IN LATE MAY 2019 we embarked on a magical journey through the Kingdom of Morocco, touching down in Marrakesh before heading south to the Sahara – then north to the ancient capital of Fez, before passing through the blue-washed city of Chefchaouen and eventually meeting our niece in Tangier. In between we discovered ancient kasbahs, lush oases, breathtaking landscapes and tea… lots and lots of tea. It wasn’t just the destinations we reached, as we connected dots around a country steeped in Berber culture and its former glory as the leading regional power during Medieval times. It was the people with whom we connected, and the friendships we made, that will leave an indelible mark in our lives – even longer than the henna tattoos Barbara acquired from the nomadic family we met living on the edge of the desert, existing somewhere between the modern world and the forgotten lands of Aladdin.
For some, travel isn’t a choice; rather, it’s the direction you take on the road your soul was already going.
We arrived in Marrakech with high expectations following a long flight from L.A. via Madrid, and the Red City did not disappoint. The first thing we did, even before sleeping, was to plunge into the famous Jemaa el-Fna square in central Marrakech for a fresh-squeezed fruit juice
(Stall #13) and start exploring the labyrinth of shops inside the souq – which is really a catacomb of covered walkways that radiate in a pendulum from the main square. Lucky for us,
Riad UP (☆☆☆☆) was conveniently located just minutes by foot from the medina, making shopping, snacking and people-watching a breeze during the many circuits we took between all the action and our quiet retreat. UP stands for “urban paradise,” which in this case truly applies. Our proprietor, Elsa Bauza, is a Mallorcan designer and long-time Marrakech resident who was as comfortable with us in conversation as how the Moroccan poufs and interior sanctuary made us feel, lingering as we often did with Tootsie the cat in the courtyard beneath our rooftop suite.
For all the relaxing on tap inside the riad, it was Marrakech we wanted to see. We had three days to soak it in before heading overland to the Sahara, where hear-tell a couple camels were waiting. Deals can be had within the souq, but you have to be willing to barter. We discovered one intriguing shop –
Chgaga Art – run by Mohammed off the medina, where Hal acquired antique treasures, including a Tuareg necklace, kilims, Berber knife and leather goods. Already we were contemplating the luggage required to get home!
Besides the shopping and colorful atmosphere of the medina (yes, there are snake charmers), the city is home to epic art forms, both architectural and painstakingly crafted. Museums and galleries abound, and we took in several, including (a big favorite) the
Maison de la Photographie and the grounds of the Berber Museum. Don’t miss
Jardin Majorelle (☆☆☆) if you go, as the garden and its electric blue villa was a gift of Yves Saint Lauren and Pierre Berge to preserve the nearly psychedelic array of 300 plant species from five continents, complemented by a new museum dedicated to Saint Laurent and his design genius. That said, we spent much of the first full day at Badi Palace, whetting our appetite for exotic tilework and sultan-quality Carrara marble in a copious number of palatial chambers.