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Morocco Trip Report September 2016 including Kasbah du Toubkal and Marrakech

I arrived Marrakech from London. Connections did not work well so I overnighted in hotel near Gatwick airport. I chose this time Langshott Manor, 15c lovely small hotel with excellent restaurant. It is advised to arrive to mountains during daylight.

In September, Marrakech was hot but at least not humid. Passport controls took forever. I’ve met my driver Fet and we were soon on the way to the mountains.

Since my last visit, there is more security in Marrakech airport. The scenery changed once we’ve left Marrakech. It became more rural and very soon Atlas Mountains appeared with great views and scattered villages around them. It took about 1.5 hours to get to Imlil – the starting point to my final destination – Kasbah du Toubkal. It is a very unique place. Perched in the high mountains, accessible only by foot and by mules, it is indeed a hideaway. National geographic gave it a name “Unique Mountain Lodges”.

In the village center, they have hospitality center and also local guesthouse with few rooms. Both Kasbah and guesthouse managed by Berber Haj Maurice and Brit Mike McHugo. They started together as Mike was bringing groups to hike and there was nowhere to stay. He saw ruins of some Kasbah, fell in love with a place (it is in National Park, with majestic scenery), and bought the land. It took years to build it, but it paid off. The Kasbah in fact is not a hotel/lodge, but called a Berber hospitality center. It ran by Berbers. All products in construction, linen, decorations, food, everything is local including the labor. It is built by community and giving to community. Like city tax in large cities, the Kasbah du Toubkal adds on 5% to local community and they made tremendous projects improving people’s life and infrastructure. One of the projects, for example, “Education for all”, founded a boarding school for girls where they are educated and prepared for life. They believe that educated people will do good for themselves and community.

The Berber at reception of Kasbah in the village looked at my sandals and suggested to change in something practical. I changed into sneakers and socks. Thmule-imliley gave me a mule and muleteer and he loaded mule with my suitcases.
It was 15 min walk uphill. My driver went back to Marrakech. The muleteer showed me Kasbah on top of the mountain and I understood I needed to walk there. The muleteer and the mule were faster than me. I did walk half of the way, but altitude 6100 m and jet lag made me short of breath. The muleteer helped me to get on the mule and that’s how I arrived.

At Kasbah, I was met by Mohamed at reception, who offered me rose water to wash hands, and dates to dip in the milk. I felt better already! kasbahI had some Moroccan mint tea. He showed me around and took my suitcase to the room. It was lovely room in a tower with great views of the mountain. It is built from all local wood and furnishing are locally sourced. No air conditioning, no TV. The nights in the mountains ar cool, even in summer. TV is a matter of preference, but lack of it is fine with me. Internet was not working in the room, only in common areas. I knew this before and brought some books to read.

I found some quiet place in common area. I was alone except a house cat who adopted me and tried to sit on my lap. Too cute!

Short showers passed while I was working. Dinner was at 7pm and was served on top of Kasbah by Berber waiters. It was a lovely surrounding. It was a bit cooler after rain. I found some blankets and was sorry that I did not wear shawl or jellaba which was provided in my room. I had lovely conversation with British couple Ken and Chris. They told me already walked with a local guide to the top of another village. I was looking forward to go tomorrow.

tangineDinner started with wonderful Moroccan bread, olives, and dates. It followed by very tasty soup (lamb, vegetable and rice), vegetable plate and lamb tagine. It was so tender, was falling off the bones.  Desert was flan caramel, do not think it is traditional Berber, but it was very good.  Finished again with tea.

Due to the respect to Berber’s Muslim faith, Kasbah du Toubkal does not serve alcohol but guests are welcome to bring their own.

I slept so well that next morning I woke up at 9:30 (unusual for me). I rushed to the lobby for breakfast. Berber breakfast included bread, dry fruits, very interesting sweet pancakes (something like crepes), creamy yogurt, jam, honey and mix of honey with argan nuts paste (their “Nutella”). I remember it from my last year’s trip and it was as good as before.  I had coffee but I like their Moroccan mint tea more.

