Last summer we explored the beautiful and rugged Wild Atlantic Way in Ireland. This year, we experienced a taste of the exotic as we embarked on a 15-day adventure road trip through Morocco’s northern region.
For most European families, Morocco offers a holiday escape full of wonder and mystery, basically a virtual magic carpet ride of new experiences.
Our first stop was Tangier, Morocco’s largest port town. Sitting on the fringes of the Mediterranean Sea, this once down-at-heel city has undergone major regeneration during King Mohammed VI’s reign. From its shiny new port and palm-lined seafront to its modern high-speed train system, these days Tangier is looking every inch the holiday playground.
Heading off in our rental car (Green Motion, booked through Ryanair car hire), our first priority was filling our bellies. Tangier has plenty of great spots to dine out in, but taking our cue from the locals, we decided to check out the catch of the day in the city’s medina. Tuna (weighing more than 130 kilos), giant squid and even shark were up for grabs – if it lived in the sea, it was here. We feasted on a delicious seafood lunch for a fraction of what it would cost anywhere else in Europe.
The boulevard was our next stop. This lively sea-border walkway is lined with cafes, classic and contemporary shops, and local fare. We could have spent hours casually getting lost in our new surroundings but the clear waters of the Mediterranean beckoned and our kids couldn’t wait to jump in. Skipping the windy city shoreline we instead headed to the calmer beaches of Oued Negro, a beautiful bay located a half an hour’s drive from Tangier. We spent our next few days at the exquisite Banyan Tree Tamouda Bay.
Upon arrival, we passed through the gated entrance. A maze of manicured garden lanes surrounded by a village of cobalt-roofed houses followed. Hidden ponds and Islamic patterns ushered us up to a palace-like reception area where we were greeted as if we were royalty.
The resort contains 92 luxury villas, all equipped with their own private pool. We entered our villa through heavy wooden doors to find a spectacular layout of billowing curtains, domed ceilings, ornate columns and glazed mosaics.
In the mornings, once bellies were full with made-to-order omelettes, fresh fruits and an assortment of traditional Moroccan dishes, our children begged to visit the kid’s club where the childrens’ entertainer Gigi kept them amused with karaoke, beach trips and plenty of arts and crafts projects.
Days at the Banyan Tree could easily be filled lounging by the main pool listening to the private DJ or exploring the open pristine beaches in front of the resort. Being a family that never stops however, we took advantage of some of the many activities offered by the hotel. On Monday we took off on a quad adventure bike ride to beautiful Lake Smir. On Tuesday, we saddled up for horseback riding lessons. And on Wednesday we spent the afternoon exploring the nearby beachside by bicycle. Dolphin tours, whale watching and scuba diving were other fine options but sadly we didn’t have time.
The Banyan Tree is the perfect starting point for those looking to explore nearby cities. The resort provides transport and expert guide services to Chefchaouen (the famed Blue City) and the UNESCO-protected Andalusian town of Tetouan.
When we returned from our day’s outing, we pampered ourselves at the Banyan Tree Spa where traditional techniques combine with natural ingredients for blissful body treatments. Also high on our list was the romantic rain shower treatment, a wonderful experience that gives the sensation of walking through every stage of a tropical rain shower.
We treated ourselves to a culinary journey known as the “Saffron experience,” in the resort’s acclaimed Thai restaurant before heading for a romantic cocktail in the spectacular rooftop bar, where the panoramic views of the resort and neighbouring town are absolutely spectacular.
As we left the resort, we felt as if we were leaving family – Banyan Tree Tamouda Bay certainly set the bar VERY high for the rest of the trip.
Talasemtane National Park was our next stop, where desert landscapes meet trickling mountain streams and valleys and gorges are in abundance.
Nestled in a stunning mountain range, two hours south of Teatoun and tucked away amongst gushing waterfalls, you’ll find Ermitage d’Akchour. This nature-lover’s paradise offers freestanding cabin accommodations about one mile from the nearest car park.
Guests are collected and shuttled up to the main house, which doubles as reception and an open-air restaurant. The rest of the surroundings are covered in whimsical chill out nooks – think thick Moroccan rugs and cushy pillows, dotted around lush gardens which come complete with an outdoor amphitheatre and night-time fire pits.
Our kids had a blast splashing in the nearby creeks and pools, hiking to cascading waterfalls and finally arriving to the spectacular natural bridge of Le Pont de Dieu (God’s Bridge). We swam in chilled waters before returning to our teal roof terrace to admire a sky full of stars. “Paradise” doesn’t do this place justice.
Tucked away in Morocco’s Rif Mountains, one hour’s drive south, is Chefchaouen, a popular tourism destination famous for its powder blue palette. On your way, pick up a few souvenirs in its turquoise coloured streets or excite your taste buds with one of many local dishes laced with ras-el-hanout, a tangy blend of around 30 spices including turmeric, paprika, cardamom, chilli, cumin, cinnamon and more. Plaza Uta el-Hammam, the Grand Mosque, and the Media are also fun stops as you pass through this magical city.
After one week in Morocco, we already felt as if we hit the holiday jackpot. Refreshed and well rested, we wondered how could this trip get any better? Luckily for us, Morocco still had a few tricks up her sleeve.
Flights to Morocco
- Karyn Gorman and Olav Adami