Colors, cuisines and culture: the beginning of a beautiful friendship

By Lisa Grossman and Jesse Katz

Protravel International note: Morocco is destined to beguile you with hustle and dazzle and soothe you with the serenity of the majestic Atlas Mountains. Be sure to leave spare luggage space for the amazing treasures you will discover and time for a private hammam massage. Book with a Luxury Travel Advisor such as Lisa or Jesse for peace of mind, expert first-hand advice and exclusive VIP perks you cannot get from the internet. We will take care of every detail.

Lisa Grossman: Taking your kids to Morocco

I recently spent a week traveling in Morocco with my family. Here are a few highlights from our journey, which included Marrakech, The Agafay Desert and the beach town of Essaouira.

Marrakech

We began our adventure in the city of Marrakech, which I highly recommend. Marrakech is a historic, lively city with thriving markets and the people are incredibly kind and giving. We were always met with smiles.

The Marrakech of the past, known for aggressive and pushy salespeople, is no more. If you believe you would be intimidated or feel at risk while in Marrakech, lose those inhibitions and take in the city to its fullest.

On the day following our arrival I pre-arranged a local guide (Moulay) to help us navigate the city. This was hands-down a GREAT decision and one you will not regret should you plan a trip to Marrakech. Moulay delivered far more than just a tour. Having grown up (literally) in the souk, he offered an inside perspective that an tourist could not understand otherwise.

We experienced the majesty of the city, the culture and the warmth of the people from a local perspective. We wandered with our guide through the most remote areas of the market, visiting merchants, restaurants, bath houses, craftsman and street buskers. The souk is bursting with locals attempting to make a living. If you give back the kindness you will capture a lot of memories that you might otherwise miss. It is not easy to fully describe our day, but we learned about the local government, the market culture, and how it has and has not changed over the decades. We learned details about the Muslim religion that we did not know. It was a magnificently broad and intimate education, not just about the market but about all things Moroccan. Again, if you don’t have that “local knowledge” you will miss most of the show.

In addition to our day in the souk, which was the highlight of Marrakech, other things to experience in Marrakech are: A Cooking Class at Maison Al Arabe — kids are welcome!; a Hamman at Maison Al Arabe; YSL Gardens; Bahia Palace; and Le Beldini Country Club.

Agafay Desert

From Marrakech, we headed out to the Agafay Desert, a roughly one-hour drive from Marrakesh. Some people chose to visit Agafy for a day trip, however we chose to do an overnight stay at a tented camp, which I strongly recommend. We were unfortunate to have a rare encounter with rainy weather but despite the rain, the stay was truly memorable. There are a few luxury tented camps in Agafay. We stayed at Scarebo. Another popular option is Inara Camp. We pre-reserved a family tent which was oversized had carpeted floors with a sitting area including a fireplace (!), sleeping area and a bathroom with a hot water shower and toilet. You are not cramped for space and the beds and linens were very luxurious.

Included in the nightly rate for the tented camp is dinner. In the warmer seasons, dinner is served under the stars. However, due to the rain, our dinner was served under a candle-lit dining tent that offered a warm cozy vibe including a local musician/guitarist, which was lovely. It was a memorable evening and is one of the reasons to book a leisurely overnight stay in Agafay vs. the few hour round-trip.

We woke up to clear skies and the grandeur of the open desert with the snowcapped Atlas Mountains in the distance. After breakfast and a bit of hiking in the rocky dunes we were off on a two-hour quad/dune buggy tour where we got up close and personal with local sheep herders, some small towns and a lot of vast bone-dry earth. The scenery is spectacular and if you have kids, they will definitely enjoy the dune buggy adventure! Other activities include camel rides, star gazing, hiking and just simply relaxing. I highly recommend this side trip for one night (you don’t need a second) if you are in Marrakesh.

Essaouira

Essaouira is roughly a 2.5 hour drive due west from Marrakesh and is located on the Atlantic Ocean. Like Marrakesh, the town is centered around the old walled city (Medina) where you will find tons of shopping and food. There are many great little streets with cool shops and restaurants. It takes a bit of research to find the great spots, but the adventure is fun, and the experience is worth it.

While there, we did a day in the Medina and a day at the beach where my son took surf lessons while we chilled. There are horses, camels and dune buggies to ride at the beach. The beach eateries are very much beach-side experiences. You won’t find white table clothes here, but the service and food are both very good which, combined with a bottle of white wine, makes for a great afternoon.

The town is amazing, and if you visit during warmer months and enjoy the beach it might be worth two or more days. A couple of recommendations: Taros Café Rooftop for sunset drinks and dinner at La Table by Madada (a must).

My family and I loved Marrakesh on so many levels. We toured gardens, parks, museums, the city streets, the old city, the desert, the beach and never tired of the sights, sounds and smells. There are donkeys on the highways being passed by Range Rovers next to an entire family crammed onto one single motor bike!

Contact me if you’d like to book a family, group or couples adventure like this!

Two Hotel Reviews

THE ROYAL MONSOUR

This property represents great value by relative standards. The accommodations are massive, multi-room suites with pools and large entry courtyards. The Kingdom of Morocco developed and owns the property about eight years ago. It is located just inside the medina. The King commissioned all the best old-world artisans to craft every detail of the property and did a stunning job of replicating old world hospitality with all the modern conveniences.

