A family trip to Marrakesh and the Atlas mountains

I can’t believe it is over a year ago that we made a trip to beautiful Morocco. And for that entire year I’ve been meaning to write about it! But finally, here is recap of our week there. A week that left us deeply in love with Morocco!

We arrived in Marrakesh midday on a Sunday, just outside Jamaa el Fna, the famous square and marketplace in the medina (old city) of Marrakesh. The driver, who had transferred us from the airport, had left us in the care of a kind man with a cart, who was going to take us to our hotel. We were instantly submerged in the hustle and bustle of life here — a strange life, to us! The smells, the colours and shapes of the buildings, the sounds of the merchants and snake charmers (yes!), the dress of the people passing by — it was all such a spectacle. Different like night and day to Amsterdam, and slightly overwhelming as such.

But our friendly guide led us confidently through the narrow alleys of the medina, which to us seemed like a maze, until we reached our hotel, Riyad El Cadi. We had reserved the Blue House, a private little riad within a bigger cluster of interconnected riads, together forming the hotel. The Blue house has two separate bedrooms, a beautiful bathroom and a private roof terrace, and is connected to the rest of the hotel, which is beautifully decorated with Moroccan antiques — there are dining areas, interconnected roof terraces, and courtyards (one with a plunge pool). The kids loved discovering all of the hidden passageways off the hotel, one leading into another pretty roof terrace or quit courtyard.

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After check-in, we went for a little stroll through the souk (the market) before dinner. It was busy and beautiful! The colours of the merchandise, the smells of the herbs, all the tiny shops and stalls filled with pretty products — all so, so pretty. Full of sounds and activity — we loved it.

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Staying in a riad, we quickly found out, is lovely. With their inner courtyards, traditionally planted with 4 orange trees and (if big enough) a fountain or even a plunge pool, they are a beacon of calm and tranquility in the busy streets of the medina. There is usually a cook, so they serve dinner upon request — perfect when you’re travelling with children. Food is delicious in Morocco — juicy tagines of seafood, lamb, chicken or beef, dishes of tastefully spiced couscous, steamed, colourful vegetables and fresh, ripe fruits. Breakfast is typically served with crispy fresh bread (including the local flat bread), croissants, fresh orange juice, cakes, eggs and olives, homemade jams and honey, fruit, coffee and the traditional sweet mint tea. Yum.

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Monday was spent discovering the medina. We walked and walked through the alleys and streets, admiring the skilled craftsmen in their workshops. We visited the tannery, which is considered a tourist scam but we thought it was so interesting. Dirty and smelly, yes, but we learned so much about the processes of how leather is tanned, and the colours of the tannery are simply amazing.

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It is actually one of the things I liked best about the medina — the possibility to teach our children so much about crafts and processes that in our Western society have become totally industrialised. In Marrakesh, people are still so skilled in making things by hand entirely.

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When our feet were tired, we took a horse-drawn carriage around the city walls and asked our coachman to wait while we visited the beautiful Bahia Palace, where once a harem was kept. We ended up once more in the souk and Jamaa el Fna (the big square), before returning to our riad for a much needed bath.

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The next day we had to get up early because we had arranged a transfer to Ouirgane, in the Azzaden Valley in the heart of the Atlas mountains. About an hour and a half by car, this was quite an adventurous trip through the mountains over scary dirt roads — but, I have to admit, the trip was absolutely, breathtakingly beautiful. We were brought to a trekking lodge in the village of Aït Aïssa, where we were welcomed in traditional Berber style and with an amazing lunch.

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After enjoying the slow and quiet of Ouirgane we were picked up by our guide (plus mule!) and we made a hike of about three hours through the valley. Some of it included some steep climbing, but our mule was happy to carry tired children, and the tired children were happy to be carried by the mule ; ).

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We also visited a traditional Berber family in a village where cars do not exist, but where they know how to make a deliciously crusty, bowl shaped bread in their wood fired oven, which they are happy to share with their guests.

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Back in the lodge, dinner was again delicious, and it was fun chatting with our fellow guests, a few adventurous, lovely older couples from England.
On Tuesday, we got up early again — we would be picked up by our guide and two mules this time: one for our luggage and the other one for tired children.

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This day, we hiked for over 6 hours, over rocky passes and through green valleys with the occasional village. It was a stunning trek. Midway, a delicious picnic was waiting for us — cooked freshly for us on the spot over an open fire, and with delicious salads and fruits. The food is seriously something else in Morocco!

