A Dream Vacation in Morocco

-Cam, a diamond traveler and retired corporate executive writing and traveling and enjoying life recommends:

Royal Mansour was, without a doubt, the most extraordinary hotel Peter and I have ever stayed in! The King of Morocco personally decided that this hotel would be the best in his country—we attest to the fact that His Royal Highness achieved his goal.

Source: www.LeRoyalMansourMeridien.com

We checked into The Royal Mansour and were escorted to our suite.  From reception, we walked into a garden path that turned into a medina.  We came to a building with an enormous blue door and entered our foyer with comfortable chairs and a fountain and an open ceiling 24 feet above us. Glass double doors led into our main social area which included a living room, dining room combination, a kitchen and a powder room.  A private garden beckoned from the living room, full of yellow and orange bougainvillea, table and chairs and another fountain. The living room furniture was upholstered in a delicious bronze-colored, nubbed silk with pillows of orange, rose, lavender, dark brown and dark purple. Climb 32 steps to the second floor for the master bedroom complex.  The creamy colored bed linens were all imported from Paris. The headboard was intricately carved pearl colored plaster.  The room was fully paneled in dark wood, including the ceiling, with sophisticated small painted Arabic designs. 

Source: www.LeRoyalMansourMeridien.com

For the night air, we opened three sets of wood shutters and windows to let the moonlight in. The bathroom was gray and white marble from top to bottom. Climb another 32 steps up to our roof garden, where chaise lounges were set up with bright yellow towels and pillows to be comfortable after enjoying the dipping pool on the roof. Snack platters of dried dates, figs and apricots were sent in every day. Whatever you needed, poof! It was there in moments.

Source: www.LeRoyalMansourMeridien.com

The main areas of the hotel were grand.  The mosaic patterns were the most beautiful I have ever seen, all in color combinations of browns, beiges, midnight blacks, opal, dark blue and silver.  For dinner, the French chef came out to introduce himself. A typical main course:  sautéed duck filet with jujubes and licorice. Desserts were described as follows:  cream of rice in orange blossoms, Crème Brule perfumed with Arabic gum, lemon tarts with crystallized zests. Peter took me to the spa and I have never seen anything like it.  We could have had all three days in Marrakech right in our hotel.

www.leroyalmansourmeridien.com
27 Avenue De L’ Armée Royale  
Casablanca 21000 · Morocco ·
Phone: 212.522.45.88.88
Email: Sales.01816sales@lemeridien.com

But then I would not have been able to purchase (and have designed and made to order) several gorgeous caftans for myself.  I found a small but very directed guidebook to Marrakech shopping while I was in a home store in Key West.  This was fortuitous because this book pointed me to the best places, which otherwise, I would never have known about.  I then skipped most of the tourist shops and headed straight for the upper end.  Very satisfying, particularly the antique stores which were all like mini-museums. No purchases made in these shops but what an experience to see all the high quality merchandise and learn a little bit of design and decorative arts history as well.

Source: www.KasbahTamadot.virgin.com

The Atlas Mountains continued to be a draw every time we gazed out our windows.  Salim suggested we do a day trip to the Kasbah Tamadot, the resort owned by Sir Richard Branson.  We thought that was a great idea and off we were into the mountains. 

Source: www.KasbahTamadot.virgin.com

Apparently, while ballooning, Branson spotted this property from the air.  After his ride, he inquired and eventually bought this divine piece of land. 

Source: www.KasbahTamadot.virgin.com

Peter and I absolutely recommend any future Moroccan travelers among you to stay here.  We lunched on a patio, surrounded by gardens, mountains, pool and tents. (Yes, you can stay in a tent.) It was spectacular.

Source: www.KasbahTamadot.virgin.com

www.kasbahtamadot.virgin.com
T: 0800 716 919 (toll-free from within the UK)
T: +44 (0)208 600 0430
T: 877 577 8777 (toll-free from within the US)
enquiries@virginlimitededition.com

Our guide in Morocco was fabulous.  He was with us the entire week.  His name is Salim and his e-mail address is abdellatifsalim@hotmail.com.   His cell phone number from the U.S. is 011.212.668865082.

