Communities and customs
Take a walk in the countryside and meet local women. They’ll show you how they go to the hammam, how they cook in the communal village oven, how they make cheese or honey, argan oil or herbal remedies. They roll couscous, dry rosepetals, harvest olives to make oil and wheat to make flour, they tend goats and grow mint and vegetables in tiny plots of land in the palm groves. For celebrations, they’ll use kohl round their eyes, wear all their wedding jewellery and decorate their hands and feet with henna patterns. The older ones might have tattoos on their faces, while the younger ones will go to school.
The smaller towns and villages provide a fascinating glimpse into Moroccan life. Visit the holy pilgrimage town of Moulay Idriss Zerhoun in November when locals deliver their olive harvest to be transformed into delicious green olive oil at the communal press. Accommodation in Moulay Idriss Zerhoun is in comfortable guesthouses and you can have lunch at the exclusive Scorpion House.
In the Middle Atlas Mountains, make for villages like Guigou on souk (market) day or Ain Leuh to visit the women’s carpet co-operatives.
In the Ouirgane, Ourika and Imlil regions south of Marrakech in the High Atlas Mountains, you can visit nature reserves, walk through the fruit orchards of Berber villages to the village olive oil press, and taste country bread baked in an outdoor oven and dipped in local honey. Organic produce grown right here is used in country cooking classes.
In the Rif mountains, Chefchaouen with its blue-washed houses is always a favourite. Explore the old kasbah in the square with its peaceful gardens and interesting collection of old photographs of Chaouen. There’s good shopping here with antique Jewish artefacts, rugs, silver jewellery, fossils and wool: anything from funky jackets to superb djellabas with their distinctive Chaouen design. Just soaking up the ambience in the pavement cafés in the central square is always an option. If you’re feeling more active, the Talassemtane National Park with its varied trekking opportunities surrounds the town, or you can walk up to the old Spanish Mosque on the hill opposite the medina. Accommodation is in simple pensions or more upmarket guesthouses.
We’re delighted to be working with Abdeslam Mouden who leads the Rif Mountain Guide training programme. Through Abdeslam, we organise trekking in the Rif over two or more days, where you can explore these beautiful mountains right down to the coast, staying overnight in local gites. Alternatively, day trips can be arranged to rural communities where you can have lunch in a village home.
Wander the souk in Jewish-influenced Sefrou and visit nearby Bhalil with its cave-dwellers, go south to the pisé dwellings in the Valley of a Thousand Kasbahs and take in the rose festival in El Kelaa M’Gouna. On the exciting road over the High Atlas to Marrakech, stop off at Hollywood’s favourite kasbah Aït Benhaddou. Further south in the Souss Valley lie towns such as fortified Taroudant, famous for its silver jewellery, and Tafraoute with its magical mountain scenery. The surrounding area comes alive with the almond harvest festival in late February and early March with singing and dancing.
Morocco’s Sufi Brotherhoods are numerous and there’s often a saint’s day celebration (moussem) where they use music to go into a trance to get closer to God. The Fes Festival of Sufi Culture each October features concerts by various brotherhoods.
At the Fes Festival of World Sacred Music in (June 2021) you can end each evening at the feet of a different group in the garden of a Pasha’s palace. The small villages of Sidi Ben Aissa, Moulay Idriss and Sidi Ali as well as the city of Meknes are all well known for their Sufi groups.
And talking of music, Morocco reverberates to the Berber beat. From little boys banging empty plastic bottles to Gnaoua musicians’ castanets and twirling heads, from strident trumpets at weddings to the stately Arab-Andalous classical music, from nomads drumming in the desert night to modern Moroccan hiphop, the country’s music is hugely varied and fascinating.
Attend a concert, visit Fez for its magnificent Festival of World Sacred Music or follow a wedding party down the street. Then there’s the Gnaoua and World Music Festival in Essaouira each June and the Oasis Festival outside Marrakech in September.
Morocco is justly famous for its cuisine. From the moment you break through the fine crispy pastry of a pigeon b’stilla to release aromas of cinnamon, allspice and ginger, you’ll be hooked. Spices abound in the Moroccan kitchen, always subtle, never searing. The art is in choosing the right spices and in balancing them in the correct quantities to achieve the finest results. While the best meals are to be found in private homes, there are some superb restaurants in Morocco. Harira soup and a kefta tagine at a pavement cafe, kebabs and salads in the Djmaa el Fna in Marrakech, a bowl of fragrant b’sarra from a souk stall, fresh fish straight off the boats in Essaouira or a couscous royal at a palace restaurant in Fez – all will have your taste buds tingling.
Hands-on cooking courses can be found in all major towns, augmented by wine and olive oil tasting tours. Go shopping in the souk then learn to cook a full Moroccan meal or leave a tangia to slow-cook in the fire at the hammam, go wine-tasting or olive-oil-tasting, roll your own couscous or learn the finer points of patisserie, these are skills you can share with friends and family at home for years to come.