MOROCCO: MARRAKECH AND THE ATLAS MOUNTAINS

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I am on an exciting work trip as one of the select few to attend PURE.  PURE Life Experiences is the world’s leading Experiential Travel Trade show, bringing together industry leaders to meet and create life-enriching travel. My contacts worldwide were already pretty unique but this trip extends my tentacles to ever alluring destinations.  There is nothing more comforting than meeting a new “old friend” halfway around the world, particularly when traveling in underdeveloped regions. I know we will have so much fun discovering your next dream trip!

I arrived in Morocco a few days prior to the start of PURE and have seen so much in such a short time. From the Atlas Mountains to Marrakech, let me share my thoughts and intrigue you into adding this fascinating country to your wish list.

Most visitors to Morocco experience only the teeming souks (a marketplace) and medinas (the old city)  of the cities and never savor the beautiful and exquisite Berber countryside. However, things are changing fast thanks to a number of Kasbah (fortresses) hotels opening in the desert beyond Marrakech.  These towering fortresses originally built by Berber chieftains, and once the closely guarded secret of savvy Europeans and Moroccan upper class, are being discovered by travelers with a sense of adventure from around the world.  In fact, Virgin Atlantic mogul Richard Branson, who purchased Kasbah Tamadot during one of his ballooning expeditions, opened one of the most wonderful retreats I have ever encountered.

The Atlas Mountains are an easy one-hour drive from Marrakech, offering secluded tranquility and breathtaking natural surroundings.  One premier activity, albeit passive, is Hammans, where the skin is deeply cleansed, purified, and softened with the traditional Moroccan cleansing ritual.  I have enjoyed spectacular dining with the pure mountain air enveloping every breath.

If your stay happens to be over a weekend, a true local experience is to go to the “Saturday” Asni market where all the locals arrive on donkeys, by foot or riding in over-flowing cars loaded with their goods to sell and toting bags to buy their weekly provisions. Markets happen in local villages daily and are named according to the day of the week they take place.

The market was heavily trodden from the previous days rain, so I rolled up my pants and stepped carefully in the slippery mud piles, entering with big eyes.  As one can imagine there was something for everyone, from very “fresh” meats to donkeys for trade to local Berbers selling their “herbs’ for quick remedies to barbers/dentists ready to extract a rotten tooth or give a haircut to fresh vegetables and spices and about anything else one could want.

Marrakech, the North African city of medieval souks and winding streets is undergoing a dramatic transformation. With its booming hotels and riads (Moroccan house with interior garden or court yard), Marrakech’s restaurant scene is keeping pace, but it helps to know where to go, as new places make their big splash then drown just as quickly. One sure proof is the Moroccan Restaurant at Royal Mansour as a sheer treat for your palate and pocketbook, owned by the King Mohammed VI and fit for a King!  It is a favorite hotel and over all experience for any one lucky enough to enjoy. The riad Villa des Orangers is another hidden gem to add to your list not only for their cuisine and service but one of the most authentic riads in the medina.

Marrakech is essentially two cities: the medina, as the ancient walled Arab metropolis is called, and Guéliz, the name given to the part of town created by the French in 1913. After the hassle and haggling of the souks, Guéliz provides an antidote for low-key shoppers who like to look and not be pressured into buying (one of the downsides of the medina). Many of the best shops lie along a two-block stretch of Rue de la Liberté. I came on a mission to find a gorgeous Moroccan rug, unique lanterns, some tagines and a few other very local finds.

My wonderful guide, Omar, from Heritage Tours, our preferred Virtuoso On Site for Morocco, led me to the BEST shop-keepers. We visited ones who have buyers such as Armani and other top designers. I feel like I have struck gold and am returning home with some very special items for our new house! (I know my husband is thrilled to read this :))

There is a lot happening in Marrakech.  The snake charmers and fortune tellers and henna salesmen look as if they have inhabited this thousand year old city for a thousand years and it is all intriguing and captivating. I am only hoping to return soon to discover other areas such as Fes and the Sahara desert!

Please note our new address is 706 Westover Road Richmond, VA 23220.  My assistant, Meredith Dauksz, and I look forward to helping you plan your travel dreams. We can best be reached at TEl: 804 545 9995 or caroline@wallacetrav.com or meredith@wallacetrav.com  Hope you all have a safe and Happy Thanksgiving!

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