There was that time when I was an intern at a cultural/social venture. Watch the craftswoman work their tailoring magic every day; I fell in love with the fabrics that they used for the Moroccan wedding dresses. And one day, I told myself. I am wearing one of those dresses and attend a Moroccan wedding. Well, in 2018, my dream came true. We went to Morroco with our best friends. To see her country of origin and discover the culture through food and… well, a wedding. It is pretty lengthy so if you are here for the pictures, you can also find them here.
Starting in the second biggest city; Fez, we stayed in the most beautiful Riad I have ever seen in my life (for everything a first right). A Riad (or Dar) is a townhouse with rooms around a courtyard or a garden with a small fountain. I kept staring out of the windows that look over the yard and soak in all the beautiful details. Fez has more or less the feel of Marrakech, but it is smaller and little more relaxed. But still, it has the feeling if you are wandering on the set of 1001 nights fairytale. Since we were there for two nights, we mostly hung out at the Riad or getting lost in the old medina. The old medina is one big labyrinth of narrow streets with surprises around every corner like a market for goods (any kind), souvenir shop or a food stall, or a wet market, the last two; there is no doubt that you will pass those unknowingly. The smell of food, cooked or uncooked, will creep up in your nostrils.
From Fez, we went for a little road trip to Rabat where we expected for the wedding. That was probably the most intense road trip we had ever made. Before arriving in Rabat, we made two stops in between. First stop was Moulay Idriss. This city is built on two hilltops, and it is considered a holy city by many. Until 1916 this city was not accessible for non-Muslims. Even till today, there are a few places that you can’t visit if you are not religious. Like the mosque, Koran school and the mausoleum. These places are still reserved for those who are Muslim. The city itself is not something you have ever seen. While the villages square isn’t the most exciting thing you have encountered. But if you dive deeper into the village (or city, whatever floats your boat), the alleys are colorful. A few kilometers away from Moulay Idriss, you can find the remains of the Roman Volubilis settlement and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. If you have plans to visit Moulay Idriss, we do recommend Dar Zerhoune, a small B&B almost next to the village center.
After one night and a fantastic breakfast, we went on to our second stop; the famous blue city of Chefchaouen. After a, well let us say, an exciting drive through the mountains. Encountering numerous cow in the back of pick-up trucks, overloaded hay-trucks and drivers thinking that they were Lewis Hamilton we arrived in Chefchaouen. And everything you have seen on the internet, it is true. The people of the city painted in 50 shades of blue and is the most picturesque and magical place you might have seen. Hence the nickname: “blue pearl of Morocco.” There are a lot of stories going around why the city is painted blue. Some say it’s a symbol of Jewish solidarity after fleeing Germany in 1930. Jews painted it blue because it represented peace, safety, and the power of heaven. But others will tell you that the painting goes back to the 15th Century when it was built around a fortress used to defend inhabitants against Portuguese invaders.
You can find Chefchauoen in North of Morrocco, and I do recommend you to stay more than one night. It is the perfect place to wander around, soak up all the shades of blue, and maybe get lost in the alleys. You can take a hike to the Spanish Mosque, Visit the Kasbah Fortress Museum, go to the Hamman or scratch a few kitties behind the ears. We didn’t do much besides from eating, wandering around, snap some photos and more eating because that is what we do best. What we did not expect is, to find a traditional Chinese – Sichuan noodle shop. You can find Mr. Bin restaurant tucked away in the medina, that serves hand-pulled noodles and other Sichuan specialties. As if it wasn’t warm enough already that day, we all had a bowl of hot, steamy soup with hand-pulled noodles. One better than the other.
After a night we jumped in the car, and we traveled to our destination of the wedding; Rabat. From Chefchaouen it is a four-hour drive. Trough mountains and desert-like places that could have been the background for a Star Wars movie, or Star Trek. Whatever. On arrival, we met with the family for a ‘small’ lunch. Since everybody was here for the wedding, it was a big family gathering of nieces, cousins, brothers and all kinds of relatives. We finally had a taste of that lemon-chicken that everybody was talking about and tasted the best couscous of that trip. After we ate our weight in chicken and couscous, we went to our apartment just outside of Rabat.
With a small kid in tow, it was easier to get an apartment where she had free range of the house and garden. The location was perfect, near the beach, a public pool next door and because we rented cars, it was easy to get to the city.
Although Rabat is the capital of Morroco, it is also somehow less-known than the other main attractions like Marrakech or Fez. Rabat might be the capital, but it is smaller and more relaxed, unlike the other cities, but it still has a magical charm. Considering we were traveling with a kid, one that couldn’t be bribed with food anymore at one point, we just did a small tour through the medina.
Unlike the medina in Fez, this one is less crowded (like, way less) and a breeze to walk through. The streets of the medina were broader, which gives much more space to breathe, walk an check out all the crafted goods that shops offered. From crafted woodwork till the wool carpets till jewelry, you can find it all. When it was time for some food, we went for the food stall where locals were screaming the orders on top of their lungs. Sandwich with baked potatoes, fried fish, and some veggies. Simple, way too many carbs but so good.
