Cristian

Cristian

With a passion for travel and particularly Morocco, I own and manage Sun Trails.

IMG 3696Recommended not only to those that are fond of cooking or exotic cuisine but also as one of the best introductions to Marrakech and its old city's way of life, in a city where local reliable guides are getting harder to come by. An excellent alternative to a day trip outside Marrakech, this is escaping the city while never leaving it. You will interact with the locals, get your bearings and learn to navigate the old city’s streets. Prepare a tasty tagine, take the dessert to the local farnatchi ( oven) and learn how to find the real saffron, among other things. The experience is personal as groups rarely exceed 10- 12 persons and everyone gets to ask all the questions he/she wants. Gemma, the organizer, has lived in Morocco for 8 years, speaks Moroccan, English and French and is a well of information on such different topics as how to get rid of the djinns ( spirits) in your kitchen, the social importance of couscous or ecological agriculture in Morocco.  

DPP 29092932   At 10 AM we were met by Gemma in front of Café de France, on Jemaa El Fna. Gemma is Dutch, has lived in the Medina for the last 8 years and speaks some Moroccan, apart from French, English and Dutch.  The participants that day were: a Dutch couple, a Canadian lady, a teacher from England and her daughter and myself. We were then split into pairs and given each pair a shopping list, money and a shopping bag. And off we went, into the souks…
First stop was a little square just behind Jemaa El Fna. There, among food stalls and other sellers, the underground oven where the mechoui is stewed- it appears up to 40 lambs can be fitted inside the rather small looking oven. Shortly after we reached the olives and preserved vegetables section, where we purchased the tastiest black olives and preserved lemons. A few shops away, we got to see the different types of smmen (sort of local butter used mostly with preparing couscous but also preserving chicken). From  DPP 29092936
there we followed Gemma through the souks and down Semmarine to arrive on Place des Epices. Turned right and a crowded passage gave way to the old slave market where witchcraft accessories hang in front of shops, alongside skins of most exotic animals. After a few failed attempts at purchasing a kaftan (anyone sees the connection with the cooking here ?) , we got back to the spice market and into a herbalist shop. It took quite a while to be explained the virtues, names and 
 
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DPP 29092949   colors of  most spices and herbs around the shop ( and the world). Some of us got to smell and in some cases, taste them. We also got to know the difference between authentic and fake saffron. We learnt that nigella can cure almost any cold and fenugreek gives appetite. That is if anyone could lack an appetite while in Morocco… We bought the necessary amount of cumin, ginger, curcuma, paprika and cinnamon for our lunch. And then some. Always lingering on the edge of the souks

and past the carpet market, we made our way into the local fruit and vegetable market, a small square probably busier than the Jemaa El Fna itself. After some careful planning, we got our necessary of potatoes, tomatoes, courgettes, carrots and aubergines. Talk about farm- to- table...

Next stop, the local bread oven. ‘Bread’ doesn’t quite define it. Tangias make their way in quite regularly. Cookies, biscuits and other pastries as well. Most of the time though, the children drop the bread loafs of every family early in the morning on their way to school. Then they collect it at lunch time on their way home. At this time of day, the bread loafs were patiently waiting for their turn as the man in charge was adroitly handling a huge wood bread paddle. Once out of there, we still had the time to enjoy coffee and tea on a roof terrace before reaching the riad where the cooking class is being dispensed. Even up above the souks, one is prone to constant sensory overload, carpets hanging from the rooftops, the muezzin calling to prayer, the ocean of satellite dishes all pointing out in the same direction, the snow on top of the Atlas far in the distance. Down in the street again and a few derbs later, we were standing in front of the Riad’s main entrance. 

