I recently came back from a week in Morocco. It was an absurdly sociable holiday, which as you know is a very weird thing for me to do as I find socialising so insanely stressful. But I’ve got these kids, you see, and they really like it.
So we went with a few families so that there would be a friend for Sam and a friend for Kitty. And for us, too. Of course.
We had lunch with a group one day and I sat next to a woman, let’s call her Emma. She was telling a story about a mum acquaintance of hers – Joanna – from back in England. “She called me in this state a few weeks ago, saying that her child was being bullied at school. I know both kids a bit and I was surprised. But it sounded like a terrible story.”
Emma listened to her friend become increasingly hysterical on the phone about the situation and tried to reassure her, to sympathise. You know, just be kind. The call went on for about 45 minutes. Emma was sad for her friend but thought little more about it, they were at different schools, it was all too remote for her to really have anything to do with it.
The next week, the call came again. About the same subject. Emma listened, sympathised and sat through another 45 minutes call. (Emma is nicer than me, I would have probably not picked up that time.)
After the third call, a few days later, a thought occurred to Emma – and a chill went down her spine.
Was Joanna… drunk?
Emma is, like me, merely an amateur alcoholic. Put a drink in my hand at 6pm or I will start throwing furniture out of the window and biting chunks out of radiators – but the idea that I would be drunk on a random Tuesday lunchtime and ring up my friends in hysterics is total anathema.
Emma rang another mother, who is at the same school as Joanna. “She’s calling you, too, is she?” said the other mother.
“Yes,” said Emma. “But you know, she’s upset – it all sounds awful.”
“Yes,” said the other mother. “Though it’s not true. No-one is being bullied. Jo’s making it up.”
“What do you mean?” said Emma, now totally confused. “Why?”
“The other child, the bully – he’s the son of Mrs X. Jo hates her. Or didn’t you know?”
Emma came away from the conversation totally rattled. What on earth was this swirling madness she had been exposed to? Why were other people so fucking crazy? And why do they get her involved? Does she look like a sucker?
I feel like Emma in this story quite often. I feel regularly like I only know the surface of the story, I just blithely accept the facts as they are told to me and am totally unaware of what’s actually going on.
Like, I think this dinner party (for example) I am at is because someone wants to have a dinner party – in fact it is in order to introduce two spies to each other who are about to exchange information that will prevent a monopolies deal going through. Or something.
Enough about my paranoia: more about Morocco! We stayed in a house about 30 minutes from Marrakech, which was a bit disappointing, so I won’t go into details. But our friends were staying in really fabulous places, which I went through with an extra critical eye, comparing and contrasting everything they had, with what I didn’t.
Dar Mauresque, Dar Ahmar and Dar Zita were all fabulous and I recommend them to you with great confidence. They are all Scott Williams villas though this is not a sponsored post or a gifted stay.
We also re-visited Kasbah Bab Ourika, which Giles and I stayed in 11 years ago when it had just opened and Giles proposed there. It was a little bare when we were first there but over the last decade it has expanded and flourished and, although the pool was on the small side, other than that it looked absolutely terrific.
I have always found Morocco a bit challenging; the people there are incredibly poor, the de-fanged snakes, the chained-up monkeys, the hobbled donkeys and camels are all pretty grim. Being a genuine lotus-eating holidaymaker in that environment doesn’t make me feel great. Not like I’m such a marvellous person, more like I’m just too unstable and selfish to be confronted by poverty when I’m trying to have a slightly stressful sociable time.
How about you? Stayed anywhere good in Morocco you want to tell us about? I would also take some amusing stories about souks and/or tummy upsets. Go.
Nicola Brady says
I was punched twice in Marrakech. Both times were guys trying to get us to eat in their stand in the market – one pulled me in by the arm, insisting we eat lunch there, then when I politely pulled my arm back he whacked me and called me a fucking bitch. Same thing happened on the last night but when I made more of a scene I could see other men coming to join in (on his side). I was with a friend and we were fully prepared for the fact it’s hard to be a woman travelling there without a husband or DAD (FFS). But the hassle we got was next level – men (and kids) always following us to “show us back” to our riad then demanding money, just people constantly looking to get cash out of you. Honestly, I hated it.
I can quite imagine
I went surfing in Morocco 15 years ago, and for a rest from the unrelenting near-drowning (I was rubbish), my friend and I took a bus to the nearest town for a hammam. She confidently described fluffy towels, robes, massages… whereas we actually found a proper local hammam with a single cold tap and two women prepared to scrub the top 7 or so layers off our skin with a loofah. It was brilliant but excruciating given we were covered in surfing bruises and sunburnt. Would recommend.
