Be captivated by Morocco!
Morocco’s diverse and gripping landscapes combined with the fascinating and exotic culture captured our imagination a few years ago on our first visit as a family to Marrakesh. We returned the following year for a prolonged visit to the Atlas Mountains and a mesmerizing night of glamping among the sandy dunes of the Sahara desert. The chance to visit many of the other fascinating places drew us back to Morocco for a third visit. This time we headed further North to the blue town, Chefchaouen and then on to ancient Fez. In ten days we doused ourselves in heavenly blue, experienced the foul stink of the tanneries and explored the ancient Roman ruins of Volubilis near the candy coloured village of Moulay Idris.
Chefchaouen (Days 1 to 4)
Reached only by winding mountain roads Chefchaouen is a days drive from the other larger cities. After a brief overnight stop en route near Rabat we explored this mesmerizing town in the craggy hills of the Rif Mountains for a few days.
Wanders Through Azure Lanes
This picturesque town attracts increasingly hordes of visitors from all over the world due to its azure houses, tiny alleys and steep stairways. A wander through the winding alleys felt like a stroll at the bottom of the clear, calm ocean. Originally I had planned to only stay for one night in Chefchaouen, I feared the boys would get bored and annoyed by my constant photo stops at every corner. To my surprise they immediately fell in love with Chefchaouen as well, and suggested staying an additional night. Luckily we were able to extend our stay at the homely, family run Dar Zambra. Besides our aimless wanders through the blue alleys we visited the former Kasbah and climbed to the top of a hill, offering sweeping views of this blue pearl and the surrounding landscape on a popular gathering point to watch the sunset.
Visiting Ain Azliten Tannery (Day 5)
There are still a number of tanneries hidden in Fez’s medina. I had always wanted to witness the century old tradition of dyeing leather and there is without a doubt no better place to watch this handicraft in action. While most visitors head to the largest and most famous tannery Chouara, we were able to get up close to the dyeing process and even down to the basins filled with dye, at the smaller and lesser known Ain Azliten Tannery. The prominent smell of the chemicals was bearable and we got a great insight into the dyeing process and everyone’s work involved in the activity.
Madrasa Bou Inania and Batha Museum
Afterwards we paid a brief visit to Madrasa Bou Inania, the old Quran school which is similar to the Ben Youssef Madrasa in Marrakesh (but now closed for renovations until 2020). Later leaving the mayhem of the souks behind we found peace and respite at the Batha Museum and on the calm paths of the Botanical Garden.
Exploring the Jewish Quarter
The sherbet coloured alleyways of the buzzing Jewish quarter of Fez, just outside Fez medina were the last sight for us that day, before returning to the our little oasis in Fes El Bali, the fine Riad Dar Gnaoua.
The Candy Coloured Moulay Idris (Day 6)
This candy coloured hilltop village was recommended as Morocco’s prettiest village by our host in Rabat. However, it proved to be a test for our nerves, the maze of stairs and passages led us to many dead ends and showed us the true meaning of “getting lost”, not even Google maps will prove to be of any help in this place to find the way around!
Roman Ruins at Volubilis
Clambering across Roman ruins would most likely not come to mind for most tourists visiting Morocco. In fact until our recent trip we had been unaware that the Roman Empire had stretched this far south and into this part of North Africa. Largely destroyed by plunderers, efforts have been made to restore this incredible world heritage site. Some impressive structures and beautiful, intricate mosaics can be inspected. Our exploration of the site gave us an idea of what life must have been like thousands of years ago.
The Famous Chouara Tannery in Fez (Day 7)
For our last day in the ancient city, I dragged the boys to the largest and oldest tannery in Fez, the Chouara. Although Ain Azliten tannery had made a lasting impression on us, I wanted to discover this famous tannery as well. In fact, we ended up on two balconies overlooking the tannery from different angles, as the first had not quite satisfied my curiosity and views across the coloured vats were disrupted by other buildings. It definitely attracted the crowds and the pressure by the shop owners to buy goods reminded us of Marrakesh, a feature we had not experienced until then in this city. While we did not see anything new or different, the size of large tannery was certainly more imposing.
Strolling Through the Many Souks
The rest of our last day in Fez we spend strolling though the many souks, observing the many handicrafts on display and then relaxing people watching in cafés.
Marrakesh (Day 8)
Our early departure for the long drive from Fez left us with enough spare time to visit briefly in Marrakesh new town. We chose the striking Jardin Majorelle and its recent addition next door, the Musee Yves Saint Laurent, which celebrates the designers vast collections and creative mind. We were all slightly disappointed by the gardens, the hordes of people probably did not help. Although admittedly since our last visit to the Jardin Majorelle in 2003, the vegetation was lusher and the cacti had grown immensely.
Our recent itinerary to Morocco involved a lot of driving between destinations with three full days on the road, this might not be much fun for some little ones. However the striking blue of Chefchaouen and its friendly residents had won our hearts and made the hours in the car less significant. Given the chance, we would love to return and spend a few more days hiking in the surrounding mountainside, followed by more time relaxing on the rooftops overlooking the town. However, Fez despite being more relaxing and friendly than the vibrant Marrakesh, it was very similar with somewhat less to see.
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