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Watch your head as you go through the doorstep, then through a passage way and out into the bright courtyard where all the necessary tools and boards were into place. We were helped by the two Moroccan ladies of the house. Each team was given a station with cutting board, knives, blender and all else we may need.  We initiated with the starters which consisted in a  variety of Moroccan salads and zaalouk ( a sort of tapenade made out of fresh tomatoes, crushed garlic, fresh coriander,
a few spices and fried mashed aubergines- make sure you try this at least once while in Morocco). Other stations prepared courgette salad, sweet carrot and cinnamon or mixed salad. In the meantime, the chermoula (dressing for the ‘boulettes de sardines’) was being prepared. A few small plates were filled with olives and amlou ( a paste made out of almonds and argan oil) so we can get an appetite going. The filleted fresh sardines were then chopped in the blender and mixed DPP 29092941 
DPP 29092942   with the dressing and turned by our very expert hands into balls before being placed directly in the pot where the tomato and olive oil sauce was already cooking through. Next to it, the side dish was a vegetable tagine made of carrots, green peppers, courgettes, potatoes, pumpkin, cauliflower, green beans and green peas. Ve-ge-te-rian heaven. Having placed the two tagines on the fire we followed with semolina and coconut biscuits. How can we leave the dessert out ? 
After rolling tablespoons of dough into small balls and placing them in the trays, the trays were then taken to the same local farnatchi we had visited in the morning. On returning to the Riad, we sat down at the table and started eating our salads, rose wine or water to quench our thirst. Gemma was always around helping with cooking,  giving advice, organizing the ladies and helping with serving lunch. She eventually joined us for lunch after the starters. We ended up  DPP 29092944  
DPP 29092950 congratulating each other on our work and how little it took to turn things bought at the local market into the tastiest of meals. By the time we had finished our starters, the tagines were ready and so we had the main course. The 'boulettes' were to die for. Eight people talking and having lunch tend to take their time so it was just perfect timing when everyone had finished their main course to step out and fetch our perfectly cooked coconut biscuits from the oven. 

We had them as desert together with the ubiquitous mint tea. The relaxed ambiance makes it very adequate for both those that are really interested in cooking and those that are just there to have fun. It was close to 4 PM when we left the Riad and that left us with still plenty of time to discover some of the other gems of Marrakech and roam around the souks. This time we had our bearing right… 

A big thank you to Gemma and everyone else involved. A video snippet of the course can be watched here.   

       
       
       
       
       
       
       
       

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You're looking to book a private tour around Morocco and wondering where you could pamper yourself and shed off the sand of the Sahara? Sharon Stone stayed here. And the Rolling Stones. Back in the day it was Winston Churchill's favorite hotel. There is harldy a more romantic site in Marrakech than these gardens when the afternoon turns to dusk, here, among the hundreds of well- manicured olive, lemon, pine and orange trees. In a way, being here, is like you have suddenly been sucked out from the white noise of the surrounding medina and its traffic madness and transported into an oasis without ever leaving the city.  Even the nearby Jemaa El Fna and its permanent tumult become abstract. It is 4 PM and the only unpleasant part is having to leave. It has been a splendid day here at La Mamounia, that included swimming in the outdoors pool, having a fabulous lunch and enjoying a massage in what has been voted the ‘Best spa in the world’ by Conde Nast Traveler magazine’s readers. 

{ Read: Honeymooning in Morocco }

DPP 290009 It had all started at 10 AM when I presented myself in front of the main entrance of the hotel- no sneakers, shorts or flip flops allowed here. Good, I wasn’t wearing any… After a brief check, I was shown to the entrance door. The doorbells by the entrance resembled more to extras in a fantasia show, before they mount their horses, start racing and shoot their rifles into the air. Their traditional cape and sarwel are impeccably ironed and clean.
Once through the door, it takes a while to get used to the obscurity inside. The very affable Guest Relations manager shows me the way to the Spa where one of the spa attendees delivers me a bathrobe, swimming shorts and sandals and shows me to the changing room. After fiddling around trying to understand how the digit lock of the cupboard works, I finally make my way to the pool outside, not before getting lost on the way a couple of times. Not that I would mind.  mamounia spa pool
mamounia indoors pool

The indoors pool seems to come out of a 1001 nights tale, with its golden columns, turquoise pool and intricate zellige. But it’s a sunny day outside and even if we’re in January, you can easily get your tan right around the vast heated outdoors pool. At this time of day, only a few guests are lounging around busy spraying their sun lotions and browsing magazines. 

