Surprising Morocco: holiday winners tell us about their trip
By Claire and Sarah Boorman
, Responsible Travel holiday winners.
As part of our regular Win a Holiday competition, this great Morocco holiday was offered as the prize. The lucky winner was Claire Boorman who took this trip with her sister Sarah. Claire and Sarah have very thoughtfully written to tell us and you all about their holiday in Morocco and share their photos.
Like most people would be, I was sceptical when I received an email from Responsible Travel saying I had won a holiday. For a start I never win anything! And secondly there is generally always a catch. I contacted the company supplying the holiday and after confirming a few things I began to realise that perhaps I am just too much of a pessimist. It was at this point I straightaway contacted my sister and tell her she would be Cinderella and go on holiday this year!
Even having confirmed everything I still retained the feeling that there would be a catch somewhere and so tried to keep calm about the whole thing. Mean while Sarah (my sister) had virtually learnt the trip dossier off by heart. Then before we knew it we were at the airport waiting for the flight to Morocco! Both of us had concerns; mine where due to the few snippets I had read in guidebooks about the attitudes of Moroccan men to women. Sarah meanwhile was more concerned with the hours of walking we had ahead of us in the High Atlas Mountains. As it happened neither of us should have had any worries! Our nerves were not settled by the flight on what appeared to be an 80s airplane.
Then as we came into land in Marrakech we both looked at each other and Sarah said what we were both thinking ‘what have we got ourselves into?’. There appeared to be nothing apart from sand and dust everywhere. I tried my best to steady both our nerves by claiming “it’ll be a great adventure”. Once off the plane and in the loveliest little airport I’ve ever been in all concerns began to fade, and were all quickly eliminated when we found our tour guide.
Day 1: Marrakech
Having made introductions with the rest of the tour group at the airport we all decided to spend the first evening, which was "free time", together. I don't know about anyone else but Sarah and me definitely breathed a sigh of relief. We all walked and talked the 30 minute walk from our hotel to the Djemaa el-Fna (open-air central square), easily identified by the sky piercing mosque La Koutoubia. This was the point at which the amazing atmosphere grabbed me and never left until I was back home, it was also my first of many tagines! None of the subsequent tagines were quite like this first one, sitting on a balcony over a heaving market place full of music, lights, colour and amazing smells that was just so exotic, enthralling and intoxicating. I felt like a child that had just found a secret place. Sitting there overseeing all the activity I found it hard to believe I was just a four-hour flight from the UK.
Day 2: Tour of Marrakech
Today we all headed to the Djemaa el-Fna, first going to the mosque (La Koutoubia) that is visible from most of Marrakech and makes a good reference point if you get lost! We then headed through the market and souks soaking up more of the atmosphere. We had a short visit to a pharmacy where all the products were made from herbs and oils. Each of us had a go at a few testers and smelled almost everything in the shop. From here we proceeded to the small but very beautiful Musee de Marrakech and Madrasa Ben Youssef. Both buildings not only introduced us more to the Moroccan culture but also the amazing architecture and decoration of traditional Moroccan buildings. I was in awe of the beauty and found it hard to imagine how much time and patience it all took to create. By now we had reached lunchtime and so headed back to Djemaa el-Fna where the music was loud and bewitching and the snake charmers were out.
Once again we were left to our own devices and most of us decided to stay together and get lunch while we decided what to do next. After a long lunch and a never-ending bowl of couscous, we decided to try and find Jardin Majorelle. Jardin Majorelle is a garden containing a wonderful collection of plants with small sections established by Yves Saint Laurent and Pierre Bergé. It is an amazing garden and the café does really lovely ice creams and mixed sorbet. We definitely earned our desserts! And like tourists we got lost! But a young Moroccan boy came to our rescue and walked us all the way there, where we gave him some money as a thank you (we were a long way off track!). I have to say though it was worth the long walk in the intense August heat. Once we had relaxed in this serene garden and refreshed ourselves we walked the 15 minutes back to the hotel. In the evening our guide took us all to a Riad (Riad Omar) where we had a Moroccan feast sampling the most important traditional dishes (mint tea, tagine, Bastille, couscous etc). As we basked in the tent like structure on the top of the building eating the whole group decided that although Marrakech was amazing and the atmosphere was intoxicating it was time to escape to the country and see the Atlas Mountains. Here again old concerns raised their heads as people started talking about energy gels and jelly babies for fuel on the hikes. Sarah and I looked at each other and wondered if perhaps we should have come more prepared! We just had our bags, water and cameras.
