ROAD TRIP TO THE
Morocco was never at the top of my list, as I mostly imagined being constantly hassled in hectic cities like Marrakech ('cos I'm a stunner, obvs) and thought bun that. However, the idea of something as extreme as the Sahara Desert really got the old mind ticking. After all, I'm always up for a bit of CULTURE.
Once we decided that we didn't want to spend too much time in Marrakech and that the goal was to make it to the Sahara, we looked into some must-see sights along the way and here's how it all turned out...
Destination: Aït Benhaddou
Where we stayed: Kasbah Tebi
Drive from Marrakech: 4 hours
BLATANTLY OBVIOUS TRAVEL TIP: Book your rental in advance to pay as little as poss. The car rental companies in town are a bit off-key, so go for one with decent reviews and pick it up from the airport. Also, it's worth noting that you have to queue to get into the airport and this also involves a security search, so make sure you leave yourself enough time.
After securing our cute little Ford, we shakily navigated our way out of the mad Marrakech streets. As there aren't any speed cameras in the country, we’d been warned that police checks were quite common. Sure enough, a couple of hours into our drive we were stopped by two policemen on the side of the road. I don’t know a word of French but this was one of the few times in my life where coming from Iraq worked in my favour, so I bust out the old Arabic and he BLODDY LOVED IT. Course he did. It was obvious he was after cash and after asking us for 400 dirham, I cheekily suggested 200 back and to my surprise he simply said: “Okay.” The haggler inside me was fuming I didn't go even lower but it's worth knowing you can get them down.
Some time into our journey, we stopped in a town called Oud Amaskar. Café Restaurant Jardin sits along the side of the road with a little terrace and hot food on offer. We ordered beef kebabs with lentils and mint tea, then carried on with our journey to Aït Benhaddou.
Found in the foothills of the High Atlas, Aït Benhaddou can be dated back as early as the 17th century and undoubtedly its most impressive feature is the Ksar.
I’d never seen anything quite like it. This ancient site is the most remarkable example of Moroccan clay architecture of the pre-Saharan regions (how clever do I sound? That's what a few minutes researching does, mate). Made entirely from earth and wood, it is a recognised World Heritage Site. A handful of kasbahs lay behind the walls of the ksar and our guesthouse was one of them.
Kasbah Tebi is a family-run gaff and has been for over 400 years. With no electricity, a beautiful view of the valley and traditional Berber décor throughout, I couldn’t recommend this place more.
We parked up and luckily, only grabbed some essentials with us as the way to our guesthouse meant crossing over the two rivers with sandbags as the “bridge.” Lil tip: don't wear an adidas maxi skirt during this part of the trip. You're welcome.
Or you could just not be pathetic and walk through the water like this child did.
The guesthouse was the perfect spot to discover the famous ksar, with its own entrance that led us round the reddish clay walls and up to the top to get a panoramic view of the ancient town. It's not a sight you'll get bored of quick and I'd truly felt like I'd gone back in time. The town is separated by a river, which was almost completely dry for our trip; one side is the newer part with restaurants, guesthouses and shops, while the other is the old ksar, where it felt a lot more special. At night, this was the best place to see the stars and nowhere else topped it during our whole trip.
Couple of things to point out if you plan on doing a similar journey is most guesthouses serve a three-course dinner at 7.30pm. They’re all pretty much the same and never disappointing. So, unless there's a spot you really want to visit, it's good to nestle into your accommodation and just CHILL OUT.
The next morning, we were woken up early by the guesthouse’s donkey outside our room. I'm not a morning person (don't EVEN test me at 8am) but surprisingly it didn’t annoy us at all...it actually made quite a comical alarm clock. After spending a few mins getting some killer snaps – obviiii – we enjoyed breakfast on the terrace and set off for our second stop: Dades Gorge.
BTW I have never in my life had orange juice so sweet than in Morocco. It's always on offer so make sure you make the most of it while you're there.
Destination: Dades Gorge
Where we stayed: La Gazelle de Dades
Drive from Aït Benhaddou: 3 hours
En route, we stopped off at CLAS Studios and checked out where they’d filmed Gladiator and GOT. If you have time, it's definitely worth checking out, especially for some jokes pics. Oh yeah, and make sure you find out exactly where the set is instead of getting yourself lost and almost stuck in a mini dessert like we did.
Along our journey, we were stopped by police again, but they just wanted to check our papers. LIL TIP: Get used to seeing police stops leading up to main towns (good time to slow down, guys).
Like the rest of our journey, the drive was unbelievable. The landscape would constantly change through little villages, palm groves and past hundreds of kasbahs, and it was only about to get better once we arrived in the main town. In other words, it's a bit of a scenic drive.
Millions of years ago, the town lay at the bottom of the sea until the movement of the earth's crust caused it to rise above sea level, which is now what we call the Atlas Mountains. Jesus, I'm killing it at this travel writing game.