{ Read: How to fly private from Marrakech to the Sahara dunes }

cocktail by the pool at la mamounia la mamounia pool view
To my relief, the waiters around the pool area are quite fluent in English so I don’t need to use my French or pretend I speak Italian. Half an hour later I’m enjoying a coffee and immersing myself into the relaxed ambiance. The square-shaped pool is inviting and maintained at a permanent 28 Celsius ( 82 Fahrenheit) temperature. Before long, it’s already noon and I have to head back to the 27000 square foot spa which is pretty much my idea of a tribute to a seraglio. I could go massage at la mamounia
for the 'Hammam Evasion' steam bath and body scrub where Shiseido and MarocMaroc luxury body line range is generously expensed. But I still prefer the social event which is visiting a local Marrakchi hammam with my Moroccan friends. So instead, I opt for the signature ‘Massage Mamounia’. After a succession of obscure rooms and passage ways, I am introduced to a room where the dim light is just right and the music subtle. I mamounia spa reception mamounia jacuzzi
riad at la mamounia swear I could never make my way back by myself out of here. Hassan, my masseur, starts working his magic, not before asking me if the hand’s pressure is right. His less than excellent mastering of English is compensated by identifying every muscle in my body and putting it right into its place. After all, this is what I really care about. Back to the changing room, I am now headed to the Italian restaurant.
No sign of pizza on the menu here. Don Alfonso is a Michelin chef and the menu is imaginative to say the least. To start with, I am confronted with a choice of four different Italian bread types, that come with a little bowl of locally sourced olive oil. After the gnocchi and their cherry tomato crust, the lamb chops and their mustard sauce must be the most tender I’ve ever had. For desert, I decide to avoid the ubiquitous tiramisu   la mamounia french restaurant
italian bar at la mamounia and settle for chocolate cake and Sicily – pistachio ice cream – quite the right marriage. The waiters are wearing impeccable aubergine uniforms and their service is professional yet not stiff. This must be among the best restaurants in Marrakech, and there are a few.  I had so far I resist the temptation of another coffee and whisk off to the gardens, the major attraction of this place. Twice the size of Majorelle Gardens bar the tourist buses, they resemble closely to the Alcazar gardens in Seville. Then again, you could argue, the two cities share common past, the glorious 12th century.
The story of the Mamounia begins though much later, in the 18th century with the Alaouite Sultan Sidi Mohamed Ben Abdallah, who used to offer a domain as a wedding gift to each of his sons. Thus the four names- Abdessalam, Mamoun, Moussa, and Hassan became the eponymous gardens they received from their father. These arsats ( gardens) still exist nowadays but only Arsat Al Mamoun thad shopping patio at la mamounia moroccan restaurant at la mamounia
belonged to prince Mamoun became famous and inspired the name of La Mamounia. It is said that the latter was used as a place of celebration for the nzaha ( a kind of garden party held by the wealthy, popular throughout Morocco at the time). The magnificence of this legacy enchants the present visitor both with its 20 acres ( 8 hectars) of gardens and its particular flora. Two centuries later, within 37 acres ( 15 hectars) grounds, the hotel opens its doors gardens of la mamounia

and soon achieves international fame. Throughout the years, the hotel was never able to accommodate all the customers who desired to lodge here. Until the late 30s, the hotel housed fifty rooms, it was then enlarged in 1946 to reach a hundred units and refurbished successively in 1950, 1953, 1986 and finally in 2006 to reopen 29 September 2009 with 210 rooms and suites. Before the Second World War, Europeans and Americans were bringing their furniture for their long stays and each of them refurbished the apartments according to their taste and habits.