We went last month. I was looking forward to getting lost in the medina, which I am assured is a rite of passage. My husband’s sense of direction is so annoyingly perfect, we didn’t get lost once, and I feel totally cheated.
On the flip side, our riad was beautiful. The call to prayer at 6 a.m. every morning I could have done without.
We visited right after the terrorist bomb in Jemaa el-Fnaa Square in 2011. We ummed and aahed about whether we should still go but did. It rained terribly for May. Our taxi driver assured us it was because Allah was weeping.
We’d booked into a super stylish riad for dinner and during rooftop cocktails the manager came to personally thank us for still visiting. We were given a wonderful private dining room for dinner, I commented to my female friend that it was a pity she wasn’t there with someone who she was romantically involved but we had a marvellous time. We were the only ones there that evening.
Despite a wardrobe malfunction in the bazaar and a few difficult moments being followed/harrassed we had a wonderful trip filled with architecture, tombs, palaces and gardens. And leather slippers. An odd trip but would definitely like to return someday.
Belle Stennett says
I go to Morocco as often as poss and adore it. Essaouira and Sssh Taroudant (I don’t want everyone to discover the T place) Is heaven. T is a proper working town and thankfully not many tourist trek there. Private riads with swimming pools and a cook, not expensive. That’s all I will say on the matter. Do your own research. I did. Mind you it’s best to speak French. I do.
Please don’t tell a soul.
Ooh Belle thank you. Bisous x
Totally agree on Taroudant! We stayed in the Riad Jnane Ines, it was a small paradise. And Taroudant is like a mini Marrakech, but without the tourists and the many many identical shops.
Jenny Corrigan says
I stay in Essaouira every year for a month,it is chilled Fab locals would never bother with Marrakech after being in Essaouira,give it a whirl,you won’t be disappointed
Clare Nash says
We went to Marrakech for our anniversary about 15 years ago or summat. Late November. Didn’t do my due diligence and thought I could waft around elegantly in a dress by day and then ‘throw on’ an ‘elegant light knit’ of an evening and sit alluringly across from my husband sipping rose scented cocktails, foxily turned out. Turns out that though it was sunny by day it was fackin’ freezin’ and positively arctic by night so I spent the entire time wearing my husband’s ugliest fleece which (thankfully, though peculiarly) he had brought along. By bedtime I was chilled to my actual bones and spent the entire time begging the hotel reception for more blankets “or maybe a hot water bottle?” The ‘hotel’ was a guest house somewhere in that medinay bit and had been in Tatler or somewhere as a ‘secret gem’. Owned by a Brit couple, clearly mates of the editor as, whilst it was ‘charming’ if you like that kinda thing, it was laughably uncomfortable and without frill. And quite spenny. Lose lose. The lights were the dimmest I have ever encountered. We were reduced to feeling our way around the walls. I abandoned make up on night one – I literally couldn’t see me hand in front of etc let alone apply subtle maquillage. Anyway, sporting North Fleece as I was, I was now going for the hearty Sloane teenager in Rock look instead. Albeit without her natural advantages. There seemed to be nowhere to have an alcoholic drink ‘cept for the two v expensive tagine joints we alternated between at night. And I needed stiff drinks from breakfast onwards to keep me warm and gently anaethetised. The souk appeared to be a (very slightly) cheaper version of Graham and Green. And then you had to lug it home rather than just chipping off to Elgin Crescent and parking outside. At the airport (the blessed airport!) we were told that there had been a mix up and we’d been bumped ’til the next day. At which point climbed over the desk and got some poor member of the ground staff in a headlock until she’d ‘resolved’ the ticket situation. It weren’t great.
That sounds a very ‘entertaining’ holiday … and it made it laugh!
I had a hammam in Marrakesh with two, thankfully close, girl friends where we were scrubbed down naked in a room together before being massaged (separately) everywhere. Felt amazing afterwards, but don’t go with say, your mother-in-law, unless you’re very close! Overall, I enjoyed the city and the riad we stayed in, although as four women travelling together, we had to be escorted at night. We were very well looked after, but I too found the relentless attention and following by men and boys exhausting. I wouldn’t go back.
Gemma H says
I have always been a little tempted to visit Morocco, but these comments have confirmed my fears! And to top it all I don’t speak french!
We’ve been twice, and loved it, but not been with kids. First time we stayed at Les Deux Tours hotel just outside Marrakech because I’d seen in in Vogue ( it was fine, not amazing, but was a long time ago and places change), and then went to the coast and stayed in the Villa Maroc (no pool, but near beach, really fab restaurant) in Essaouira for 3 nights, which is a v windy, v chilled blue and white town. Great shopping, far less mental than Marrakech.
