Atlas to Atlantic World First Sponsored by Epic Morocco

Alice and Rachid reach Agadir

Epic Morocco’s team, Alice Morrison from Scotland and Rachid Ait Elmahjoub from the Imlil Valley, have become the first ever people to walk from the Roof of North Africa, Mount Toubkal, 300 kilometres across the Atlas mountains to Agadir on the Atlantic Ocean.

Epic Morocco sponsored and planned the expedition with them as a way to open up new routes across the mountains and also explore the hidden valleys and villages on the way.

The team were entirely self-supported, carrying all their own kit and supplies for the trek. They had to constantly be aware of where they might refill with water and look for places to stay or to camp along the way. They relied on getting food from the tiny villages and farms they passed through.

Charlie Shepherd, CEO of Epic Morocco, explained why he wanted to back the exploration, ” Epic Morocco is a specialist in adventure holidays here in Morocco and we pride ourselves on our knowledge of the country. We wanted to showcase the incredible natural beauty of Morocco and the diversity of its landscapes. No-one had ever crossed the whole way across from the highest point to the lowest, but I had every faith in Rachid and Alice and their ability to do it.”

Alice Morrison added her highlights, “Apart from the extreme physical nature of the expedition, the thing that stood out for me was the wonderful and humbling hospitality we encountered from the Berber people. In every village we passed through, people invited us into their homes to eat or drink tea. We ran out of water at one stage on a really hot, deserted piste, and were getting thirsty and worried until we saw a shepherd in the distance. He came running down over the hills with his flock to share his bottle of water with us. This kind of generosity was displayed over and over again. We would not have made it without the help of the people of the mountains.”

Rachid Ait Elmahjoub, an Amazigh mountain guide, navigated the route across the peaks and through the valleys, exploring places he had never been before. “I want to give a clear picture to visitors to Morocco of my country, my culture and my people. I am proud of them and I want to share them.”

The expedition took 12 days in total from its beginning on the summit of Mount Toubkal (4167m). The team were walking for up to 18 hours a day. The temperatures were extreme: from the snows on Toubkal to 43 degrees as they came across towards Agadir.  The terrain was rough and often treacherous, with sharp boulders, river crossings, tough ascents and long, slippery descents.

So will Epic Morocco be running it as one of its regular hiking trips? “We are looking at doing it perhaps as a hiking/biking trip,” said Charlie Shepherd, ” We would need to tweak the route a bit and it would certainly be a challenge, but if there is an appetite for it, it is a big thing to accomplish .and you get to see a great swathe of the country”

For more information please email escape@epicmorocco.co.uk

For more adventures from Alice Morrison please visit www.alicemorrison.co.uk

27 Unforgettable Things to Do in Fez

Fez is Morocco’s second largest city and is also one of the most historic. It features two large Medina quarters, which have been named World UNESCO Heritage Sites. The whole city is a labyrinth of history and ancient artifacts, with a modern-day edge. If you want to spend some time exploring one of Morocco’s most interesting cities, here are 27 things to do in Fez.

Bou Inania Madersa

This stunning work of architecture is a college dating back to the 14th century. It’s considered one of the best examples of Islamic architecture in all of Fez. Especially for foreigners as non-Muslims can’t enter the mosques, which traditionally have fantastic architecture.

Wander Around Talaa Kebira

You can enter this area through the famous blue gate and come upon one of the most buzzing areas of Fez. It’s full of souks, food stalls, arts and crafts, and locals doing their shopping. It’s definitely a historic place full of old world charm.

Try a Hamman

This spa experience is a great way to enjoy the culture in Morocco. It makes a great treat after you’ve been exploring the city by foot for a couple of days. It’s a traditional bath that is usually shared with others. It’s health benefits are many.

Chouara Tannery

Fez is known for its leather goods which is why the tanneries are such an important part of the landscape. You may want to hire a guide or go on a tour so that finding it is easier. Once you arrive, you’ll get to see the fully working tannery full of colorful pools of dyes and hardworking locals.

Al Attarin Medersa

This historic home was built by a famous sultan back in 1323. The house shows off beautiful tilework, calligraphy, and stunning woodwork. Anyone who is interested in Arabian craftsman ship will appreciate this beauty of a building.

Visit Kairaouine Mosque

This is considered one of the oldest mosques in Africa. It’s also known as one of the oldest universities in the entire world. The prayer sessions here can hold 20,000 people. This mosque was established in 859 but was expanded in the 12th century. Non-Muslims are not allowed to enter so you’ll have to view it from the outside only. The libraries are the most notable as they contain significant documents dating back to 780 A.D.

Wander Through Jardin Jnan Sbil

If you’ve had enough of the bustling city streets, this lush garden is a great retreat. Entry is free and the landscape is full of plants, a hidden lake, and secret paths. Find some peace amongst the trees in this beautiful garden.