{ Read: House of Dreams, romance and opulence between Marrakech and the Sahara}

We still speak wistfully of the time when men put on their tuxedos and where the ladies covered with in exquisite jewelry, wore long evening dresses. Winston Churchill had established his winter quarters at the hotel. He used to go from balcony to balcony to watch the sun trying to better capture and reproduce the colors on his canvases. He also told Franklin Roosevelt about Marrakech in 1943: "This is one of the most beautiful places in the world," and invited the American president to discover it for himself. It is also said that General de Gaulle also spent a night once and the hotel manager was forced to have a special bed made for the rather tall French man. Over the years, the reputation of La Mamounia attracted the attention of French and American filmmakers. Alfred Hitchcock reputedly filmed here ‘The man who knew too much’. The Rolling Stones stayed in 1968. Other guests included Jean Paul Gaulthier, Nelson Mandela, Tom Cruise or Elton John.

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Back to present, I’m currently walking past the hotel’s gate and five minutes later I embrace the anarchy, as someone eloquently once put it,  as I walk on the Jemaa El Fna square. It's evening now and the place is bustling with acrobats, story tellers, witch doctors, musicians, food stalls, henna tattoo artists and the occasional charlatan. And then, behind me, La Grande Dame with its turn- of- the- century grandeur and reserved demeanor, reminding me once again that Morocco is a land of contrasts. 

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Sun Trails is proud to exclusively offer a day pass to the most iconic hotel in Marrakech. Holders of the pass will be able to enjoy the stunning facilities of the hotel, whether that is taking a dip into the indoor or outdoor swimming pool, playing a game of tennis, working out in the fitness pavilion or simply fall in love again in one of Morocco’s most romantic gardens.

The pass also includes the difficult choice between a luxurious ‘Hammam Evasion’ steam bath and body scrub treatment or the signature ‘Massage Mamounia’, each comprising one hour of unadulterated relaxation. To conclude, the pass also includes a a la carte lunch at either ‘Le Francais par Jean Pierre Vigato’ or ‘L’Italien par Don Alfonso’, both Michelin star restaurants. 

A day pass at La Mamounia is offered as an optional extra when booking one of our private tours of Morocco.You can also read our article on other things to do in Marrakech

Interested in other luxurious or unique experiences around Morocco ? Flying out to the Sahara dunes in a 3 seater plane to have lunch or spend the night in a luxury tent ? A private villa at Richard Branson's Atlas mountains retreat ? Drop us an email at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

 

Wednesday, 27 November 2013 00:00

Azalai Desert Lodge, Zagora

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In the shade of the eucalyptus, I am just about to finish my lunch with a fresh mellon- infused home made ice- cream and a glass of what the owner of the house calls a 'citronnade': a freshly squeezed lemon juice mixed with mint, sugar and lots of water, served frozen. Nothing more refreshing given the outside temperatures as September is still lingering about. Yet nothing more uncommon within this palmgrove, a world unto its own- 300 km south of Marrakech, where the usual desert is dates and mint tea. I can't decide whether to go for an afternoon nap or take a plunge in the inviting pool. Set in the middle of what some say to be the largest palmgrove on earth, Azalai Desert Lodge Zagora is a luxury guest house where only the architecture and decor is modern. The hospitality is altogether from a different age. Nothing forced or artificial in the attitude of Khouloud and Bouchaib, the young couple of owners who share their passion for the desert and travel with their guests. They have the gift of immediately making you feel like an old friend, on a repeat visit. Bouchaib is an architect and Khouloud holds a master degree in business management. Together they created something altogether different: the Moroccan hospitality and warmth complemented by a chic design, 5 star service and attention to detail. I can't help but wonder: why hasn't anyone done this before? Perhaps because Zagora is often thought of just as an overnight stop for the 4x4 tours of Morocco going to or coming from the Sahara. Azalai is there to prove them wrong. Khouloud was kind enough to unveil some of the secrets behind this success story for us.
Sun Trails: How did you come upon the idea ( of opening a guest house) and why Zagora ?

