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A Different Perspective: Experiencing the Splendors of Morocco

- by Leslie Elliott

Posted May 29, 2014

When I was a child, I thought of Morocco as a mysterious country far, far away — a land of deserts and mountains, exotic marketplaces and magnificent palaces. Traveling on the Splendors of Morocco, a Cox & Kings Escorted Discovery Group Journey, proved that my dreams of Morocco had not been exaggerated. In fact, this diverse country had even more wonders in store.

We started our journey in Casablanca where we met Hamadi, who would be our guide for the remainder of the trip. He was dressed in a traditional Moroccan djellaba (a long, loose, hooded garment with full sleeves), a red cap and soft leather slippers with no heel. As we drove toward our hotel, he told us that Casablanca, which was made famous by the 1942 movie starring Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman, is now a rapidly growing city with a population of nearly four million.

We woke up early the next morning to visit the Hassan II mosque, which is the largest in the world after those at Mecca and Medina. The mosque is a beautiful green color, located right next to the sea. Hamadi told us that the green color of the mosque signifies Islam and the blue of the sea signifies Christianity. After stopping at a Christian church, we explored a local market where they sell fresh herbs, fruit, meat and huile d’Argane, or Argan oil, an endemic plant-based oil that promises to make your skin glow.

We took a break to sip cappuccino and nibble on pastries at a seaside café before setting off on our journey to Rabat. Known as the White City, Rabat is the capital of Morocco and the part-time residence of the king. It’s also Hamadi’s hometown. Given his excellent local knowledge of the city, he took us to a lovely café for a tasty lunch of traditional Moroccan food.

After lunch, we strolled through the busy medina and then headed to the mausoleum where King Mohammed V and his two sons are entombed. Hamadi then took us to see the 17th-century Oudayas Kasbah, which was built by the first Almohad sultan who unified the country. The kasbah is home to some gorgeous Andalusian-style gardens and a profusion of daturas, oleanders, orange, lemon and banana trees.

Next, we headed over to Chellah Necropolis. The site served first as a thriving Roman port and city, known as Sala Colonia. From the main gate, we made our way along a diagonal path to a viewing platform overlooking the main Roman ruins, which date from 200 BC and include a forum, a temple and a craftsmen’s quarter. After visiting the ruins, we headed east to the Blue City of Fez.

We began our explorations of Fez the next morning in the modern part of the city, which is home to some attractive European architecture and a famous animal hospital opened by Woolworth heiress Barbara Hutton in 1927. After a brief city tour, we drove up the slope of a nearby mountain, granting us panoramic views of the city and the ancient walls, which were built beginning in the 8th century.

In the medina (or old walled city), we visited a shop to watch craftsmen created traditional tajines (earthenware cooking pots) and mosaics. After lunch, we strolled through the medina’s twisting alleyways with our expert guide who made sure we didn’t get lost. Along the way, we stopped at workshops for leather, silk, and carpet weaving to learn about these traditional Moroccan arts.

The following morning, we made a short journey of 45 minutes to the Imperial City of Meknes, where we first stopped at the Imperial stables, which were once the home for 12,000 of the Sultan’s horses. Next, we went to Old Meknes and visited the Mausoleum of Moulay Ismail and saw the King’s golf course. After lunch in a local restaurant, we headed to the ruins of Volubulis, a partly excavated Roman city located between developed in the first century AD.

The next morning, we embarked on the six-hour drive to Marrakech, stopping along the way in the beautiful town of Ifrane, which resembled a traditional Swiss alpine village. That evening, we arrived in Marrakech, the cultural capital of south Morocco. I was so excited to finally see this legendary city, and it did not disappoint! We explored the bustling medina where we visited the souks, bartered for a lamp and bought some exquisite silk scarves.

Next we visited Jardin Majorelle, which Yves Saint Laurent and Pierre Bergé bought in 1980 and saved it from becoming an apartment complex. They decided to live in the Villa Bou Saf Saf, which they renamed Villa Oasis, and undertook the restoration of the garden in order to “make the Jardin Majorelle become the most beautiful garden – by respecting the vision of Jacques Majorelle.”

The garden covers nearly two and a half acres. Collections of cacti, exotic plants and trees are landscaped to emphasize the unique beauty of each one. The paths allowed us to see how the architectural style of the villa-studio, now transformed into a museum, is set off by vibrant colors.

That evening, my friend and I decided to venture out for dinner to a riad (a traditional Moroccan house or palace with an interior garden or courtyard). We settled on La Maison Arabe where we indulged in the chef’s tasting menu paired with wine as we sat in the lush gardens overlooking the pool. What a treat for our last evening in this incredible city!

The next morning, I packed up my bags and savored one last breakfast of fresh fruit and Moroccan bread before taking flight homeward, already envisioning my next journey to what the Arabs called “the farthest land of the setting sun.”

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