Eatalian Travel Atelier

logo Eatalian Travel Atelier marchio registrato

Morocco in spring. Marrakech, Ouarzazate and the golden sand dunes of Erg Chebbi

Easter 2019

This journey came to light tasting couscous and tajine dishes, at Le Mansouria, a Moroccan restaurant in Paris (post Eurodisney and Paris ).


Day 1 | Arrival in Marrakech, walk in the Medina, Visit of Palais de la Bahia and the Souk

This Easter holiday we will visit the south of Morocco. We fly to Marrakech with Ryanair, a taxi provided by the hotel will pick us up at  the airport. The first night we will stay in a Riad, a typical two-level family house gathered around a garden with fruit trees and a fountain in the centre.

Despite the very low price (€50 per night per room including breakfast) the house turns out to be a paradise: quiet, clean, with comfortable beds and freshly scented sheets. Riad Agathe, in the old part of the city, 10 minutes’ walk from Jemaa El-Fna square.

Riad Agathe Marrakech
Riad Agathe

To start, we entrust ourselves to an authorized guide, with whom we will go on a tour of the city. In Marrakech it is good to be prepared for the idea of ​​being constantly under siege by improvised escorts, procurers and beggars. With the guide we cross the Medina, we pass in front of the Koutoubia Mosque which we can only see from the outside, as access is not allowed to non-Muslims.

Moschea Koutoubia Marrakech
Koutoubia Mosque Marrakech
Moschea Koutoubia Marrakech 2
Koutoubia Mosque Marrakech

We continue to Palais de la Bahia, a sumptuous late 19th century building completely covered with the most refined decorations, ceilings are inlaid in painted wood, floors covered with white Carrara marble and walls decorated with yellow and blue mosaics. The palace is also surrounded by a lush garden.

Palais de la Bahia 1
Palais de la Bahia Marrakech
Palais de la Bahia 2
Palais de la Bahia Marrakech
Palais de la Bahia 3
Palais de la Bahia Marrakech
Palais de la Bahia 4
Palais de la Bahia Marrakech

After Palais de la Bahia, we go to the souks. Without a guide it is difficult to find your way around, maps are useless and the GPS does not work. Unless you wander around without any precise destination you will soon have to ask for directions to shopkeepers and passers-by and to rely on improvised escorts who constantly besiege you hoping to obtain some money.

We enter a pharmacy that sells natural products, such as the precious argan oil,  they suggest us a decontracting massage and decorate our hands with henna, and then into a craft shop where we soon get stuck in proven sales techniques. At the end of a long negotiation, we buy a beautiful inlaid mirror, which, albeit with a thousand vicissitudes, was delivered a month later, as agreed, to our home in Italy.

For dinner we rely on our guide’s advice but the experience turns out to be very touristy and quite poor, sometimes it is better to follow a trusted book guide.

A fun experience to do in Marrakech is a ride in a tuk tuk, the rickshaw that serves as a taxi there. Negotiation is also necessary for this, but the ride on the noisy and rickety vehicle is fun.


decorazione mano con henné

Day 2 | Departure for the southern tour through the Atlas Mountains, visit of Ait Benhaddou Kasbah, visit of Atlas film studios and arrival in Ouarzazate

I took a 4 day tour with Morocco Excursions, a local tour operator. We will travel by off-road vehicle and sleep in a different place every night. Hamid, a young Berber with proven experience, will be at our disposal as driver and guide.

Just outside the city, we come across a checkpoint where we get fined because the girls sitting behind have not worn their seat belts. No compromise. We continue skirting mud villages without running water and electricity along a road full of hairpin bends. We are crossing the High Atlas mountains, within a couple of hours the landscape has completely changed, we are at an altitude of 2260m surrounded by snow-capped peaks and an unexpected cold.

da Marrakech a Tizi N Tichka
Tizi N Tichka
cartello Col du Tichka
da Marrakech a Tizi N Tichka 2

After the Tichka Pass (2260 asl), the road begins to descend and the landscape changes again. On the sides of the roads, we can see camps of nomadic shepherds. After about 1h and 30 we arrive at Ait Benhaddou, a red brick kasbah with thatched and mud roofs which has been the set for many movies such as The Gladiator and Jesus of Nazareth. We have lunch and take a short guided tour of the kasbah going up to the fortified village which offers a spectacular view of the surrounding palm grove and rocky desert.

