My 40th birthday seems such a long time ago now, but the memories of my surprise trip to Morocco feel like it happened yesterday.
When asked if I would like to go away for my birthday, my answer was an immediate yes, quickly followed by…I would like to go somewhere warm enough to wear a bikini (my birthday is in October, so this was no mean feat)!
So when we boarded the Monarch flight and they announced Agadir was our destination I was happy and excited. It was the first time we’d been to Morocco, a destination high on my travel list!
We landed, grabbed our hand luggage sized back packs and made for the exit. The heat hit us like a big, warm kiss as we left the plane; so welcome after the dreary British Autumnal gloom we left behind.
Taxi’s were easy to come by and after negotiating a fee (always recommended) we got in and headed out to the coast to the beautiful surf, spa and yoga resort, Paradis Plage. It’s located just north of Taghazout, a popular destination that attracts surfers from around the world, or so Mr. Brits tells me.
About the resort: I would give it 8/10. The layout of the resort was excellent, with two pools, beach access with a chilled out beach bar, spa facilities and a yoga studio with wall to wall windows which over looked the Atlantic ocean.
The staff were friendly and helpful, we had a large family room that was spotlessly clean and, like in many of the North African resorts, liked to impress us with their spectacular towel creations, which were creatively laid out on the bed after the rooms had been cleaned.
We’d opted not to go all inclusive as we usually like to explore the local area when we travel. But in hindsight it might have worked out cheaper in the long run. Beers were not cheap – equivalent of approx. £3.50 each for a small can (although this is common in Muslim countries) and meals were also quite expensive. Plus the local area was quite basic, with few eating places, which meant we ate at the resort all but one evening.
The only downside to the resort was the basic drainage system which resulted in a nasty smell around our room and at the pool side on some mornings. We were aware some people requested room changes which the hotel management obliged. We just headed for the beach instead, it didn’t seem to linger for long.
The biggest highlight for me was the yoga classes. Each morning at 8.15am I tore myself from my pillow and headed down to the studio for 1.5hr Yin yoga class. Our tutor was truly inspiring and I found the classes to be exhilarating, calming and painful…although I took the pain to be a good thing (you’ve heard the saying no pain no gain?!).
We practised Yin, which is a deep stretch yoga; it requires a lot of breathing and you can be in a position for a few minutes at a time, moving deeper and pushing harder, using your breath to get the most from your body.
When writing this post I checked back to the website to try and find the name of the tutor, but it looks like they change regularly. It’s worth checking the roster if it’s the yoga you wanted to book for specifically.
We spent four blissful days and nights at the Paradis Plage resort; surfing, sunbathing, eating, drinking, playing, having fun and taking Yoga, before ordering a taxi and heading back to Agadir for the second leg of our trip.
Mr. Brits, the travel genius and fun seeker that he is, had organised the seemless transition from Agadir bus station to Marrakesh. He has this wonderful knack of making independent travel appear ridiculously easy.
The 3 hour journey was not exactly a major thrill, but the thought of passing through the Atlas mountains and seeing camels running free near isolated settlements offered a real sense of adventure.
Arrival into Marrakech was a wonderful assault to our senses. The hustle and bustle, vibrancy, smells, colours and people sparked feelings of anticipation. We couldn’t wait to immerse ourselves and explore the busy streets.
A taxi took us from the bus station to the edge of the old town, which is a motor free zone. We took our bearings, pulled up Google maps on the phone and dived into the narrow, humid streets of the old town. Turning off the busy thoroughfare and down a quiet side street we approached a huge, old oak door that looked like something from a fairy tale castle.
We knocked and the door creaked as the owners opened up and welcomed us into one of the most beautiful and serene hotels I have ever had the pleasure of staying. The Dar Vedra was a riad, a traditional Moroccan house, or palace (I like to think of it as the latter), with a central, open air courtyard.