Khouloud Belkahia: It all started on a trip with friends, we literally fell in love with the palm grove. There were several options available to us: either take on an existing structure or create a guest house from scratch. We assumed that the latter option was the best, so that we make sure to offer guests the comfort that we wanted to. The location 

azalai camp erg chigaga
Jardin piscine Azalai Desert Lodge is very important and the palm grove of Zagora was the perfect choice for that.

ST: Do you see Azalai Lodge as a hotel or rather a guest house? Why?
KB: Azalai Lodge is above all a guest house. Having a small number of rooms allows us to offer a smooth service and to deal personally with each of our guests. That makes them feel like staying in a friends' house and having a luxury hotel comfort. 

ST:  In the area of Zagora there are quite

a few guesthouses, but you're the only ones who have chosen a rather colonial- chic design despite the typical choice where adobe is the main ingredient. What do your guests think?

KB: Our guests are always pleasantly surprised to find a place “beyond fashion and time" in the middle of the palm grove. They never imagine that when stepping through the main gate, they will be transported into another era.

ST: You have named your suites/ rooms: Paul Bowles, Saint- Exupery, Henri Matisse. Who are these characters and what is the relation with Azalai Lodge?
KB: We wanted to pay tribute to those characters who all have the love of travelling in common and their visit to Morocco helped them enrich their travel diaries. By creating this spirit " Gentleman Traveler " found in the rooms and suites , we introduce our guests to the work of each of these : Théodore Monod and his herbarium of 1927, room Henri Matisse contains brushes and paint, in the suite Saint Exupéry an airplane wing is suspended from the ceiling...

ST: When I stayed with you last, I tried your cuisine and found that your dishes were quite tasty but different from the Moroccan dishes typically served in restaurants in Morocco. Are these secrets from the cuisine of yesteryear? Grandma’s recipes? Who inspires you in the kitchen?

KB: I guess I wanted to get a little out of the ordinary by providing a Moroccan cuisine somewhat forgotten, but with a personal touch that will set us apart and appeal to our  

azalai desert lodge zagora by night

azalai lounge detailguests.  I am permanently inspired by recipes from my mother and my grandmother.  I realized while doing some research that Moroccan cuisine is really a heritage to preserve. For instance, in Safi ( on the Atlantic coast) who was under Portuguese rule for many years,  there is a mini cake in the shape of Cupcake called "Massappane".  You will never find this in pastry stores- it is an old recipe handed down from mother to daughter. Interestingly enough, the word is Portuguese at its origin: “Massa Pao.” Our guests are equally surprised when served eggplant jam or a potato- based brioche.

ST: Tell us a little about your career. Have you ever had a previous experience in the hotel business? And what is that takes most of your 

energy at Azalai ? What fulfills you the most?

KB: I have a degree in hospitality and a master's degree in business management. The setting up of Azalai Lodge coincided with the end of my studies. I found myself immediately immersed in an exciting job, which requires a lot of being present, focus and leaving nothing to chance. We put all our energy into fulfilling the dreams and wishes of our guests. These people that come to stay with us and escape. Our greatest satisfaction

 azalai luxury camp erg chigaga
lounge in the dunes is to help them make their dreams come true. Because above all, the desert makes one dream.

ST: Knowing that you are born and have lived on the Atlantic coast, how do you get along in Zagora where climate and landscapes are so different? Was it easy to adapt?

KB: I admit that the change was radical, but I adapted without problems! The conditions for

work are ideal, especially since it’s always sunny and the dry climate of the region is excellent for one’s health.

ST: Where do your guests come from? Which nationalities do you get best along with ?
KB: We receive guests from all over the world. Each guest is different and it is always a pleasure to exchange.

ST: What is there to do around Zagora? Guests stay for a few days or just spend one night on the way to the desert?
KB: I recommend a bike ride or walk in the palm grove. One can also visit Ksar Tissergate , the Jewish Kasbah in Amezrou or the village of Tamegrout and its famous century- old Islamic library.

