Mapping Morocco – Discovering Caravan Paths

Seven weeks in Africa, four weeks in Morocco! Yes, I am somewhat obsessed with Morocco and similar age-old raw countries! Roaming the countryside, I’m intrigued and fascinated seeing people living off the land as their ancestors did. Morocco never bores, always intrigues, and leaves you wanting more, once is not enough! Morocco is a land of legends and fascination, despite its closeness to the European continent.

My Journey goals were planned: visit the newest hotels or riads in the booming Moroccan hospitality industry, discover additional ancient community ovens, many are still in use today; visit world heritage ksar sites and fortified graniers, also known as Igoudar. For lovers of historical heritage, multiple sites exist all over Morocco.

Plus meander the souks in search of specific antiquities, explore old gardens, and of course, dine at the newest and my best-loved restaurants! Every Journey to Marrakech includes a culinary escape to Amanjena’s spectacular grounds and the lovely Royal Mansour Le Jardin, a peaceful haven in the heart of the buzzy Ochre City with high end gastronomy! And finally, discover a true Luxury Sahara Camp!

The Journey with full posts to come! I explored a modified Camel Caravan Path in the fall. Many travelers assume they should arrive and visit Marrakech, while it is an exhilarating picturesque city, there are other paths, especially if you have visited Marrakech and think this is the only Moroccan destination! It is not, I’ve traversed Morocco several times, it’s my second home.

Morocco is on the top Travel lists; all the new hotels reflect this renaissance. The country has rebounded after the 2023 earthquake.

My path and a few of my discoveries: arrive Casablanca and mosey to the Four Seasons Casablanca – which has the best beds in the country, except for the Four Seasons Marrakech! Casablanca FS is a dry hotel, if you crave a cocktail, make reservations at Rick’s Café for dinner! I recently discovered the Four Seasons has a site for purchasing their dreamy beds!

A short three hour drive up the coast to see and stay at La Fiermontina, Ocean, isolated on the wild coast of Larache, it reminds me of an Aman type location. Discover the romantic suites and private villas with pools and floor to ceiling windows overlooking the rolling dunes. Al fresco lunch and continue north or spend a night and relish miles of beaches, relax at the sophisticated spa layered in elegant black and white marble and wander the small village. It’s a popular summer location for locals. I will stay next time, recover from the long flight with dune walks.

Drive to Tangier, stop in Asilah on the way to Tangier. It’s only 2 hours to Tangier, browse the seaside art colony in a leisurely afternoon.

New property, Villa Mabrouka, has recently opened. Transformed by the esteemed British designer Jasper Conran, once the secluded sanctuary of fashion legends Yves Saint Laurent and Pierre Bergé. Petite and private 12 room haven with sweeping views of the Strait of Gibraltar. Lush gardens with hush-hush niches for reading or snoozing; birdsong, and breezes at no extra charge.  Gardens of rare Mediterranean plants were designed by Madison Cox. Imagine a candlelight dinner in a charming vine covered stone gazebo on a cliff with views to die for. Walk to the nearby bustling Tangier Kasbah and medina, amble around the corner to yummy dining at famed El Morocco Club. Cozy, intimate seating upstairs or try the buzzy piano bar downstairs. Always say yes to the oysters! Tangier has an extensive list of private gardens, last winter I spent a delightful few hours meandering Umberto Pasti Rohuna Gardens.

Two points of interest and direction choices here. One: two nights in Tangier is a good first-time visit. If you haven’t wandered the famed Blue City, Chefchaouen, is 2 hours away – you must visit at least once in Morocco! Small riad with indoor pool in the middle of the medina is fine for one night.

