Getting Lost in the Old Medina of Fes

After getting ripped off by the taxi coming from the CTM bus station, we got dropped off at an entrance of the old Medina of Fes, in front of an obscure alley. “Straight ahead, then right” scrambled the driver, directing us to our riad. A fainting light hardly lit the entrance arch. We paid the atrocious amount of 70dh to our driver, to later finding out it was really supposed to be 20dh. We headed up the alley. The ”straight ahead” became a panoply of zigzags going uphill through dark pathways. Soon enough, our confident look turned into complete confusion. A little boy on his bicycle pointed a direction. It couldn’t seem more like the beginning of the end, lost in a maze of confusion in alleys of wandering kids and young men gatherings. However, the way indicated was more attractive than the basic directions our driver told us.

A lot of children wander the alleys, day and night, cruising on bicycles or playing futbol. There will be more happy to show you the way or pose for a picture… in exchange for a dirham or two.

At the end of the passage, a group of young men greeted us by a stand of candies. “Are you lost?”. We tried to hide the truth but our dazed look confirmed his thoughts. “I’ll guide you to your place” he continued, anticipating the answer. At this point, we didn’t have better choice. Either to follow him, or be followed.

After a left, and a sharp right through a gloomy tunnel, another left and a final right, we ended up at the end of the darkest alley where he opened a wooden door. I was reassured as soon as I recognized the living area with the vaulted ceiling pictured on the website. Therefore, the place was unlit and deserted.Suddenly, three giggling heads popped out from an indoor balcony. Pretending to be the only guests in the large riad, the three stooges invited us to join them upstairs. Lisa and I burst into an uncontrollable laugh. When assured we were safe, our guide wished us goodnight and goodstay without asking for any charge. He ended up being a real gentleman. We finally got shown a room: spacious with high ceilings, hand-carved walls, ceramic windows and three balconies facing the ceramic chandelier and overlooking the communal living area. The bed had golden sheets and the detailed lanterns added magic to the room. The bathroom was beautiful and cozy with stone work on the floor and walls. We had our palace. One guy finally admitted to work at the riad and gave us the key to the room. We were still laughing from the moment we got out of the cab and got lost in the dingy alleys. We even dropped of laughter on the floor when I found a pair of old man underwear on our royal couch. Good times. Medina of Fes Founded in 793 AD, Fes is found in the foothills of the North Middle Atlas mountains of Morocco. With nearly 10,000 streets, the medina inhabits about 150,000 Fassis. Probably the largest and oldest in Morocco, the medina is made of about 300 neighbourhoods, each housing five important features: a school, a mosque, a fountain, a bread oven and a hammam. Hundreds of merchants and craftsmen selling products such as dates, spices, carpets, copper urns and musical instruments are found in the narrow alleys, as well as the local people and tourist brave enough to venture the busy maze.

Breakfast on the roof terrace overlooking the Medina of Fes

After an attempt to explore on our own, we soon got lost, as it is a certainty in Fes. We ended up following an other young man to the main square. Five hours later, he was still guiding us. We visited a traditional leather tannery where we got given a bunch of mint at the entrance to diminish the pungent smell. We observed the process overlooking the tanning pits awash with coloured dye. Lisa got a bag made out of camel leather and rug, and a beautiful pair of boots the same style. I got an Indigo wallet made out of camel stomach.

Leather Souq, the oldest leather tannery in the world. Tanning pits are like honeycombs where workers treat and work the leather. First, the leather is soaked in diluted acid pigeon excrement to soften hide, then it is soaked in vegetable dye such as henna, saffron and mint,  and finally hung to dry.

We continued with a visit to an argan oil and natural remedy pharmacy. Then the carpet and blanket factory where we had mint tea. Lisa ended up purchasing a beautiful carpet and a cozy blanket.

For lunch, we skipped the traditional tourist restaurant and opted for an authentic family eatery instead. A woman brought us in the kitchen making us sample three different dishes with a communal spoon. I chose the lamb, Lisa chose the beef. It was served as tagines, with side plates of lentils, caramelized onions, white beans, and cooked salad. Our presence was very noticeable as we were the only women patrons in the room. Food was authentic, delicious and a cheaper option.

