Vacation in Morocco

Djemaa El Fna, the heart of Marrakech

Djemaa El Fna is the biggest square in Marrakech and the heart of the city. This fantastic open air theatre is included in UNESCO's world heritage and has millions of tourists each year. 

Music, drums, rhythms that can put you into trance, apes, snake charmers, water sellers in colorful costumes with traditional goat leather water-bags and brass cups give a magical touch to Djemaa El Fna. 

Another point of interest in Djemaa El Fna is henna body painting. Under umbrellas, sitting on a small chair, Moroccan women make henna tattoos for tourists.

As an observation, in case you will want to have a henna tattoo, you should know first that natural henna has red color, not black. Black henna has chemicals and in some cases, it might burn or affect your skin very seriously. 

In Marrakech you will find dozens of stalls with fresh oranges inviting you for a juice full of vitamins. Many street restaurants, lots of flavours from the spices used in traditional Moroccan food, smoke of the barbecues, sugarcane juice (very healthy - used especially for kidney stones - and delicious when is fresh and well done). 

Horses and carriages are waiting in Djemaa El Fna for tourists to take a tour. 

Bazaars with many traditional Moroccan clothes, jewelry, colorful scarves, decorative objects, beautiful Moroccan lamps, carpets from Atlas Mountains, spices, kaftans, djellabas, babouch - Morrocan traditional shoes, leather bags, and many more you will find in Djemaa El Fna.

Marrakech is a crowded city. Tourists from all over the world are here each year to visit it.  But all these make Marrakech looks like a colorful and exotic painting drew from a fairy tale. 

While you are in Djemaa El Fna don't forget to try different types of tajine, harira, kefta and brochettes, henna tattoo, orange and sugarcane juices and shopping in bazaars.
Djemaa El Fna is the young and restless heart of Marrakech. Always atractive and full of magic. 

Princess Lalla Salma of Morocco - an example of elegance and strength

Often named the “Beauty of Morocco”, Princess Lalla Salma is also an example of elegance and grace. Her beauty, class and taste in fashion have always impressed and captured the eyes of the world. You can not fail to notice her presence. Princess Lalla Salma, wearing traditional Moroccan kaftan attired with gold embellishments, was voted as the Most Elegant Guest Dresser at Prince William’s wedding. 

Unlike her predecessors Princess Lalla Salma has taken an active role in public life, hosting a number of visiting dignitaries and royalty. These have included Queen Rania of Jordan, Queen Sofia of Spain, Sheikha Mozah of Qatar, the Crown Prince and Crown Princess of Norway, Princess Maxima of the Netherlands, Princess Mathilde of Belgium or Princess Takamado of Japan. Lalla Salma also represents the King and Morocco in meetings and gatherings in other countries. 

Maybe one of her major achievements till now is the foundation in 2005 of Cancer Prevention Association in Morocco - Lalla Salma Association to Fight Cancer, and has as main objective to raise public awareness on cancer. In this sense she launched an ambitious campaign, organized the first national cancer registry and linked arms with many international partners in the fight against cancer. 

Princess Lalla Salma is also involved in HIV/AIDS prevention in Africa and she received the Sharjah Voluntary Work Award, one of the most important awards in Arabic world. In December 2008, 

Princess Lalla Salma was awarded the highest decoration in Senegal, the Grande Croix de l’Ordre national du mérité, because of her humanitarian work in Morocco and abroad. 

Lalla Salma supports and encourages women's empowerment. Maybe the development of Morocco would be easier if women would involve more in society and would take as an example the education, dignity, prestige, style and elegance of Princess Lalla Salma.

 “…there can be no political or institutional empowerment of women unless their economic, social and cultural rights are promoted, and unless women become part and parcel of the development process.” - Princess Lalla Salma 

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Visiting Casablanca - Hassan II Mosque

Landing in Casablanca

My airplane landed on Mohamed V Airport on 27 July. Since I first stepped on Moroccan land I discovered the different world I was about to enter. A woman whom I met in airplane, married with a Moroccan was coming also to visit her husband's family in Casablanca. Before entering in check in she told me "don't smile and don't say anything to the personal that works in airport. If

you will smile they will think you have something to hide and they will unpack all your
luggage to check". This was the first advice I have been told in Casablanca.
The weather outside was so so hot and the humidity more than 70%. I felt the air burning my skin. The months of July and August are very hot in Morocco so if you don't like this aspect you better reconsider when you choose the period of spending your vacation here.

As the taxi lead me to the place where I had to be hosted, I noticed the contrasts of Casablanca. Rich and poor, wealthy side and poor side, the modern city and Medina, all together side by side. Casablanca is a huge city where you can get lost very easily. Suddenly, the most impressive thing has just appeared in front of me: the Atlantic Ocean. So beautiful and vast. I will be back here in the next days.