Over days and after numerous visit to the pool, beach and a dress fitting, it was time for the wedding. Is there a way to prepare yourself for a Morrocain wedding? Except for finding the most sparkly dress and getting warnings that food will arrive around 2:30 AM and you may or may not have to go to the MacD’s first? Not really, you have to dive into it as you would diving of a stage. This wedding was the most outrages, biggest and lavish I have ever attended. The venue was decorated with a stage for the bride and groom, flowers hanging from the ceiling, a staging for the band and golden details everywhere. Everybody was laughing, screaming and children were running around chasing each other in their prettiest outfits. It took forever for the bride to arrive, but when she arrived at 1:30 AM; she was in the lushest dress* I have ever seen and carried to the stage by a few men.
Music was playing throughout the evening and I did my best to join the dancing ladies and tried to shake my booty as they did. It did not disappoint them, which means; all those years dancing away in clubs did contribute to my dancing skills. After all the dances and the food**, it was time for us the leave the building. If you are wondering where the photos are. Some things are just not for the public eye and not for me to share. 😉
*she did change into five other dress over the night — one more sparkly than the other. We did not witness the last one. That happened at 730 AM from what we heard.
**the first course arrived at 3:30 AM and the last one at 4:40 AM
After the wedding, we decided to stay one more day in Rabat to recuperate from all the dancing before we went on another road trip. Because we had to move out of the apartment, we decided to stay in the city, in the medina. After a few left and right turns we found our Riad; Riad Dar Dar is the perfect place to stay if are looking for something quiet but still want to be involved in the medina tumult.
The riad and all the rooms have a modern look, it was spotlessly clean, and the staff was super friendly. Most importantly, they had a jacuzzi on the roof. Since it was quiet that day, we had the pool to our self. If you are looking for an affordable stay in Rabat, we can recommend Riad Dar Dar.
Next day, after a great night of sleep and breakfast, we picked up the kids. Yes, that’s right, the kid multiplied overnight like gremlins when you feed them after midnight — just kidding. When a kid travels with four adults, it tends to get boring, for her. Since everybody was in town with kids, we decided to take the three oldest with us to Essaouira. Even though this was a five-hour drive, the every changing scenery kept me staring out of the window. Arriving at the Port city, the owner of the riad was already waiting for us, and after a short walk through the old medina, we arrived at our riad.
Being known as a very vibrant beach town; Essaouira is also a UNESCO world heritage site since 2001. The 18th-century fortified town is an example of how it was build according to the contemporary European military architecture, and it is also, until today an essential international trading seaport.
Essaouira is on Morocco’s Atlantic coast and is also known as the ‘wind city of Africa’ therefore; it attracts plenty of windsurfers. If you think you can have a relaxed day on the beach, deception will sink in when you get blasted by the sand. Luckily there are numerous things to do in the old medina. We stayed for five days, and that was plenty enough to discover the medina. You can visit the harbor where fishermen unloaded their fresh caught fish. Or climb the Essaouira’s ramparts which also got its fame for being a Game of Thornes film location. While most of the medinas will make your head spin around, it is quite impossible to get lost in here. The main streets, designed by French man Théodore Cornut in 1766, are planned on a grid system bringing sense and order to the medina.
The medina consists of two main streets one for the fresh goods and the other for all kinds of household items, clothing and so on. When you turn a right or a left, into one of the side streets, you will find maybe the spice market or a traditional Morrocan restaurant were they grilling fresh meat or find yourself sitting in a trendy surfers cafe. The variety of food in Essaouira did blow my mind. You can find anything from Italian to Asian and even full vegan restaurants. If you are not up for the food, you can always sit down and have a pot of sweet mint tea and watch the people pass by. We didn’t do much. We just enjoyed the windy beach, sitting around and strolling around the medina and took some walks near the stone walls.
Before we left, we bought a handcrafted woolen blanket from a vendor that we found by accident. And the price was half the amount of any pricing in Marrakech or Fez.
Since we were flying back from Fez, we decided to stay there for our last night. We dropped everybody off in Rabat. And after a relatively short drive to Fez; we arrived at Riad Andalib. We did stay here on our first two days as well, but I wanted to save the best for last of course.
We got a warm welcome from the staff and owner Ribal Andalib. After living in for a while in Canada he moved to Fez to open up a riad. He is the most dedicated owner you will ever meet. During our first stay, he took the time to explain to us how to navigate through the medina, what you should pay for the petit taxi and shared the highlights on what to do.
Furthermore, Riad Andalib has everything you wished for; Comfortable rooms with equally comfortable beds, a rooftop where you can get drinks and have dinner, a courtyard with a pool and in the morning you get a complimentary breakfast. And let’s do not forget the staff; they provided the best service. The riad is built in classical style, with a lot of beautiful woodwork, stained glass windows, and traditional tiles. From there you can visit local art and history at the Batha Museum.
Because we were staying only one night, we decided to have dinner on the rooftop where they serve traditional Morrocain cuisine. The food was amazing, and it was the perfect meal to finish the fantastic, odd holiday.