We had a family room on the ground floor, with direct access to a refreshingly cool, bordering on Baltic, plunge pool. Mr. Brits had totally out done himself finding this hidden gem!
The French owners were incredibly welcoming, bringing us tea by the pool and running through the delights of Marrakech, where to go and what to see, before showing us around the building. Finally arriving at the stunning roof terrace, with sun loungers, a shaded veranda and views over the city. This was where we were to have breakfast each morning.
There were so many things we planned to do in Marrakech from shopping and exploring the Souk in the old town to visiting the Jardin Marjorelle and of course sampling a traditional Hammam.
After a quick dip in the pool to cool down we headed out into the old town, in the early evening, in search of food. We arrived at the Jemaa el Fnaa, Marrakech’s famous market square, where boy Brits and I were pounced upon almost immediately by two women trying to apply henna to our arms. After disentangling ourselves and placating the two women with a few boiled sweets, we escaped and found a restaurant with a terrace over looking the square.
It was from here that we to soaked up the atmosphere and watched the goings on. Whilst it was busy and lively, I was a little disappointed I didn’t see the snake charmers, I expected to see from Alfred Hitchcock’s, The Man Who Knew Too Much; which was largely responsible for forming my expectations of Marrakesh.
Tired after the meal we headed back, making a quick stop off at one of the few bars that served alcohol in Marrakech. This was to become our bar of choice over the next few days. We loved the stylish, chilled out roof terrace, but it was the proximity to our Riad that offered the biggest draw, particularly after hours exploring on foot. Young Boy Brits covered some miles in the five days we spent in Marrakech.
We fell into bed when we got back and fell asleep almost immediately, only to be woken at 2.30am by shouts and banging. A little dazed we initially thought this must be the call to prayer. We’d been warned that it would start at 4am.
After a shocking nights sleep we got up in the morning to find there was no running water. We headed up to the roof terrace for breakfast, feeling dirty, tired and a little grumpy!
We were greeted with apologies for the nights disruption, luckily for us the night’s noise was not the regular call to prayer, unfortunately for some of the locals a couple of the shops in the adjacent street had gone up in flames during the night. The noises we’d heard were the locals trying to put out the fire before it spread to neighbouring buildings, including ours!
The water was back on by the time we got back from breakfast so we showered and headed out in search of the Souk…shopping here we come.
As we rounded the corner and were confronted by the damage from the night before we saw that three shop units had been damaged by the fire, including one that sold livestock. It was disturbing to see the charred remains of the hen’s, still in their cages and remembering the noises we’d heard the previous night. Subdued by the thoughts we moved on.
The Souk created a welcome distraction. The amazing labyrinth of streets and thriving artisan culture is clearly visible, with shop keepers in the smaller shops entertain us tourists with their craft skills.
The Souk was like organised chaos with each of the many crafts located together, for example all the shops selling leather goods would be located in one place, followed by the metal ware shops and spices and replica clothing, etc.
This was helpful for a couple of reasons; one it was easier to find your bearings when lost and two it made haggling easier between sales people, because many of the items would be duplicated in many of the shops.
It was a visual and cultural feast. But, unfortunately shopping with the Brits’ boys is no fun. They have no appetite and no patience when it comes to clothes, or more importantly shoe shopping. So we trawled the streets, inhaled the atmosphere, drank coffee, spent 30 minutes haggling for a traditional metal lamp for the house (which I love), played with a chameleon and bought a replica Moroccan football kit for Boy Brits.
After a long day and little sleep the night before we grabbed some food on the way home and had an early night. I slept through the prayers and woke up fresh and ready for breakfast, and then the day ahead.
Today we decided to leave the old town and visit the famous Jardin Marjorelle, a botanical nirvana. The garden was the invention of artist Jacques Marjorelle a landscape artist, who began cultivating it back in 1924.