ST: You have also opened a luxury camp in the dunes of Erg Chigaga. What is the difference between a basic camp and a luxury camp in your opinion?
KB: Both camps offer the same landscape. The difference is made by the service offered, the inside of the tents (i.e. furniture and appliances), the quality bedding and meals served.

ST: I heard that guests from Mamounia hotel ( in Marrakech) would come to have lunch in the desert by helicopter and return to Marrakech in the evening. It seems that soon you will be able to offer this service, by small plane. Can you give us more details? 

camel ride erg chigaga

KB: There is certainly a demand for this kind of VIP service, people who do not necessarily have the time to cross the Draa Valley by car but can’t afford to miss the magic of the desert. We do offer a picnic lunch that we call "Gentleman traveler” where a table with white tablecloth and silverware is set up in the dunes, to then offer a refined meal served under the shade of palm trees. 

ST: What other future plans do you have for 

Azalai Lodge? Where do you see yourself in 5 years? 

KB: We have just launched Le Lodge and Villa Azalai in Marrakech and we are working on Azalai Lodge Oualidia (on the Atlantic coast).
In 5 years I see myself at Azalai Zagora in the winter and in the summer at Azalai Oualidia .

ST: All the toiletries that you put at the disposal of guests are made using natural products. Tell us a bit more about this. What other steps do you take to preserve the 

azalai lodge zagora outside view
azalai lodge zagora at night desert tents at night
a tea in the saharaenvironment?

KB: Our skin care products are based on natural products not only for the benefit of our guests but also to preserve the environment. To this purpose, we treat wastewater to water the garden , the hot water is sun- heated, our constructions are built in local stone , we do selective sorting and no palm tree was ever cut or transplanted .

ST: What is the best time of year to visit you? Why?
KB: The best time to visit us is from September to May. The weather is nice and it rarely rains. You should avoid visiting Zagora in the summer as it can get extremely hot. 

ST: You told us about the other 2 Azalai guest houses in Marrakech and Oualidia. Are they similar to Azalai Lodge?

vip tent erg chigaga KB: The three houses have the same spirit "Desert Lodge" but not the same story. The Lodge Azalai Marrakech is a real exclusive lodge for 2 persons in the village of Oumnes, at 30 km from Marrakech. 

Villa Azalai is 20km from Marrakech on the road to Lalla Takerkoust dam and is rented as a whole, for a group of friends or a large family.
Azalai Oualidia Lodge is currently under 

 

Azalay Lodge 002construction and is located on a wild Atlantic beach.

ST: Tell us something amazing that happened to you at Azalai Lodge with your guests. 

KB: We recently witnessed a very special moment with a young English couple. The gentleman had asked us to organize a surprise birthday party in the desert for the young lady, so the ambiance was already intense: a dozen candles around a dining table on the top of a dune. The lady was so glad when she found the surprise birthday party. But not as surprised as she was when the gentleman proposed to her right there and then in the middle of the dunes. We were just as surprised as she was…

She did say yes. 

Azalai Desert Lodge and Azalai Luxury Camp are currently offered on our 'Caravans Dust' and 'Oases and Palm Groves' tours as well as other tailor- made tours in the Privilege option of accommodation. For more photos of their luxury desert camp and facilities, please visit: https://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.617027101663802.1073741830.190567174309799&type=3

© Sun Trails. All rights reserved. No part of this interview may be reproduced, distributed, or transmitted in any form, including photocopying, recording, or other electronic or mechanical methods, without the prior written permission of the publisher. Translated from French by C. Martinus.

Tuesday, 29 October 2013 00:00

Morocco - best time to visit ?

jemaa el fna square marrakech

When to visit Morocco and travel around ?

Update 26.03.2021: Presently, there are no Morocco travel bans in place from the US. Those flying to Morocco are asked to present a printed 72 hour PCR test when embarking and upon arrival at the airport in Morocco together with a travel agency or hotel booking. Children less than 11 are dispensed of the test. You are dispensed of the obligation to quarantine upon arrival.

