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Published: November 22nd 2019
The allure I felt to visit Morocco had been growing stronger over the last several years. Honestly, I had felt drawn to visit this mysterious country for many years. As a youth I had read Marguerite Henry’s “King of the Wind,” a story about the famous Godolphin Barb horse fictionally set in Morocco. Romantic notions of Morocco filled my head after seeing movies such as “Casablanca,” and “The Wind and the Lion.” In October, 2018, that which my heart had known for many years finally overcame any obstacles that my mind had harbored about visiting Morocco and I booked a tour for early October, 2019.
After fighting heavy traffic to reach the airport with little time to spare, all the necessary lines were cleared and we left a cloudy New York City on an overnight Air France flight. Flying on Air France was a first for us and we found it to be an excellent experience flying with them. Cloudy skies seemed to follow us across the Atlantic as we saw when we landed in Paris the following morning. The few hours layover passed fairly quickly and then we boarded once again for a 3 ½ hour flight to the
sunny skies prevailing at Casablanca’s Mohammed V International Airport. During our flight we were able to get a good view of the Rock of Gibraltar and some first views of Morocco's coastline.
Though tired from 17+ hours of travel already, landing in sunny Casablanca and seeing the gently swaying palm trees and sweeping landscape from the plane went a long way toward reviving my energy! Clearing immigration was smooth and swift and ended with a new country stamp in my passport. After collecting our luggage, we exited the front entrance, connected with our tour group reps and waited for our transport to Rabat. Our marvelous Moroccan journey would begin and end in Casablanca, but our first two nights in the country would actually be spent in Rabat.
A car and driver arrived and another couple that would be on our tour shared the ride with us on the 1½ drive from Casablanca to Rabat. Leaving the city environs we progressed through very flat, arid, and rocky land while the sun beat down on our non-airconditioned car. While I hate to complain, the car was too cramped for the 4 of us and very hot – I couldn’t wait
to get to our hotel.
The landscape only began to change from the somewhat drab sand-colored vistas to a softer greener landscape when we reached Rabat itself. The streets were immaculate and lined with palm trees and deep pink flowering oleander bushes. Since Rabat dates from the 12th century, I didn't expect it to be as modern looking as it was, but our hotel was located in the newer section of the city while the ancient city walls enclosing Rabat's medina and other interesting places are a bit farther on. Rabat, meaning "fortified place," is the capital of Morocco and the 7th
largest city in the country. Rabat is one of Morocco's 4 imperial cities and where the current king, King Mohammed VI, keeps his official palace called “Dâr-al Makhzen” or officially “El Mechouar Essaid Palace” which is considered to mean ‘place of happiness palace.’ I was especially eager to see the smartly uniformed Moroccan Royal Guard on magnificent white horses guarding the palace!
In 2012, the City of Rabat was deemed a UNESCO World Heritage site making it an excellent place to launch our escapes around Morocco. To add to its charms, Rabat has a seaside location
along with a 17th-
century walled medina, the Chellah, Souk As Sebbat, Grand Mosque, and the Kasbah of the Oudaias to name some of its most well-known sites. But to my regret, I wouldn't get to enjoy any of Rabat's sights during this trip!
Our excellent accommodations in Rabat would be at the Hotel Sofitel Rabat Jardin des Roses in the Souissi section of the city. The hotel’s imposing but plain edifice belies what is found beyond its front doors. Luxurious and serene are two words that come to mind in describing it. I loved the cool white marble, water features, lanterns and candles, purple velvet benches and comfortable chairs in the lobby. While these were beautiful features, the most beautiful aspect of the hotel was the acres of gardens it so carefully maintains on its grounds.
When we arrived after our long drive from Casablanca, our tour group guide, Larbi, was already waiting for us. We liked him immediately and as the trip progressed, we would learn just how efficient, and helpful, not to mention likeable and funny, he was – a gem really! We quickly had our room assignment and key. Most of our group had arrived
earlier and in the evening we would all meet at a ‘Welcome Dinner’ at one of the hotel’s nicest restaurants, the Golden Fish, overlooking the spectacular pool.