After breakfast, I’ve met my guide Abdul. He came from the village and we started trek to the mountains. The biggest mountain in North Africa is Mountain Toubkal, it is second in Africa after Kilimanjaro. Many hikers going there with guides and overnight trekking. The season started in September and I saw many mules and guides transporting tents preparing for trekkers. They stay overnight. Supplies are delivered. It is “glamping”.

While I had sneakers and socks, I realized that I do not have backpack and bottle for water. No Problem! Mohamed at the reception supplied backpack, water bottle and reminded me to get a hat (straw hat is also supplied in the room), and sunscreen lotion. Abdul also thoughtfully brought in with us mule and muleteer and together I, Abdul, Mule and Muleteer – our small group escorting me  –  departed.

I lasted one third of the way and then I climbed on the mule. The Mule called Nano, and very soon I started to enjoy my trekking. I felt like I am in control of the mule 🙂 .

mule-trekkingWe passed some villages, valet with rivers. Mountains provided stunning scenery. We came into village where it was nice guesthouse, very authentic mountain retreat. I had lunch on a terrace there. It was nice lunch with salad from local vegetables and oranges. This followed by tagine of vegetables and tagine of beef baked with local walnuts (in season) and figs. It was delicious. I could not finish a half of it! Desert were fruit of sliced bananas, melon and grapes.

After that, we started trek back to the Kasbah, another 1.5 hours. We also stopped in local coop where I bought some Berber jewelry. Around 2pm we made back to the Kasbah. It was a good day and I accomplished trekking! I said good bye to Abdul and rested until dinner.

Another British family checked in and they said will start trekking for 2 nights in the mountains. Their teenaged children were excited to trek Toubkal and next time hopefully Kilimanjaro! We all met at dinner. The British couple Ken and Chris had 50th anniversary and at the end of the dinner, the waiter brought cake for them which they shared with us. It was lovely dinner with again, soup, vegetables and beef, apple cake for desert.

I tried to work again. I’ve met 2 more people who are going also to PURE conference where I am going on Sunday. We all tried to work, but internet was very slow… We had to give up.

I slept again well. It is so peaceful here. Went to the main area where breakfast was served. Every day, breakfast is more or less simple, the same.

kasbah-waterfallI gave up on catching the wifi signal, and went down to Imlil village. I was lucky half of the way of my descent (I needed to think about climbing back!), there was a coop Berber store. I explained to the owner that I am looking for Moroccan women pants. He did not have them but asked me to wait and got somewhere to other merchants and brought me some. I negotiated a little and added few scarves. The pants were very comfortable and colorful. Great for Pure dessert “Arabian nights “party and also keep at home.  I still wear them at home.

I went to the hammam (steam bath). It takes maximum 30 mins, and you mix hot and cold water and sit in a steam bath. There is olive oil liquid Berber soap and a mitten to scrub with it. Then I took shower to wash it off. My skin felt like new. Back at the reception area, I ‘ve talked to Mike and Chris McHugo, the brothers who own Kasbah de Toubkal.

For snack, I picked some apples from the garden outside of my door. Besides my childhood, I do not remember when I ate fresh apples off the tree. They were red, juicy apples and I enjoyed them. I am not much for supermarket apples and I do not eat them often.

We had lovely conversation with dinner with the Purists and Mike the owner. Our only complaint was that internet was not stable. There was a storm in the area so was interruption of service. We eventually gave up searching for signal and enjoyed beauty of remote mountain location.

Next morning, after enjoying one more Berber breakfast, we were notified that our mules arrived. We took last descent (3 people sharing luggage with 1 mule – “local taxi”), to the village where I’ve met my driver and we departed for Marrakesh.

Marrakesh was opposite to serenity of the mountains but nevertheless very exciting. I was happy I rested after jet lag in the mountains before coming to the city.

