Yes, Martina and I are ‘addicted´. This is our fourth tour in its present form, being seven of us (this year only six, one had to drop out) aged between 40 (Martina is the youngest) and 80 (Zoë is the oldest), travelling in two four wheel drives always with our same two Berber drivers/guides, Brahim and Moha, who we all vote as being the very best of the best. We were away for just over two weeks, being eleven days on tour (ten nights) with two nights in Marrakech before leaving on tour, and two on return. An excellent formula.
This year our tour took us via Imlil (near mount Toubkal) where the early morning walk to see the sunrise was splendid. From there we visited Asni, and were able to hand over the Dar Cilla financial contribution to Dar Asni, the Hostal for village girls that we have long supported. Our first picnic was looking back down to Asni and across to the snow covered peaks of the High Atlas. The second night was in Skoura where part of the group went riding, splendid horses. Then a fabulous drive crossing from the Vallée des Roses to Gorges du Dades and a night in great comfort in the very friendly auberge in Imdiazen. Passing via the Gorge du Todra we loved the simple auberge at Amallago. Via Goulmina and Tinejdad we took the awe –inspiring rough mountain road ( a mountain bikers´dream) crossing the Col Tazazert at 2100 altidude to Bab n Ali. where the simple auberge furnished comfy mattrasses on the floor and excellent meals. In total contrast to the rugged mountain scenery, the next day we drove across desert plains to arrive at Riad Nomad in Lmharch. At night you could hear the silence and admire a sky filled with stars. A long day’s driving, as always nearly all off route, via Tazzarine and via Ait Ouazik to see rock engravings from 6/700 BC on to Agdz. A walk alongside the very fast flowing river was magical. I would need to write a book to tell you more.
It is virtually impossible to do justice to our travels in words – I quickly run out of superlatives! Our whole journey was like an ongoing film set with a constantly changing back-drop. We have seen Morocco in a way very few are privileged to see it. The main contributing factor is undoubtedly the totally personalized and tailor-made aspect of the tour, put together largely by Brahim in constant consultation with Martina. He knows his country inside out, and takes us on routes through the mountains and in to villages where more intrepid drivers would not venture. Having two cars, we are always sure that if we get stuck in a sand dune or the engine fails as we drive with gay abandon through a fast flowing river after the recent floods, the other driver and car is there as back up. It is also fun to change cars day by day, talking French with Brahim, and English and Spanish with Moha (amongst themselves they of course talk Berber so we are left to guess what they have in store for us). They are great fun, enjoy to tease (we did not have to sleep in a corridor as they had threatened .... but we did sleep in a ´gite´and the mattresses were indeed on the floor but this was super clean and the food was excellent). I can say without hesitation that we could not have a better combination of guides, both solicitous, warm, caring, knowledgeable, responsible, respectful, leaving no stone unturned to ensure our enjoyment and adequate comfort in unique lodgings, be it a Kasbah, a Ksar, or an auberge. We are on a ´budget´ holiday, so there is no glitter or modern glamour, but authenticity and hospitality. No luxury, but low-key, adequate comfort . Location is factor number one, together with cleanliness, good (local) food, hot (well, warm!) water. The plumbing leaves much to be desired, but this causes much laughter. The beds are good, blankets tend to be heavy but warm. Lights are seldom adequate for reading but after an early morning walk to see the sunrise, a day of off-piste driving interspersed with more walks and very local markets (camels, donkeys, dyed wool, dates, plastic buckets in all colours), a picnic bought locally and enjoyed under a date palm by a river bed or on the land of the family belonging to one of our guides, and a good evening meal often followed by music and dancing (always optional but great fun), you are unlikely to be disposed to read in bed.
The ever changing scenery virtually defies description. In one day you may have driven through two magnificent gorges towering overhead, linked by a high plateau, only to descend to an oasis or follow a route bordered by Kasbahs (ancient family homes) or Ksars (originally housing whole communities). While staying in Riad Nomad (seemingly in the middle of nowhere) you spend an early evening on the sand dunes (Les Petites Dunes) while Brahim and Moha - looking splendid in their colourful traditional djelabas (outer garment for men) - make mint tea over a primus. Alternatively you take a dromedary and ride to the top of the magnificent dunes near Merzouga to watch the sunset there. You can choose to sleep in a tent in the desert.