{Read: Is it safe to visit Morocco in 2021 ?}

In a nutshell: 

I've lived in Morocco since 2006 and believe the country is best visited all year round. Avoid the crowds ? January and February is your best bet, with plenty of sunshine. Best rates all year round ? July and August, but keep to the Atlas mountains and the Atlantic coast, if 40 plus Celsius is not your thing. March, April, May and October/ November ? Great weather, warm enough to sun tan and enjoy a pool, but it's also when Morocco gets most tourists, so you'll have to mingle with the crowds. Naturally, you can avoid them and explore Morocco off the beaten track: the Sahara desert, the Anti Atlas mountains and Morocco's southern regions boast enough open spaces for everyone to feel remote. Travel with the children ? By all means, they will remember it for the rest of their lives. 

azalai desert camp morning

The details: 

You're just coming out of the pandemic blues and you're looking for that special destination, somewhere a milliion miles away from mask wearing and travel bans ? On top of a saffron dune, overlooking Sahara's infinite rolling hillocks, can you picture it ? Can you put yourself there ? Yet, not everyone is afforded the luxury of choosing when to visit Morocco. Is October the best time to visit ? Is Christmas busy ? What about Ramadan ? What are the temperatures in March ? 

The good news is that there isn't really a bad time of year to visit Morocco. What makes me say that ? Well, first of all, sunshine.  Sunshine 300 days a year ? More like 350. And yes, sometimes it can get too hot, but even in July and August choices abound: after all, Morocco is blessed with 2500 km of Atlantic coast and at least that or more of mountain ranges. Stroll around the dreamy or picturesque villages as Essaouira, Oualidia and Chefchaouen or trek up in the High Atlas mountains over 2000 meters high, and you're guaranteed dispensing with air conditioning. 

{ Read: What to experience and see in Morocco in summer }

h4thrNow of course, Morocco has different climate zones and the difference in temperature in some areas is quite important between summer and winter. It is also known to be an incredibly diverse country when it comes to landscapes. From green lush areas where forests and lakes have earned Ifrane, the village in the Middle Atlas close to Fez, the nickname ‘ Switzerland of Morocco’ to the Sahara with its oceans of dunes, from wild Atlantic beaches to lush palm groves, from wine producing regions around the cities of Meknes and Rabat to the resort towns of the Mediterranean and Atlas Mountains with their spectacular gorges and over 4000 meters high peaks. In Chefchaouen, a picturesque village in the northern Morocco, famous for its blue- washed houses and alleys, you may glimpse palm trees and pine trees growing next to each other.  

 { Read: Travel private from Marrakech to the Sahara dunes and back over 3 days }

Some travel agents think that October or perhaps March is best to visit Marrakech or Fez. The reality is somewhat different. Morocco is incredibly diverse in landscapes, altitudes and latitudes. While it may be snowing in Ifrane or Imlil, you are almost guaranteed sun bathing in Laayoune or Dakhla, by the Atlantic. If you want to just tick some boxes in your travel notebook and scrape Morocco off that list, you can hire the services of any tour operator or travel agent. For someone that can customize a once- in- a- lifetime experience and choose the best places to visit and things to do based on the time of year you wish to visitgo for a local specialist. It may be that you'll even need your agent to customize your holidays after you arrived in Morocco. On a few occations, we had to reverse the order of a private tour when snow had blocked the Tizi n Tichka pass, while keeping the same start and end dates and encompassing the same local experiences. 

souk in marrakechOf course, one could argue that temperatures are ideal to visit Morocco in March and October. There are, though, a few downsides with this. It is the peak of the tourist season with most other tourists on all inclusive holidays being taken around by charter buses. This means cues to enter monuments, rubbing shoulders with everyone else visiting smaller venues and the night in a desert luxury camp you'd so long anticipated risking to resemble more an attraction park than the zen- like, unforgettable experience you were hoping for. Peak season time means also peak season rates. Most Riads/ hotels consider these months high season (given the volume of tourists) and raise their rates accordingly.

