Traveling with Kids | Morocco
A few days ago we arrived home from an amazing trip to Morocco in North Africa. I fell in love with Morocco many years ago when I was a backpacking 20 year old and I have been looking forward to the day I could return with my family.
Morocco is a country full of vivid colours, warm and friendly people, aromatic and earthy smells and tastes and a culture that is so unique and different to the one we live in.
We spent a little less than a week in the warm North African sun and the rest of my family has fallen in love with Morocco just like I did years ago. My kids have already informed us that they want to return to Morocco for our February breaks from now on. Guess we better start the Morocco fund for 2014 now.
For us living in Italy (and Europe) Morocco is an easily accessible and affordable destination. We flew with the low cost airline Easy Jet from Milan and the flight was a mere three hours long (and quite inexpensive). In general the accommodation and restaurant prices are much lower in Morocco than in Europe and North America.
Our trip was broken into two destinations. We spent the first few days in the Atlas Mountains and the last few days visiting the city of Marrakesh. Today I’ll be writing about our time spent in the mountains.
We left Milan early on a Monday morning, in the middle of a snowstorm, and arrived in Marrakesh at 9am. The relatively newly reconstructed Marrakesh Menara Airport is a stunning piece of modern architecture. After admiring the building and changing our euros into the local currency, the dirham, we picked up our rental car and headed out on the streets of Morocco. I was expecting chaotic busy roads with crazy drivers (like it was 20 years ago) but surprisingly enough the roads were quite calm and easy to navigate. Without any problems we made our way out of the city and headed towards our first destination.
From the first minute in the car the kids were enthralled with what they saw around them. The donkey carts riding next to us on the streets, the vendors on the side of the road in their hooded djellabas and brightly coloured leather slippers, the blooming cactus fields and the herds of goats that seemed to show up on every corner. The kids’ enthusiasm at everything they saw was contagious. There we were driving in the warm sun with the windows down and huge smiles on all of our faces.
We spent the three hour drive to our destination in awe of the varied mountainous landscapes, the sand coloured stone towns and the little roadside shops selling everything from Berber carpets to locally made ceramic bowls to the famous Argan Oil.
We stopped for a little lunch at a mountainside restaurant and enjoyed our first real tagine, Moroccan flat bread, olives and bottles of orange Fanta (special treat for us). Before leaving for Morocco we had lots of rules of not eating any raw fruit or vegetables, no olives or preserves and not eating from roadside kiosks etc. It took less than two hours for all those “rules” to fly out the window. In the end we ate and drank everything we saw and enjoyed it all immensely (except the tap water).
Finally, after some very curvy and nauseating roads, we reached the town of Tisselday and our accommodations for the following few days. We were very warmly welcomed by the guesthouse owner Kamal who immediately invited us to sit on their outdoor terrace and enjoy a traditional pot of Moroccan sweet tea with him.
Kamal and his family run the guesthouse Dar Isselday and they offer everything from comfortable accommodations, to Moroccan cooking classes, to treks in the mountains and desert (his specialty). Kamal and his family spoke to us in French and I was amazed at how my kids managed to communicate and understand everything he said. Those daily French classes at school all these years have really paid off.
After having tea and getting settled into our rooms Kamal took us out for a walk in the local area and mountains and showed us his family’s organic gardens and orchards. We also hiked to a small stone town, only accessible by foot, where he taught us about the local traditions, the Muslim religion, how they bake their bread in outdoor ovens and their daily way of life. At a certain point his cousin came along and generously invited us to his home for tea and bread.
That evening Kamal’s sister-in-law Najat made us the most wonderful meal which was served in the Inn’s inner courtyard. While sitting on benches of colourful cushions and surrounded by traditional Moroccan lanterns we dined on a special Sauteed Zucchini Salad with Olives, Lamb Tagine with Figs and for dessert Pancakes with Candied Oranges. Absolutely delicious.
One thing I did notice about Moroccan homes is that there is no central heating of any kind. So although the days are nice and warm, the evenings tend to cool down quite a bit. After dinner we all got into our pyjamas and dove into bed in order to keep warm. I think we all fell asleep at 8:30pm that first night
After an amazing sleep (considering the cold) we got up and had a wonderful breakfast in the sun on the outdoor terrace. We were served pancakes, bread, omelettes and an assortment of homemade jams and preserves. Kamal sat with us and chatted about what the area had to offer and we decided to spend the day doing a camel trek and visiting some ancient Kasbahs.
So off we went with Kamal to meet our chamelier (camel driver). Mohammed met us with his three dromedaries and prepared the kids with their head scarves (to protect against the wind and sun). I had assumed that the kids would be on the camels while we walked alongside but in the end I found myself teetering on the top of a frisky camel who seemed to have a bit of an attitude.
We spent the following hours slowly trudging along on these massive camels and enjoying the views of the mountain ranges that surrounded us, the ancient and abandoned towns and the Kasbahs. After a rest and a snack of oranges and bananas (Kamal comes prepared) we left the camels and Mohamed to rest while we visited the famous Kasbah Ait-Benhaddou. Kamal took us around and explained the history behind the site and my son was immensely impressed when he heard that Gladiators, Alexander and Indiana Jones were all filmed there.
Then it was back on the camels (ouch) and back to the Chamelier’s house for a picnic lunch of marinated grilled brochettes, tomato and onion salad with cumin and a special Berber omelette. I have to admit that the food was one of the highlights of our time in Morocco. Even my daughter who is a picky eater raved about everything she ate on the entire trip.
After arriving back at Dar Isselday we decided to hike up the rocky mountain directly behind the Inn to visit another ancient abandoned Kasbah (no, we don’t let our kids rest on vacation). After a steep hike of almost an hour in the burning sun we arrived at the Kasbah and explored around the almost 1000 year old buildings and gardens and enjoyed the stunning views over the mountains.
That evening the girls and I enjoyed the sunset while we played cards on the outdoor terrace while my son played football with Kamal’s nephews. Later on Najat made us another wonderful meal of Sautéed Eggplant Salad and Chicken and Vegetable Couscous with Raisins. After dinner we sat with Kamal drinking tea and chatting about our respective lives and cultures. A very lovely evening.
The next morning we enjoyed another delicious breakfast, packed up our things and headed out towards Marrakesh. I’ll be honest, none of us wanted to leave Dar Isselday and we seriously thought about forgetting our plans to go to Marrakesh and staying for the remainder of our trip in Tisselday.
This area in the Atlas Mountains has so much to offer travellers of every kind. There are cities such as Ouarzazate to visit, tons of treks in the mountains and numerous historical sites such as Kasbahs to discover. Life is still lived in the old fashioned manner and you really get a sense of stepping back in time in this fascinating culture and landscape.
I’m already mentally planning our next trip to Morocco and especially this region. I guess the kid’s idea of going back every February isn’t so far-fetched after all.