Ait Ben Adou (1) Marocco
Ait Benhaddou
Ait Ben Adou (2) Marocco
Ait Benhaddou
Ait Ben Adou (3) Marocco
Ait Benhaddou

We continue to Atlas film studios in Ouarzazate where the sets and furnishings of many successful American movies filmed here are exhibited (Jewel of the Nile, Kundun, and many more) . We will spend the night in Ouarzazate.

Atlas Studios Ouarzazate
Atlas Studios Ouarzazate
Ouarzazate Marocco

Day 3 | Through the Draa Valley, arrival in Merzouga, camel ride to Erg Chebbi

From Ourzazate we proceed southeast towards the Draa Valley where a thin stream feeds a lush oasis. We pass the caravan Oasis of Agdz, with a wonderful untouched palm grove, we cross the villages of N’Kob, Tazzarine and Alnif. Unlike Marrakech, there is no traffic here, crowds of tourists, siege of beggars but checkpoints are recurring and Hamid is cautious. Crossing slowly the villages we see the children coming home from school and they often greet us. I am truly amazed by the orderliness and cleanliness of these villages.

Vette innevate dell'Alto Atlante Marocco
High Atlas peaks
Valle del Draa Marocco
Draa Valley

From Merzouga we continue by camel, the luggage will go by car. We just have to take a small backpack with some water, cover our heads and wear sunglasses.

On the camels, in less than half an hour we are at the camp where we will spend the second night.

The lodging is really beautiful. Each tent has proper beds with sheets, blankets, duvets and a bathroom. In front of each tent there’s a small table with tea and dried fruit. We take advantage of the sunset light to take some pictures and roll down the dunes and then we have dinner in the restaurant tent where they serve us an excellent tajine with plums.

But with the dark we start freezing, we have to put on everything we have, socks, jeans, fleece and get under the covers. Outside, the other guests enjoy the evening entertained by traditional Berber songs.

Accampamento Erg Chebbi 1
Accampamento Deserto Erg Chebbi (2
Deserto Erg Chebbi Marocco
Erg Chebbi Morocco

Day 4 | Visit to Erfoud, the fossil area, Todra Gorges, arrival in Boumalne du Dadès

After breakfast we return to Merzouga by camel and continue towards Rissani and Erfoud. This is the ​​fossiles area, trilobites from the Paleozoic, a hunting ground for collectors from all over the world. We cross Tinejdad and Tinherhir along a road that winds through palmeraies and Berber villages.

The path is all curves and suddenly high walls of pink and gray rock close around the road, we are at  Todra Gorges, a large fault that cuts through the limestone, so narrow in some points that a river barely passes through it.

One of my daughters is getting sick. We stop and soon a young boy arrives offering a Coke, very kind, there’s no way to pay for it.

For the night we stay in busy Hotel Xaluca Dades in Boumalne du Dadès.

Gole del Todra Marocco
Todra Gorges, Wikimedia Commons

Day 5 | Through the Valley of the Roses and the Skoura Oasis

Today, we cross the Valley of the Roses. Between the end of April and the first week of May, the whole valley is filled with wild roses that grow in the bushes. According to legend, they were brought from Damascus by pilgrims returning from Mecca. These desert roses are particular not only for their color, but above all for their scent, which is very marked compared to other kinds of roses that can be found in this area. Invisible in winter, their petals color the villages in this time of the year. Women and children collect them to make garlands, to decorate houses, to extract oils and perfumes.

On the way back we stop in a workshop where they make carpets with the traditional loom. Since its origins, weaving has been practiced by women of nomadic and semi-nomadic tribes in mountain or rural areas. The manufacturing technique is handed down from mother to daughter from one generation to the next thus preserving ancient traditions and symbols. Berber carpets are the result of millennia of imagination and skill of Berber women who, taking inspiration from nature, created these masterpieces for personal and daily use. As for materials, sheep’s wool is traditionally the most used but today, in addition to wool, various materials are also used such as natural nylon and olefin and Moroccan carpets are often made with mixed yarns composed of different materials. Whatever the compound, the result is carpets of excellent workmanship, very resistant and soft.