Walking in the streets of the old medina was definitely a tumultuous experience. Venturing through slippery and tight alleys amongst donkeys, Fassis, tourists and sheeps being purchased for the Eid Al-Adha was inevitable and a constant effort. But these are nothing less than the joy of travelling!

Sheeps marked for the Eid Al-Adha

Since we were off volunteer duty for the weekend, we decided it would be a good time to treat ourselves. Morocco doesn’t tolerate alcohol openly however, liquor stores can be found in some of the largest cities. We ventured outside the busy medina and took a cab to Burj Fes (shopping mall) where we stacked up on some goodies. Our plan was to be back on time for sunset, however all cabs were fully occupied due to rush hour. After waiting a good 20 minutes beside a stall selling sheep, we finally got a cab to pull over. Unfortunately, language barrier got in the way and we got dropped off at the wrong entrance of the medina. With the night approaching and a group of locals circling us offering to walk us through the dark maze, I found myself at the edge of losing it. I took a deep breath and stepped back. They were only trying to help us, yet their approach was overwhelming. They put us back in the cab and told the driver the correct way. We made it safe back to our riad. And so on, finishing the day on the roof top terrace munching on goat cheese, sweet dates and chocolate, sipping on Moroccan wine. I admired the old Medina of Fes illuminated by thousands of lights while the prayer chanting of a thousand Fassis soothed the chaos of the day. We shared travel stories with our local host and a German guest while the scent of Moroccan hash floated in the cool air of the African night.


Hanging Loose in Taghazout

North of the city of Agadir, in the south west coast of Morocco, is located the small fishing village of Taghazout, where sun bleached hair surfers showcase their skills on the ocean curls and where camels lounge peacefully on the golden beaches.

Mostly of Berber origins, the residents have become to be local surfers, blending with an increasing number of tourists who come to experience the Atlantic waves. Along with tourism, fishing and the production of Argan oil are the main source of income. French is the main language spoken after Arabic, but it is becoming common to hear English spoken by locals, whom learned from visitors.

There are many consistent and generally uncrowded breaks to choose from, whether you are a beginner, an intermediate or an advanced surfer. As well as the rest of Morocco, Taghazout is famous for its long right hand point breaks. With the right conditions, this point can offer a 2km ride, surfing from ”village to village”, starting at Anchor Point, meeting up with Hash Point and ending at Panorama’s beach break.

A few restaurants are lined up on the main street, offering a variety of food, from Moroccan dishes to International cuisine. You will also find souvenir stalls and small convenient stores with non-aggressive and laid back sellers.

Many surf schools have grown in recent years offering lessons and guidance, with packages including accommodation, lessons, authentic meals and rentals. If you don’t want to book a package with one of the surf schools, you can simply rent one of the many apartments, most of them oceanfront.  If you choose that option, I highly recommend to rent a car to give you the freedom to travel from break to break, do a trip in town, explore the coast and its surroundings, or simply chase the sunsets.

The coastal city of Agadir is approximately 20 min drive South from Taghazout. You will find a variety of large malls with grocery and liquor stores where you can pack up on what you need (remember that Morocco is a Muslim country where the consumption of alcohol isn’t openly tolerated. So be wise where you drink and how you act. Be a smart tourist and respect the locals). The city center is large and dynamic with tons of shops and restaurants servicing a diverse clientele. For souvenir shopping, the Agadir Souk is a great stop, although be ready to pay more than other cities. The beautiful and clean waterfront promenade offers a lovely stroll where you can glimpse at kids playing futbol and families gathering.


If the water is flat and the waves are shy, a nice day trip to Paradise Valley is in order. About 45min drive through a winding mountain road and you arrive at the entrance of the trail. The Valley was found by a German couple who took refuge there for a few years to recover from illness. They were cured by the peacefulness and natural surrounding of the Valley. Hence the name, Paradise Valley. Hang out on the rocks, cool off in the refreshing turquoise pools, show off by jumping off the rocks.

Taghazout is a beautiful, peaceful and friendly surfing destination. Whether you come here to learn how to stand on your board, or are in search of the perfect sea surf, this little coastal village is sure to satisfy your adventurer’s needs. Conquer the waves, taste the salt on your lips, feel the sun warming your face and hang loose on the beach amongst fellow surfing enthusiasts, friendly dogs and lounging camels. You’ll leave with new friends, improved skills and fascinating stories to tell.