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The children walked all if not most of the trek by themselves (except for Casper who we carried on our backs for the major part). They loved this big adventure, running over rocks, jumping over creeks, and gathering so many pretty stones!

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At the very end of the trek Imlil valley suddenly opened up before us, and this was one of the most beautiful views I have ever seen. The trees in the valley in their autumnal colours, the terraces on the hills with fresh green grass, the village with its square buildings in pretty, pink terracotta colours, the mountain fields behind the village sprinkled with huge round boulders and a beautiful waterfall in between them… And in the back, everything was embraced by the high mountains, with mount Toubkal with its snowy peak topping it all. Lit by the warm, golden sun at the end of a beautiful day, this was such a breathtaking sight.

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In Imlil we stayed at Kasbah du Toubkal, a beautiful eco lodge with the most amazing rooftop views. This is a welcoming and warm hotel, run and managed entirely by local Berbers, and you will find true travellers here — even though this hotel is luxurious, it is not at all pretentious. We greatly enjoyed a family visit to the Kasbah’s hamam, chess in the cosy library, and dinner in front of the fireplace. (We stayed in the Junior suite, which was perfect!)

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The transfer from Marrakesh to the lodge, the trek through the valley and the trek to Imlil — it was all arranged for us by the staff of the Kasbah and I couldn’t recommend their services more.

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After a stroll through Imlil the next day (where I bought a beautiful Berber carpet! And yes, I took it with me, all the way to Amsterdam!) we took a transfer to the hip and stylish Fellah Hotel. After all those busy days discovering the Marrakesh medina and trekking the Atlas mountains, we felt our kids deserved a bit of a break (even though there hadn’t been a single complaint — they loved everything as much as we did!).

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The Fellah Hotel is just wonderful and so easy for families — with a giant swimming pool, a kid-friendly menu and an extensive library. Rooms are large and luxurious rooms and the complex is surrounded by beautiful (gated) gardens. There’s a kids club with super fun, creative activities to keep the children entertained while mama gets a Thai massage or a traditional hammam treatment, and papa is training with a true boxing champion. We also followed a cooking workshop where I learned how to make a kick-ass tagine, so fun! (And the children got Henna tattoos, which they loved!) We stayed for two nights at Fellah and we had a blast.

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On Friday we took a taxi back to Marrakesh and checked in at Riad Houdou, a beautiful hotel in one of the oldest parts of the medina, run by two sweet Frenchmen with the most amazing eye for detail. Eric and Didier are so welcoming and helpful (Eric even insisted in showing us around in the medina because he was afraid we would get lost!). In the evening, they arranged a babysitter for us and served our children spaghetti beforehand, so that Tamar and I could discover the medina by night, and have dinner together (we went to Le Foundouk).

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Saturday, our last day in Marrakesh! We wandered around in the souks and the medina, we visited the lavishly decorated Saadian Tombs and then the Ben Youssef Madrasa, an islamic college founded in the 14th century and in use until quite recently. We all thought the Madrasa was so interesting and so beautifully designed (and the children loved checking out the many dormitory cells).

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Then we took a horse and carriage to the fabulous Majorelle Gardens, the gardens designed by Jacques Majorelle and once the Moroccan home of Yves Saint Laurent and Pierre Bergé. All the buildings are painted a deep, electric blue, a dramatic background to the beautiful gardens. And there is a little Berber museum with traditional clothing and jewellery which was very inspirational as well.

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Back in the riad, the girls and I had a hamam treatment. I wasn’t sure if they would appreciate the (sometimes quite firm!) scrubbing and massaging, but they loved it. So fun!

The next day we sadly had to leave to get back to Amsterdam. Full of a love for Morocco and Marrakesh, in the airplane we were already planning our next trip here. What a beautiful country! I can definitely recommend taking your family here (but do read the PS just in case!).

xxx Esther


PS: You will constantly need to communicate prices quite specifically as bargaining is an art in Morocco. Price labels simply do not exist — you will have to ask the prices and know, none of the prices are definite. They are just a start. (I was able to negotiate the carpet I got down for as much as 70 percent! And the salesman was still super happy with the deal.)

