For the month of May 2017, Escape Brooklyn contributor Brianna Stachowski traversed Morocco’s many magical landscapes. From the chaotic cityscape of Marrakech to the seaside town of Essaouira; the Blue City in the mountains to the vast Sahara Desert, Brianna took photos and careful notes of her favorite finds along the way.
Aside from the beautiful places, Brianna explained that her favorite part of the trip how eye-opening it was. “Muslim culture is so misunderstood in the Western Hemisphere. I spent quite a bit of time replacing these misconceived notions; they were the most kind, welcoming, hospitable people I’ve ever met.” The cultural experience opened her eyes, ears, and taste buds. Check out her story, and recommendations for each city below.
Stay: The traditional Moroccan house or palace with an interior garden or courtyard is called a “riad.” I stayed at a number of riads, including the Riad Priscilla, but there are so many amazingly priced riads in Marrakech that you won’t have trouble finding one. The most important thing when looking for a place to stay in Marrakech should be location: anywhere near the Old Medina allows you to be in and out of the chaos quickly. Also, find one that serves breakfast, because you don’t want to be tossed into the mayhem without your morning caffeine.
Food: Great food is easy to come by; my favorites were Café Naima and Al Mustapha. Café Naima is family owned and offers just one dish a day for 100 Dirham, or 10 US dollars. But don’t be in a rush if you eat here, because the chef prepares everything to order. (Of note: I got to ride on the back of his moped as we cruised through the streets of the Medina in search of ingredients!) Additionally, Al Mustapha is hidden deep within the souks (the marketplace) and is amazing. Each morning, the owner begins slow cooking each dish in an oven deep beneath the floors. The meat is perfectly seasoned and falls right off the bone.
Do: Other than just getting lost, some of my favorite things to experience in Marrakech were the gardens, like Jardin de Majorelle or Jardin de Menara. On a hot day, these oases offer a refreshing break from the city. Another refreshing experience is visiting a traditional Hammam, or bathhouse. For a true glimpse into Moroccan culture, ask a local where to go and step into the experience of being scrubbed down by a stranger.
Stay: A much-needed change from the busy, non-stop pace of Marrakech, Essaouira is a seaside haven. This slow-paced coastal town offers a multitude of places to stay, but I loved Dar Skala. The view from the balcony, where you eat breakfast everyday, is to die for.
Food: In Essaouria, I fell in love with La Decourverte. The food is a fusion of its French and Morrocan owners, sourcing only locally ingredients and with a mindfulness for the benefits of the traditional Moroccan spices they use. Another spot I loved was The Loft, a small cafe offering a modern take on traditional Moroccan dishes. If you’re feeling adventurous, visit Stand 11 in the larger fishing fish market, where you pick out your choice of freshly caught fish to be cooked right in front of you.
Do: Relax. On your terrace, at the beach, or simply stroll around the Medina, which is a word for an old Arab or non-European quarter of town. The Medina of Essaouira is much less aggressive than the rest of the city, offering visitors the chance to wander without being hassled. Last, visit the Fishing Port. For 10 Dirham, or 1 US dollar, you can walk through the sea walls for incredible views overlooking Essaouria.
Travel: From the coastal town of Essaouira, I headed North to Chefchaouen. If you plan to do this, take the overnight train—from Marrakech to Tangier is a 12 hour ride. Rent a private couchette, killing two birds with one stone: accommodation and travel.
Eat: My favorite spot in Chefchaouen was Beldi Bab Ssour. Suggested to me by a local, this place is hidden away and full of locals (always a good sign). A must try is the succulent lamb tangia and lentils.
Do: Chefchouen is set in the Rif Mountains, which hug the city on all sides. Venture out for the hike at Cascades d’Akchour to experience the true glory of this mountainous area. The hike takes two hours, passing lots of local vendors with fresh orange juice and tangerines. The falls at the end of this hike are incredible. Back in the city, make a point to get lost wandering the streets of Chefchaouen. With the area’s abundance of indigo, the locals paint their city walls blue, hence its nickname “the Blue City.”
The Sahara Desert, Morocco
The beauty of visiting the Sahara is that most tours through the desert are all-inclusive, with camelback travel, overnight lodging (mostly in tents), and meals. (Trust me, you don’t want to “explore” the Sahara on your own.) Talk with multiple guide companies or locals before deciding on a trip; there are plenty of options.