Morocco is an ideal place to visit if you are looking for an exotic vacation or an Arabian Night’s honeymoon.   You will be transported back in time, and experience ancient traditions in the opulent splendor of Moorish architecture; dine in palaces built centuries ago for ruling sultans, and be served lavish platters of Moroccan cuisine, seasoned with pungent spices like cumin, paprika and garlic. And if you love to shop, you will get lost in the endless array of natural beauty products and handmade crafts for sale in the souqs and Berber village markets. You can ski the Atlas Mountains in the morning . . . and windsurf off the beaches of Essouria in the afternoon.


The people of Morocco have always been traders and craftsmen; the pottery, carpets, ethnic jewelry and leather goods are among the finest in the world. Bargaining before you buy is a way of life … a social custom practiced over a glass of mint tea.     The Imperial cites of, Marrakech, Rabat, Fez and Meknes (often referred to as four flowers in the Garden of Allah) are full of cultural contrasts and sensual surprises. Built in the 12th Century within massive protective walls, these ancient cities remain an intriguing maze of narrow streets and alleyways called the medina.



MARRAKESH, the Red City


I am awakened by the wail of morning prayers. From my hotel window I can see the nearby Mosque. My daughter and I are in the Sir Winston Churchill Suite at the La Mamounia Hotel, surrounded by memorabilia from his frequent visits.  This Grande Empress of art deco décor and hospitality has reigned as one of the most famous hotels in the world since the 1920’s. Built in a 20-acre garden that once belonged to an 18th century sultan, its history is as fascinating as the kings and queens, movie stars and politicians who have stayed here.



In the hotel spa, I am treated like royalty and experience my first hammom.  It takes place in a series of 3 steam rooms… warm, hot and hotter. First I bake in dry heat, and then I relax on a marble slab as wet steam causes me to perspire. An attendant in a bathing suit scrubs my body vigorously with a rough mitt to exfoliate dead cells. Buckets of warm water are dumped on my belly as she washes me from head to toe with black olive soap, made from the first fermentation of the olive. Cool buckets of water drench me. I move on to another room where I am dried, wrapped in a sheet, and led to a bed to rest in preparation for an equally invigorating massage.  I am told the heat causes the blood vessels to expand bringing blood flow to the skin; the steam opens and cleans the pores, riding the body of toxins; and the alternating hot and cold water with vigorous massage stimulates blood and lymph circulation.


The Moroccan HAMMON is a cultural tradition, an ancient bathing ritual and a social event that takes place in public bath houses. Villagers gather for their weekly steam and scrub, to exchange gossip, conduct business and arrange marriages. Hammons have more recently been built at modern spas and in private homes for their health benefits.


THE NEXT DAY, Fikri, from Global Holidays, arranges a day excursion to the Berber village of Ourika in the Middle Atlas Mountains.  We stop at a remote outdoor market to bargain for a caftan and silver bracelet. The Berbers, the first inhabitants of Morocco, hand weave and hand dye beautiful rugs. We learn the value of a rug relates to the number of knots tied and amount of saffron used in the coloring.


The countryside is spectacular. Sleepy little towns dot the highway.  Women and men in flowing djalabas are silhouetted against the setting sun. Some herd their sheep; others work the fields.


That night we join the crowds at Jemaa El Fna Square, where almost anything goes. The smells and sights are beyond description; monkey grinders, snake charmers, tattoo artists and strolling musicians entertain us; we feast on lamb and cous cous cooked on an open spit; I practice my belly dancing techniques as others gyrate  under the full Moroccan moon.

The next day we take the train to Rabat, the business capital, to visit a friend. It is a long but comfortable and reasonably priced ride. We sit in a first class compartment that seats six. Salama is waiting for us in her car when we arrive at the station and we embark on a guided tour of her beloved city. We spend hours wandering; buy silver and glass perfume bottles, and shop for fresh vegetables and chicken she will cook for dinner.  Salama lives in a beautiful villa, teaches at the university, and pays $35 a month for a live in housekeeper / cook and $65 a month for her gardener / chauffeur. We spend the night, and then hire a driver to take us to Fez. 

FEZ, known as the Blue City, is the cultural and spiritual capital of Morocco, and the “most imperial “of all cities.  Berber women, their hair and faces covered by black veils, brush by us in the medina as we explore dark and mysterious passageways that lead to unexpected shops and treasures. The streets are so narrow donkeys transport people and goods. We discover a stall selling henna by the pound, used not only to color and add shine to the hair, but also to condition the skin. We buy tiny jars of lipstick made from the poppy flower, powdered mascara with a little wand applicator and tree bark to clean our teeth. We drink mint tea with a merchant trying to sell us a rug, and visit a leather tannery where the smell of hides drying is so strong we are given sprigs of mint to stick up our noses.

Moulay Yacoub, the world’s largest day spa and healing retreat, is nestled in a valley rich in sulfur springs, less than an hour’s drive from Fez.  This sprawling mosque like complex is divided into five wings, four specializing in healing therapies for various ailments . . . the fifth devoted to beauty rituals. Hot sulfur waters are used in all the treatments; it fills the pool, and seeps into the long steam tunnel that reminds me of a subway car. 

I sit backwards in a special chair. An attendant stands two feet behind me, holding a hose with a wide nozzle. She turns on a spigot, and a strong burst of sulfur water hits my back. She continues to move the hose up and down, allowing the force of the water to massage one vertebra at a time.   

On the way back to the states, we spend a night in Casablanca. The streets are noisy and crowded . . . the architecture intriguing. I pretend Humprey Bogart is looking for me in the crowd to star in the remake of his famous film, Casablanca.


I am sad to leave before he finds me, but my Royal Air Maroc magic carpet ride back to New York is about to take off without me.


For More Information:

The Moroccan National Tourist Office:                            

Royal Air Maroc: