Beach next to Oualidia, picnic at Sultana

The ideal Morocco summer tour with children. 

Or without. Forget all about mask wearing and travel bans. Is summer the best time of year to visit Morocco ? No, not if you wish to travel to the Sahara. Unless you don't mind temperature soaring over 100 Fahrenheit ( 40 Celsius). Thankfully, Morocco is much more than just the Sahara. And so we have imagined a tour for the whole family, blending the sensory overload of the imperial city of Marrakech, replete with palaces, gardens, museums and art galleries, with one or two nights in the Atlas Mountains, trekking and taking in the views, and one or two nights by the Atlantic beach, unwinding in bohemian Essaouira or sleepy Oualidia. For a taste of the desert, also spend one night in a private tent in the Agafay desert, with dinner under the starriest skies and a camel trek. 4 to 5 days of history, arhitecture, shopping, crafts, adventure and farniente. All of this a mere 3- hour flight from major airports in the United Kingdom. 

High Atlas Berber village

DAYS 1-2: Marrakech.

Where Fez is the bashful scholar, Marrakech is the exuberant dancer. More than its opulent night life and luxurious palaces, the design boutiques or the French restaurants, it’s something in the air. The 'light of the south' as some may call it, a certain je ne sais quoi… A good point to start your private guided tour is perhaps Maison de La Photographie, located in one of the most authentic districts of Marrakech. It accommodates one of the most interesting collection of photos in Morocco, documenting the life in Morocco from late 1800’s all the way to the 1950’s. Patrick, the welcoming owner, is always on hand to give you a tour and precious insight into the history of each photo. The roof terrace offers 360 degrees views over the Medina and is the perfect spot for great photographs and the ubiquitous atay.

jemaa el fna square marrakech evening

Crossing the souks you may want to spoil yourself with some shopping. Miles of Ali Baba closet- size caves where everything glitters will lure you in. If it is too early in the day for shopping, you can witness the dyeing of the wool or the looming of a Berber carpet on site. Past Place des Epices and its shops stuffed with turtles, colorful spices and other witchcraft accessories, we make our way into the Kasbah district. Not before entering the gardens of 19th century Bahia Palace, an epitome of Islamic art of the era and residence of the grand vizier. Uncovered by chance in 1917, the nearby Saadi Tombs hold the remains of the sultans that gave the city its the last golden age, the 16th and 17th century. The slabs of Carrara marble stand witness to the wealth of the sultan and so does the neighbouring El Badi palace, albeit only a ruin nowadays - called in its heyday by a European chronicler the '8th wonder of the world'.

Villa des Orangers pool

As the sun sets and the shades of its towers lose their contour, the fumes start rising on the nearby Jemaa El Fna square. Musicians, acrobats, snake charmers, witch doctors and food stalls all come alive as if they had never left the place. This is the city at its most essential, a place where people from everywhere mingle, perform and people- watch, half way between a tableau vivant and a circus show. Try to catch one of the story tellers in action, a tradition perpetuated for centuries and likely to disappear soon.

leila during cooking class marrakech
You can also choose to discover Marrakech a little differently than with a traditional guide. Your guide for the day will take you around the medina and uncover for you each component of the food circuit inside the old town: the mechoui lamb ovens, the preserved vegetables, the farnatchi stove, the herbs and spices shop, the local butcher and finally the souika market where you will bargain for vegetables and grains. She will also point out the different sites and monuments of Marrakech on the way. Then, in the shade of a traditional riad, you will be assisted by your dada ( woman chef) in making your own Moroccan tagine, preparing Moroccan tea and bake traditional bread. More details here

DAYS 2-3: Atlas Mountains ( Imlil/ Asni).

Imlil Waterfalls
Escaping the hustle and bustle of the city, your tour of Morocco will take you through lush countryside and Berber villages at the foothills of the Atlas and then up into the mountains. Maybe not as dense as the ones in the Middle Atlas, the forests of the High Atlas provide sufficient shade to make them a heaven for trekking and create their own climate where temperatures rarely exceed 30 Celsius. Less than one hour and a half from the city, you will arrive at your guesthouse to leave your luggage and sip a mint tea while taking in the views. (Douar Samra is the dream of Jacqueline, the Swiss owner, who wished to create a Swiss chalet in the middle of the High Atlas. The more posh Kasbah Tamadot is the dream of mogul Richard Branson, said to have spotted the property years ago on one of his balloon flights around the world).

trek over Imlil with children

Then, meet your English speaking guide who will arrange for a trek according to your level of fitness and stamina. Our favorite one is the one leaving from under the village of Aremd to ascend to 2400 meters high and the descend along the river and through the Berber hamlets all the way back to Imlil. If too difficult or steep for children, we can arrange for mules to escort you. Later, stop in the village for lunch inside a Berber home. If you have a second night to add in the High Atlas mountains, we can also take you to see the ruins of 12th century mosque of Tinmel, one hour drive away from Imlil. 

How about waterfalls at 2500 meters altitude ?

waterfalls roulidane high atlas in december

For those fit enough and willing to go totally off the beaten track, the more strenuous trek to the Roulidane waterfalls is worth every stretch. Even in October, after the long hot summer, you will spot patches of snow on the plateau overhanging the falls. The walk is long and you will need to stop and catch your breath plenty, but you are rewarded with breath- taking views, lost-in-time adobe villages, remote sheep folds and terraced gardens. The few locals you will cross on your way will invite you for tea. Arrive at the base of the waterfalls in the afternoon and take some great photographs to then descend to the village below. Later, have a Berber lunch with a steamy tagine and freshly baked tafernoute bread while overlooking the peaceful valley. On the way back, we can choose to return the same way or draw a loop to join the Asni- Imlil route and be picked up by our driver. Tip: trekking equipment including ski sticks and boots can be rented locally.

Agafay desert

agafay desert and set table
On the way from High Atlas to Essaouira, you can choose to spend one night in the Agafay desert and get a taste of the desert life. After all, in summer Sahara is too hot and too distant, a 10 hour drive from Marrakech. Crossing the Kik Plateau and descending by Takerkoust lake, your 4x4 guided tour will then enter the desert. Nothing grows here. There are no birds, no sign of animal life. Far away on the horizon lay the snows of the High Atlas range, but in between, there seems to be nothing but dead hills indescribably bleak, more frozen in their ashen yellow than if they had been covered in rime. Occasionally, a herd of goats and shepherd spatter the horizon, on their way from their hamlet to the next oasis. The occasional camel waiting by the dusty road. Fortunately, one or two desert luxury camps have pitched their white canvas tents between the stone dunes. In places, the same solitude and majesty reigning over the Sahara. The open panoramas lined by the High Atlas ridges in the background make it a great alternative to the Sahara for those too short on time to make the 9 hour- drive trip each way. Arrive at the camp in the afternoon to drop off the luggage inside the tent, have a tea and go for a camel ride. Or ride a buggy. Return to the camp to then prepare for dinner, served in front of your tent, as the night falls over, under a million stars. 

scarabeo camp suite tent

DAYS 4-5: Atlantic coast ( Essaouira/ Oualidia).

A 4 hour trip from the Atlas Mountains (3 hour drive from Marrakech), lies UNESCO world site port of Essaouira. With little to do but wander, Essaouira remains a hippy hang-out where Jimi Hendrix is said to have penned Castles in the Sand. Today though, a more Bohemian crowd flocks for the laid-back ambiance, delicious local cuisine, and miles of beach perfect for walking (even as far as the castle in the sand said to inspire Hendrix’s song).  Laid-back Essaouira is a must-do either as part of a custom Morocco tour or an excursion from Marrakech. Jews, Arabs, Berbers and English were sharing the profitable trade and left behind a very cosmopolitan, yet laid back town with fortified walls and bastions, white washed houses and dozens of art galleries. Centuries of trade, plunder, slavery and empire have left their prints here.

essaouira morocco
The Europeans came back two centuries later albeit not as traders, but as art gallery or Riad owners, seduced by the farniente ambiance and all- year- round sun. No longer a best- kept secret and recently added to the very select UNESCO world site list, Essaouira still feels like you travel in time to, perhaps, Mykonos or Ibiza of the 1970’s. Nearby dunes are ideal setting for riding a camel or a quad bike, while the strong wind attracts an all- year- round crowd of surfers and wind surfers. Although the best spots for swimming are south of it, the beach in Essaouira is worth an evening walk to take in the sunset or have a horse ride. Eat well, have drinks with a view, go for a wine tasting, sample local cheese, visit a local market or take a boat ride around the Purlple Isles.  Stay in a charming riad inside the medina or relax in a country lodge, just outside the city.   beach at sultana oualidia

If you want to keep away from the crowds, any crowd or have some tete-a-tete time, Oualidia is your best bet ( except July and August when locals flock to its shores). On the way to El Jadida, this remote fishing village, built around a wide lagoon midway up Morocco’s Atlantic coast, is a quiet, slightly out-of-time place. For much of the second half of the 20th century, the Moroccan bourgeoisie decamped here in the summer on their weekend holidays, eschewing the urban fug for their modest white-and-blue vacation houses. Today, well-heeled Moroccans come for the clean air, the tranquility and the best oysters in the country, which are served tableside on the terrace at L’Araignee Gourmande or the opulent 12- room Sultana Hotel. The most you can do here, besides leaving the world behind, is wander, stare, beachcomb and ride a boat around the lagoon.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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