So instead, why not visit before Christmas ? Or just after NYE ? You get low rates on hotels and other services. Perhaps not quite the temperatures to swim in a pool, but at 20 plus Celsius day- time and constant sunshine, you are far from the rainy and cold winter affecting most of Europe and US. The rain season in Morocco, if such a thing exists, falls late February or March. During a week or so, you may get occasional rain showers. For those interested in the best photography shots, the winter months are ideal - the light is at its best then when air is depleted of any dust. 

{ Read: Morocco on a honeymoon 

With so many things to do and see, in Fes, it isn’t the weather that Yasmina Suitedecides when visitors come. As Vanessa Bonnin, former manager of Dar Roumana guest house, puts it: "The best time to visit Morocco is in June to coincide with the incredibly inspiring Fes Festival of Sacred Music. It showcases an eclectic mix of world music and always has fabulous head-liners too. During the festival the medina is even more alive and buzzing than usual, with the added energy of happy music lovers visiting from all over the world. It shows this magical city at its best!".

In July and August one should consider staying away from the desert and inland cities like Marrakech, Fez or Ouarzazate. But even in Fez and Marrakech, with careful preparation from a knowledgeable local travel agent, one can still enjoy the beauties of these two cities. The best way to do it is to choose to stay just outside the city and come into the city early in the morning to sightsee. You can then return to your guesthouse in the afternoon to relax and enjoy the lush gardens and pool. After all, it is only a 10- 15 minutes drive and if you are on a private Morocco tour, you will have your driver and 4x4 available 24 hours a day. 

essaouira-general viewYou may also choose to spend the night in the Medina and travel to the coast to either Essaouira, Oualidia or Agadir (each within less than 3 hours drive from Marrakech and considerably cooler during the summer). Max Lawrence,  of Lawrence of Morocco  agrees: “Marrakech is wonderful all year round but if the summer heat is too much for you then you should head to the ideally temperate Atlantic coast in July and August. Oualidia, Essaouira and Agadir all provide 28 C whilst in Marrakech it can be 45 C.” Some parts of Morocco like Agadir and Dakhla benefit from all year round mild temperatures. Further north, Essaouira yields more charm and character than a resort as Agadir, but the cold current makes it too cold to swim even in summer.

When it comes to Christmas and NYE, Marrakech is on the top of the list to foreign visitors’ preferences. Marrakech is definitely worth visiting, but if you expect to find the same festive ambiance as in Europe, you are in for a disappointment. Mostly because Morocco’s population being largely Muslim, they do not celebrate winter holidays as Westerners do. 

{ Read: Off the beaten track Morocco }

Maria Joao, a travel adviser who has made Morocco her second home, says: ‘For me the best time to visit Morocco is the whole year. At any time of year there are spectacular places to discover or revisit. Morocco is a very diverse country in terms of landscape and climate, has imperial cities, desert, mountains, snow, Atlantic and Mediterranean beaches.’’ 

camel ride in atlas mountainsMax agrees: ‘Morocco is a country which offers perfect travel conditions all year round as one is able to move geographically to different areas for different periods. The Atlas mountains are wonderful all year but if you are thinking of trekking then avoid the winter months of December, January and February as there can be too much water flowing in many of the rivers to allow walkers to easily pass. During these months, trekking in the Anti Atlas is ideal.

The only place you should avoid in July or August is the desert. Temperatures can soar over 45 degrees Celsius and there is no tent provided with A/C. Not yet anyway. Max says: ‘Southern Morocco and the desert is ideal from September to June (10 months of the year) and should not be missed.’ If you really have to do the Sahara in July or August, think of booking a room in an air conditioned kasbah by the dunes, where early next morning, you can take a short camel ride into the dunes to witness a sunrise as you've never seen before.  But spending a full day in the dunes is not an option, unless you are training for Marathon de Sables. 

 

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