Then onward to Fez which is four hours from Chefchaouen. I’ve visited the charming Blue City however, in our winter, it’s hard for me to say no to exploring a sunny beach, so it was onward from Tangier, where I spent three delicious days at the Banyan Tree Tamouda Bay. I’m a beach girl, any beach hotel with miles of sandy beach walking purrs a particular tune to me. An elegant all-villa hotel, this is the Hamptons of Morocco! Positioned between the rugged Rif mountains and the glistening Mediterranean Sea, the resort oozes authentic Moroccan style Villas with private pools. Full post coming soon on my delightful visit. An authentic Thai restaurant, Saffron, whose fun staff make every wish come true! Terrace dining on the edge of a bird filled estuary, the sapphire Mediterranean Sea is just beyond the bird pond. A huge infinity pool is plopped on the sand, soundtrack: lapping surf. Miles of beach for strolling or hire a pony for a gallop! Bikes at your door for an impromptu spin around the grounds or escape an off-road mountain bike excursion. The hotel is an extraordinary blend of romance and exotic Moroccan charm. I will be returning to Banyan Tree Tamouda Bay!

Banyan Tree Tamouda Bay

If you haven’t visited Fez, you must! It’s a slighter less hectic version of Marrakech. From Banyan Tree, a six-hour drive. Riad Fès is the only Palace Hotel. Must book the gorgeous suites far in advance and must enjoy sunset cocktails from the rooftop restaurant. I love three nights in Fez, its relaxed and gives you time to explore at leisure. Riad Fès combines a subtle mix of Andalusian sumptuousness and Moroccan art de vivre, the Riad reflects its prestigious past and the refined civilization to which it belongs. This majestic palace is an authentic example of Hispanic-Moorish architecture. It offers panoramic views of the magical spectacle of the sun rising over the Fèz Medina, and the Atlas Mountains. Hammams and massages, fountains, salons, sophisticated cuisine, and a trendy lounge bar.

Fez to the Sahara – an 8-hour drive – but quite scenic. Two nights in the luxury Sahara Tent camp – the quiet winter peacefulness is extraordinary, I’ve pretty much broken up with Camels after multiple experiences, but I’ve decided on my next Sahara visit, a sunset camel caravan might be worth exploring the sand dunes from the back of a camel.

And the night sky, you can practically scoop up the stars from the inky black sky. I would be happy here with a book for 2 days – active peeps can chose from multiple activities dune buggy excursions, camel crossing picnics at an oasis, or merely sit and stare at the endless horizon of untouched sand dunes. Colors change with each passing hour; drier air translates to more vivid color. Warm sunrise hues change dramatically to intense blue afternoon skies, and brilliant yellow, gold, and red hues illuminate the horizon as the sun slowly melts into the dunes.

The Sahara to Dar Ahlam, House of Dreams in Skoura – a not to be missed fantasy property… two nights at least for full immersion experience!

I carried onward to Marrakech, however, to shorten your sojourn, you can travel an hour to Ouarzazate and fly back to Casablanca for return home.

Adding on – Dar Ahlam to the Atlas Mountains Skoura to Mountains 4 – 4.5 hours to our favorite hotel properties Olinto or Kasbah Tamadot. There are only two Atlas Mountain options – very different in style, Kasbah Tamadot is a client favorite. Olinto is a completely unique experience, a respite from Marrakech, a peaceful sanctuary. New post to come on Olinto after enjoying my first restful stay..

Atlas Mountains – 90 mins to Marrakech and departure flights. I stayed in Marrakech for eight nights in multiple hotels, some new to me. I was particularly. Impressed with the Oberoi, I wasn’t prepared to love it as much as I did! I’ve stayed at Oberoi in India; they are gorgeous and quite over the top! Oberoi Marrakech is outside the city fray, a peaceful haven of private villas with plunge pools. It’s elegant, but not overdone. A peaceful oasis within minutes from the chaos that is Marrakech!

Then onward to one of my small favorites Dar al Hossoun – this is an area for deep ancient discoveries. For those who wish to move, the choice is vast: hikes, small taxis or carriages, visits to the souks, the tannery, discovery of “lost” valleys of the Upper or Anti-Altas, Berber villages… and visits of private houses and gardens .

Moving to the Atlantic Coast again, for me, a return to the beach near Agadir, to the Fairmont. I crave beach experiences and the Fairmont is the best hotel here. Amazing spa, miles of sandy beach, on a foggy twilight ramble, I spotted several camels, men in sapphire turbans beckoned me to join them for a camel adventure. There is an exotic tale everywhere in Morocco! Would you say yes?