You also should know that you will be hassled. People will want to sell you things or show you things (eventually for money). But, we weren’t so bothered by it (perhaps, since we were traveling with little children, they mostly left us alone?). If we were annoyingly hassled, we made sure to be very resolute and determined. And if we needed someone’s help, we were sure to negotiate a price beforehand.

We loved the medina, with all of its old walls and tiny streets. We loved wandering around and getting lost, discovering more and more beautiful corners and alleys. But, you may also find it claustrophobic, dangerous and dirty. Definitely at the end of the day it is crazy, with masses of people out and about, mules with carts and speeding scooters. It is super hectic, and I think it’s best to keep little children in a pushchair (or cary them), and firmly hold the hands of bigger children. But we still loved it.

Morocco in October was wonderfully warm, but the mountains were chillier, especially at night. In the Berber hotels guests are free to make use of warm slippers and traditional berber hooded coat/dresses (the so-called djellaba) and they lit fires in all the communal areas, so were kept pretty cosy. But it is advisable to pack a jumper and jeans.



Comments (14)

November 21, 2016

Thanks for these insights and the beautiful pictures, Esther! I’m already dreaming about our trip to Morocco, which I’m planning for autumn 2017. My kids will be 6.5, 4.5 and 0.5, and I would like to do a mix of Marrakesh, mountains or desert and swimming pool. The horse option would make a trek in the mountains feasible, but maybe six hours will be too much… Did you consider a trip to the desert, and if so, why did you decided not to do it?

Esther in Amsterdam
November 22, 2016

We didn’t have the time! I want to go back and discover the coast and the dessert — and yes! Horse riding, too. x

November 21, 2016

Amazing photos Esther! Great trip

November 21, 2016

This may be the most beautiful blog post I have read. The photo’s and scenery are just superb. Thank you for giving me a little window into this stunning part of the world!

November 21, 2016

Oh wow – absolutely beautiful photos! We went a couple of years ago to Marrakesh with our 3 girls and we all loved it so much, it is a blast to the all the senses! (I lived for a year in Jerusalem aged 8 and the amazing sights, sounds, smells and excitement of the souks in the Medina bought back so many happy memories for me) It is amazing to take such a short flight and arrive somewhere so totally different, so vibrant! and you are so right – the craftsmanship, the food – amazing!
We were only there for a few days but have been planning to return and for longer – I have bookmarked all your links!! x

November 21, 2016

Thank you, Esther, for such beautiful photos and description of your family holidays in Morocco. You got me dreaming…

November 21, 2016

Loved this post, Esther! I’ve been dreaming of going to Morocco for years but wasn’t really sure how family friendly it would be. You’ve completely changed my mind and I appreciated the PS. part, too. 🙂

Esther in Amsterdam
November 23, 2016

I’m so glad!! 🙂 x

November 25, 2016

Beautiful post, beautiful pictures, I have especially appreciated the PS, very honest, doesn’t feed people with false expectations 👏👏👏👏👏 !

Vyki from Museum Mum
February 22, 2017

What a wonderful write up! I’m planning an 8 day trip to Morocco and this is super helpful. What I wanted to ask is how young your children were. I will have a 15, 5 and 3 year old and I think the 3 year old may be a bit young for a long donkey trek. But would be interested to hear your thoughts.

June 7, 2017

[…] Marrakesh is an amazing spectacle. Full of smells, colours, sounds and shapes which are so different from what we’re used to in our Western cities, it is such a beautiful, adventurous city to explore. Looking at the photos of our visit makes me just want to make that trip all over again…  including that spectacular hike in the Atlas Mountains.  Here’s my recap of our family trip to Marrakesh! […]

July 25, 2017

This is a great post with fantastic information and beautiful pictures. My wife and I leave for Morocco with our 4yr old daughter on September 1 for 2 weeks. We are looking at planning a trip to the Kasbah Du Toubkal as well. Do you recall the name of the trek you booked, we are trying to organize something similar and what you describe above sounds perfect for us. I did reach out to Kasbah du Toubkal as well and am waiting to hear back but we are very excited and your post has amplified our excitement. Cheers 🙂

Esther in Amsterdam
July 25, 2017

I don’t know the name of the track, but I think if you describe it to them they will know!! Enjoy your time in Morocco. I know you will love it! 🙂

November 2, 2017

Amazing information! Breathtaking & useful facts, thank you so much for sharing your wonderful knowledge about Morocco! I love the pics I planing too for visit Morocco with my husband.

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