Upon arriving, I’ve met my guide Abdullah and we visited Jewish quarter – mellah, in old town. It had the oldest still active synagogue in Morocco – Lazama synagogue, founded in 1492 by Jewish escaping Spanish inquisition from nearby South of Spain. 20160911_115140It also had small Jewish museum showing life and artifacts of Moroccan Jews. The synagogue had beautiful courtyard with blue and white colors and small garden.

After synagogue visit, we went to the souk where I stocked up again this year in “Herboriste” store with spices, teas and cosmetics with Argan oils. While a bit more expensive than in the souk stalls, I keep going here since the saleslady explains in good English and they leave with you information and email in case you need to ask later what I bought :-).20160911_115836

I had lunch with my guide in the rooftop of local restaurant, this time I tried chicken pastry, it was delicious ground chicken spiced up with Cinnamon and Moroccan spices in delicate flaky pastry.

Afterwards we took a walk in the souk and ended at Jemaa El Fna Square which is famous with snake charmers, medicine stalls and all kind of merchandise. It was quiet during the day since the auction starts at night. I remember last time we got a good spot in café on the second floor and enjoyed a view with a tea. Otherwise I do not like to come close to snake charmers, although many tourists like it. Keep in mind, you need to pay them for holding the snake.20160911_141217

After that, I went to my hotel Sofitel in the center, good location, where I retreated in their oasis in the middle of this bustling city.

Next 3 days were busy with meeting suppliers from Morocco and all over the world. Some ideas for Morocco for travelers, from my previous travels and my local suppliers:

  1. Stay in Moroccan Riad, it is traditional Moroccan house with interior courtyard garden, they embodied history and tradition and hospitality of Morocco
  2. Overnight in Sahara Desert, arrive by camel in sunset, enjoy beautiful colors of Sahara, sunrise, and Berber hospitality in luxury tent. It usually takes 4 nights to arrive to Morocco and travel there and stay overnight and come back, but if time is tight and money not an object, we can arrange a private jet from either airport to the desert. Also, desert further to the border with Algeria has more beautiful rose colored sand
  3. Visit Essaoura – beautiful coastal town on Atlantic Coast with 18C ramparts, old port with city walls and beach
  4. Fes – the oldest of Morocco Imperial city
  5. Rabat – the Capital, French Colonial Heritage, Unesco Heritage site.
  6. Volubilis Archeological site

And of course, experience stay in Atlas Mountains like Kasbah Toubkal or, the luxury Kasbah Tamadot (owned by Richard Branson).

General thoughts

Morocco is very exotic North African country. It has combination of Moorish, French and African culture. From ancient cities to modern Casablanca, it offers a lot for everyone. As for safety, and people, it is currently a shining star in the Middle East. For Jewish traveler, it is very friendly Muslim country and they preserve Jewish sites.

It offers many activities from people watching in the cities squares, to history, hiking in North Africa highest peak to beaches to Desert.

Food

One of the assets of the country, Moroccan food bursts with exotic spices and interesting flavors. Sweet mint tea poured from silver teapot, tagine with aromatic meat, chicken or vegetables, excellent fresh moroccan bread eaten with green olives, honey, dried fruit, oranges, argan oil with honey, sardines.

Water is recommended to drink from the bottle, not from the tap. However, in the mountains, I used local water and I did not have any problems.

People

Morocco is a wonderful example of how people of all different backgrounds and ideologies can live in harmony. Besides the mingling of the Arabs, Berbers, and Jews, the South hosts a myriad of British, French, and American expatriates.

Morocco’s years of foreign influence and rule have taught it to have the best communication skills and tolerance towards visitors. Undoubtedly, your journey will be an unforgettable experience that will make you want to return.

How to get there

There is only one flight nonstop from New York on Air Morocco. But from Europe you will have many connecting flights from France, Spain and UK. Lately, there is a new nonstop flight on EasyJet from Nice to Marrakesh.

Enjoy our slideshow of Morocco

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sldf_qA7J-Q&feature=youtu.be

Copyright: Sophia’s Travel, division of EMCO Travel, LLC

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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