The whole journey is a photographer´s dream, our drivers only too happy to stop on request.
This time (2015) we travelled from 9 – 19 March and had perfect weather. The subsequent week they had constant rain. Weather is pretty unpredictable anywhere. It had been an exceptionally rainy winter, so several rivers had overflowed their banks and flooding had caused deaths. The water had receded just enough to enable us to drive across the river beds, a surge of water spraying on either side of the cars. We felt like true adventurers.
On our whole journey the only other ´traffic´ we passed were heavily laden donkeys or the women bent nearly double under a burden of vegetation collected to feed their animals. Contrary to what we northern Europeans might assume, this is not ´men´s work´ done by women, but is traditionally and culturally determined that this is work for the women of which they are proud, and they would not have it otherwise -we were told by the women themselves.
On our return route we went from 30 degrees in Agdz to 1 degree on the Tizn Tichka pass where we found ourselves in a snow storm. It is ALWAYS wise to have a cosy fleece or jacket to hand, however hot when you take off from somewhere.
In the ten days of our tour, we stayed in six different Riads/auberges, each one unique. Another piece of advice born of experience, is that you do not make a judgement on arrival (occasionally in the dark perhaps entering through an unlit tunnel where there are a number of hooded figures lounging around the entrance and only partially lit stairways up to your rooms full of beds (often three to a room, and as we all wanted singles we had a choice of beds!). The food was always excellent, even if the environment of the dining area was at times also under-lit - at our request they willingly lit a fire. We imbibed absolutely no alcohol so did not have this to ´warm the cockles of our hearts’ or our occasionally cold feet! When you wake up the next morning the setting is often mind-boggling, a date plantation stretching as far as the eye can see, and the crumbling towers of the Kasbah where you are staying are such as you see in travel brochures. Meanwhile you enjoy a lovely, local breakfast of pancakes, orange juice, date syrup and various jams. A Berber omelette at lunch time (when you do not picnic) is a treat in store.
Some of our group went riding; the horses were exceptionally beautiful. Another year the younger tranche of our group plans to spend a few days mountain biking (the 4 x 4 vehicles with trailer always available when necessary). The more senior of the group will probably stay a couple of nights in a comfortable Riad, taking a day off to read, or to visit another (very) local market.
If you are ´born to shop´ you will need to wait until your return to Marrakech which is why we always take the last two days there . Fun though it is, it is a dramatic change from the quiet of the desert where you eat under a starlit sky. You are again confronted by the endless motorized bicycles that miss you by centimetres (they are really exceptionally adept) but all Riads are an oasis of peace and quiet once you are through the heavy front door. The choice of Riads is endless and is largely dictated by your budget. Our guides pick us up to take us to the airport (all included) and wave to the last. Big hugs are the order of the day and we know we shall see them again. We already feel envious of the next group of guests they will accompany, but they assure us that no-one can replace their Gazelles (us) and we believe them.
I hope that the above gives the reader a sense of the sort of tour we enjoy and can arrange for you should you wish. Martina will talk to you at some length and propose a schedule to accommodate your wishes. She is brilliant at this. The advantage of doing this for guests of Dar Cilla is that we are able to show you our books, maps and some photos, and through discussion we get the feeling of if what we like is right for you. If you are in for a three cities tour (Marrakech, Rabat and Fez for example) there are other organisations specialized in this. We just love the feeling that we are unique, that with the help of Brahim and Moha we are in contact with the local people (we take huge bags of clothing to distribute to the nomad families and lots of coloured pens as gifts – they do not want us to give money as they do not want to create a land of beggars). Both of them have such warm personalities that the children all love talking to them, and thus also to us. We were able to enter the very primitive homes of the nomads (often cave dwellers) and see a newly born babe, literally swaddled in a manger , and were offered the sort of tapioca made for the occasion. We all felt truly privileged persons. Every time we go it is a unique experience. We are planning our next tour, probably in October to see the fields full of crocuses (from which the saffron comes).
Contact Martina is you would like her to organize a tour for you.