“Man who follows the crowd will usually go no further than the crowd. Man who walks alone is likely to find themselves in places no one has been before.”
Very often, I find when I’m travelling to new countries for the first time, I’ve already forged preconceived ideas about what to expect when the sole of my shoe first meets sacred ground. I spend the final part of the flight with my nose pressed against the airplane window as if to suss out the culture of the country from the scattered minute detail which can be seen from the birds’ eye view.
More often than not, I find the locations perfectly live up to my expectations and I walk around the streets of a foreign city feeling as if I’ve been there before, feeling somehow at home and acclimatised to everything I’m experiencing.
My childhood curiosity about travel was satisfied by leafing through hundreds of my Dad’s National Geographics which ingrained vivid imagery and writings about exotic getaways into my mind forever. It’s because of these magazine expeditions I took, I often feel as though I’ve already travelled around the world in my imagination.
Morocco, however, was a country which no amount of imagery could ever have prepared me for and I found myself being surprised with every step I took further into the realms of North Africa.
Disembarking from the plane, I stepped onto the warm tarmac which was breathing humidity into the air. My pale skin became bathed in summer by the hot, orange sunset, which relieved it from the sullied grey, overcast misery of London’s weather. The trip would include two separate hotels to allow us to taste the culture first of Marrakech, then the harbour town of Essaouira.
The first hotel was the Fellah Hotel which is listed amongst the Small Luxury Hotels of the World. The Fellah Hotel is an incredibly special, sacred sanctuary which was my ideal escape from the relentless pace of London. The luxurious design of the entire set up instantly immersed me in the beauty and mystery of Morocco with only the trees and mountains for neighbours.
Eleven earth-brown stone villas occupy the acres of land, each one dispersed far from the other to allow for the utmost privacy. The land in and around the villas are laced with a beautiful network of winding hand-laid concrete paths and the spaces they create in between their spaghetti-like routes are abundant with lush native plant life. The mature foliage is so giant, I felt dwarfed and protected by it all -especially with the presence of the cacti plants.
Wondering through the Fellah hotel campus felt as if I was in the wilds of Morocco. Somehow it didn’t feel like a man-made complex, but rather a reflection of a village which has evolved over many past generations. It does the area and the landscape absolute justice, working in harmony with nature-intended plant life and the mountainous stretch of backdrop. Not only does it aesthetically compliment the area, I was delighted to discover that it also serves as a huge benefit to the less-affluent locals. The owner is driven towards making what is a luxurious and exclusive getaway accessible and welcoming to the villagers nearby.
On a tour of the hotel, I was wowed by the infinity pool, the incredible sunken gym (complete with boxing ring), the private Thai spa building and the Art Workshop which was playing host to an artist working on a breathtaking masterpiece.
However, I felt most amazed by the hotel’s private library; small in form but huge in impact. The beautiful building, with its domed roof, floor-to-ceiling bookshelves and spiral staircase, actually possessed the most beauty in its welcoming of local children from the nearby village, all of whom sat silently painting with bright colours, chunky paintbrushes and infectious smiles.
Add to that the employment opportunities that the hotel created for locals and it’s easy to see why it’s so easy to love this place as much as I did. The design and decor of the hotel was what set it apart from anywhere I’ve ever stayed before. Whereas hotel rooms are usually carbon copies of one another in terms of furniture, layout and colour scheme, each of the Fellah Hotel rooms were individual in style and personality. Rooms were huge open spaces, with polished concrete walls, earthy colour palettes and bespoke pieces of art work. Moroccan touches could be found throughout, including in the shapes or archways, in the heavy rustic wooden furniture and in mosaic detailing and decoration.
From the luxury of the Fellah Hotel, we went into Marrakech to experience a less affluent culture; the souks.
These traditional Moroccan markets were my highlight of the trip and I loved the sounds, smells and sights I soaked up as I got lost in a maze of local textiles and creations. We crossed the main square of Marrakech which was alive with little pockets of excitement. Crowds of mesmerized tourists gathered around a snake charmer in awe. Local ladies offering temporary henna decoration, to allow visitors to temporarily brand their skin with the intricate detailing of a Moroccan way of life. Open-sided carts selling dried fruits and seeds. With Moroccan music dancing in amongst it all, I turned my attention towards the mouth of a concrete terracotta archway, the dark throat beyond it leading into the souk.
It was like jumping into a rapidly racing river, feet first. We were suddenly swept along with the current of the souk and tried to take in as much as possible as we twisted and turned around the pathways which led through heavily laden stalls. Rustic wooden tables groaned under the weight, as trays of countless spices warmed the air with their fragrance and earthy colours.
Tiny flashes of light reflected and sparkled on every inch of the market, which were emitted by the intricately cut patterns of brushed metal Moroccan lanterns.
Fabrics hung and draped in the way of my path, as I pushed them aside to proceed further. Hand carved everythings demonstrated the talents of locals and huge bath-like buckets sat heaped-full with dried petals and flower heads.