Second time was on honeymoon, and we stayed in Caravanserai about 20mins in a cab from Marrakech. Pretty suites with fires in sitting rooms, gorgeous pool and then lots of little gardens and nooks and crannies for sitting and reading etc. ALSO, the gardens were FULL of tortoises, some a few inches across, some tiny ones, the size of walnuts, just strolling about and snoozing in the sun. The hotel really was breathtakingly lovely to look at, esp as it got dark and they lit candles in lanterns all around the courtyardy bits. We did cabs to the YSL garden, and a couple of restaurants, went to the medina one day, but otherwise just hung out being young and unencumbered by kids. As I recall, there were lots of enfants there and they were made very welcome, so I’d probably go there with smalls.
I hear you on the crushing poverty all around. I thought I’d get past that by paying over the odds for everything, and never haggling, but then felt like a Lady Bountiful style dick.
Ah, Marrakech. Stayed at a riad in the souk, got followed through the streets every time we left the hotel by crowds of small boys chanting ‘fromage blanc’. At night they would try to get us lost by shouting misdirections from the shadows like a weird fairy tale. The clocks changed while we were there but we didn’t know, so we were an hour late for everything for several days. My friend booked us into a posh hotel spa for treatments, but when we arrived we found we’d been allocated the male masseur whose style was more acrobatic than expected (I am not kidding – imagine being flung into mid air by his feet and suspended for minutes on end, while your friend watches in incredulity, all in a sort of baking hot sweaty prison cell). The Jemaa el-Fnaa at night was like the 1001 Arabian Nights, truly extraordinary, but getting groped and harassed every ten paces isn’t conducive to a truly relaxing holiday…
Sarah Robson says
Not much makes me laugh out loud at 7am – thank you
I’ve had two great holidays in Morocco (once with a female pal in November, and the second in May with a mixed group for a birthday celebration). Both times we stayed in the Medina in Marrakech. I loved being in the thick of it, with the ability to retreat back to the Riad when we got a bit hot and bothered. For the birthday celebration we took over the whole of http://www.riadtimila.com which was fabulous. Beautifully furnished and the most amazingly hospitable staff. The fridge in the rooftop honesty bar was kept well-stocked throughout and there was plenty of spaces within the riad, inside and out, to lounge around, including a plunge pool. The food made in-house easily matched the quality we had in outside restaurants. Anything we needed was arranged without fuss but the staff were discreet and not bothersome if we didn’t need them. After three nights in Marrakech (which is probably enough because it can be quite intense) we did three nights in Essaouira. As someone else said, it’s much more laid back and cooler (literally) being on the coast. We’re tempted to try Fez next time which, I’m told, is less of an assault on the senses than Marrakech.
I’m really sorry to hear people got hassled; we didn’t, even when we were just a pair of women.Yes, people call out to you to encourage you to look at what they’re selling, but a firm “no” and a purposeful walk away put paid to any difficulties. I agree the chained-up monkeys and snake charming was unpleasant; we just gave it a wide berth. The weather was great on both trips (almost too hot in May) with just a light jumper needed in the evening in November (although I’m sure it would have been cooler at the coast at that time of year) – maybe we were just lucky, but I haven’t heard much different from friends who have been. I would recommend it for a short break.
Sheila Birch says
I loved Marrakesh, We were transported from the main square where our taxi dropped us off…. to our Riad in what I can only describe as a ‘tin Wheelbarrow’, ….suitcases in the back; us 6 ( me my husband our friends and two of our twenty something daughters) on two rows of seats at the front, it was then pulled along by a poor sodding knackered donkey down the narrow street to our Rihad – once the residence of the German Ambassador, gorgeous, like nowhere I have ever stayed before. Three or four stories high, all the quaint not quite perfect, rooms with tiny balconies overlooking the courtyard where dinner was served each night..
rose petals strewn on the crisp white cloth, ‘Abdul the most gorgeous’ waiting for our arrival with glasses of champagne, his white glistening teeth matching the crisp white cloth….we all fell in love with him, even Bill!
I was blown away by the place, the storytellers each evening surrounded by young and old (MEN only) in their long kaftans, listening whilst drinking coke, no alcohol allowed. I said ‘only Jesus is missing’, it was so biblical and ancient. The winding streets ..so intimidating especially at night, the men in doorways leering at our daughters, but always standing aside so that we could pass. Then they leered some more …. The streets were filthy… litter in piles or blowing across the streets.
We ate breakfast on the rooftops… I felt like Tabitha Getty in that iconic photo, only I am pink and freckled and old. and actually a bit fat! Lucy and Sarah are lovely…. so that helped.
Coffee and cake in the afternoons, lying on linen cushions beneath white canvas awnings, to protect my irish pink skin from the baking heat…served by Abdul the most beautiful man on gods earth, so respectful and kind – ( Luci… said daughter came home and themed her bedroom around him…bright tapestries, cushions and beads …. from the bazaar) but sadly no Abdul…. she did ask?
We ate one evening in a highly recommended restaurant out of the town centre. We had to have a guide to lead us there. I can only describe him as how I remember Rumpelstiltskin in my story books, he was so tiny and so bent with a limp that if was so pronounced it seems fake….he raced ahead of us, lurching round corners across dirty squares piled with rubbish…. through the winding twisting dark streets till we came to a massive wooden door in a faceless street.
Inside a beautiful high class restaurant luxurious seating and chandeliers ..filled with Europeans….. the food – can’t remember …I do remember the waiter knocking my head and my glasses falling down my face whilst he passed to Luci and Sarah a Bellini each! Our guide was waiting for us when we left to guide us safely home. Never in a million years would we have found the place I wish I could remember its name – I’ll ask Dot or Luci.
The square at night was buzzing, bazaar still open, storytellers, but we were too scared to eat in the square at night – ‘oh no you’ll get diarrhea’..what plonkers we were. The food was delicious I was later told by someone on TV who was visiting. Melvyn Bragg? not sure, anyhow we were gutted we didn’t try it.
We did eat in the restaurant that was bombed by terrorists a while back it was the most popular spot on the balcony overlooking the square..but no alcohol allowed! We could walk into the centre from our lovely Riad.
I would love to go back there and do the same all over again ….haggling in the bazaar…laughing with the shopkeepers, my daughters still use the leather bags I bought for them.
Sheila, I hope you write for a living. If not you should consider it – that was so lyrical and lovely!
I feel so defensive of Morocco. I traveled there in about 2013…I think, and found it to be beautiful and not at all as I expected. I appreciate that I was one of two girls, travelling with 5 lads, which I think may be why I was never bothered by anyone.
Chefchaouhen in the North is stunning. Ifran was like an off-season alpine town (we went in Feb) Fez was chaos and I was bit intimidated by the hustle and bustle but I had pretty much been in a Landrover solidly for a week driving, so I was also trying to aclimatise. Had the most magical experience of camping on a lake bed in the middle of nowhere and being helped out of the mud by some passers-by. Also were welcomed into a quiet campsite in the Sahara, where the owners built invited us into sit by their fire and let us use showers and pool the next day.
I didn’t get to wander, eat or shop as much as I would have liked but I have such warm memories of beautiful landscapes and really genuinely hospitable people.
We went to Marrakech in December 2011 – was warm and sunny in the daytime and CHILLY at night; we stayed in a riad within the medina walls but not too near the madness of the Jemaa al-Fnaa. We found the night market really overwhelming but ok in the daytime although I got grabbed by the henna ladies a couple of times which I didn’t like. We had been warned about people trying to get you lost so tried to look like we knew where we were going (ha!).
The absolute best thing we did was a cookery course with Souk Cuisine. They take you round the markets to buy everything you need to make lunch – you don’t get hassled because the traders know the lady you’re with and she takes you to the good stalls, and then you go back to a house with a lovely courtyard kitchen and get shown how to make proper food with a couple of Moroccan ladies who don’t speak much English but are excellent at showing you what to do. It also gave us our bearings round the souk.
Also – the Yves Saint Laurent Jardins Majorelle are so lovely and were pretty empty in December.
Lol, I’ve blogged quite a bit about haggling shenanigans ( it totally wore me out), and the funny tummy seems to happen to almost everyone at some stage – weird. I didn’t know the snakes in the medina were de-fanged, but I have read about them being drugged to stop the biting…..like you, I don’t agree with it either, it’s cruel either way and for no good reason.
Been there twice now – once without kids (back when the lovely restaurant and Pierre Balmain’s ex-villa Dar Moha was a riad too) and once when our daughter was just six months old. Having her with us turned us into VIPs over there. Can only think this is what it must be like to be Kim Kardashian all the time. We were feted everywhere we went with the small one, waiters whisked her away at our lovely hotel (Les Jardins de la Medina – poolside property but also properly inside the city walls) while we ate lunch and the whole thing was bliss.
Yes the souk can be stressful (an American at our first hotel forgot to take her luggage out of the taxi when she arrived. He drove off – she ran after him and got lost in the souk for hours while her husband tried to track her down (pre-mobile phones). Meanwhile, the taxi driver rocked back at our having discovered the bags at his next pick-up.
Spring is a super time to go – sunny during the day, roaring fires in the hotels and restaurants at night and the scent of orange blossom everywhere.