THE MYSTIQUE OF MOROCCO
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.
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: