A record of the NADFAS trip in April 2010 to "Magical and Mystical Morocco" by Valerie Anderson
"A KILOMETRE TOO FAR" -
so said my aching feet on our last day walking through the Souk. Our young leader, totally revived by a visit to a hamam, with massage, was striding out in front with our Guide intent on getting us to our next interesting destination and bringing us up to date on the fascinating history inherited from the Berbers, the Arabs, and many others who had come and gone before.
When we arrived at Málaga Airport we entered a "ghost town" - the only flight out was Air Andalus bound for Marrakech - all other major airlines had been grounded because of the Icelandic volcano. Our Group (28) meandered leisurely through Security, vast empty spaces, cafes and shopping malls - then a long walk to our Departure Lounge, the inevitable delay waiting for our aircraft to return from Marrakech, and we were airborne for our exotic destination.
Riad Ifoulki, our "home" for the next five days, was a delightful surprise. One of the oldest houses in the Medina rambling through five shady, green courtyards the house remains a perfect example of Islamic inner-sanctum, and feels utterly authentic. The rooms varied, but most had four-poster beds, carved Moroccan furniture, brass lamps, and many had their own private patio. Peter, our host, was charming and always available, a loquacious gentleman with a fund of knowledge about Morocco.
A quick "brush up" and we were off for a walk through the narrow, crowded streets of the Souks stopping often to admire, or exclaim. We visited an Herbalist and were enthralled by the many uses of natural plant extracts. Back to the Riad for an interesting buffet dinner with entertainment by a group of Berber musicians and dancers.
Next day, after a lovely breakfast in the main courtyard, we walked to the 19th Century
El Bahia Palace, built for the Grand Viziers and their many wives and concubines, rambling through a dazzling series of reception halls with their great panelled Moorish ceilings of carved, painted and gilded wood. A visit to a carpet emporium, and fresh mint tea, then lunch at Restaurant Foucauld.
After lunch a ride in a caleche (horse drawn carriage), feet resting comfortably, was the hightlight of the day. We visited the Saadian Tombs, a 16th Century necropolis for the Saadian princes, a beautiful, tranquil quadrangle with three separate open mausoleums with intricate carved entrances, and the gardens a very peaceful resting place.
Back to the caleches and a drive around the ramparts, built in the 12th Century, with ten monumental gates, the Medina within the walls is a World Heritage Site. The Koutoubia Mosque in the distance was built in the 12th Century - the Minaret was the model for the Giralda in Seville.
The Majorelle Garden, created by two French artists and owned up until his recent death by the couturier, Yves St Laurent (who was born in Algeria) is an immaculately manicured walled garden full of pavilions, paths, and a lush botanical collection, especially cacti. Painted a bright Mediterranean blue, the Majorelles' old studio has been converted into a small museum which houses a collection of Maghrebi decorative art, carpets, ceramics, textiles, woodwork and jewellery as well as a gallery filled with the Majorelles' original canvases.
We returned to the La Koutoubia gardens, walked through the main square, Place Djemaa el Fna, a historically protected area where crowds of tumblers, storytellers, snake charmers, soothsayers and performers of every kind, gather by day; at night the food stalls move in making the square famous for continuous day and night life - a truly magical sight. Back to the Riad and a quick change for our evening at Chez Ali (Fantasia). Impressive surroundings with dinner in large tents attended by groups of singers and dancers. The pageant after dinner was entertaining especially the display of superb horsemanship.
Early start and long drive to Ouarzazate in the high Atlas Mountains, interesting journey over winding roads, very green valleys with Berber houses tucked into mountainside, up over the Pass and a stop for lunch in the village of Ait-Benhaddou. The fortified village has been classified by UNESCO as one of the World's cultural treasures. It is studded with crenellated towers. Perched above the strategic meeting points of the Mellah and Ounila rivers both provide possible approaches to the Glaoui stronghold of Telouet Kasbah. A large orchard surrounded by mud walls leads to the Kasbah which itself is built entirely by hand crafted mud bricks. You are free to meander through the narrow streets and the small community within are welcoming and very tolerant of visitors. On our way back down the mountain we made a brief stop to visit an oil factory. Argan oil, extracted from the nut of a particular tree, is used for cooking, and is also used in the making of perfumed soaps and various cosmetics. Apparently, the undigested nuts have first to be "teased" out of dried goat's droppings! - the nuts are their favourite food.
Early morning breakfast in the main courtyard - every request catered for by the smiling staff. This day walking through the souks, inevitably passing through one of the many beautiful decorative arches which took us in and out of the ramparts, we arrived at the Ben Youssef Medersa founded in the 14th Century as part of an educational programme that established Koranic colleges in several cities. The open courtyard is a great interior space of peace and silence. The architecture and decoration is a blend of mosaic, marble and cedar wood, influenced by the styles of Moorish Spain. Upstairs the students' rooms are arranged around internal lightwells, their sparse dignity enlivened by the elaborate details of the carved wood balconies. Students were allowed to lodge here for six years whilst they memorised the Koran. The Marrakech Museum, housed in a girls' school, a beautiful building recently renovated, displayed works of art both old and new.
A short break for a lovely cup of coffee and cake and a visit to the Almoravid Koubba which stands below ground level in an excavated area, the only Almoravid building to survive intact and its style is the root of all Moroccan architecture. Through the souks to the wool dyers and a brief stop for shopping then back to the Riad for a short rest.
On the move again we walked to the Art de Vivre Oriental in Mellah in the heart of the spice market where, in the old days, caravans would arrive with spices, beautiful fabrics and pearls from the Orient. This beautifully renovated building consisted of many craft shops and a lovely restaurant where a light lunch was prepared for us by our Host Peter and his many helpers. Alas, that was when my feet really started to rebel and a taxi was negotiated back to the Riad.
The Farewell Dinner at Restaurant Ksar Essaoussan was a Moroccan delight, a beautiful building tucked away through an impressive arch - the food truly special.
Time to go home - a restful morning (bathing and pampering the feet!), and packing up, we departed for the airport at midday for our flight back to Málaga. Our final journey back to Nerja by coach, and with cheerful farewells we were back to reality.