mad about morocco by karen kranenburg

One never has to do much to convince me to take out my passport and get on a plane, so when the call came for a “road trip” to Morocco, I did not need to be asked twice, even though it was a journey of more than half a day.    It certainly was not the longest “road trip” I had ever made, but for sure it would rank up there amongst the more exotic.

Morocco should be on everyone’s bucket list, one of the most diverse countries in Africa, it is a flavorful melting pot of Berber- Arab-Mediterranean and French cultures which pepper its customs, music, language, cuisine, clothing, and lifestyle. With landscapes that are positively breathtaking and as vividly colored as the patterned rugs one lusts after in the ancient souks, it is nestled between the snowy peaks of the High Atlas and Rif mountains, soft Sahara dunes and a rugged North Atlantic coastline.

The Iconic 1943 Humphrey Bogart film Casablanca, put the country on everyone’s radar, but for me, Marrakech is the gold standard of this ancient civilization bursting with Maghrebi mystique and imbued with the exquisite traditions of nomads and traders stretching back centuries. A chaotic city, that is a great mix of the exotic and the familiar, it is delimited by three great landmarks the Koutoubia mosque, from where the call to prayer can be heard emanating 5 times a day, a constant reminder if one ever forgets that you are in a Muslim country, the hypnotic grand spectacle of Marrakech’s Djemaa el Fna upon which Unesco has bestowed world heritage status and the ancient Medina, the fortified walled city with its labyrinth of winding streets. Marrakech is certainly exotic, sometimes overwhelming, and always unexpected. So it was to this ancient city of bazaars and snake charmers, Berber artifacts and nomads that I journeyed.

One can imagine, the choice of places to stay in Marrakech is endless… but one way to really get the flavour of this magical city is to stay within the walls of the old city in a traditional Riad; a Moroccan house, normally of two or more stories built around a central Andalusian-style courtyard.  Windows are minimal or nonexistent on the exterior walls which typically were made of sun-baked mud brick or clay, reinforcing the inward focus and providing a haven of privacy away from the hustle and bustle of Marrakech and protection from the elements. The walls of the Riads are traditionally intricately adorned with tadelakt plaster and mosaic zellige tiles, usually with Arabic calligraphy of quotes from the Quran. In times gone by Riads were the stately city homes of the wealthiest citizens such as merchants and courtiers. Over the years many of them fell into disrepair, but recently there has been a wave of renovation, that has seen many of these often-crumbling buildings restored to their former glory as “boutique” hotels or restaurants. There are over 800 Riads in Marrakech, the majority of which are located near the souks in the middle of the medina.

So you could say one was spoilt for choice. For this trip, I chose The Angsana Riads Collection, which is a part of the luxury Banyan Tree group of hotels. It comprises six beautifully restored 17th and 18th Century Riads within walking distance of the famous Djemaa el Fna square and the fascinating mosques and Medersas of the city.

True to their historical past, the interior of the Riad was reminiscent of the grandeur of another era, with the customary pillared courtyard, hanging plants, and intricate mosaic work. My room, which was the “penthouse” apartment was certainly fit for a Berber Princess, with two en-suite bedrooms with walk-in closets, a luxurious living room and bar all naturally lit by a whimsical skylight. The interiors were a blend of the elaborate and rustic; heavy mahogany furnishings, silk curtains, a contemporary four-poster bed in the master suite but with roughly hewn stone and tile floorings.

The Riad also has a stylish rooftop restaurant with stunning views overlooking the Medina.

My personal favourite, of course, was the award-winning Angsana spa where I was able to relax and unwind with a dip in the refreshing plunge pool followed by a traditional Hammam experience and 90-minute massage; after which I felt as though I was walking on air, and ready to tread the cobbles and take on the hubba bubba of the medina.

The city of Marrakech is mystical, and I certainly felt that staying at the Riad brought me within touching distance of that mystique…

Better known to her friends as the Global Nomad, Karen Kranenburg has traveled to over 94 countries; from scaling the heady heights of Mount Everest to diving with sharks in Borneo… Her travel stories have been published in numerous magazines and newspapers around the world. For more photos of Morocco and other inspirational destinations from her global travels and to follow her “Postcards from the World” series check her out on Instagram @karenkranenburg