Experience Culture at Cafe Clock

This resting spot was created by a British man who came to Fez and loved it. It attracts a lot of travelers who relax over a cup of mint tea while viewing the concerts and films that the cafe puts on. Traditional cooking classes are also offered here in case you want to learn more about the cuisine.

Go Antique Shopping in The Jewish Quarter

This is a great sect of Fez to explore, especially if you love antiques. It was once prosperous and considered a high-end area of Fez. It eventually regressed into a European-like ghetto but has recently become a nice place to explore. Stop off by visiting the Ibn Danan Synagogue and work your way over to the Jewish cemetery. Afterwards, you can spend your time shopping in the antique boutiques that line the area.

See The Golden Gates at The Royal Palace

If it has the name, ‘Royal Palace’ it’s sure to be a grand structure worth visiting. This is true for the palace in Fez. The palace isn’t open to the public but the grand, golden gates can be seen and photographed from the outside. They are beautiful and make a great subject for any photo.

Explore The Fez Medina and Fez el Bali

This is one of the oldest areas in Fez and is considered a World UNESCO Heritage Site. It offers a truly Moroccan scene as there are food stalls, beautiful tapestries, and ornate jewelry for sale. Wandering through the medinas is the number one way to really take in the culture of the city and do a little people watching. Plus, your photos will turn out incredibly. And, you can stock up on souvenirs to take back home. Fes el Bali is known as being one of the largest pedestrian areas in the world. The entire place is like a maze of tiny alleys, winding streets, and vendors selling colorful wares. You’ll see donkey carts, vendors in haggling wars with shoppers, and mounds of colorful spices. This is a great place to try the traditional snacks too as you’ll be sure to work up an appetite.

Borj Nord Arms Museum

This museum looks just like a fortress and it has 13 rooms filled with artifacts. Majority of them are weapons; about 775 of them in fact. Most of them are military style and there is a ton of history surrounding these weapons. Make sure to visit the rooftop as the view of the city is fantastic.

See The Bab Boujeloud

Otherwise known as the Blue Gate, this is one of the top sites in Fez. It’s a stunning work of Moroccan architecture and it makes a great addition to your photo. It won’t take long to check out the gate, but it’s certainly something worth visiting. This area, as well as the gate, were constructed around the 20th century and serve as a central meeting point before entering the Medina. While it blends in perfectly with Moroccan architecture and design, the gate was actually French-made.

Visit The Henna Souk

This is one of the oldest and most intriguing souks in the city. Visitors here will find a wide array of pottery, ceramics, and traditional beauty products like henna. The stalls are protected by the shade of the trees so it’s a great place to wander on a hot afternoon.

Get Lost

While this isn’t exactly specific, getting lost in Fez should be something you do at least once. The entire city is full of surprising, history, and interesting scenes. Let loose, forget about your itinerary and just meander around the city. You’ll be sure to find something that you never would have read about in the guide books. Just make sure you have a map or directions back to your hotel. Then, you can just grab a taxi from wherever you end up and easily get back to your home base.

Shop For Carpets

The carpets in Fez are some of the best and most ornate in the world. Plus, you can fetch a pretty decent price for one at the market. Shopping for carpets here is an experience within itself as you’ll get to bargain with the shopkeepers and eventually take home a great souvenir.

Go Trekking in Tazekka National Park

While about an hour from Fez, this national park is well worth a visit. City life is grand but taking some time to experience the natural landscape will make your trip more balanced. There are plenty of trails for every hiking level and the views from most of them are incredible. Spend some extra time in the town of Taza if you want to remain in the countryside longer.

See a Belly Dancing Show

Belly dancing has been a highlight of Moroccan entertainment for centuries. A trip wouldn’t be complete without experiencing one of these shows for yourself. Many places will offer a traditional meal so that you can enjoy a feast while watching the belly dancers perform.

Visit Nejjarine Square and Museum

This museum focuses on woodworking tools and woodwork. It’s surrounded by architecture dating back to the 18th century and has a rooftop with a fantastic view of the city. This is a great place to wander for a while, especially if you enjoy artwork. Visitors will get to see cabinet work and art from various regions around the country. Many of the works are ancient but there are also modern-day pieces too.

Visit Merenid Tombs During Sunset

These tombs are from the 14th century and are brimming with history. While they are more ruins than tombs, they still make a great place to visit, especially for a picnic. The views are pretty fantastic, so watching the sunset here is a must. It’s not the safest place to be after dark so make sure to visit with a group and leave shortly after the sun goes down. You can get a quick and easy taxi ride to the tombs and you can walk back to the Medina in around 12 minutes.

Take a Cooking Class

There are plenty of schools around Fez that offer cooking classes to visitors. This is a great way to learn about the culture, interact with a local, and take home a new skill. You’ll learn to make a few traditional dishes and then get to eat them afterwards (which is often the best part.) It’s a hands-on learning experience that tends to be a whole lot of fun too.

