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The magic of Morocco

Where do you start with a visit to Morocco? The African country has so much on offer: trekking in the Atlas Mountains, shopping in the busy souks, getting lost in the medinas, or just hanging out watching the kite surfers show their skill in the country’s “wind city” of Essaouira.

I started my trip in Casablanca, made famous by the movie of the same name. The port city is deemed to be the economic capital of Morocco and while the noisy and incessant traffic certainly detracted from its beauty, there was plenty to marvel at. Many visitors use the city as a hub to get to other parts of the country but it’s worth checking out the Hassan II Mosque, Morocco’s largest, as well as its medina, which generally describes the old, walled part of a town.

One of the most popular cities is Marrakech and it’s where many wait before they do their shopping. This can mean that smaller towns miss out on custom, which is a shame as buying where the handicrafts are made means the money is going directly to that area and you can meet the people who benefit and hear their stories.

I really enjoyed visiting the women’s cooperative – Cooperative Marjana – near Essaouira. Here, women produce a range of beauty products from the kernels of the argan tree that is endemic to the south-west region of Morocco. All proceeds go to the women employed there who manually extract oil by breaking each nut one by one.

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I personally enjoyed any time away from the larger cities although the friend I travelled with reveled in visiting the souks, or marketplaces, and partaking in the traditional negotiating that takes place for every – and I mean every – purchase. I never got the hang of haggling where you are expected to ask a stallholder his starting price, counter-offer with a price half of the original, and together work your way up to an acceptable compromise.

A highlight for me was a short camel ride taken before we headed into the Sahara Desert in 4WDs. The three-hour ride over dunes ran parallel to the Algerian border, across the stony Hamada desert where the only signs of life were large groups of camels.

That night we camped under the stars at the massive Erg Chigaga dunes – one of the world’s most classic landscapes. An erg is a sea of shifting windswept sand that forms into picturesque undulating crests and valleys. Walking to the top of the dunes and watching the sunset (and sunrise the next day) was an amazing experience as the silence and stillness allowed you to fully reflect on the magnificence of the landscape.

The Blue City of Chefchaouen in Morocco’s Rif Mountains and the 9th century, UNESCO Heritage-listed medina of Fez are wonderful places to wander around getting lost while discovering ancient wonders.

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My trip finished in the “Ochre City” of Marrakech, which has been rightly described as a feast of the senses. A walk through its medina sees you overwhelmed by brilliant colours, sounds and alluring spicy scents. It has an endless mosaic of souks, with each one devoted to a particular craft or trade such as pottery, woodwork or leather.

Marrakech’s Koutoubia Mosque with its superb minaret is famous throughout the Islamic world. If you want to escape the hustle and bustle then a visit to the Jardin Majorelle will soothe the senses. The French painter Jacques Majorelle created these gardens over 40 years and the tropical plants and gentle greenery are a welcome relief from the heat.

Throughout my travels, I not only enjoyed the amazing tagines that Morocco is famous for but quite got into the swing of sitting in cafes with a glass of Moroccan mint tea while watching the world walk past.

Also surprising but heart-warming, was that everywhere I went, locals called out, “Welcome to Morocco”. They clearly have a passion for their country and this pride was evident in the food they prepared, in the handicrafts they produced or just in the stories they told of their history.

Learning a little bit of Arabic goes a long way, too. It certainly got the locals laughing every time I tried to say, “Beautiful but too expensive” in their local language when presented with an unwanted item for sale. So shukran (thank you) Morocco. I’ll definitely be back.

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Gayle Bryant

Gayle has been a financial and business journalist and sub-editor for almost 30 years. She has written for a wide range of newspapers, magazines, custom and trade press and websites. Gayle’s articles regularly appear in the Sydney Morning Herald’s small business section and the Australian Financial Review’s special reports section.

The opinions expressed in this article are the opinions of the author(s) and not necessarily those of Homeloans Ltd.