Awed by the artwork, the architecture and the amazing people of Morocco

By Jan McMullen
This article appears on page 6 of the July 2016 issue.
A shepherd tends his flock outside a small town in northern Morocco. — Photos by Hetta Malone

In April 2015, when the temperatures in Morocco ranged between the mid 70s and mid 80s, my husband, Max, my best friend, Hetta, and I visited the one place on Earth that all of us had always wanted to visit. Morocco was everything we had imagined it to be! 

The colors, food, artwork, architecture, history and culture were amazing, but what impressed us the most was the friendliness and hospitality of the people. 

Everywhere we went, people welcomed us with Moroccan tea. No matter where we were or what time of day it was, we always felt safe and comfortable. 

A few surprises

We had pictured Morocco as a dry country with the occasional spot of green. How wrong we were! The country has as much geographical diversity as America. 

While it has dunes, it also has apple orchards, valleys of roses, snowcapped mountains and hillsides of lavender and poppies. 

I had thought riding a camel in the dunes and looking at the stars would be the highlight of our trip, but that was another misconception. Each day had several ‘Wow!’ moments, and I really couldn’t decide on my favorite. 


Many companies offer tours of Morocco, but we decided to do it on our own. It was very easy to do, and we were able to stop at as many places as we wanted and stay in each as long as we liked. 

We started our trip in Marrakech, staying at Riad Tizwa (in the US, phone 310/854-2834, We prepaid for our stay, depositing funds to the owner’s American bank account. The price ($135, double) included a Moroccan-tea welcome and a wonderful breakfast. 

The riad was within walking distance of all the sites recommended in our guidebooks. The staff spoke English and were able to arrange for a guided tour of the Old City for us on our first day ($40, plus tip, for a 6-hour tour). 

On our second day, we took a cooking class offered by La Maison Arabe (phone 011 212 052438 7010,, a boutique hotel. A deposit was required by credit card, then we paid in full after taking the class. It cost $50 per person and was well worth it. 

Dar Roumana riad and restaurant  in Fez.

The food was excellent, the class was fun, and we each were given a tagine (traditional cooking vessel) to take home as a gift. 

The next day, we took a petit taxi (small car used for local travel) to visit Jardin Majorelle and, located in the garden complex, the Berber Museum. Plan to go early and spend the entire morning there. 

After a gorgeous morning at the garden, we caught a grand taxi (used mostly for city-to-city travel) outside the entrance to the Jardin Majorelle to go to Jnane Tamsna (Douar Abiad, La Palmeraie, Marrakech;, a lovely resort located in an oasis about 20 minutes outside of Marrakech. We had a marvelous lunch by the pool ($30 per person) and were allowed access to the botanical gardens and the seven heated pools. 

During our stay in Marrakech, we also visited La Maison de la Photographie, which featured exquisite photos of old Morocco and an excellent lunch on its rooftop terrace. 

On to Fez

From Marrakech, we wanted to travel overland to Fez. We contracted with Plan-it Fez (phone +212 [0] 535 638 708,, a Moroccan-based tour company. Traveling with Plan-it Fez was definitely the way to go. It was less expensive than going with a big company, though we could still pay with a credit card, and it allowed us the luxury of planning our own itinerary.

The company was excellent and willing to accommodate our budget and interests. They went way out of their way to make sure our visit was memorable. 

Going this route, we were able to stay in some of Morocco’s exquisite riads instead of in larger hotels, and we could wander through the cities and countryside with no limits. We watched groups of other travelers pour off buses, trying to navigate the souks and other sites, and it looked to be a frustrating venture. 

Teacher demonstrating how to cook Moroccan flatbread during a cooking class at La Maison Arabe in Marrakech.

Plan-it Fez made everything so simple. With Siham Lamine making the arrangements and our driver,
Musta­pha, caring for us on the road, we never even had to think. 

We booked the 4-day desert trip, traveling to Skoura, Ouarzazate, Merzouga and Fez for about $450 each for the three of us. This included accommodations, an English-speaking driver, entrance fees and all breakfasts and dinners. 

After arriving in Fez, we used a riad named Dar Roumana (phone 011 212 535 74 16 37, as a home base for exploring the city and nearby areas. The price (rooms cost 85-145, or $96-$164, per night, double) included a fantastic breakfast on the rooftop terrace overlooking the Old City, as well as an afternoon tea. All of their rooms were lovely. 

Vanessa, the manager, is an Australian and can help make any local arrangements. Her husband, Vincent, is a French chef, and we would highly recommend eating your evening meals at Dar Roumana. (The cost was $25 per person for a 2-course meal or $35 for three courses.) You can prepay for your stay and meals using PayPal. 

We would suggest hiring a guide for your first day in Fez to acquaint you with the city. The mosaic factory is worth a visit; the process is incredible and needs to be seen. 

Paul, a Parisian bakery, is also located in Fez and offers the best almond cake anywhere in the world. 

In the area

We scheduled a day trip from Fez to the Roman ruins of Volubilis and the city of Moulay Idriss, arranged by Plan-it Fez ($60 per person). After seeing Volubilis, we enjoyed lunch in Moulay Idriss at the Scorpion House (54 Drouj El Hafa, Zerhoune; for $50 per person. Reservations are recommended.

Hot tea being poured as a traditional welcome.

An overnight trip from Fez to Chefchaouen, the “blue city.” is a “must do.” In this resort town, we stayed at Casa Hassan (Rue Targui, 22;, one block from the town square. Room 5 was quiet and lovely. The price ($90, in cash only) included dinner and breakfast. 

On our final night in Morocco, we returned to Dar Roumana to relax before our trip home. 

A few details

You can change your money for dirhams at the airport, at banks or at money exchange outlets. The rates were about the same everywhere. 

It is important to keep your receipts for currency exchanges, as you’ll need to show these receipts when you exchange your Moroccan dirhams for dollars at the airport before returning home. It is illegal to take more than 1,000 dirhams (about $100) out of the country.

While three of us went on this trip, originally we had planned for five of us to go. Unfortunately, two of our friends could not go due to a medical emergency. Luckily, they had purchased trip insurance through Sherry High of Roeder Travel (Cockeysville, MD; 410/667-6090, and were able to recover all of their costs. Sherry was also excellent in helping to arrange our flights.

Our visit to Morocco was an unforgettable experience. Of all the places I have seen in my lifetime, Morocco is my all-time favorite. 

I cannot say enough good things about all the places we stayed and the people we met. They all were wonderful.