kefta made with meatballs and egg as well as tagine poulet (chicken) with lemon were easily the best.
Cous cous served with chicken or meat is also available everywhere. Again, hit and miss. It’s often made mild for tourists.
This one was one of the more interesting dishes – Pastilla. It’s sweet and savoury at the same time, with spiced chicken on the inside, encased in flaky pastry, dusted with icing sugar and cinnamon. Delicious.
One night we went across the road from the hotel in Rabat and got Shawarmas – these are like take away kebabs back home. This was probably one of the cheapest and most enjoyable meals of the trip. I think because it was a little take away joint, there’s no question of changing how it’s made, we were given the real deal, with lots of flavour and spice.
There were a few little items here and there that are really important to try in Morocco as well. The fresh orange juice in Morocco is to die for, as the oranges that grow there are super sweet and flavoursome.
Morocco is also well-known for its Argan oil, which is used for nourishment of hair and skin, however it also comes in an edible form used for cooking or as a condiment (like olive oil). There is a particular spread called Amlou, which is Argan oil with ground almonds – almost like almond butter but with added oil. I highly recommend trying Amlou ice cream. Purchased in the main square in Marrakech. It has a distinctive Argan oil flavour without being too strong.
Avocado milk. It’s delicious and creamy. I asked the guy what was in it, he just said avocado, milk and sugar. I guess proportions are to taste preference. Blend until smooth!
Would I go back to Morocco? I think so. It’s so different to the places I’ve been to before and there’s still more to be explored. Plus I’ll need to collect some handicrafts for decorating my future mansion.