Wander The Seffarine Square

This is one of the oldest areas in Fez and it’s full of local treats, snacks, and souvenirs. If you want to experience some of the local culture, just wander around this public square. It’s a great place for people watching and picking up a few items to take back home with you. If you’re looking for a Riad to spend the night in, this square may be a great place to check out.

Try The Restaurant Scene

While there are plenty of stalls and street food, the Moroccan restaurants in Fez should not be missed. In fact, you may even stumble upon cuisine from other cultures and countries. Try Restaurant 7 for French food, Riad Rcif for upscale Fassi-Moroccan food, and Mezzanine for Spanish-style tapas. And, don’t forget about Kai Tai which serves up sushi and Thai food.

The Sacred Music Festival

You’ll need to be visiting in June if you want to witness one of the largest music festivals in Morocco. The atmosphere is one of high spirits and you’ll get to meet new people, enjoy new tunes, and be part of something truly meaningful. It’s a great experience to have in addition to your trip in Fez. There will be food stalls, locals, and other tourists out and about enjoying the festivities.

Stay in a Riad

You’ll have plenty of choices when it comes to where to stay in Fez. However, a Riad is a traditional experience that everyone should try. It’s a classic, Moroccan home that is similar to a bed and breakfast. It’s truly an experiential stay and many of them have pools in their courtyard so you can cool off in the summer heat. Even if you are staying in a hotel, try to book at least one night in a Riad so that you can experience this tradition first-hand.

Hike Mount Zalagh

For a little fresh air and a fantastic view of the city, take a hike up this mountain. It’s the biggest mountain that overlooks the city and isn’t too difficult to conquer. Aside from a great destination in Fez for hiking, there are mountain biking trails too. If you’re adventurous, this is a great place for you to explore.

Fez has a lot going on and you’ll want to make plenty of time to see it all. It is packed with history and the culture is hard miss. Wander through the medina, grab lunch in a Riad, and watch the sunset over ancient ruins. A trip to Fez is truly a dive into culture, understanding, and Moroccan hospitality.

Eat Shop Pray in Fantastic Fez

I last went to Fez a long, long time ago but it had always stayed in my memory as a particularly beautiful city, nestled into a series of hills and harbouring a fantastical medina full of tiny alleyways, bright carpets and laden donkeys. I arrived off the train from Marrakech at dark. The station was a scrum, but I found a friendly taxi driver who took me to the nearest gate into the Medina to Dar Roumana, where we were staying for two of our three nights. Outraged when he found out I was umarried, he immediately proposed but was not at all downcast when I rejected his suit. A porter was at the gate and rolled me through the golden-lit streets to the door of Dar Roumana.

A small door, led into the most stunning central courtyard. Fabulous mosaics cover every surface, interspersed with lacy stone carving and delicate woodwork. Vanessa, our hostess, was there to meet us and sat us down by a roaring fire with a cup of tea and gave us instructions of where to go for our first night’s dinner. Since, these included the immortal words, “Turn right at the snail seller,” I was amazed when we actually got to Cafe Clock where I had the best pumpkin soup I have ever tasted, drizzled in nutty Argan oil. It set the tone for three days of feasting.

EAT!

Fresh fruit, vegetables, meat and fish are readily available in Morocco and the Moroccan specialities of tagine and couscous are truly delicious. Fes offered us the best food I have had in Morocco and thanks to the recommendations of our hosts at Dar Roumana, some of the best food I have found in any city where I have landed as a bright eyed tourist. Here are some of our highlights:

Grilled octopus on a bed of salsa, followed by wild boar caught in the forest that week, slowly cooked and with a jus of red wine and juniper berries. My tastebuds thought all their Christmases had come at once. Truly delicious.The chef at Dar Roumana is justifiably famous!

Kofta (beef meatballs) in a sizzling tomato sauce, topped with crunchy courgettes and a runny-yolked egg at the Ruined Garden, where Robert, previously of the Ivy in London, presides over lazy lunches. The garden itself is a treasure, full of hidden corners and overgrown roses.

Thai Green Curry with chicken and the most delicate cucumber, with bananas in coconut milk to follow at Moi Anan. The chef and owner, Anan, is also a fashion designer and sat with us explaining the joys and sorrows of trying to start up a new, young fashion scene in Fez.

Half a chicken with rice and salad from the stall at the junction of Talaat Sagheer and Talaat Kabeer , the big and small roads, at the top near Boujoloud. In one huge copper pot, there were whole chickens cooking, and in the other, entire sheep’s heads. We plumped for the chicken and for two of us, a whole one plus rice and bread came to 50Dhs, around £3.50.