A Road Trip to the Gateway of the Sahara

The sun painted the golden sand in beauteous shades of bright orange and gentle pink. My scarf protected my head, shielding it from the fieriness of the midday sun. We travelled through the Erg Chebbi dunes at a desert pace. My legs dangled on each sides of his rib cage, 6 feet from the yellow sea of sand. He wasn’t the cushiest ride, but I couldn’t criticize – I was the one sitting on his back. His hoofs softly brushed the sun-scorched sand. His lashes were lengthy and thick. Sometimes he’d turn towards me, requesting a scratch on his long wool neck. His name was Africa. An athletic and elegant 21-year-old dromedary, worker of the desert. 

When my mom announced she’d meet me in Morocco after I completed my volunteering program, I was eager to explore the rest of the country with her. My mother is my favourite travelling partner – cultivated, wordly and well-travelled, she always seeks the best ways to fully immerse in local culture. At 63 years old, she was ready to jump on local buses, eat from street stalls, ride a dromedary through the desert and even try camel milk. Since I already covered the Northern part of the country, including Rabat, Fes, and Chefchaouen, we decided to meet in Marrakech. My mom had already been to Morocco before and didn’t want me to leave the country before I visited the Great South. So, after a detour to Essaouira, we headed south and embarked on a 5-day road trip through the High Atlas Mountains, all the way to the gateway of the Sahara Desert.

Day 1: Marrakech to Zagora

We could have rented a car and done the drive ourselves since the roads are well-maintained and fairly easy to navigate. But to be able to safely make the most of this trip, we chose to hire a local driver. We met Hocine, a young, knowledgeable and hard working Berber who was going to chauffeur us on our journey to Ouarzazate.

We left Marrakech early in the morning and headed south towards Zagora. The two Kasbahs we visited were as impressive as the drive itself. The winding road through the Atlas was stunning, with earthy mountains and vast dunes forming the view, and a variety of fruit trees such as olives, oranges, lemons, dates and figs colouring the lunar landscape. Berger and their goats were seen climbing the mountains in search of a meal, accidentally throwing rocks on the paved road. I glimpsed at men travelling long distances on donkeys, artists selling handmade pottery and crafts, and vendors selling fossils and mineral rocks from the Atlas.

As we travelled through the High Atlas Mountains, Hocine explained that the name Berber was attributed to the oldest known inhabitants of the Barbary Coast of North Africa. The term comes from the Greek bárbaros, used to refer to any foreigner, and which is the root of the derogatory term barbarian. He continued informing that Berbers prefer to call themselves Imazighen, which means “Free People” in the indigenous Tamazight language.

We arrived in Zagora where Ismael, our 16-year-old chamelier, guided us through the obscurity of the night. Aboard our own camels, we ventured through a Star Wars decor. We had absolutely no control of our animal, had left all of our belongings in the car (requested to only bring the essential) and put all our trust in this courteous young boy. What was thought to be a 20-minute camel ride ended up being an hour journey through the lunar landscape into the darkness of the night. We finally arrived at the bivouac, nervously laughing about what had just happened and slightly relieved we made it safely to camp. We were invited to join fellow travellers sitting by the campfire. Tea was served and conversations were shared with the Imazighen. A delicious couscous was prepared then served in the main tent. There were chantings and dancing around the bonfire, feet in the sand while the moon slowly climbed into the starry sky.

Day 2: Sunrise camel trek in Zagora

When Ismael whispered “it’s time” at the door of our tent, it wasn’t even 6am yet. There was no time to sleep in or snooze for an other 15. We had to go. I put on my hoodie, wrapped my scarf around my neck and grabbed my camera. Barefeet, I left the tent and climbed the dune ahead. Fellow early risers were sitting atop the dune, blankets around their shoulders, camera on tripod ready for action. I looked at the horizon. At the end of this sea of sand, I perceived the mountains standing. And there it was, between two rocky peaks: the first rays of the sun, penetrating the blue morning light.

We cameled back to our vehicle as the sun slowly climbed into the sky. We were reassured to see Hocine along with all our belongings. Back into the car and en route to Mergouza.

Day 3: Entering the gateway of the Sahara in Mergouza

I got introduced to Africa. Entering the gateway of the Sahara, we embarked on a scenic and exciting 2-hour journey through the silent dunes of Erg Chebbi.

