Adventure in the Mountains

I’m not trying to sound like a broken record, but as mentioned a bunch already, we wanted to do something extra special for our one year anniversary. We knew Marrakesh would be awesome, but wanted to do something out of the ordinary and super memorable to celebrate the day. After much research, we decided on a full day tour of the Atlas Mountains through Morocco Inspiring Tours. This included a guided tour of the 4 Valleys, visits to numerous Berber villages, as well as a couple of other stops along the way.

We were picked up promptly at 8am and headed off to pick up everyone else; luckily we ended up with a great group of 3 girls from the US/UK/Italy, and a couple from the UK. I also can’t fail to mention our awesome tour guide, Ismail, who was SO informative, a native to Marrakesh, and spoke perfect English – we couldn’t have asked for better! Now for the good stuff, here is a brief rundown of what our tour entailed:

Stop 1 – Berber family home

We kicked off the morning visiting the traditional home of a Berber family. I’m not sure about you, but I had never even heard the word Beber before visiting Morocco. Little did we know that they play an extremely important part in the culture of Northern Africa. They have actually been around for at least 4,000 years and are a nomadic culture that have settled mostly in the Atlas Mountains. They have their own language and writing system (!) despite attempts from others to colonize them for many, many years. Many Moroccans are Bebers, and while some choose to continue living a rustic farm life in the mountains, there are plenty that move to the city to create new lives for their families. It is common for entire families to live in these homes together – parents, children, eventually their spouses and their children – so crazy! They have lots of rooms with plenty of space for celebrations and beds for family to crash; pretty cool. They also have one room that is basically a large dining room with benches around 3 sides and a long table in between. We were made a typical breakfast of  khobz (bread) with olive oil, raw honey, and fresh butter, none of which tasted like our US or UK versions. They were each interesting, but not my fave. We were also served the infamous Moroccan mint tea – which is made during a very tedious process, multiple pours of different lengths – with mint & sugar added for flavour. After tons of Berber life chat over breakfast, we took a quick tour of the home and farm, and then it was time to move on.

Stop 2 – Women’s Cooperative Moroccan Argan Oil Workshop

Next we stopped at a Argan Oil workshop run by Berber women. We were given a bunch of different products to sample from soap to lotion to oil, made with all different essences.  We also were shown the process of how the oil is made from start to finish. This procedure is very manual but these women are so damn happy it’s a pretty amazing thing to see. To no surprise, Joe made friends very quickly here………. (see pictures below)

Stop 3 – Setti Fatma

We then traveled to the Ourika Valley to the Berber village of Setti Fatma. This is one of the largest Berber communities and has recently become a popular tourist spot due to it’s proximity to Marrakesh and it’s quaint, riverside restaurants.  The Ourika River runs at the base of the Atlas Mountains and is covered in tables and chairs which are part of restaurants that are basically built in to the side of the mountain. Keep in mind these aren’t your typical restaurants with walls and a roof – they are all open air – another reason this town is very popular during the summer months. I’ve never seen anything like it! The next part of our tour was a hike up the mountain, which started out as a woven path through these restaurants and then up the side of this mountain to the Setti Fatma Waterfalls. The hike was PACKED with locals as this was a Sunday before a holiday and the weather was beautiful, which called for many families to adventure outside and then have a meal together down by the river. The hike to the falls was way more strenuous than anticipated, but they were beautiful and well worth the sweat! Our hike ended with a fresh squeezed OJ along the river, where we chatted with our new friends about all of our favourite places to travel.

Stop 4 – Berber Home in Oukaimeden Valley

We then took a longer drive further up in to the mountains. We drove through so many tiny villages and just as our van would pull through, all of these Berber children would start running towards the car. At first, we were all very confused, until we stopped completely and Ismail got out with a brown bag. Inside the brown bag was fruit and candy, which he graciously handed out to the kids. He encouraged us to get out and meet them – and they were sooooooo adorable! They literally loved shaking our hands and taking pictures with us. Although they couldn’t speak English, it was easy to understand how excited they were to receive these treats and interact with new people. They come from very poor villages, where things like candy are a huge luxury. Ismail says many times he brings them balls and jump ropes since they don’t often get new toys. They clearly love him and look forward to his weekly visits. It was hard to leave these precious kids, but we actually were running late to lunch because we spent so much time playing with them. As we drove on higher and higher, the weather completely changed! It went from 75 and sunny to about 50 with complete fog and torrential rain. Crazy!

We had a traditional Berber lunch, which was more like a feast. It started with a vegetarian soup (so good since we were all freezing) and a fresh salad. Next we moved on to a HUGE portion of beef tagine, which was definitely the best one we had in Morocco. Our meal ended with mint tea and just as I was finally getting a little warm, it was time to go. We walked through the tiny town, again greeted by a swarm of children who were too cute to handle. I wish I knew about them so I could have brought something to give them!

Now it was time to head back to Marrakesh. As we climbed back down the mountain the weather started to clear, and the late afternoon sun shining on the valley was beautiful. We asked to pull over for one last picture op, and Ismail took us to a town called Asni. We saw a beautiful resort across the river, and learned that this was the Kashbah Tamadot, a luxury hotel owned by Richard Branson. Apparently it is super expensive to stay there, but the restaurant is open to everyone. Would have loved to stop by if we had more time! Just as we were finishing up with pictures, we see two little boys start running up the hill from their village. Maybe 3 minutes later come a few more, and then a few more. They were so happy to see Ismail and were so friendly to our group. I couldn’t handle how sweet these kids were, it was hard not to take one home with me!

Overall this was an incredible tour that allowed us to experience a totally different aspect of Marrakesh. It was so interesting to see traditional Beber living first hand, and meeting and talking to locals was so special. Definitely a refreshing tour that we highly recommend to anyone visiting the area.

That night in celebration of our anniversary, we headed for rooftop drinks at the Hivernage Hotel. It had beautiful views over the area and a perfect set up to see the sunset. After after a few glasses of red wine, we had some time to kill before our dinner reservations, so decided to walk over to the Sofitel Marrakesh. Another absolutely gorgeous luxury hotel that looks more like a palace. We walked around the grounds and lusted after their perfect pool set up. We had one more stop before dinner, and that was Palais Jad Mahal. An incredibly huge and ornate bar and restaurant known for it’s excellent cocktails and entertainment. We posted up at the bar for a drink and front row seat for the show. They have a huge stage where dancers and fire blowers (!) perform nightly. Unfortunately we had to leave before the actual show started, but we did get to see some ladies walking around balancing entire candelabras on their heads. So impressive!

For our final anniversary celebration, we went for dinner at Azar, another amazing restaurant known for its exquisite Moroccan-Asian fusion cuisine and lively belly dancing show. We ordered SO much food, it was all seriously delicious. We were so impressed with how well the Moroccan and Asian flavours worked together! The drinks were also so delicious, and in order to really get the full experience, we also ordered a hookah! It came out of a huge watermelon, which made it kind of delicious and addicting. We sat back and watched the belly dancers, who were seriously sooo good. How do they move their bodies like that?! We were having such a fun time, we literally stayed until the restaurant closed!  We both agreed that this trip was one for the books and we certainly did Marrakesh right. We totally immersed ourselves in the culture and enjoyed soaking up everything this city has to offer. It will certainly be hard to top this trip when planning anniversary trips in the future! 🙂

Berber Family Home & Breakfast

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Moroccoan Argan Oil Women’s Cooperative

Setti Fatma

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Traditional Berber Lunch

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Last Night in Marrakesh

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