We continue through the Skoura Oasis, also called the Oasis of a Thousand Kasbahs. A few thousand people live in the oasis today, but it was once much more populated and housed a large synagogue due to a very important Jewish community devoted to commerce. The caravan route that crossed the desert and arrived in Marrakech used to pass here.

Then we go back along the same road taken two days earlier, through Ouarzazate, the High Atlas Mountains and back down to Marrakech.

It’s been such an amazing experience, traveling through many different places.

The last two days we will pamper ourselves at Riad Alma, a very refined structure in the heart of Marrakech.

Valle delle Rose Marocco
The Valley of the Roses
tessitura tappeti a Ait Ben Adou
Traditional carpet weaving in Ait Ben Adou

At sunset we go to Jemaa el-Fnaa, the most famous square of Marrakech where the bustle and street theater have been going on without interruption since around 1050. Snake charmers, tattoo artists, water sellers, acrobats, street actors, musicians, cooks…in 2001 the square has been declared a Masterpiece of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity by UNESCO.

For dinner this time we follow the advice of my trusty Lonely Planet and look for Hadj Moustafa in Souq Ablueh, a stall where you can taste the best tanjia in Marrakech, a typical lamb or beef dish cooked slowly under the ashes, in a clay pot. Indeed, the place is extremely characteristic and the meat is exceptional.

tanjia Marrakech
lamb tanjia cooked in ashes

Day 6 | Visit to Jardin Majorelle, stroll in Ménara gardens, relax in hammam

Jardin Majorelle is a must see in Marrakech. This amazing house and magnificent garden housing 300 species of plants used to belong to Yves Saint Laurent. The designer and his partner bought it in the 80s and later gave it to the city. There also is an interesting exhibition of the designer’s collections in the house.

Jardin Majorelle Marrakech
Jardin Majorelle Marrakech, Wikimedia Commons
Jardin Majorelle Marrakech 2
Jardin Majorelle
Jardin Majorelle Marrakech 3
Jardin Majorelle

In the afternoon, after a walk at Jardins de la Ménara, public gardens with lawns and large pools of water, we treat ourselves to hammam, the traditional body wash followed by an exfoliating scrub made with the typical Moroccan black clay.

Day 7 | Walk to the Mellah, and visit to Maison de la Photographie

Last day. Today we go to Mellah, the Jewish quarter, where there’s the city’s small Jewish community’s synagogue, which is accessed from a small door that opens onto a pretty blue and white courtyard. The Mellah dates back to the mid-16th century and was the nerve center of a large Jewish community, especially sugar and banking traders, but also artisans, jewelers and tailors. For a long time, the Jewish quarter remained a city within a city, separated by walls that could only be crossed barefoot by the inhabitants. The Jews were therefore allowed to live in Marrakech in isolation and for this reason they had their own market to get supplies. The two access doors were closed in the evening and during the day they were patrolled by guards to control entrances and exits.

Then we continue to Maison de la Photographie an interesting private photographic archive which includes photographs, postcards, newspapers, maps and documentaries collected between 1879 and 1960.

Portoni Marrakech 2
Glimpses of Marrakech
Portoni Marrakech 1
Glimpses of Marrakech
Sinagoga Marrakech
Marrakech's synagogue courtyard
Maison de la Photographie Marrakech
Maison de la Photographie Marrakech

We spend our last evening dining on our Riad‘s terrace.

This trip made me discover a very civilized country. The hygienic standards have sometimes been surprisingly higher than ours, bathrooms always stocked with soap and toilet paper, often an attendant ensures cleanliness in exchange for a few coins. Of course, tradition has it that in the souks, goods and foods are displayed on the stalls without any type of protection, so it is good to carry sanitizing products, medicines for stomach worries, avoid raw foods and only drink bottled water, but small tips will definitely make you moroccan trip unforgettable rather than to be forgotten.