Morocco - Atlas Mountains and Marrakesh

Published: March 3rd 2011
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DAY 3 1st March 2011
The day started early!! We were off at 08.00am and told that it was at least a 10 hour drive across the Middle Atlas mountains but it would be interspersed by plenty of stops! We climbed fairly steadily out of Fes and our first stop was Ifrane. Patches of frost could still be seen where the sun hadn’t got to it and the air was cold and crisp! Ifrane town was created in 1929 and is now called ‘little Switzerland’ as all the houses are built like alpine chalets. There is also a University here registered as being the brainchild of the Moroccan King and King Fahd of Saudi Arabia and funded by US and British Council, where all the lessons are taken in English. The town is spotlessly clean and feels a little bit out of place in Morocco!! There is also a stone lion, carved apparently by an Italian prisoner of war.
The first Berber town we reached was Azrou where they were holding the Tuesday souk, which draws Berbers from all the surrounding mountain villages. Carried onwards towards El Ksiba across the top of the mountain range taking in the scenery with carpets of orange, white or yellow flowers and soft rolling landscape, alternating with rocky terrain and the odd small village or hamlet. A lot of the villages appeared to be having new pavements and there was a lot of hole- digging, base -laying, cement -mixing etc all by manual labourers with no tools other than a pick axe or shovel.
From El Ksiba the road twists and descends down to the river and as it climbs again there are fine views of the Bin el Ouidane reservoir. The water is a deep turquoise blue and reminds me of the lakes in Spain! Our lunch stop was at Beni Mellal where we decided we wouldn’t have the three course lunch (it was about 14.30pm by now), and save ourselves for the evening meal in the hotel this evening! That gave us about 45 minutes to have a wander around the town, buy some fruit and pastries and sit in the sunshine, with views of snow on the mountains and enjoy our picnic!
Back to the coach for the last stretch of the journey which took us out of the Middle Atlas and down to Marrakesh arriving at the hotel about 19.00. ( Hotel Atlas Asni)

DAY 4 2nd March 2011
Our coach arrived at 08.30 for our short morning tour of Marrakesh. Our first stop was the Olivery where there was a huge fish pond where you could feed fish (carp!) and loads of really old olive trees. Not really sure what the history of the place was as I confess I wasn’t listening as there was a really friendly dog there, sniffing everyones bag for food, and then looking very doleful until someone gave him some food! She was quite fussy about what she ate as well, and rejected a piece of my cereal bar!!
On to the Jewish quarter of Marrakesh (Mellah) and then a visit to the Royal Palace. The palace is no longer used so we were able to wander around the courtyards and gardens with their water fountains, and admire the mosaic tiles in the different rooms.
Next we had a wander through the souks with our guide ending in the usual ‘cheap’ shops that he found for us! This time is was a pharmacy where we were tempted with rose petal oils, amber perfume, jasmine oil as well as saffron and various spices all of which had different uses to remedy ailments. I did have a lovely neck massage, not realising at the time that it would cost 20 Dirhams! (about 2 euros or £1.75) Our next shop was a ‘co-operative’ which sold all sorts of gifts so was quite interesting to have a wander around (although later we bought a tagine at half the price they were asking!) I think by now our guide realised that we were not going to buy anything so he gave up and took us to the main square – Djemaa El Fna which is what everyone in Marrakesh comes to see.
And it is a totally amazing place! We had a drink on the terrace looking down on all the activity. There were snake charmers, monkeys on chains, fortune tellers, dancers, musicians as well as the horse and carriages, cars, bikes and of course the people! It was a fascinating place and I couldn’t wait to get back here later when it is supposed to get busier!
In the afternoon we decided to go to the Jardin Majorelle which was owned and maintained by Yves Saint Laurent and walked to it in less than ½ hour. There was a queue to get in to what was quite a small garden, but it was very beautifully laid out with paths and bamboo and cobalt blue and yellow pots with plenty of cactus, fountains , a fish pond, lily ponds , water fountains and also a memorial to Yves Saint Laurent. The garden was reproduced at the Chelsea Flower Show in 1997.
Walked back to the main square via a hypermarket that we had spotted yesterday and then onto the souks. Chris spotted a bargain – a tagine at 50 dirhams – just what we wanted!! And then another stroke of luck – we had been looking at lights for the house in Spain and always wanted a Morroccan / Turkish light but never quite found the right one (at the right price!!) Chris asked how much they were and was told 35 dhirrams but he managed to negotiate it down to 25 dirhams – another bargain!!! By the time we reached the Square, heavily laden, the sun was just setting so we sat and watched the comings and goings over a well deserved coke and orange juice!!
Had a wander around afterwards and had our photo taken with a Berber man and also watched a dentist with a pile of teeth in front of him explain something to a group of Moroccans. Not sure what but they were listening very intently and didn’t seem too put off by his pliers!!! Also saw a man with a guinea pig and a hat, which when he lifted the hat revealed a hedgehog eating a chickens head – not sure what that was all about !! Watched a group of musicians, of which one of them had a chicken on his head!! The whole square is very entertaining but very bizarre!! We may just have to go back tomorrow evening for some more!!
A forty five minute walk home took us back to the hotel, where we had our dinner and relaxing evening ready for L’Ourika Valley and Setti Fatma in the High Atlas mountains tomorrow.

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