We arrived on time at the bivouac for sunset. I jumped off Africa’s back, feet landing in the cool shaded sand. I scratched his head as a thankful gesture, also giving him a slight break from the resting flies on his face.


I challenged myself and ran with all I could to the peak of the highest dune ahead, eager to finally witness one of the most impressive sunsets. I’ve seen a lot of setting suns, over oceans, mountains, and cities. But I was new to this upcoming spectacle. I patiently waiting while admiring a sea of seemingly endless sand dunes. The scarf that once protected my head soon covered my shoulders. The sun slowly disappeared behind the dunes, cooling the air and leaving room for the moon to take over the sky.

Beautifully knitted Imazighen carpets were placed on the sand in front of each tent. A short table was placed on top, with cushions at its sides and handmade blankets for extra comfort. Dinner was cooked and served by the chameliers on each table. A delicious traditional couscous paired with an authentic Moroccan mint tea. Candel light dinner in the middle of the desert in the comfort of the cushiony sand and under a shimmering African sky.

After dinner, I raced Hocine to the top of the dune nearby. We sat at the top on the cool sand and contemplated the dazzling display of shooting stars. A mesmerizing starry sky in the Greater Sahara.

Day 4: Todra Gorge in Tinerhir and the Road of the Thousand Kasbahs

Watching the sun rise over the desert was the perfect way to start the day. I jumped on Africa and we took the road back to civilization.

On our way to Tinerhir to go explore the Todgha Gorge, my stomach started to ache. I couldn’t even swallow a sip of water. Every turn made me feel even more nauseous. The worse part was that, being a woman, I wasn’t allowed in any bathrooms along the way. When we finally made it to our guesthouse, I retired to the room for the night. While my mom was dining solo downstairs, sharing my sickness with fellow travellers, I was stuck in bed with the worst dizziness. If it wasn’t for the kindness of the guesthouse host bringing me a Vervaine tea and some rice, I would’ve not eaten in 3 days. I managed to rest, have one bite of rice and magically finished the tea. The next morning I was welcomed by everyone in the dining room asking how I felt. Thanks mom!

Unfortunately, due to a misunderstanding and language barrier between our guide, our driver and us, we ended up skipping the Gorge, at my greatest disappointment. Instead, we were brought to a Imazighen women carpet factory where our guide strongly encouraged us to purchase a product, making us feel incredibly uncomfortable in the eyes of the hardworking women. I’ve heard the song before. I try my best to support the local communities when I’m abroad and encourage merchants more than I can probably afford. I respectfully declined his offers. However, he turned to my mom who felt so bad that she ended up buying an expensive piece of carpet that she’ll never use. Oh mom! Situations like that unfortunately happen often when travelling in foreign countries where tourism has a challenging impact on locals. Best we can do is stay kind while standing our ground… and if you give up, that souvenir will be attached to a laughable (by then) story.

We headed west on the “Road of the thousand Kasbahs”, a spectacular drive along desert landscapes, snow-capped mountains and palm groves. We also stopped in El Kelaa M’gouna, the “Valley of the Roses”, to grab rose water spray bottles, which made for great presents to bring home.

Day 5: Wrapping up in Ouarzazate

I felt like I froze up in time when I entered the 11th century Kasbah Ait Ben Haddou. The walls made of red mudbrick formed a labyrinth of inhabited homes, souvenir stalls and breathtaking view points. While most residents now live in a more modern village at the other end of the river, 8 families still inhabit this fortified city.

Last stop was at the Atlas Studio where many Hollywood and famous movies were filmed. We walked through the impressive decor, fighting the gusty, sandy wind.

Back in Marrakesh, we thank Hocine and generously tip him. He’s been such an informative, safe and attentionate chauffeur and we wish him all the best. It’s been a great adventure here in the Great South of Morocco and am so fortunate I got to share this incredible experience with my mother.


For more information about the excursion and trips similar to this one, check out Click Excursion.

Marrakech: Where the Magic Happens. Or Does It?