Day 3: Escape to the Mountains
This morning we all got up having wrestled with our bags the night before to try and fit everything back in them to take with us up the gîte. We bundled into a minivan and headed out of the city to the more tranquil mountains. We travelled with a few stops to Anmiter where we had lunch outside in another large tent like structure with lots of comfortable floor cushions and Moroccan rugs. During the lovely meal and mint tea we prepared ourselves for the one-hour walk in the heat to the gîte. This walk was uphill and during the hottest time of the day, but there were amazing views of mud houses and I was very much reminded of Star Wars and Luke Skywalker’s home. It wouldn’t have surprised me if sand people had popped out from round a corner to ambush us. It is an amazing place and so different that your imagination runs wild, its no wonder so many films have used the Atlas Mountains as their backdrop. On the walk we also learnt about the Berber culture we were going to be surrounded by. Eventually we reached our gîte, picked our rooms and beds, each room had either three or four mattresses and all our rooms encased a communal area, which we began to class as ours. It is where card games were taught and learnt, songs were sung and food devoured.
Day 4: Walk one
Today we started our first walk in the High Atlas Mountains; a planned six-hour loop walk out through Tizi’n’Ourghsan to a waterfall for lunch and then back along the Quarikt River. The start of the walk was all up hill and to Sarah’s and my relief no one was sprinting off ahead. Everyone grumbled about the constant gradient uphill, and so we were all pretty comfortable walking along together. The views were amazing as we were surrounded by mountain range overlapping mountain range in every direction. The land was much more barren than I had imaged it would be, but at the same time it had a raw charm. We were all amazed at our guide who seamed to be an unstoppable machine unaffected by gradient or heat. The waterfall although small was so refreshing after a long uphill walk in the heat and most people took the chance to remove their boots and bathe their feet in the ice cold water. It was like a little miracle in the middle of the hot, barren, imposing land. After lunch we continued the walk but over predominately flat terrain back to the gîte, our guide scrumping fresh figs on the way, which once washed were delicious!
Day 5: Walk two
Having survived walk one we prepared for a shorter hike today just a four-hour loop around Mt. n’Oughlagal, this allowed us to see the village clearly. I found it amazing how in the middle of these mountains there appeared to be dense areas of green where crops grew. After tackling our peak for the day we returned to the gîte for a rest, and lunch before later having a walk around the village. During this tour we saw the school that the company running the tour had helped build and maintain, and were able to see how by us being in the village we provide jobs that enable some Berber men to remain in the village with their families for longer, as usually they go off to the city to earn money and only come back home for visits. The Berbers were wonderful people; all of them were so friendly and inviting.
Day 6: The dreaded last long walk!
Since arriving at the gîte everyone had been be building up to this day, a 10 hour walk to Lake Tamda and back, over 20 miles. We started early morning so as to avoid the heat and began our ascent through the mountains. There was no doubt in anyone’s mind that this was the hardest walk with a lot of uphill, each peak and corner bringing the promise that the lake was just over/around it. When we all eventually glanced the lake it was with pure joy and a bit of relief. On the way back the walk was a lot faster and it wasn’t until now that we realised the walk to the Lake had been on a constant uphill gradient. The return journey was therefore much more enjoyable. Once we reached the gîte we were all very tired and surprised to find our little area invaded by another group. Having showered and recovered from the invasion we tiredly stole back our group area and enjoyed a lovely dinner and music from some of the staff at the gîte. We had a bit of a dance and tried to sing some English songs, which didn’t seam to impress but we tried nonetheless. To top it off our last night at the gîte, the majority of the group decided to sleep upstairs under the stars on the terrace. With sleeping bags at the ready and torches we all headed up there and fell a sleep under an astonishingly bright moon and with Berber song and music in the distance (we were later told it was a bride celebrating her marriage in the village), with occasional donkey noises. It was just a perfect way to finish off our Atlas adventure.
Day 7: Back to Marrakech
After a lovely night out under the Moroccan sky we prepared for our hour walk back to the minivan pick up. From there we went to visit a kasbah at Telouet, which was historically occupied by a clan that did terrible things. Consequently the locals are allowing the kasbah to fall into disrepair as it is a reminder of a terrible time. Although understandable the areas within the kasbah where it was safe to go were amazing, coated in elegant traditional Moroccan décor. It was then time to return to Marrakech for a last walk round the souks and Djemaa el-Fna, our last dinner and packing for our early flight home in the morning.
I owe a big thank you to Responsible Travel for this holiday. I would never have thought of going to Morocco and neither Sarah nor I are big walkers but this holiday was fantastic. We were with an amazing group of people and have achieved things we never thought we were capable of. I am glad I got see what Morocco was like for myself; the astounding atmosphere, wonderful people and breathtaking mountains. It was really good to see both city and country. The walking may have been hard but both Sarah and I thoroughly enjoyed the holiday and would do one like it again in a flash!
Find out more about our Atlas Panorama holiday
that Claire and Sarah won.
Inspired to travel to Morocco? Take a look at all our Morocco holidays
, or get more ideas in our Morocco travel guide