PRAY

Fez (Fes or Fas) was the first capital of Morocco and is traditional centre of Islamic practice and learning here. The city is filled with mosques, medersas ( Islamic schools), shrines and holy tombs. For a long time, the city rivalled Mecca and Medina in religious importance. The Kaoraouiyine Mosque is the biggest and finest in the city, dating back to the 12th century and still at the heart of Fes’s religious life. It sets the official prayer times and rings out the end of Ramadan fasting for the whole of the country. As non-Muslims, we weren’t allowed to go in, but when I asked the doorman if he minded if I took a photo, he went one better, took my camera and went inside to take lots of shots for me. Typical of the kindness and good heartedness that you experience so often in this country.

Our next two stops were the Attarin Medersa and the Bou Inania Medersa. Both are worth a visit as they display the finest carving and mosaic work in Fes. The dormitories were closed off when we were there, but just concentrating on the central work areas and offset rooms was enough.
One of my favourite things about historical Fez is the preponderance of mosaic drinking fountains. There is one at almost every corner, some of them still resplendent, but some quietly decaying. They were built by benefactors or local communities so that in the hot, summer months, there would always be somewhere for the poor to drink.

Serena and I are training for the Marrakech half marathon, so we combined our daily run with some history. We were up and running through the Medina at sunrise and out to the Merenid tombs on one of the hillsides overlooking the city. We were only up that early because we wanted to avoid running lycra-clad through the crowds, but if you can bear to get up, the view as the sun comes up and catches the minarets of the city and then circles over to bathe you in gold, is worth it.

Nothing to do with prayer, but my last recommendation for sightseeing is the tanneries where all the leather is cured and coloured using traditional methods. It is quite a sight with men up to their waists in vats of dye, scraping skins with metal blades, and pummelling the carcases. It is a hard and dirty job but a big employer in Fez and the people of Fez (Fassians) are rightly proud of their leather goods.

SHOP

Which brings me to the final part of our Fez experience, and one close to my heart, shopping. Morocco is a shopper’s paradise with handmade carpets, pottery, jewellery, silk tassels, kaftans, wooden boxes, bags, belts and babouches everywhere. I have lived here for just over a year now but still haven’t tired of the craftsmanship that surrounds me. I thought that I would be less impressed with Fassi work, coming from Marrakech, but that wasn’t the case.

My best buys were definitely the distinctive Fez pottery. It is made out of fine, white clay and is like our bone china but decorated in vibrant blues, reds and greens. There is a particularly dark, royal blue which is called Fez blue and that dominates but I also liked the clear reds. There are many, many different designs, including a very typical one of small flowers on a white background. Prices vary greatly according to the design and quality of the piece but there are bargains to be had. I got a lovely soap dish and matching toothbrush holder for 40 dhs each (around £3).

Serena, has a rug problem. All the signs of addiction are there: the relentless search for the next hit, the handing over of cash in squalid surroundings, the ecstatic moment when she gets her fix…. Bargaining for a rug in Morocco is something that everyone should do at least once before they die. Usually it involves plush surroundings and a nice cup of mint tea, but on this occasion, we found ourselves lured up the tiniest, darkest, seediest alleyway and led into a small kiosk crammed with gloriously coloured carpets. We launched  into our best Arabic, mine is more Egyptian/classical whereas Serena is pure Marrakech. We are lucky in that it usually sets us off at a reasonably decent price and then we go down for there. This time, we were going for two smallish berber rugs in the dark Fez blue with brighter colours interwoven. We walked away with both for 500dhs which seemed fair. Every guidebook tells you this, but it is true, pay the price that you think the item is worth and then be happy with that, and make sure you leave the vendor a profit, as well as being sure that you have got a good price and of course, enjoy it!

The second night in Fez, we had put up in Dar El Ma, a lovely, quirky little Riad, wedged in between two thick walls. We had it to ourselves and bought a pile of fresh fruit to make fruit salad for breakfast in the morning. It was fun pretending we owned the place, and lounging in the central courtyard for breakfast chatting to Huda, who is the caretaker, about her thesis on domestic violence in marriage.

On our last night, we went up to the rooftop which gives a 360 view of the city and waited for the evening call to prayer as the last bit of the sun sank below the horizon. You know it is coming, but it is still a magical moment when the first muezzin gives voice to the words, “ Allahu Akbar,” and then all the others join in from minaret to minaret.

This blog was written by Alice Morrison, an adventurer and writer based in Morocco, for more please visit her website www.alicemorrison.co.uk

Useful links:

Dar Roumana  http://www.darroumana.com/Dar_Roumana/Home.html

Dar El Ma http://www.darelma.com/

Ruined Garden http://ruinedgarden.com/

Maison Moi Anan https://www.facebook.com/pages/Maison-Moi-Anan/566013710198369

Café Clock http://cafeclock.com/

Alice Morrison www.alicemorrison.co.uk