Friendly shouts of encouragement follow me like a mexican wave as I reach each stall, which then fade into quiet chatter as I move past their wares. Children ran around my legs; some playing, some begging. Stray cats run around my feet; some playing, some scrounging. I was deafened by the sounds, blinded by the sights and indulged with the fragrances.
We spent over an hour losing ourselves in the stirring pace of the Moroccan markets and I emerge feeling dizzied by everything I’ve experienced.
Another moving visit was to the Yves Saint Laurent garden, created in memory of the ground-breaking designer who changed the face of fashion forever.
It’s a peaceful myriad of colour and a tangle of meandering pathways. Tall, thin bamboo trees stretch up into disappearing points of perspective, sheltering me from the starching sun and casting a cooling carnival of busy shadows over the garden.
Hushed whispers reflecting on the beauty are accompanied by the soft bubbling sounds of water features.
Fish circle lazily under the immediate surface where the water’s warmest and the calm of these sounds meet with clashes of loud colours throughout.
It’s a spectacle which allows for a brief and peaceful moment away from the crazy hubbub of Morocco.
From a haven of serenity to a little slice of luxury, as experienced at the exclusive members only resort called Nikki Beach.
Fans of Sex and the City may know this luxe haven from the second film, when the girls chat about life’s pressing issues by the pool and are then joined by an Australian Rugby team. They sit cocooned in a round floating pagoda which is draped in swathes of fabric and reflect the high-end luxury that Nikki Beach revolves around.
Sex and the City girls aside, we arrived and felt our breath taken from us by the exotic beauty of clear blue waters, palm trees, days beds and a private DJ.
In between relaxing under the stare of the baking sun, we gathered in the shade to enjoy an exquisite lunch of sushi and Morocco’s famous Gris wine.
With a world-renowned reputation for its high-quality wine, Morocco reserves its wine for itself only. The country doesn’t feel the need to export it, so Moroccan wine is available in one place only and let me assure you, it’s absolutely exquisite. Gris wine is best described as a balance between white and rose and bears resemblance to blush, but at a far superior standard. It was the staple beverage of my trip and my feeble purchase of just two bottles at the airport was shortsighted and quickly regretted!
Our second hotel was a Sofitel, nestled in the breezy landscape of beautiful Essaouira. With luxurious interiors, attentive service and beautiful rooms, it’s easy to understand how this resort boasts a five star status.
My room made it hard to want to leave the hotel each day, as Sofitel hotels have a system called ‘My Bed’ -an innovation in sleep comfort which claim to be the comfiest beds in the world. It’s a claim I think I could easily agree with.
Add to that the hugely deep bath which separated my room from the bathroom as well as the stretch of idyllic landscape which my balcony provided a view of and I can safely say I very quickly fell in love with this Sofitel.
However hard it was, we left the hotel to explore Essaouira and I found myself approaching a huge white wall, broken up by an imposing white archway which marked the start of a trip through the old town.
This was the Morocco I had seen in National Geographic literature as a child. Winding maze-like dust tracks with tall sand coloured buildings on either side, their walls peeling and battered from the heat and the constant traffic of people.
A hubbub of locals rushing around living their every day lives accompanied a cacophony of deafening street noise as supplied by enthusiastic stallholders, screaming children, chattering wives and bikers furiously dodging those who dared amble.
We were those amblers, as it felt as if we were walking in slow motion whilst the entire town operated at full speed around us. We took steady steps with open mouths and eyes agog at what we saw -with so much to take in, we seemed hypnotised by the rich culture of Essaouira.
We eventually made our way to the harbour and climbed a steep hill to discover incredible panoramic views of crashing waves and searing blue skies.
The entire day was spent in Essaouira, photographing lone gulls on vividly coloured lamp posts or the endless lines of identical bright blue boats which silently bobbed up and down on the water, occasionally knocking the sides of the boats next to them.
As the sun decided to bow out in favour of the night, we headed up to a roof terrace of a bar which sat on the corner of the main square. Ponchos were handed out to keep us warm from the ever-growing cool shadows as we took in our final night in Morroco and reflected upon what an incredible trip it had been. An acoustic guitar player provided our soundtrack as we danced and hugged under the watch of the moon, vowing never to forget a single moment of what was an incredibly memorable trip.
Arriving home and looking back over photos depicting my journey demonstrated how varied Morocco is as a country. Perhaps the reason I felt like I hadn’t been there before was more about the fact that there are so many different scenes and landscapes to be experienced. It’s not all about the dusty roads and mysterious souks, there are so many varied aspects to Morocco which are hard to fully capture or explain in one sitting. Feeling like I’d seen so much but also like I hadn’t seen enough of Morocco made my decision that I’d soon have to return.
What better feeling to end a trip with than that?
Thank you to my incredible travel friends whom I quickly grew to love along the way. I travelled with Kit lee (Style Slicker), Russ McClintock (Russ McClintock Photography), Kate McCauley (I am not a Celebrity), Alexxsia Elizabeth (My Labyrinth) and Lucy Nicholls (Shiny Thoughts).