Ballooning over Morocco
2

Arabian Days

Friday, 22 June 2012 | Tags: , , , , , , , ,

We just got back from an amazing trip to Marrakesh, Morocco, where we were filming an upcoming episode of Anna and Kristina’s Grocery Bag. Morocco has always been on Kristina’s bucket list of places to visit. “From Arabian Nights to Casablanca to Sex in the City 2 (which was shot there), Morocco has always taken on mythical proportions in my head. I was so excited to see it.”

While we only saw a fraction of the country – Marrakesh and some of the Atlas Mountains – our journey did not disappoint. From the cacophony in the square, to the vibrant colours of the Souks (market) to the aromatic meals at restaurants, Morocco is most definitely a feast for all senses.

At the Marrakesh spice market

Dar Les Cigognes - lobby

SLEEP

Because the outside world is so bustling, staying somewhere quiet and serene becomes that much more important. We checked in at Dar Les Cigognes, a former riad (great house) turned into a lovely boutique hotel.

Anna at the entrance to the hotel

The hotel is located within the Medina (which means walled city) and is just a stone’s throw from the Imperial palace and a short cab ride to Place Jemaa El Fna, the main square. Rooms overlook an inner courtyard and each is uniquely furnished.

The roof top deck, patrolled by stork families nesting on the palace turrets, is the perfect spot for enjoying a glass of wine at sunset.

Nesting Storks

Once the shooting was finished, we had two days to relax before heading home. We decided to spend it at Kasbah Tamadot, Richard Branson’s resort tucked away in the Atlas Mountains.

It’s about an hour’s drive from Marrakesh, and what an oasis it is. Beautiful rooms, sparkling blue pool, and stunning setting, it was such a welcome retreat.

Even if you don’t stay there, we recommend driving up for lunch on the terrace. (Hire a car. Driving in Morocco is treacherous.) The road winds through the mountains, past a number of terra cotta coloured villages. It’s also much cooler in the mountains!

Kasbah Tamadot

EAT

One of our best meals was at Le Tobsil, a French-owned Moroccan restaurant that serves traditional Moroccan fare. The menu is set and the food keeps coming.

We started with a selection of traditional Moroccan salads, including ones made from tomatoes, eggplant and olives. The tomato jam was amazing. This was all followed by a chicken tagine and then a lamb tagine, couscous, two desserts and of course, sweet mint tea, a Moroccan staple. 

Belly Dancer at Le Comptoir

For a more Western take on the Moroccan dining experience, check out Le Comptoir Darna. Here you’ll find traditional dishes like tagines along with international offerings.

The food isn’t the real draw though, it’s the entertainment. Belly dancers and performers balancing plates of candles on their heads get the party started. In the bar area upstairs, hookah pipes make the rounds.

If you’re looking for a break from Moroccan food, try Casanova. It’s an Italian restaurant in the Gueliz district that serves a mean thin crust pizza.

At the medina in Marrakesh

Snake charmers!

SHOP

A trip to the souks (markets) is a must, though be prepared for the onslaught of hawkers. Because we were shooting with our camera crew, we had a police escort, which kept the pestering to a minimum. If we were alone, we wouldn’t feel unsafe per se, but saying “La Shukran” (no thank you) over and over again can get exhausting.

At the souk, they sell exactly what you’d imagine; carpets, slippers, pottery, tea pots, jewellery, tunics, scarves, lanterns, spices and of course, food. We brought home spices and tea cups, and of course, we left wishing we’d bought more but our suitcases were only so big!

Gueliz is the more modern, downtown-esque part of the city, and there you’ll find a number of boutiques and luxury stores. Shoe store Atika is a must. They sell Tod’s “inspired” car shoes, in a rainbow of candy colours, for a fraction of the cost of the real thing. We each bought a pair and of course, now we wished we’d bought more of those too!

Olives at the souk

DO

It’s not often that getting up at 4:30 in the morning is a worthwhile experience. Hot air ballooning at sunrise in the Moroccan desert is an exception. Talk about a new perspective on things. We were 600 meters above ground, 1000 meters above sea level, floating serenely over villages and a surprisingly verdant landscape. 

Desert view from our balloon

Green village view from our balloon

With temperatures in the 30s and low 40s, it was one sweaty and exhausting week. We decided to indulge in a hammam at Kasbah Tamadot. A hammam is a steam bath where the focus is on water more than steam.

While the spa experience differs depending on where you go, at Kasbah you are exfoliated – intensely – with black soap (the process is called gommage) rinsed with hot and cold water, and then moisturized with Argan oil, a local oil valued for its cosmetic and medicinal properties.

The experience is both cleansing and relaxing, not to mention amazing for your skin. Vancouver actually has a Hammam spa and we’re both vowing to make regular visits. 

Anna said it well: “Morocco is a very unique, exotic and mystical place. And with all the fresh fish and veg, the food was even better than expected.”

Shukran Morocco, for a wonderful once-in-a-lifetime experience!

Herding goats in the Moroccan desert

After a long kitchen day. Phew!

Feeding camels

Riding camels

Relaxing with our sound man SparkyOur Moroccan transportation

Our Moroccan crew

One of many beautiful sunsets

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