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Kantara Blog

Morocco Travel Tips - Coastal Cities | Essaouira, El Jadida, Tangier, Asilah

Essaouira

Essaouira is a coastal town three hours from Marrakech. Visitors can travel there via direct busses with Supratours or CTM or more adventurous travelers can take a cheaper and somewhat speedier grand taxi. Read more about traveling via grand taxis here. Essaouira is known for its traditional gnawa music scene and the sound of gnawa's Afro-Moroccan reggae style music often provides a backdrop to strolls through the white- and blue-walled medina streets. The city hosts an annual gnawa festival in June of every year that is attended by tourists and Moroccans alike who come to listen to local and world renowned musicians.

Essaouira

Jimi Hendrix was very taken by Essaouira and there are famous, yet erroneous, claims that  he wrote "Castles Made of Sand" after being inspired by the sight of an old Portuguese castle that has succumbed to the ocean sands in the shallows off of Essaouira's beaches. Not true, but the castle is an interesting reminder of all the colonial influences that ruled over Morocco.

Essaouira

Not far from the ramparts and the beaches is Essaouira's functioning shipyard where fisherman display the catches of the day and boat builders are hard at work building and repairing massive, sea-faring boats.

From Essaouira, you might continue your journeys further south to the pristine beaches of Sidi Ifni, which is a small Amazigh coastal town with breathtaking landscapes an top notch surf.

Sidi Ifni

 

El Jadida

Tiny little Portuguese fortress town south of Casablanca, which makes for a great day trip if you have the time. One of the main sites to see is a cistern built in the 1500s that was featured in Orson Welles' Othello.

Tangiers

A complex city, known for its historic place in Western literary cannon from the likes of William Burroughs and Paul Bowles, Tangiers also happens to be the border city between Morocco and Spain, or more broadly, between all of Africa and Europe, with a mere 9 miles separating the two countries. Most Moroccans in the north speak Spanish as their second language. Because of its proximity to Spain, drinking and tapas culture is a bit more accepted. If your travels take you through Tangier, get mint tea and besara soup at Hafa Cafe. Go to the Kasbah and the museum of the Kasbah. Check out the excellently curated Ligation Museum. Go to the Cinemetheque in the heart of town to catch a movie or to get a sense of the cultural undercurrents; the Cinemetheque is a great Moroccan-run space that is transforming that part of downtown Tangiers.

Asilah

Between Tangiers and Rabat is the coastal town of Asilah that is known for its beaches. There may be better beaches along the Mediterranean coast or south of Essaouira near Sidi Ifni, but I always liked going to Asilah because of its proximity to Rabat.

Asilah

Morocco Travel Tips: Amazigh Mountain Towns | Chefchouaen, Telouet, Ait Ben Haddou, Ifrane

Chefchaouen 

Chefchaouen is a small mountain town in the Rif mountains north of Fes. Unfortunately it's not the easiest to get to from Fes, but it's worth the journey. If you find yourself heading south from Tangiers, it's slightly easier to find reliable and frequent transportation to Chaouen. The city is known for its beautiful blue walls and mountainous medina. There is a lot of good hiking around Chaouen with gorgeous views.

Chefchaouen

Since this in the northern part of the country, most folks in town speak speak Spanish as their second language, as opposed to French. Other languages include the Moroccan Arabic dialect, called Darija, and the Amazaigh language of the Rif Mountains, called Tarafit.

Chefchaouen

Telouet

This is my new favorite place to visit in Morocco. It's an old Glaoui town, about 25km off the winding Tizi N' Techka road between Marrakech and Ouarzazate, which is the same road you would take if you're headed to the desert oases of Merzouga or Zagora. It's worth stopping in Telouet for a night or two. It's a little bit off of the tourist path but has one of the most beautiful ancient, tribal Kasbahs that I've seen in Morocco.

telouet

The Glaoui tribe was a well-known nomadic and warring tribe from this part of Morocco and their Kasbah is replete with fortressed walls, intricate tile-work, and incredible views. You can camp or stay in hotels that are an easy walk from the Kasbah. Since Telouet is nestled in the High Atlas Mountains at quite a high elevation, during winter months, travelers should be aware of sudden snow storms.

Telouet

Ait Ben Haddou

Ait Ben Haddou is another ancient town featuring an old Kasbah fortress on the outskirts of Ouarzazate, about 4.5 hours from Marrakech. You can visit from the main Marrakech-to-Ouarzazate two-lane thoroughfare, called the Tizi N' Techka road (which in the Amazigh language, literally means "difficult road"), or you can continue along the backroads from Telouet to arrive at Ait Ben Haddou.

Ait Ben Haddou

Visits to these impeccably preserved Kasbahs reveal a story about the import of the various tribal and indigenous factions that ruled Morocco centuries ago.

Ait Ben Haddou

From here, you can continue on another 30 minutes to Ouarzazate, which is a great stopping point for travelers en route to one of Morocco's two desert spots. Ouarzazate is the hub of Morocco's film industry where many films were shot, including Gladiator, Alexander the Great, Babel, etc. Although I've never been, I know that studio tours are popular sightseeing options for folks who have some time to spare.

