Morocco has been a headline destination for at least a decade now, but if you believe the travel press, life there stops in the riads of Marrakesh or, at a pinch, in those of Fez and Essaouira. But in the last year or so, after the tragic massacres of tourists in Tunisia, even those headline places are slowing. So what about the rest of it?
Rattling around Morocco’s mountains has been an on/off habit of mine for some 40 years (read other posts here and here) so my latest trip hardly tossed up any revelations. It was more a case of confirming and revisiting what I knew: the grandeur and beauty of the landscapes, the kindness and hospitality of its people (when uncorrupted by tourism), and the ongoing deliciousness of its slowcooked tagines.
Morocco gets endless coverage in the travel press, but this often focuses on glitzy riads in Marrakesh, Essaouira or Fez. Push the boat out and you might reach Tangier (see an earlier post www.fionadunlop.com/blog/2009/03/14/tripping-tangiers/). These magical guesthouses which so cleverly blend Moroccan craftwork with Western style, are generally foreign-owned. Nothing wrong with that, and I love staying in them, but on my recent foray to the deep south, I was delighted to discover a couple of locally-owned guesthouses in stunning rural kasbahs or ksars (castles).
One of the biggest surprises on my marathon drive through southern Morocco was a priceless Quranic library, tucked away at the back of Tamegroute, a tiny town on the edge of the Sahara. Sounds contradictory, and it felt it. As a sandstorm swirled, led by a guide, I picked my way through the labyrinth of rammed earth streets to its newly built heart. This, recently funded by the King, has sprung up around the revered 16th century tomb of a Sufi saint (pic below) – and includes a merdersa (Islamic school) and the precious library.
Taroudant – a small town wedged between the Atlas mountains and the desert, dramatically surrounded by 7 km of lofty ramparts, is often dubbed a mini-Marrakesh. Well I can safely say that’s not the case, but it does have a lot of charm and far fewer touts than Marrakesh, a huge bonus. Even better, while passing through last week en route for the Sahara I found a manmade paradise just outside its walls – Dar Al Hossoun.
Serious woe. I’ve been slacking on this blog and never even covered my trip to Fez last November. It’s a city that I love. Despite knowing it for over 25 years, I still manage to find new streets, new trades, new streetfood. While researching my book Medina Kitchen (or The North African Kitchen as the US edition is called) Fez became more than just a seductive shopping labyrinth and actually took shape as a slowly changing society. Getting to know the Fassis was a privilege and getting to know their cuisine even more so. This, by the way, is not the breakfast of the title – that comes later.