Morocco has turned out to be our ”M” trip:
M for Morocco and its fabulous city, Marrakech

M for Mohammed, Muslim, Mosque, the mosques’ Minaret from which Muezzins lead the call to daily prayers and the Madrasah, a school located next to the mosque teaching the Koran.

Mourchidat, a Muslim woman preacher.

Medina, an enclosed neighborhood featuring many residences, gardens and fountains.

Jardin Majorelle
Yves St. Laurent adored Morocco and based many of his fashion design ideas from the art and lifestyle here. Since his death in 2008, his foundation pays for this stunning Marrakech garden.

Mosaics and Mirrors
The Maalem is the accomplished tile setter making the geometric, epigraphic or floral designs in the intricate Moorish architectural building decor and designs all throughout Morocco.

Mint
Fresh mint is served with tea in small decorated tea glasses (not cups) everywhere.  This is a lovely hospitality culture.

Motorcycles and Macho Men—need I say more?

Music from Amizmiz, which consisted of lovely tinkling soft sounds.

Mutton—plenty of lamb to eat in this country.

There were three big questions that our friends asked us about our trip to Morocco before we departed.  Here they are with answers provided:

1.  Is it safe given the Middle East conditions right now?

Answer:  Yes, it was completely safe.  Morocco is geographically like an island, encircled by the Atlantic Ocean, the Mediterranean Sea and the sand-sea of the Sahara.  It is further separated from the rest of the area by four significant mountain ranges. Politically, the King of Morocco, Mohammed VI, just called for a new constitution for Morocco where he would cede half of his authority to an elected prime minister.  The tumult in Tunisia and Libya felt far away. In fact, the Moroccans we talked with were burning mad at Libya, especially since the problems there have negatively impacted tourism in Morocco.

2.   Is Morocco exotic?

Answer:  Yes, it is.  It is vibrantly colorful in the way people dress and decorate their homes.  Deep purples, hot pinks, bloody oranges, yellows and reds, turquoises, blues and greens.  In the 8th century, the Muslim Caliphate brought Islamism and the advanced Arab culture to Morocco.  At the beginning of the 20th century, the French came to Morocco with selfish motives. However, the Moroccans eventually expelled the French—but a great deal of French influence mingles with the Arabic.  Morocco is NOT Europe. Even the shepherds in the fields watching their sheep wear colorful clothes and hats.

3.  What will Peter eat in Morocco?

Answer:  Good question.  We were always on the search for an international restaurant or a seafood grill, but they were not always an option.  The Tagine cuisine of Morocco features a large flat bowl of couscous, with stewed meat, either mutton or chicken, in the center covered with chickpeas and raisins. Carrots and turnips, in rather big pieces, are added to the couscous.  Just about anything tastes good if you have an ice cold beer to go with it and  you are hungry.  So we managed without ever having to stop at Mc Donald’s, AKA “American Embassy Ports.”

Peter thought every minute of our trip was fantastic because he is such an enthusiastic and adventuresome traveler.  There is always something to learn or see.  For example, many Americans have to go to Casablanca because of the Bogart “Casablanca” movie.  In reality, Casablanca is an industrial city in the midst of a lot of infrastructure repair.  We could have skipped this part of our itinerary.  We then spent a few days in Meknes, Fez and Rabat, Morocco’s capital city.

Peter dashed off to tour every mosque with our guide, Salim.  Often I checked into our hotel and spent time either at the pool or in the gardens, reading and writing. 