Nearby, the ancient town of Agadir has a small laidback medina.  I discovered a new Italian built Agadir medina; the original city was mostly leveled by an earthquake in 1960. Architect Coco Polizzi, a Moroccan-Italian professional, developed a charming medina called Polizzi’s Medina, the buildings have a medieval look with many elements of traditional Moroccan architecture. Mud, wood, and stone, sourced nearby, make up the bulk of the structure. Strolling through the narrow courtyards of the medina, you’ll feel as if you’ve gone back in time, but the perfection that exudes from every corner suggests that it doesn’t date back several centuries.

Back to Marrakech for newer hotel and museum experiences…

My exceptional guide took me by the hand to the oldest Hammam in Marrakech, built in 1562.  Walking underground, he introduced me to the men who feed a hot fire all day and night to heat the huge water cauldrons which produce the steam in the hammam! I love that technology has not replaced these men; ancient culture is still in place in many locations if you know where to look! In the medina, a pile of wood and smoke usually lead to a community oven or here, to the underground caldron in the oldest hammam. Astonishing – a modern city which treasures its culture and history. Traditionally, the heat for the Moroccan hammam is provided by the farnatchi, the man in charge of tending the fire beneath the bathhouse that heats its floors and walls. Many women would bring a ceramic urn known as a tanjia of a beef stew to cook outside the fire all day – one of these pots was resting at the edge of the wood stove. Tanjia is the name of both the stew and the ceramic urn it’s cooked in. Traditionally, the earthen pots are taken by families to the communal furnace ovens inside the medina, which heat water for the local hammams.

Moving around the African continent with several 60 pound suitcases is not a vacation, people assume I am on vacation for seven weeks, au contraire! In Marrakech, I stayed at six different hotels. If I don’t stay, how can I advise a client, you will love it! I had read much about Beldi Country Club – the hotel souks are authentic and are brimming with lovely handmade Moroccan treasures. Plopped amidst stunning gardens, the large suites are well furnished, however, the concept of Country Club is not what we imply as a country club – it was the perfect location after 21 days of meandering; lounging and slumbering in 90-degree weather, absorbed in my book. There is no butler button for pool service or coffee delivered to bed – the pool time was delicious, but I need a teeny bit more service!

Never miss a stay or pool lunch at my brilliant friend Meryanne Loum-Martin’s, Jnane Tamsna property. If I don’t stay, I dine several times with her, we giggle and gossip and share travel gems – she knows everyone and everything! Her property is an enchanted garden of small villas, salons, pool, tennis courts and mesmerizing dining experiences. Plus a new Souk!

I’ve always thought I wanted to stay in the medina – two brief nights in a messy medina confirmed being in the middle will not cure my lack of direction! Mustapha gives me strict locations on where to stand when he is fetching me for day excursions…don’t stray from here or you will be lost! I do stray when he gets distracted…not allowed! In the tiny Taroudant medina, I strayed and unearthed enormous amber beads and a small metal box with bone inlay! I text: I’m in souk next door, come help me negotiate!

Clients love Villa des Orangers and with the newly added white marble and white linen shiny bright suites, I love it even more. This palace hotel makes me think I am in the medina, to find my sparkling suite, I memorized this passageway: from the pool, walk until you see the bowl of ostrich eggs in the distinctive green enamel Tamegroute urn, turn left, pass the sexy bar, left through an interior courtyard with pond, right at white stairway to my upper floor suite! Two heated pools, numerous salons for intimate cozy meals or story telling performances.

The Four Seasons in Marrakech is usually my go to last hotel – my glorious suite provides enough room to repack, sort my treasures, laundry done in hours, and I love the spa, pools, and dining – it’s where I regroup to return home or on this Journey, continue onward to Kenya and South Africa.

The best of Morocco can be discovered with our marvelous guides and fearless driver; these trusted companions with the tales of the complex medieval history, the final, if needed, bargaining point in the souks, a guide to tasting the best spices, finding vendors selling indigenous music, facilitating introductions in a small school in the foothills of the Atlas Mountains, sourcing traditional Moroccan handicrafts, obtaining reservations in the best local restaurants and ultimately our VIP Client Liaison who is a resource for all needs while traveling to Morocco, we travel with these experts to make certain our clients will enjoy The VV Best Journey.