Mountain Pass is a windy and dangerous road which leads up to the top of the gorges and to the perfect view point. Here you can see the Dades River flowing along the backdrop of the gorges, but don't attempt to drive up there unless you're EXTREMELY SKILLED. Which by the way, I am not...shout out my man and certi Top Gear G.
Our guesthouse wasn't anything fancy but it felt homely and our room had a balcony that faced the gorges. Again, one night is the ideal amount of time here and it makes a great place to stop off en route to the Sahara Desert.
Destination: The Sahara Desert
Where we stayed: Golden Camp
Drive from Dades Gorge: 4 hours
Up early, we headed for Merzouga: the gateway town to the Sahara Desert. This particular drive was probably the most buttaz of all the journeys; it was complete desolate with nothing around, except a few black camels and a number of wild dogs that had died from dehydration.
We stopped off for some food in a town called Alnif. Hotel Restaurant Gazelle du Sud didn't look like much so we didn't expect the most banging meal here. After ordering the first of what would be many Berber omelettes, we were surprised to see it arrive in a huge tagine pot. Forget the traditional idea of an omelette, as this dish is more like baked eggs and this particular one was made with onions, tomatoes and peppers.
If you want to stop closer to Merzouga, then Quarter Moulay Rachid was a busy, colourful place that seemed like a good option.
When you arrive in Merzouga, a host from your Sahara Desert camp will meet you and you have the choice of arriving at your camp in a 4x4 or by camel. We chose a sunset camel ride (come oooonnn) and we had an hour to kill before we were picked up, so we headed into the town of Merzouga to buy some headscarves as we wanted to look REAL LEGIT YANO.
The camel ride was obvs good for novelty purposes and for the 'Gram, but after an hour the novelty had worn off and I was aching. NEVER HAPPY, AM I?
We spent the night at Golden Camp and it really was everything you need in the desert. Our tent was huge and the camp itself was well looked after. There was running hot water in our tent, the biggest bed I've ever seen (wasted on someone so minuscule) and the best thing: WiFi. Dinner was a huge four courses and one of the best meals we had. After dinner, Aziz, Hassan and all the staff played drums and made it all bloody authentic. The only down side with our desert trip was it was too cloudy to see the stars, sunset and sunrise but you can't have it all, can ya?
Destination: Aït Benhaddou
Where we stayed: Chez Brahim
Drive from Sahara Desert: 5 hours
It was such a windy morning when we woke up in the Sahara and this was the one rainy day we had the whole holiday. So after we got a lift back to Merzouga, we decided it would be a good idea to head back to Aït Benhaddou as our stop off point to the High Atlas mountains.
Although we absolutely loved Kasbah Tebi, we chose to stay in Chez Brahim this time as we arrived late in the afternoon and were going to leave early in the morning. This is such a friendly place with good food and cosy rooms. Dinner was the usual three courses, this time it was a Berber omelette as a starter, followed by chicken tagine. As well as the normal breakfast bits, the next morning we enjoyed Sfenj - a sweet type of bread cooked in olive oil - and it's as naughty as it sounds.
Something to note if you like a drink: alcohol is not widely available, so if you want a drink with your meal then it's best to buy it in town. Our host Kamal sorted us out with a bottle of red wine so we could take it to the High Atlas.
Destination: Asni, High Atlas Mountains
Where we stayed: Kasbah Africa
Drive from Aït Benhaddou: 5 hours
Knowing that this would be the last big drive and having booked two nights at our next stop, we were definitely in high spirits.
This was another beautiful drive that went from snowy mountains to vast landscapes of green farmland and it was only leading to somewhere even more beautiful.
The High Atlas Mountains offer many luxury boutique hotels, so you do really have the pick of the bunch. Our entrance to Kasbah Africa seemed a bit ominous and the narrow entrance to park your car is best suited for small cars.
When we arrived we were completely gobsmacked. At the bottom of a green valley, a stream trickles by as goats make their way through the mountains and a Mosque calls out afternoon prayer. There are eight double rooms and a family room, a swimming pool, garden area and an inside restaurant. It was so quiet and so serine, and we had it all to ourselves.
When we booked, we decided to pay for breakfast and dinner within the package. I’d recommend doing the same as we only had two days and we didn’t want to leave the hotel in search of something else, mostly because it was so secluded. If you’re outdoorsy and have time, this is a great place to hike. We chose to do fuck all TBH and it was ideal.
The food was all traditional and so good; Berber omelettes and the best tagines we had during our trip. The lamb and prune tagine was particularly tasty and breakfast outside on the patio was next level cute. I’d recommend coming here straight from Marrakech as it’s not even two hours in the car, yet you feel a million miles away from the madness of the capital city.
WHAT I'M WEARING:
ERRYTINGG VINTAGE VERSACE EXCEPT ASOS EARRINGS.