The gardens throughout Morocco are simply magnificent and I am newly dedicated to my gardens at home as a result.  The Prophet says, “If the end of the world happens while one of you is holding a palm tree that you are about to plant, do not get up before having planted it, if possible.”  This love of gardening informs the Moroccan culture in every way, everyday.  The olive and orange tree groves are marvelous.  The cypress and palm trees are dramatic.  The jasmine and honeysuckle are strategically placed for scent experiences.  The fountains and water features in EVERY garden are sensually cooling and provide such delicate and soothing music for your mind. Rose gardens abound.  The bougainvillea is outrageous in its splendor of orange, purple, pink, white and tri-color.  Garden design is an art and practiced supremely.

                     “Flowers speak a language.  To seek inspiration,

                     I study the rose and the jasmine bushes, the oranges,

                     the bamboos, and the figs.  But my favorite are the Datura.

                     The luminosity of these nightshades have always astonished

                     me.  They look translucent, as if shaped out of moonlight.  It

                     is here in my garden that I find peace.” 

                     from author Roy-Bhattacharya

And of course, the gardens bring the birds.  Wildlife in Morocco is mainly camels and sheep.  It is not a dog culture.  At home, people have cats as pets.  But the birds are amazing.  Their cheeps and chirps, cocks and whistles, trills and coos all add to the symphony of the garden experience.  Even the peacocks that toot, honk and screech, are easy to get accustomed to.

I could have indulged myself full-time in the gardens, but one excursion I did not miss during the first part of our trip was our tour through Volubilis, ruins of an ancient Roman city, built contemporaneously with Pompeii.  Rome had a loose hold on this area of the world from about 150 BC to 400 A.D. The detailed floor mosaics alone were worth this warm afternoon’s visit to the countryside and location of this lost and abandoned important town.

In Fez, our guide walked us through our first souk.  We do not think we would have found our way out if we had gone into the souk by ourselves.  This market area has been in continuous operation for 12 centuries and the streets are about 8 feet wide.  Except for a motorbike, machines cannot fit.  Donkeys provide the main form of delivery systems.  Anything that you need is available from a pair of shoes to underpants, to material for your wedding dress to black olives, from bottles of rose water to silver earrings; from nougat candy to a steamed sheep’s head (I am not kidding).  Choose a white feathered chicken for dinner and the butcher slits its throat and drains its blood while you stand at his small counter.  Behind closed doors, work weavers, tanners, herbalists, jewelers, wood carvers,  tailors, any occupation you can think of.  It is a beehive of activity 15 hours a day.

I loved Marrakech.  We spent three full days at the end of our trip here.  It is an old imperial city, an oasis between the desert and the mountains.  It reminded Peter and me very much of California’s Palm Desert.  The air, the light, the snow capped Atlas mountains in the distance, the ubiquitous palms swaying in the breeze, the crimson, rust and vermilion flowers, as well as international restaurants, made this the highlight of Morocco for us.   

One area of Marrakech which all the guidebooks insist is a must-do, is Jemaa Square.  During the day, this square bustles with activity, juice vendors (fresh orange juice is the preferred Moroccan beverage), henna artists, water carriers, shoppers, horse carriages and restaurants along the perimeter.  The square is the entry point to the major market of Marrakech and therefore attracts into itself thousands of people each day.  It is full of life—but it is in the evening, after sundown, when the square alters character.  It is then that the snake charmers, the faith healers, the belly dancers, acrobats, the glass eaters, the storytellers, the pet monkeys with their masters, the drummers and other musicians, as well as the lantern carriers, all come out.  In some ways it is a bit scary because there are so many people, mostly locals. The crowd becomes its own energy, spontaneous and dangerous.  You need to be confident being there at night—and you need to leave well before 10pm.

We had a sensational Moroccan vacation.  Are there aspects to this kind of Islamic culture that we did not see or just get a bare glimpse of? Of course.  But one important shared value, no matter your origins, is that parents want the best for their children—whatever that can be.  I can conclude by saying that I am so happy that British Air added Marrakech to their direct flight schedule out of London.  I know I will be back in London.  I just might be back in Marrakech some day.

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