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.

 Travel Trends 2023 – Shoulder Season is Dead.

Where to GO – Japan, better book now for 2024, Cherry Blossom Journeys for this year sold out last summer. A combination of Covid rollover reservations and cherished Cherry Blossom Customs, this tradition has always been popular. It may be a secret, but spring in South Korea is just as magical as the country shrugs off winter and reemerges bearing the pop of Cherry Blossom shades and scents. The most popular place to see cherry blossoms in Korea is the Jinhae Gunhangje Cherry Blossom Festival, which has attracted over 2,000,000 visitors per year in past years.

Cherry Blossoms, Japan

Sicily, led by the outrageous popularity of White Lotus, clients clamor to trek the trails and plop at super swanky Four Seasons San Domenico Palace in Taormina. Even if you just make the hotel your only seaside destination, the 14th-century Dominican convent turned luxury hotel in the coastal town of Taormina, has stunning views not just of the Ionian Sea, but also of Mt. Etna volcano and the Greek Theatre of Taormina, a historical landmark. Famous guests, including our chic clients, who have shared their praise include Audrey Hepburn, Elizabeth Taylor and Sophia Loren, King Edward VIII and Oscar Wilde. History, art, and delicious food – everyone loves Italy, even if you are island based. Sicily’s luxury hotel scene has been enriched in the last few years, by the classic Belmond properties, Grand Hotel Timeo, and Villa Sant’Andrea, as well as newer hotels Il san Corrado di Noto and Rocco Forte Hotel Villa Igiea. Imagine two weeks crisscrossing the island – I once settled into a village for an inspiring week in summer to participate in a David Tanis cooking school.

Italian charisma, is that redundant?

Belmond Grand Hotel Timeo, Sicily

Spring Summer or Autumn in Paris? – if you haven’t booked yet, get out your candle’s, rosary, and Bhutanese prayer beads. The Rugby World Cup train visits 51 cities in France during a 4-month Journey.  Veuillez m’excuser” – please accept my apologies if you have not reserved Paris yet. One of our savviest sophisticated couples will spend a glorious month as Parisians at La Réserve Apartments. At home in Paris with the Eiffel Tower as your neighbor.

Sleekly neutral and lavishly roomy, the first-class serviced apartments facing the Eiffel Tower, are perfect for travelers wanting to blend as chic locals, invite the entourage. This is not Emily in Paris! Carry your cashmere and smart walking shoes.

La Réserve Apartments, Paris
La Réserve Apartments, Paris

Bhutan was one of my most glorious adventures ever. Slowly western culture will invade and diffuse the pureness of the Happiest Kingdom. Visit before the traditional values, beliefs are modified. Nothing prepared me for my Journey to this tiny Himalayan country, memories still wash over me in waves. Staying in five individual Amankora properties, meeting gentle and kind locals, hiking through mountain landscapes unlike any other, dining on local delicious delicacies, wandering through colorful ancient temples, and learning Bhutanese customs. With the recent opening of the Trans Bhutan Trail, a 250-mile sacred hiking trail for the first time in 60 years, more hikers will be drawn to this mountain Paradise!

Captivated by rich history and ancient culture? Egypt is overrun by Americans this year, plan now for next spring or fall. In sharing once in a lifetime adventures, it’s hard to ignore the allure of Africa and the Middle East, and in particular, Egypt – the pyramids are still magnificently standing, having withstood every imaginable world crisis. The history, the pyramids, the sphinx, and the ancient burial tombs all standing amid a hectic twenty first century life.

Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the ones you did do.

Morocco – if you read my posts, you appreciate my obsession! Our clients are following my lead, as is most of America, Morocco is one of The Hottest travel destinations. Book in advance for the best five-star properties and stand by in fall, as I uncover the new luxury hotels in Tangier and visit a small riad in the Atlas Mountain’s – opened by well-known Marrakech hotelier, giving Kasbah Tamadot a little healthy hotel competition.

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Also, on the hot list is Colombia. With world-class coffee plantations, amazing beaches to the north and west, remarkable dining, rich history, and friendly people, Colombia tourism is exploding. Colombia’s diversity runs from mountain peaks to tropical grasslands, from spectacular museums and private art collections to coffee plantations, from ancient history to natural wonders.

Ancient mysteries come to life in cities rife with culture and charm. Near the city of Agustin more than 500 life-sized carved volcanic stone figures and tombs litter the Forest of Statues, amid native trees and flowers.

Four Seasons Vasa Medina Bogota

Cartagena has become one of South America’s most vibrant cities – and the undoubted queen of Columbia’s northern coast. Offering old-world luxury, exquisite fine-dining options, and a hip nightlife. Having witnessed 500 years of piracy, wars and slavery, Cartagena’s Walled City is steeped in history. Every house and street here have meaning – right down to the intricate door handles used to signal your hierarchy in society.

Iglesia de San Pedro Claver, Cartagena

Colombia’s capital of Bogota is rich with vitality, a blend of world-class restaurants, and sophisticated shopping. The energy and creativity of Colombia’s capital city are best experienced with a stay at Four Seasons Hotel Bogotá. In the buzzing Zona Rosa area, find yourself just steps away from the city’s best shopping, nightlife, and cafés, then come back to settle in at the intimate, modern Hotel, where contemporary elegance is found everywhere from the spacious suites to the perfectly poured Colombian espresso.

More than 99.5% of Colombians speak Spanish. Oh dear, un poquito Español!