The impressive red walled medina is an extensive labyrinth of tangled tight streets, unfortunate homeless, everyday survivors and kids calcitrating donkeys. A city of snake ‘charmers”, monkey entertainers and aggressive sellers. Sore for the eyes, arduous on the heart, but it is the reality of the place, whether you like it or not. Despite the poverty of the people and the cruelty towards mules, the 11th century built city is a beautiful destination with a lot to offer. Once the capital of the kingdom, the imperial city now serves as a major economic center and is one of the busiest cities in Africa, attracting visitors from all around the world. The Red City, given the name from its red sandstone walls and buildings, is also an important cultural, religious and trading center for the Maghreb and sub-Saharan Africa.


Avoid getting lost for fun in the medina. Grab a map and familiarize yourself with the area. The fortified city is a seemingly endless maze and will bring you to less desirable places; areas you don’t necessarily want to see. If you stay around the Jeema el-Fnaa square and the Souk, you’ll have plenty of streets of markets to meander through and eye-popping things to see.

*** Tip: don’t follow the directions to the square from the souk. They will mislead you and make you go around the whole market. From the souks, keep a right to get back to the square.


The souks are a panoply of alleyways of tiny retail cubicles. Each sections specialize in local goods: carpets, maroquinerie, crafts, pottery, blankets, thuya fabrications, and the list goes on. Marrakech also hosts the largest traditional Berber souk in Morocco.

Before you spend your dirhams at the souks, you need to put on your “smart shopper shoes”. Vendors will do their best to rip you off as many bills they can. Here are some tips on the event:
  1. When you enter a store, walk with blindfolds. Don’t look straight at items, especially not something you might be interested. Look wide and uninterested.
  2. Once you are really sure you like something with the intention to buy, have a look at it. The vendor will be standing next to you in a heartbeat.
  3. Ask for the price. They will start with a number. When it’s your turn, cut by a 3/4. Then you will meet each other somewhere halfway between the original price of the seller and yours.
  4. If he doesn’t play along, or keep his price too high, start to walk away. Most likely they will chase you and let the item go at your price. Example: you are interested in buying a pair of babouches (Moroccan shoes). The seller will start at 150dh. Your turn: “50dh”. “120dh”. “70dh”. “100dh”. “80dh final price”, you say. “Ok 90dh”. “No, I’m sorry, 80dh was my final price”. Then, walk away. “Ok, ok, ok”. The seller puts them in a bag. Hand over the money. Done.
Riads become pure oasis in bustling Marrakech. After a day of craziness in the tight alleys, it is nice to come back to quietness and peacefulness. Open the wooden door and enter a paradise for travellers. Relax on a comfortable sofa in the open aired common area, amongst orange trees and birds resting in peace. Breakfast will be served on the terrace, with freshly squeezed orange juice and Moroccans crepes. You can also order dinner, which will be prepared with fresh ingredients purchased the same day (pastillas were my favourite).
At Riad Laila,Moroccan breakfast is enjoyed in the garden and dinner is served poolside.
At Riad Dar Rmane, Rachida will make sure your stay is memorable. Dates, dried apricot, cashews and olives will be served to you with a glass of wine while you read a book, relaxing on a long chair on the roof terrace. Order dinner before 2pm and she will shop for the freshest ingredients and prepare you a delicious dinner served on the open air living room, on a bed of petals.


If you need to get away from the hustling and bustling of the Red City, why not enroll in a cooking class? You’ll spend a day out in the country testing your knowledge about spices and learning to cook delicious authentic Moroccan dishes. Enjoy your concoction outside in the garden with fellow students. Perhaps a glass of wine will be offered. For more information, visit Michel’s webpage:

And how about treating yourself at the spa at the end of your stay? Marrakech has a variety of spas offering a wide range of massages, facial services, body treatments and beauty work. The best is to finish in a traditional hammam. Try out Hammam 1001 Nuits located at the entrance of the Jeema el-Fnaa.

Just a few minutes walk from one of the northern entrance of the medina, you’ll find the beautiful botanical gardens of Majorelle. Designed in the 20’s and 30’s by French artist Jacques Majorelle, it has now become a famous tourist attraction in Marrakech. French designer Yves St-Laurent purchased the garden in 1980 and, when he passed away in 2008, his ashes were scattered in the rose garden. Today, a memorial is set on a pedestal with a plate bearing his name to remember him and his work.  “It is a way for artists to live on… ”

Magical Marrakech?

