Where to start, the trip was absolutely amazing! All four of us had a fabulous time, though for me the highlights of the trip were the night in the sand dunes and Marrakech. I can’t say enough about the experience…and the experience started with the fact that our guide/driver Hamid was really wonderful. Hamid possesses just the right temperament (he is kind, gracious, patient, knowledgeable, connected, etc.) to excel in his position. I fully believe that it’s thanks to him that things went so smoothly and that we were properly prepared for each day of the trip. As you know we really visited a lot of different places/environments and it was important for us to be prepared, since this served to increase our comfort and enjoyment.
With regard to the specifics, the Hotel Le Doge was the perfect place for us to start and end our trip. As a group, we were split evenly between those whose favorite place was Le Doge and the rest whose favorite was the Riad La Maison Arabe (I fall into the Maison Arabe camp, but it was a very close call…). I am so glad that we decided to include Chefchaouen on our tour–it was literally like walking on the Cloud 9 (thanks to my colleague for giving the proper description, based on the pictures that I sent him). Although we girls loved the hotel there (it was rustic and charming, with a beautiful terrace and the best breakfast… they also made us a Tajine du Maison, which was a really special treat) I think that my Dad was expecting more of the luxury experience.
Of course, the drive to Fes was spectacular with Hamid providing just the right commentary and hooking us up with a great local guide to tour Volubilis. As was the case all of the time, Hamid found us an excellent restaurant for lunch (a non-exhaustive list of the places includes: a terrace at Meknes overlooking the old prison/dungeon, a beautiful buffet in a hotel on the way from Fes to the high Atlas mountains, another terrace overlooking the valley at the Dades gorge and my personal favorite was a small seafood place in between Essaouira and Casablanca where we were able to feast on delicious spider crab!!). The Riad Fes is beautiful, we loved the restaurant and spa and the city of Fes is really like something from another planet. We were all awe-stricken at the tiny little alleyways of the medina. One small critique was that in Fes our local guide was really focused on bringing us to shops and co-ops (I understand that this is probably part of the culture, and indeed what a lot of tourists might be interested in, it was just not the focus of our particular group). I think the guide might have recognized early on that as a group we were not that interested in shopping, and it could have been much less awkward if he had not insisted on this. That being said, Hamid picked up on this and in the future we were only paraded through shops upon request.
After Fes, we headed to the sandy (East) side of the mountains and I think we were all really amazed by our experience in the sand dunes of the Sahara. From the sunset camel ride to our fireside dinner in the deluxe tents, this was truly a once in a lifetime experience. After dinner our camp manager (for lack of a better was to describe Hamid) brought us out into the dunes with a big blanket for a beautiful moment of star-gazing. Really, truly, one of those magical moments which none of us will ever forget! The Xaluca hotels which we stayed in these three nights were great, but nothing could prepare us for the luxury experience and really royal treatment which we were to experience in Marrakech. The Maison Arabe is the type of place where every detail is attended to, where even before one realizes that one wants something, it is there on a silver platter. I could just move completely into the Maison Arabe, none of us wanted to leave!!! I hope I’m lucky enough to spend some more time there in my lifetime. One of the evenings when we were in Marrakech we decided to upgrade a meal so that we could experience Dar Yacouts, we are very glad that we did! The place is beautiful, the food mouth watering (if way too much) and the experience well worth it. We did the same in Fes (we upgraded dinner to go to the Maison Bleu) though we were less impressed with that meal.
After such an intense couple of weeks, I think we were all very happy to spend a few days relaxing at the beach in Essaouira before returning back to the States. We were able to enjoy fresh local seafood, and the laid back hippie atmosphere. My dad really enjoyed his trip to the Hammam with Hamid. Although we had been very kindly invited, we girls decided to sit back with a book on the terrace overlooking the Atlantic.
Overall, I would absolutely recommend www.moroccotours.org and Experience IT! to anybody that I heard was planning such a trip. The experience was more than I could have imagined from the cultural perspective.
Thanks for making this a trip of a lifetime!
Sophia, Subhash, Martine & Bea (USA & France), April 2013
PS-Could you please pass along our extreme gratitude to Hamid (I will email him personally as well). He is AWESOME, and you all are lucky to count him as an employee!