My summer of travelling ended with a relaxed break in Marrakesh, Morocco, with two university friends – a goodbye shindig before I headed off on my year abroad to Munich.
We kicked off our week of chilling with a Hammam bath and massage in our hotel (Diwane Hotel & Spa, but more on them later). It started with way too long in a steam room. After 15 minutes, we decided we couldn’t cope anymore and stumbled out of the humid room to recover on the benches outside. When the woman came back, she smiled knowingly – clearly British tourists always struggle with the intensity of the heat. The next cultural clash came when the woman told me to take off my bikini top and then got up close and personal, scrubbing me from head to toe, not caring particularly about nudity. I tried to relax, but my uptight Britishness took a while to let go.
The glove and oils she used brought out a lot of dead skin – so much that I wondered if I might come out red-raw, but when it was over, my skin was softer than it’s ever been. I was then treated to a half-hour long full-body massage. I felt so relaxed, I then napped for the next two hours, to be woken because the spa was closing. Whoops. I have never felt so good, and all we wanted to do was go to our rooms and have some room service, which we had been assured was available when we checked in. Alas – our first dispute with the hotel started now, as we were now told that there was no room service available. As we’d used our inclusive meal for the day already for lunch, we had to wander outside of the hotel to search for food, somewhat marring our post-spa mood. Even so, I still got the best night’s sleep I’d had all summer that night.
We continued our lazy streak throughout the next day, spending it napping by the pool and gorging on the buffet dinner. It was only on day three that we ventured out into Marrakesh proper, and explored the souks. It was somewhat disappointing at first: there weren’t many people around, so we were constantly shouted at by vendors, and couldn’t stop to look at anything without being practically forced to stay and by something until we had to abandon our British manners and run in the opposite direction. The stalls mostly sold all the same things, and were largely just cheap souvenir items. We realised the following day why we had been underwhelmed: we were in the wrong area of the souks. In the northern part, it was deserted and manned by people who only targeted tourists. In the south, near the Medina, were the souks we expected to find. We browsed to our heart’s content, and in the square there were performing monkeys (although I worried about their welfare), horse-drawn carriages, street performers, and a manic hustle and bustle that was almost overwhelming in its ferocity. On recommendation from our taxi driver, (Diwane let us down once again with shockingly bad restaurant recommendations), we had an amazing Moroccan feast at Le Marrakchi, which had stunning views of Jemaa El Fna Square below. We watched the sun go down and the lights of the Medina looked even more gorgeous in the night.
The next day began the true highlight of our trip. We started our private drive into the Sahara Desert with Top Desert tours, where we would spend the night. The drive took eight hours total, with frequent stops to appreciate particular sights along the way. The landscape gradually changed from bush-covered mountains with small Berber settlements, mostly throughout the valleys of the Atlas Mountains. On our way into the desert, we also got to see how women made Argan oil products, both cosmetic and edible, in the depths of the Atlases. Upon arriving in the Sahara, we trekked to the camp on camels for two hours. Having done a lot of horse-riding in the past, I expected it to be pretty similar to that – I was sorely mistaken. Camels rock massively, making it difficult to keep your balance, especially when going down hill, and the sand dunes of the Sahara are naturally very undulating, meaning that you go down hill a lot. Once I’d got used to it though, it was surprisingly relaxing, and the two hours passed pretty quickly, even if the bruises on my thighs lasted for several days after.
We arrived at our camp just before sunset, and managed to climb a dune in time to see it disappear. Words can’t describe how beautiful the time in the Sahara was, but I’ll try. The sky seemed impossibly massive above the huge expanse of sand – all you could see was sand and unending blue, until the blue gradually darkened into velvety blackness.
After a delicious dinner, we climbed a nearby dune again with our guide to stargaze and I have honestly never been so taken by natural beauty as I was then. Lying on my back in the now cool sand and gazing into space – the lack of artificial light meant that hundreds upon hundreds of stars were now visible, and I could have lain there forever.
It was only the sounds of native Berber music from the camp that pulled me back to the tents, and we spent the next half hour or so before bed listening to the singing and drum-playing of the desert natives.
The next day saw an early start to catch a sunrise that matched the beauty of the previous sunset. It was amazing to feel the sudden warmth that the sun brought with it, and how the landscape changed so dramatically, with the rolling dunes now suddenly brought into clarity again.
After a delicious breakfast, we headed out in the 4×4 again to head back to Marrakesh, stopping along the way to see how Moroccan pottery was made. We each bought a small pot here to hold the sand we had picked up in a bottle from the Sahara – an authentic Moroccan souvenir.
We also visited an ancient Moroccan Kasbah, or settlement. The huge walls offered a surprising amount of protection from the oppressive heat, and the climb to top wasn’t as difficult as expected despite it being the middle of the day.
Coming back to Marrakesh meant the end of our stay in Morocco, as we were flying out the following morning, and the heat and extremity of the desert left us drained but elated. We’re all determined to come back, and see more of the desert: it was definitely the best part of our stay in Morocco. I cannot think of a better place to end my summer: it offered the best mixture of relaxation and exploration, urban and rural.