Yves Saint Laurent and his partner Pierre Bergé bought the garden and electric-blue villa and gifted it to Marrakesh, after the city adopted him in 1964. The eclectic mix of 300 plant species from five continents has been preserved for the public’s enjoyment.
We wandered round in the scorching mid day heat, taking refuge in the many areas of shade. The gardens were beautiful and interesting. We spent well over an hour wandering round taking in the colourful foliage.
The images above are probably the most iconic and ones most commonly seen of the gardens, but the most striking of the plant displays, for me and Boy Brits, were the huge cacti plants. I was unaware that they grew so big.
Eventually the heat got the better of us and we decided to head back to the riad to take a dip in the pool and relax on the sun loungers. We’d walked to the gardens in the morning and it was a long walk so we decided to get a horse and cart back.
It was an experience! The first part of the journey was fine and passed without incident, but once we entered into the old town things got a little hairy. The width of the cart we were in was the same width as the street, which meant there was no room for anything, or anyone to get round us. It was embarrassing having people move out of the way for us to squeeze past. If Boy Brits hadn’t been so tired we would have got out and walked the rest of the way.
Eventually we made it back to our room and collapsed on the bed. I reached for my phone to check out the pictures I’d taken from the gardens, only to find I had lost it. I retraced my steps, in my head, and came to the conclusion that it had fallen out of my pocket in the horse and cart.
First I was gutted. Then I was determined to try and get it back, so I grabbed what cash we had, said good-bye to the boys and left in search of my phone. I walked out of the medina and caught a taxi back to the gardens in search of the horse and cart driver.
When I got back to the place where we’d originally got into the horse and cart I recognised the man in charge and used my pigeon French to try and find out where my man was. I think I made myself understood because the next minute they’d spoken to him on the phone and I was in a taxi heading to the other side of town.
25 minutes later we pulled up in the new town, after stopping at a spice shop en route for the obligatory bung. Across the road my man waved with my phone in his hand. I headed over and handed him the equivalent of £20 in dirham notes.
Back in the taxi, the driver dropped me on the edge of the old town and demanded twice what I’d given the guy who’d kept hold of my phone. I think he was charging me extra because I didn’t buy any spices! I gave him the equivalent of £10 and a warm, grateful smile before getting out
I headed back to the room triumphant, to find the boys looking relieved. It was only then I realised I’d been missing in action for the last 1 1/2 hours and they had had no way of contacting me.
Although they worried about me, at no point did I feel threatened. The people of Marrakesh and Morocco were absolutely lovely. We found them to be helpful and welcoming and whilst it cost me £30 to get my phone back, the independence I felt was quite liberating.
On our last day we decided to go to the spa and after speaking to our hosts and checking Trip Advisor we headed to Les Baines d’Azahara Marrakech which was close by and highly recommended. This was Boy Brits first Spa experience and he was very excited.
We stripped down to our swim briefs, put robes on and waited to be called. The boys were going together for a massage whilst I opted for the traditional hammam.
I embraced the experience and enjoyed every minute, but in hindsight it was not a treatment I should have taken at the end of the holiday as it removed ALL of my natural, and not so natural tan! The treatment is a bit like a bed bath but with lots of exfoliation and massage. At the end of it I was very relaxed and also very pale! 😢
From the way Mr. Brits described the boys’ experience it sounded more like a scene from Men Behaving Badly. Both boys had laid out on the massage tables face down and had been thoroughly enjoying the massage, which started at their feet and worked upwards. As the masseuse reached the top of Boy Brit’s leg he let out a loud trump.
Mr. Brits said the ladies had tried to hold it together and be professional, but once Boy Brits let out a nervous giggle all four ended up in a fit of giggles.
A bit embarrassed, but unapologetic Boy Brits said he’d enjoyed his first spa experience but hopes he doesn’t trump next time!
We visited Morocco in 2014 and absolutely loved it. It delivered adventure, new cultures and experiences in some amazing places with some friendly and welcoming people. We would love to go back at some point.