Ouarzazate

Cascades d'Ouzoud

In the mountains north-east of Marrakech is this popular waterfall destination in the foothills of the Middle Atlas Mountains.

Cascades d'Ouzoud

Ifrane

From Fes you can take a day trip to Ifrane which is about 1.5 hours by bus. They call this town Little Switzerland because all the houses are built in the Swiss alps chalet style. It's the richest town in Morocco and is home to the prestigious university, Al Akhawayn. In winter, you can pass through Ifrane en route to local ski destination, Michlifen.

Ifrane

Ourika Valley

On the outskirts of Marrakech is this small, riverside town where you can go hiking, experience a more rural version of Moroccan life and stay in beautiful hotels on the side of the mountain stream. Temperatures are considerably cooler in the Valle d'Ourika and so this is makes for an ideal Marrakech getaway.

Ourika Valley

Morocco Travel Tips: the Desert

The desert

You can book a trip to the desert from either Ouarzazate or Marrakech. There are dozens of companies that will take you in their 4x4s to the desert, arrange lodging in a hotel on the side of the dunes, and make sure you get your sunset camel trek into the desert. There are two main desert locations in Morocco-- Merzouga, which is somewhat closer to Fes (although quite far from everything) and Zagora, which is closer to Ouarzazate. I've been to both and prefer Zagora, in part because you travel through an incredible and verdant Draa river valley that is full of date and fig trees, en route to the desert. 

Zagora is the departure point for many of the Sahara camel expeditions of olden days and as such you see influences on the culture, music, and food that are informed by sub Saharan Africa, the Tuareg, and the nomadic tribes that lived in the region for centuries. 

Zagora

This region is known for its carpets, some made with camel and goat's hair, for it's green pottery, silver Tuareg jewelry, and juicy dates and figs.

Morocco Travel Tips: the Ruins

Volubilis

In the north, on the outskirts of Meknes, which is located between Rabat and Fes, is Volubis, an ancient town of Roman ruins. The Romans were some of the original colonizers to arrive in Morocco and their city is well preserved here. I recommend hiring a guide when you arrive at the front gate to walk you through the ruins, although some are better than others.

Volubilis

 

Near Volubilis is the town of Moulay Idriss which is known for its hot springs. The owner of Fes' Cafe Clock opened a B&B here called Scorpion House.

On Current Events

The last few weeks adjusting to our new political climate has been quite the rollercoaster to say the least. My appetite for posting pretty photos of high-end, hand-woven Moroccan rugs and picturesque Middle Atlas landscapes has waned every time there has been a new Executive Order targeting folks of marginalized identities in the US and beyond.

At the same time I remember that I first started Kantara after living and working in Morocco in 2006. More than just selling rugs, I wanted to use Kantara as a platform to share stories of the women weavers, of how they live their lives, and of the role religion, tradition, food, and artistry play in their daily lives.

I'm no expert on the matter but I've been traveling to Morocco on and off for the last decade. On early buying trips, I weathered every form of public transportation that exists (including hitchhiking) and eventually got my systems down to a science. 

Now when I go to Morocco, I rent a tiny car and travel from village to village over some of the country's more remote terrain. I take back roads, dirt roads, non-roads. I've picked up hitchhikers, gotten pulled over by cops dozens upon dozens of times, and had my car break down several times. There have been many times when I've gotten lost and asked directions only for the person directing me to jump in my car and take us both to my desired location. 

Over the years, I've crisscrossed Morocco many times, traveling as a single woman, no hijab, and usually alone. I've never had any issues. 

To the contrary, more often than not, I would be invited in for tea, make a new acquaintance, or at the very least have a good discussion and practice my Arabic. 

There is so much more to say on this matter, but for now, I'm realizing it's more important than ever for us to use every tool we have to speak truth to power. 

I have been treated with such kindness and generosity by the artisans and families that I work with in Morocco. I have learned so much from these sage, hard-working Amazigh matriarchs-- about weaving, about life, about resilience. As we settle into our new geo-political reality, I'm going to be sharing more about the women that weave these rugs in an attempt to foster a greater understanding of a people that are not so different than each of us. #KantaraStory

 

Design Kantara Contest

At our Apartment Therapy talk last night we launched our Design Kantara contest which is easy and fun -- we invite you to color in these Moroccan pillow designs, post to Instagram using the hashtag #DesignKantara and @ us (@MoroccanRugs)

-- And then -- we'll choose one winner per design, have our ladies weave the pillows, and the lucky winners will get their own pillows by the end of the summer!

 

 

 

 

Moroccan interiors

 

Peeking into closets full of fancy embroidered Moroccan caftans and dresses inside a Riad in the Marrakech medina. Feeling very inspired by those golden poufs.

Flying Rugs

Kantara's many flatweave rugs get the flying treatment in this piece by Anna Beeke.
 

Shot with the Panasonic Lumix GH3 for the Lumix Changing Photography Contest, for which it won 2nd place.