Unpacking List: It’s not the things you take with you that define your Journey; it’s the experiences you have and the memories you bring home.

Marrakech – Bed Hopping, the Best of the Best

“The further you go, the more you shall see and know.” Medieval Proverb

Saadian Tombs 1044-HDR.jpg
Saadian Tombs 

The first in a series of sharing authentic riads and hotel properties in Marrakech and beyond the city, my second Camel Caravan in four months focused on new properties in the Kingdom of Morocco, where ancient traditions in the countryside have barely evolved to the mesmerizing cities which are changing every minute!

FROM MARRAKECH: Spending several days with an expert guide and a fearless driver in Marrakech, I explored many riads within the walls of the ancient Medina and have sourced out the best of the souks; this is not an easy task, as Marrakech contains acres of wiggly alleys winding about – jammed with hundreds of haggling vendors. After your first visit, focus on an area ie communal bread ovens, babouche, or metal craftsmen.

On my first visit, years ago, had it not been for the keen guiding, I would still be roaming the souks, lost! Imperial Marrakech is magical, slightly untamed and exotic. An assortment of handmade goods are sold here: babouche (leather slippers), pottery, metal work, the street vendors offer food, however, you must be willing to witness live chickens and rabbits being butchered, sheep heads (eyeballs included) are also on display, something for every palate! An occasional camel head is offered in the open meat markets. Apparently, the government tried to modify the open meat market storage rules, but a strong outpouring of protest has kept the traditions of the open markets. There are typical grocery markets if you prefer to buy refrigerated meat, my driver delivered me to a gorgeous French Cheese shop as well and a few stores which sell excellent wines and spirits.


It is a site to behold, turban topped cobra charmers squatting on the famous Djemaa el Fna plaza, boys carrying small monkeys – be careful in your admiration, as apparently it is an implied ‘invitation.’ Two adorable monkeys were perched on me; one on my wrist and the other on my opposite shoulder – my comfort level reached an unparalleled high when the shoulder monkey explored my inner ear with one hand and twirled my hair with the other – enough intimacy with the monkey! Naturally, I was expected to pay a few Dirhams for the uninvited monkey pleasure.

Marrakech has never lost its exotic flavor and seems to be on the ‘hot’ list of emerging North African style. Cooking schools are readily found here: traditional Moroccan or French cuisine.

La Maison Arabe, where I have stayed, offers a half-day cooking class at its off–site professional kitchen, in a secret gated pool and garden compound.

Celebrity boutique riads compete with the fabulous Aman resort, the Amanjena, plopped outside of town, an oasis seemingly in the middle of the desert. Amanjena, a luxury resort inspired by the rose-hued buildings of old Marrakech is situated just outside the fabled Red City.

My La Mamounia Suite

In the din that is now Marrakech, I’ve moseyed here numerous times for a delightful garden repast – delicious dining and a quiet place to regroup from the excitement of the city. Set in its own expanse of gardens and grand open spaces with shaded courtyards with fountains that lead to the central basin, a small lake, that nourishes the gardens in which spacious standalone guest pavilions and maisons rest, all with private gardens and many with private pools. Views stretch across the olive groves and palms of the oasis, extending to the High Atlas Mountains on the horizon.  It provides a marvelous view of the now snow-capped peaks.

La Mamounia is where I first reserved so many years ago for an epic Birthday Celebration and time has not tarnished its impeccable allure! The hotel sits in a prime spot in the Hivernage neighborhood, just outside the medina and almost opposite the famous Koutoubia minaret. One of the most inviting gardens in all of Marrakech, the surrounding 17 acres of royal gardens cushion the hotel from the outside hubbub and are magically lit at night.  La Mamounia has always been famous for its striking blend of Art Deco and Orientalist décor. The ornate Moroccan tile work, intricate stucco and carved woodwork perfectly balance the geometric forms, exotic floral styles, and bright Fauvist colors of the Deco period. Ever since Winston Churchill (who first visited Marrakech in 1935) adopted the Mamounia as his winter home, the hotel has been renowned for its impeccable, courtly service. On guest arrival, be welcomed with hot towels, almond milk and dates  – setting the stage for a the tired traveler, rooms are furnished with thoughtful touches such as armfuls of fresh roses, freshly baked spiced cakes and tempting bowls of dates. 