We settled into our beautiful room on the 4th
floor, had showers and dressed for dinner, we made a point of going down early so that we could walk through the now beautifully lit gardens before dinner. The splendid, formal gardens contained many types of palms, fabulous examples of cacti, tropical plants and flowers including an abundance of Bird of Paradise, roses and other foliage I couldn't name. The gardens were symmetrically dissected by pathways and a long canal-like water feature. Well placed lights and lanterns made the gardens especially beautiful for walking when the soft evening air seemed to strip away all effects of the day’s heat.
Gathering in hotel’s lobby, our group strolled to the Golden Fish restaurant. As the Sofitel is a French company, there were of course French dishes along with other Mediterranean, European and seafood fare. It gets high marks for its cuisine and service in my view. A basket of fresh rolls was placed on our table along with a delicious black olive tapenade. Our
drink orders were taken – wine for Rick but only bottled water for me.
My dinner began with a very good Salad Niçoise with fresh greens, carrot slivers, hard boiled egg slices, olives and large chunks of fresh tuna. For my entrée I chose a baked chicken breast served on a bed of grilled vegetables with a light cream sauce on the side. Dessert was a thin slice of triple-layer chocolate mousse cake. We very much enjoyed the continental cuisine but from this point on the large majority of our meals would be traditional Moroccan fare.
Our tour company endeavored to provide us with what seemed like an endless variety of sights, plus many special experiences, so many dining venues and many varying types of accommodations throughout Morocco. So while the Sofitel is a luxury hotel that I really enjoyed, we would also stay in riads, ksars, a kasbah, and even a desert tent as we traveled through many different regions of the country. Each was special in its own way and I can truthfully say that I like each and every one of the hotels we stayed at.
Unfortunately this first day did not end on
a good note. I became ill over night and all I could think of was how to get home the quickest way. I was prepared to accept any expense in that regard but it was the time factor that made it worse to think about – even quickest way would entail a 1 ½ hr drive back to Casablanca, at least an 8 hr. flight to the state-side airport, and another 3 – 4 hrs. (if lucky) to get home. My husband tried to reassure me that I would feel better and not to make any decision about going home til the next day. By 4am the worst was over, but I was completely depleted and had had little sleep in 36 hrs. The next morning came and Rick was mostly right about feeling better. My husband contacted Larbi and explained we wouldn’t be on the morning’s tour and lunch because I had been very sick overnight. So, this explains how we missed seeing everything in Rabat! This in itself was upsetting enough!
I was extremely lucky that we were spending 2 nights in Rabat and so we didn't have to pack up. I slept til 11am on what
would have been our first full day in Rabat; it still wasn’t long enough to make me feel totally rested. I managed to feel like leaving the room about 2pm; I had no appetite but got a Coke and my husband had a Casablanca beer while we soaked up the warming sun on the terrace and even strolled a bit in the gardens which felt strangely comforting. Later, I managed to eat a small bite in the café of the hotel’s lobby and tried to stay hydrated. Determined to enjoy our surrounding in the little time we had left at the Sofitel, we went back to the terrace about dusk which was lively with people enjoying the last glimpses of the setting sun. A large international corporation was holding a conference at the hotel and the attendees drifted through the grounds on their way to drinks and refreshments by the pool, most probably in advance of dinner at another of the hotel’s many restaurants. The feeling was all very cosmopolitan and glitzy and it was easy to forget that we were actually in Morocco and not on the European continent. Oddly enough, of all the accommodations we had during this
trip, the staff here were the least welcoming but this was easy to overlook.
The rest of the evening we tried to enjoy the comfortable amenities of our lovely hotel room. It took some effort to ready our ourselves for the next day and have our luggage ready to be out for the next morning, but after we accomplished those tasks, sleep wasn’t far off.
I really wanted to see Morocco and I’m glad that my husband didn’t let me spoil our trip by making a rash decision to leave. The next morning we would say farewell to Rabat on the Atlantic coast and head to the north central part of Morocco to visit the Imperial city of Meknes, and the Roman ruins of Volubilis before ending our day in Fes.
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