Arriving at our destination of Zagora – the ‘Gateway to the Sahara’ - it was an early night for us, recharging our batteries ready for exploring the town and the surrounding areas the next day.
The following day was a highlight for many in the group as we really got to the heart of the area. It started with a guided walk through a beautiful palmery, where dates were blossoming on the palm trees. We wandered from dusty streets, through oases, into desolate landscapes and finally into a small village where we watched silver jewellery being made before having the opportunity to make purchases. After a picnic lunch picked up from the local market we headed out into the desert for a camel ride across the dunes, before we climbed one of the highest to watch the sunset – a beautiful end to a relaxing but packed day.
After our time spent in the desert we were ready to head up to our mountain hideaway, a Berber village called Tagoudiche. We walked the last part of the journey to the village and as we were making our way up, we couldn’t believe that we were actually approaching a village, everything seemed so quiet and uninhabited but, suddenly, as we crested a peak, there it was spread out in front of us.
The Berber people of Tagoudiche were some of the friendliest I have ever encountered, welcoming us into their lives and homes. Our hosts were a married couple who looked after us well. On our second day in the village a few members of the group went trekking to Jebel Lekst, a nearby mountain peak, while the rest of us took a tour of the area surrounding the village, finishing with mint tea and henna tattoos in our hosts’ home.
I can’t mention the couple of days we spent in Tagoudiche without talking about the food! The breakfasts, lunches and dinners our tour leader, Aziz, and our local hosts prepared for us using very basic facilities were by far the tastiest we had on our trip. The meals they rustled up were so delicious and consisted of full three course meals in the evenings with more fresh fruit and salad than you could wish for! The whole group could have happily eaten food prepared by them throughout the entire holiday!
After a couple of days relaxing in the mountains, it was onto the pretty harbour town of Essaouira, where we stayed in the heart of the city walls. With an afternoon free to explore, some of us chose to have a wander round the streets, where there was plenty of shopping to be done but less of the ‘hard sell’ than you’d expect in Marrakech – it was all very relaxed. We then headed for the harbour where fishing boats were coming in and fish was being bought and sold. We decided to climb up the fort ramparts for a great view over the town and beach and afterwards we picked up a bit of lunch which we took down to the beach to watch the sunset over the harbour.
There was a little time for a bit more souvenir shopping before a group meal in a delicious seafood restaurant we’d never have found ourselves – this is where Aziz’s amazing local knowledge came in very handy! As we ate we reflected on how each day of the trip had been totally different from the one before it and what a revelation it had been. None of us expected the sheer diversity we’d experienced in one country (and we hadn’t even fully experienced Marrakech at that point!)
The next day was our last and we headed back to Marrakech to explore the city. A local guide took us on a walking tour, taking in the Mosque, Jewish quarter, Bahia Palace, the souks and finally the square, before we spent a bit of time exploring on our own. Many of the group tested their haggling skills as they bought souvenirs for friends and family, whether anyone got a bargain we’ll never really know but I do know that everyone had a great time trying!
That evening we had our final group meal in a lovely rooftop restaurant overlooking the city (another one we’d never have found without Aziz) and took the opportunity to thank Aziz for being such an amazing guide and patiently answering all of our questions about Morocco, its landscape, history and people. Aswell as seeing the country for ourselves, it was invaluable having Aziz with us to give that extra detail and history you can only get from someone who has grown up there.
As a first Explore holiday for me, it was a great introduction to both small group travel and Morocco itself – a country I’m determined to see more of!