My impressive Royal Suite with two utterly charming terraces faced the gardens and was aligned with the famous 12th century Koutoubia Mosque, daily calls to prayer waltzed ethereally through my gorgeous suite. Current Netflix series ‘Inventing Anna’ has a segment featuring Mamounia – in all its resplendent glitz.

I’ve visited many refurbished contemporary riads, decorated in chic and muted tones or traditional Moroccan interiors, all maintaining the time-honored Islamic architecture and characteristics, however many are updated with small central pools, which is very typical of Moroccan architecture.

Vanessa Branson’s 28 room EL Fenn is a chic, upscale boutique with plenty of old Morocco charm set in the heart of medina. A combination of charming riad living with an impressive array of swanky interiors, which are hands-down some of the most gorgeous you’ll find in Marrakech. Tucked down a side alley right next to Bab El Ksour the riad is easy to find and taxis can draw up within a few steps of the front door. The Djemaa el-Fna is an uncomplicated 10-minute walk away.

My Suite at El Fenn

Rooms with lots of jewel tones, inviting places to lounge strewn with colorful throw pillows, and enchanting keyhole arches. This property also delivers on stellar facilities with several pools, a hammam spa, peaceful courtyards with a hammock, and excellent rooftop dining. It’s no surprise their spacious and luxurious rooms are popular with the celebrity crowd! My suite was the largest on property and I could have never left! Sumptuously elegant, fit for a Pasha!

Villa des Orangers, we have clients staying now. In the heart of the medina, not far from the entry to the souks and the main square, two French brothers have transformed a historic riad, just twenty seven rooms and suites nestled in a rambling garden and small pools. Opening onto two courtyards—one of which has a swimming pool—the rooms and suites, each named for a local spice – think saffron, nutmeg, and turmeric, and decorated in rich gem shades.

Villa des Orangers

An ancient Moroccan riad which provides a home away from home for travelers. The hotel’s public spaces are separated into a lovely tiled formal garden area, featuring trickling fountains and plots of blooming flowers, and a quiet area which hosts the mosaic pool and a traditional steam hammam.

The riad also enjoys an elevated position than its neighboring buildings, resulting in particularly great views from the sun-drenched rooftop terrace. Gaze at the snow-capped Atlas Mountains from the luxe lounge chairs, a straw hat is shared for extra sun protection. Return for sunset to sip cocktails or a candlelit romantic dinner.

Our local team organized a private story telling evening for me in one of the private salons – it was pure theatre with two actors reciting ancient Moroccan stories, with the backdrop of a wood burning fire and the sound of an ancient oud played by a local musician. Heaven, truly heaven!  Another evening, I enjoyed a private dinner in a beautifully decorated salon in brilliant red tones and the oud player just outside my salon. The staff go to great lengths to spoil our guests.

Villa des Orangers

The streets of the Medina, the historic old quarter, are teeming with donkey carts, zippy scooters, veiled women, exotic food stalls – a sensory overload, shadowed by the 12th Century Koutoubia Mosque, which in a rather rhythmic, wailing chant, calls Muslims to prayer five times a day; I enjoy the soothing call- some semblance of calm to override the chaos of the city streets.

The best of Marrakech can be discovered with our marvelous guides and fearless driver; these trusted companions with the tales of the complex medieval history, the final, if needed, bargaining point in the souks, a guide to tasting the best spices, finding vendors selling indigenous music, facilitating introductions in a small school in the foothills of the Atlas Mountains, sourcing traditional Moroccan handicrafts, obtaining reservations in the best local restaurants and ultimately the chaperone who is a resource for all needs while traveling to Morocco, we travel with these experts to make certain our clients will enjoy The VV Best Journey.

What makes anyone travel, especially such a distance? We connect with others, we connect our experiences and attempt to make an abstract connection with our ‘daily routines’, returning home inspired to modify the mundane and retain the transformed clarity which travel often provides – the gift of the travel experience.