The staff-to-guest ratio is enormous, and I doubt many properties have similar horsepower running the joint. What is so interesting is that all of the staff move about the resort through a series of behind-the-scenes underground corridors and tunnels so they are rarely seen, but definitely felt.

The swimming pools, spa and restaurants are off the charts on virtually all fronts. I would go so far as to say if you are an ultra-hotel enthusiast, it is worth a trip to Marrakesh just to take it in. We toured the property, including the massive gardens, and had lunch by one of the pools after seeing a couple rooms and much of the common space. The food on offer was diverse and marvelous and the service and décor were as good as it gets. Just to give you a sense for the cuisine, menus varied from traditional Moroccan tagine to sushi to burgers and pasta. And the deserts would make any French pastry chef beg for baking tips.

FOUR SEASONS MARRAKECH

The property is located about 10 minutes to the and about 15 minutes from the airport. The hotel has a traditional Moroccan style with all the modern amenities. There are two very nice restaurants, a family pool and an adult-only pool, teen club, kids club, a great gym, tennis courts and a luxurious spa. It’s a great oasis from the hustle and bustle of being in the medina and a place you can enjoy some sun and relaxation in between seeing the sights of this marvelous old city. The service is excellent and it’s a great option when traveling with kids.

When to visit Morocco

Perhaps Morocco’s greatest festival take place in Fes in June; the Fes Festival of World Sacred Music. In terms of weather, Morocco can be stifling hot in summer and stingingly cold in winter, with lovely, warm, blue-sky days in between. During Ramadan, many restaurants close during the day.

Jesse Katz: Jewish Heritage in Morocco

Jewish people have a long history in Morocco, and as I explored Morocco, I explored many Jewish cultural sites along with everything else this exotic country has to offer.

View of Hassan II Mosque gate, Casablanca, Morocco, Africa

My trip started in Casablanca, where I toured the impressive Mosque Hassan II. Completed in 1993, it is one of the largest mosques in the world, and one of the few in Morocco open to non-Muslims. Its iconic, meticulously hand-carved 60-story minaret is topped by a laser that points towards Mecca and it sits on a rocky outcropping by the sea.

Jewish offering box, synagogue detail, Jewish heritage travel, Marrakech, Morocco, Africa

Casablanca is also home to the only Jewish museum in a Muslim country, the Museum of Moroccan Judaism. It offers a great introduction to the fascinating history of the Jews in Morocco, where they once lived in walled mellahs, or Jewish quarters.

My next stop was Fes, a center of scholarship and trade for over 1,200 years. Its Jewish community dates back more than 2,000 years and the famous medieval Jewish scholar Maimonides called the city home. Its medina, or market, is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and a great place to take in the scents and rhythms of Morocco’s cultural capital.

One of the highlights of my trip was a stay at Kasbah Tamadot, Richard Branson’s retreat in the High Atlas Mountains, where I took a guided hike through the mountains and enjoyed a Moroccan massage in the hammam.

About 40 minutes away by car in Ourika Valley, I visited the five-hundred-year-old Tomb of Tzaddik Rabbi Shlomo Ben Lhans Hansey. Rabbi Shlomo is said to have traveled to Morocco from the Holy Land and performed miracles, and his tomb is the object of an annual pilgrimage for Jews of Moroccan descent from all over the world.

My last stop was Marrakech, rightfully known for its stunning Moorish architecture. Here I stayed at Villa des Orangers, a Relais & Chateaux inn. Located within the old city walls, the inn is built around a series of courtyards. From here, I took a day trip that included a camel trek through the Desert d’Agafay and a traditional dinner in a Berber tent.

Since my trip, I have sent a number of clients to Morocco, including a family interested in Jewish heritage. Whether you are drawn to Morocco by a specific interest or simply want to experience its exotic culture, I would love to put my contacts and experience to work to ensure you experience the best it has to offer.

View of Royal Mansour luxury hotel in Marrakech, Morocco

Royal Mansour

Rue Abou Abbas El Sebti, 40000, Marrakech, Morocco

  • Complimentary Continental breakfast for two daily (in room)
  • High-Speed/Enhanced Wi-Fi
  • Early check-in upon availability
  • Late check-out upon availability
  • Property will offer upgrade upon availability at time of check-in
  • 100 USD Spa credit
Kasbah Tamadot Hotel in Marrakech, Morocco, luxury hotel

Kasbah Tamadot

BP 67, 42150 ASNI, Marrakech, Morocco

  • 1000 DHMS Gift Shop, Spa or Food & Beverage credit
  • Complimentary daily full breakfast for two
  • Early check-in upon availability
  • Late check-out upon availability
  • Property will offer upgrade upon availability at time of check-in
  • Complimentary Wi-Fi
View of Mandarin Oriental luxury hotel in Marrakech, Morocco

Mandarin Oriental Marrakech

Route du Golf Royal, Marrakech, Morocco

  • 100 USD Food & Beverage credit; 1/2 bottle port wine
  • Complimentary round-trip private airport transfers to/from RAK airport
  • Complimentary Fast-track airport service
  • Complimentary Buffet breakfast for two daily
  • Early check-in upon availability
  • Late check-out upon availability
  • Property will offer upgrade upon availability at time of check-in
  • Basic Wi-Fi

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