As much as I love the build up to Christmas and using the cold weather as an excuse to snuggle up in front of Netflix with a mug of hot chocolate, come January, I’m over all of that and really crave blue skies and bright sunshine.
I was therefore super excited when I received an email from BA telling me I had Avios points that needed using up by the end of the month or they would be lost forever. Anyone who knows me well, knows that I hate waste and love an offer, so I knew immediately I had to book something sharpish.
Having received the text below from Mama H when I’d been on a work trip last year, I knew there was only one person I wanted to take with me. So a hop, skip and a week later we found ourselves touching down on the runway in Marrakesh and instantly engulfed by that much longed for heat!
After a somewhat nerve-wracking taxi journey through the crazy rush hour traffic of camels, donkeys, mopeds and local buses we tumbled out of our taxi, where I had been gripping on for dear life to the door which was literally hanging off its hinges, and into the calm oasis of our hotel. Many tourists stay right in the centre of Marrakesh in traditional riads, but after much research I’d been told we were best to stay a little further out of the hullabaloo and I’m so glad we did.
On checking in the cheerful staff made a fuss of us pouring Morocco’s default drink – sugary mint tea – from a great height whilst offering us traditional freshly baked treats. Once we had dumped our bags off to the pool we ran to enjoy the last of the afternoons rays before a hearty lamb and apricot tagine for dinner and a good night sleep on the fluffiest pillows I’ve ever snuggled into, weary from the excitement of all the travel.
It was wonderful waking up to see sunshine peeking over the Atlas Mountains and through our blinds, it was the perfect start to our day. Once we had devoured another national staple of Moroccan eggs for breakfast we excitedly headed to the Medina in the centre of the city.
This ancient Medina (or souk as it is sometimes referred) is a winding maze of a market, hidden in cobbled streets, back alleys, sun soaked squares and dusty tunnels, it’s the stuff of Aladdin type fairy tales.
Within its belly it hides everything and anything you can possibly imagine a market to sell – food, flowers, home-wear, clothes, jewelry, cats, rats, dogs, frogs, soaps, perfumes, rugs, rare animals (dead or alive), baskets, scarves, cameras, phones, mirrors the size of walls, gold, silver, frankincense, myrrh and even teeth. Yes that’s right pick your gnashers up here!
It’s easy to walk around in here for hours and lose track of time as well as your bearings but that’s all part of the fun. Those moments of not knowing where we were (I’m not exactly known for my map reading skills but when Mama H uses cats and people as landmarks you can imagine the muddle we got into!) made it all feel like a bit of an adventurous expedition as with each turn we came across some new exotic artisan quarter. There were so many beautiful things to see and street life to take photos of, I got very snap happy.
For women travelling alone you do get quite a lot of hassle with men staring at you and making some pretty cheeky comments which can be a little intimidating but if you smile and laugh at their jokes you will soon realise that their comments are all made in jest.
It gets hotter than hell in the Medina so it was great to escape the bustle and return to our hotel for a walk in the grounds and a soak in the pool, before getting spruced up and packing an overnight bag for the utterly magical night which lay ahead. (I told you Little Me – the curls are still there…)
Mama H and I boarded the hotel bus with a little trepidation as we weren’t entirely sure what I had signed us up to when I’d arrived and got giddy about the idea of a trip to the desert, but we soon realised there was no need to fear a thing. 45 minutes outside of Marrakesh lay our home for the night – Camp Scarabeo!
The camp was truly beautiful and as darkness fell it became illuminated with hundreds of oil lamps, candles and an enormous camp fire. I felt like an Arabian Princess sat around the amazing camp, watching the stars come out to join the full moon and with no light pollution to block the view, we had a front row seat to the whole galaxy. After a glass or two of wine we were called to supper. We sat in a candlelit tent with our fellow campers and feasted on yet another tagine cooked by a local village woman and served by the loveliest waiting staff while local musicians played in the background.
Full and happy we retreated to our tent, blew out the candles and fell quickly into another deep, soundless sleep, in the perfect silence of the camp.
Waking up under a canvas in the middle of this Moroccan desert was a pretty incredible experience (I did warn you I got snap happy on this trip!).
After a relaxing day soaking up the rays, playing cards, having a whizz around on a quad bike, reading and setting the world to rights, we begrudgingly hopped back on the bus and absorbed the breathtaking panoramas of the region as we moved from the barren desert, through the bustle of the city and back to our hotel.
That night we decided to head back into the Medina as we’d heard it had a very different vibe come sunset and it certainly didn’t disappoint! The energy of Jemaa el-Fnaa (the main square) was really something else, with heaps of food stalls popping up as the darkness descends and a lot of noisy chatter from the hungry crowds of locals, creating an air of excitement at what the night may have in store for all.
I’d like to say we were brave enough to try the sheep brains, cows testicles or any of the other wild and wacky dishes that boiled away in the steaming cauldrons, but we weren’t, so Mama H and I wimped out and headed to a roof top restaurant with a view of the swarming square below.
Why is it that so many cities still have these main squares where people meet each evening yet in the UK we have lost them all? We seem to have abandoned the big squares of London, and handed them over to the tourists, which is such a pity as the likes of Facebook and Twitter will never provide this type of community for us. I love that people still take an evening stroll to these meeting points where gossip is shared, partners meet and friendships blossom. There’s something just wonderful about the buzz.
As the final Call to Prayer sung out, we finished our mint tea and made our way back to the hotel and off to bed, full of happy memories to take home with us in the morning.
I’m so glad I got to share this experience with Mama H. I don’t really know when or how it happened, but at some point over the last few years she has become a best friend as well as a mother to me and our time together here is something I will never forget.
Morocco really is like another world and with many direct flights each day, it’s incredibly easy to get to so if the opportunity comes up, I thoroughly recommend you go and experience it for yourself.