The raw reality is apparent and harsh to admit. From wealthy tourists photographing poverty in the streets, to sellers fighting severely over a sale. Tourism has a huge impact on the people of Marrakech and it is hard to know if it’s for better or worse. For instance, those snakes aren’t charmed by the charmers. In fact, not only are they tranquilized, but their mouth is also sewn to prevent bites. The reason why they stand straight is because they are scared. Becoming extinct animals, they are most likely to die after 3 months of work. And how about those cute little monkeys? Their life isn’t so cute. Taken away from their mothers at an early age, they endure months of cruel training, such as chains around their necks, hands tied behind their back, food denied until they adopt the right acrobatics. Their teeth are pulled out and the animals are then kept in cramped boxes all day under the heat, making them suffer from heat stroke and illness. At night, they are forced to perform for the tourists, the latter to be smiling towards a proud picture to show off friends and family. Please, please, please, show consideration towards the cruelty for the animals. Don’t encourage such tourist traps. Marrakech is a lovely place, with more to offer than cruelty towards unprivileged animals. Be a smart traveller. If you wish to help and donate, visit Fondation Helga Heidrich SOS Animaux.


If you are looking for an out-of-the-ordinary holiday, an out-of-your-comfort-zone stay, or simply are thirsty for a cultural adventure, visit Marrakech, the city that never sleeps. Wander around the colourful alleys illuminated by candles and lanterns. Find your way through the smoke from the cooking stands in the middle of the square. Be charmed by the sounds of flutes erecting the snakes, the rhythms of the locals jamming in the public place, and the prayer chanting from the minarets. Maybe you’ll find some magic intriguing your senses.

Easy and Breezy in Essaouira

The soaring and screaming of the seagulls accompany the melody of the sea. Inside the medina, white are the walls and majorelle blue are the old windows and wooden doors we see. The air is fresh, the pace is slow, the colours are soft and the people are hassle-free.


Essaouira is a small fishing town located in the western coast of Morocco. It is inhabited by Arabs, Berbers and Gwanas, giving a rich cultural mix to the town. The bay is partially shielded by the island of Mogador protecting the peaceful harbour against strong winds coming from the sea. The medina, wrapped around with white ramparts, is a UNESCO World Heritage listed city making the town a must to add to your itinerary.

Shopping the tranquil alleys of the medina is a great option for souvenir hunting. The non-agressive vendors make it for a nice and peaceful stroll, giving you the proper time to shop stress-free. Follow the aroma of spices floating in the damp sea air. Search for argan oil, natural medicine, Thuya crafts or maroquinerie while shopping in a mellow atmosphere. The prices are already low, but there is always room for bargaining.

There are several restaurants offering Moroccan cuisine, although a lot are also serving European meals, such as pastas, pizzas, sandwiches and fries. Most riad will include Moroccan breakfast with the stay. Most will also offer a homemade dinner, at a fairly good price. Eating at the riad is a very attractive option. While dining in the comfort of your hotel, you will taste authentic dishes made out of fresh local ingredients (purchased on the same day). If they don’t sell alcohol, they will most likely let you bring a bottle of wine to enjoy with dinner. It is a cheap, convenient and delicious option!

Feline strollers seem better nourished and healthier than other Moroccan cities. Volunteers come twice a year to fix the females. Restaurants also spoil the furry companions with left-over foods and fresh water.

People don’t come to Essaouira for a sun vacation. Even though it is shinning here most days of the year, the town holds strong marine winds that could make some visitors unpleased and bothered. With an approximate 25km/h wind everyday, the town is known as the character wind city of Africa and has grown in becoming one of the best place to come windsurfing. Hundreds are seen defeating the wind, jumping the waves, and racing the gulls. I won’t suggest having a picnic on the beach with that kind of air current, unless you like crunchy bits in your sandwich. However, a few restaurants offer a good break from the wind, offering comfort food and refreshings.

At the end of the beach, camels and horses are found, ready to provide you with a scenic ride along sand dunes while admiring the sun setting over the ocean. If the idea doesn’t attract you that much, the images of these gorgeous animals strolling in front of the sunset make up for great pictures.

Essaouira is a purely tranquil holiday. Stroll the hassle-free medina, eat the catch of the day on the quay, have a mint tea on one of the terrace watching people go by, take culinary lessons with the cook at your riad, take a walk on the beach, admire stunning sunsets while sitting on a camel back. This little fishing town is a perfect retreat by the sea (and a natural exfoliant).

Photo taken by my beautiful mother