TRAVEL: Casablanca, Tangier, Fez, or Rabat; a hard decision but we decided Marrakech would be our first visit to Morocco, beginning at the High Atlas Mountains, then to Essaouira, ending our trip at Marrakech. And, there is nothing more exhilarating than planning a last-minute vacation to a bucket list destination. Two weeks before departure, I curated a well-planned itinerary for a seven-day trip, which was also my first trip to the continent of Africa.
As everyone in America celebrated Thanksgiving with family, my husband and I soared across the Atlantic with a quick overnight stop in London connecting onto a British Airways flight where we flew three and a half hours to Marrakech. Easy!
Just less than an hour from the city, the drive to the High Atlas Mountains is breathtaking in a nomadic sense as the dusty road winds through Berber villages. The only inclination that this is a modern-day — villagers still have a smartphone attached to their heads.
Upon arrival at our first hotel, Sir Richard Branson’s Moroccan retreat, Kasbah Tamadot, we melted into a soothing mint tea and gazed over the landscape from the garden balcony, mesmerized by the majestic snow-peaked High Atlas Mountains.
With two nights at this boutique hotel, we only had one full day to play, so the following day I planned a hike with a local guide to a lunch destination in the mountains. At the end of November, the weather in Morocco is rather cold in the mornings at about 45-50 degrees, warming to a perfect 65-72 degrees in the afternoon. We left the hotel mid-morning, and the temperature was still slightly chilly as we bundled up for our hike. Driving further up the mountain we arrived at a small Berber village called Ilmil, located at the foothills of North Africa’s highest mountain range where we parked the car to start our remote hike.
We entered a narrow dusty path that meandered uphill switching back and forth past unfinished concrete homes with rebar’s protruding dangerously out. The pathway narrowed and turned to rubble, as we passed a struggling mule carrying a heavy load of breeze blocks up the mountain — clearly the necessary mode of transportation, not a road in sight.
About two miles uphill we reached Roches Armed (pronounced ah-med), a very unassuming restaurant hidden through a rickety doorway, as we entered a building made of concrete, mud bricks and decorated with tiles. Escorted to the rooftop, we rested on a colourful array of pillows and cushions, sitting cross-legged basking in the sun, and staring at the imposing mountain range. The freshly prepared food that was served, which included a vegetarian and a beef Tagine, was flavorful and warmed with spices — much-needed nourishment after our exhilarating climb.
We relished every moment of this remote rendezvous, as villagers below swept dirt from their homes, pegged laundry on makeshift washing lines, shoeless toddlers crawled precariously on rooftops and tugged at the tails of cats passing by, and a gathering of chickens clucked happily—everything was peaceful.
Fully fueled, the downhill hike still required a sense of balance as we climbed down a rocky trail peaked with large volcanic rocks. A highly-trafficked path used by Berber villagers, dating back to ancient times, and the main footpath from the mountain down to Ilmil village.
Sadly we never had time to experience the hotel spa, which looked exquisite and exotic in every way, but that evening we rested in the library, sipped cocktails and played chess before dinner (note, no TVs at this resort), and indulged in the local delights at the Kanoun Restaurant—yes more vegetable Tagine for me, oh and Moroccan wine!
With the first part of our journey to Morocco at an end, the next road trip to Essaouira began the following day. Part two, Destination: Essaouira, Morocco – to come…