First day - Visit of Hassan II Mosque

In the next day I was visiting the largest mosque in Morocco, the most impressive and exquisite, Hassan II Mosque. This is the 7th largest mosque in the world with a surface area of 9 hectares and the tallest minaret 210 m. It can gather 105.000 people for prayers, 25.000 inside the mosque and another 80.000 outside on the platform designed especially for worshipers.

This mosque was build from the order of Hassan II in the memory of his father King Mohamed V. Initially, the mosque was supposed to be constructed in Rabat, in order to always have his father's tomb close at hand and to allow heads of states to meditate and pray before the tomb of Mohamed V, when visiting the capital. But, reconsidering, Hassan II felt he was indebted to the inhabitants of Casablanca and pledged to redress this by building a great mosque there, close to the sea.

Its location on the Atlantic Coast makes this mosque even more fascinating. Majestic and inspiring, the mosque appears to rise out of the depths of the Atlantic Ocean. From there you can contemplate the sky and the ocean in their union. Almost half of the surface of Hassan II mosque lies above the Atlantic waters, thing inspired by a verse of Quran - "the throne of God was built on water" and "from water have we created all life".

12.500 workers, of which 10.000 were craftsmen, worked day and night in shifts to build this beautiful mosque. Above all, it has been taken an extreme care over every detail of the interior. A spotlight shines in the direction of Mecca at night from the top of the minaret. The building also includes a number of modern touches: heated floors, electric doors, sliding roof.

Hassan II mosque remains the pearl of a religious and cultural complex which also includes a museum, a library, an Islamic University, rooms set aside for seminars and meetings, a subterranean four lane driveway and an underground car park with capacity for 1100 cars and 40 coaches.

Tips when visiting Hassan II Mosque:

1. Always dress properly
2. You might have some problems visiting it if you are alone or not in a group. In my case, they didn't let me enter saying that I am not a muslim, When I told the imam that I only want to visit and have a look, he replied sharply that mosque is for praying not for visiting.
3. Inform yourself about the visiting schedule. When they start praying, tourists are not allowed to enter, unless they are muslims.
4. Keep your calm and enjoy your vacation no matter of what it happens. Humans are prone to mistakes no matter of their religion.

10+1 reasons that make Ouarzazate a special place to visit

1. Location and history
Ouarzazate is relatively new city - was founded in 1928 - and since then it is in a continuous process of development. During the French period it expanded much as a garrison town, administrative centre and customs post. The city is inhabited predominantly by Berberes (Tamazirt) who have constructed here many prominent kasbahs, some of them being now included in the UNESCO's heritage.

The surroundings make this city very special, Ouarzazate being located at an elevation of 1160
meters in the middle of a bare plateau south of the High Atlas
Mountains and at the door of Sahara desert. Ouarzazate offers many beautiful landscapes and introduce you gently to Berbers' customs, the people who formed and settled Morocco.

2. Ouarzazate is the starting point of your adventure
Ouarzazate is the starting point of all the circuits and excursions in South of Morocco. Either you go to Dades Valley (the valley of roses) or to Draa Valley (the valley of 1000 kasbahs), all the routes will take you to the big desert of Africa.

3. Ouarzazate considered to be the Hollywood of Africa
Ouarzazate is the city of cinema. It hosts 2 major cinema studios in the world - Atlas Studio and Cla Studio - opened also for tourists, a cinema school and each year, directors and producers from United States, Italy, France, England and so on come to shoot here their movies. Some of these famous movies that were shot in Ouarzazate and its surroundings are Asterix and Obelix, Lawrence of Arabia, The man who would be king, Kingdom of Heaven, Mummy, Gladiator, Babel, Prince of Persia.

4. Ouarzazate is the place of the biggest solar project in the world
With a capacity of 500 MW and an estimated output of 1150 GWH/year (if thermo-solar technology is used), this project is the first of a series of 5 solar complexes that will have a combined capacity of 2,000 MW by 2020.

5. Five starts hotels emerged from 1001 nights
If you will ever come to visit Ouarzazate and you have enough money to spend, book a room in one of these beauties, that seemed emerged from Arabian nights. These are not just some simple hotels, but some sand palaces with all the luxury inside.

6. Taourirt Kasbah a great heritage for the world
Taourirt Kasbah is now included in UNESCO's world heritage due to its incommensurable value. What makes this kasbah so valuable? Its fascinated architecture and its glorious history. A former Glaoui palace, this fortress with 300 rooms marks the junction of 3 rivers - Dades, Draa and Ziz - and was an important point in numerous caravan routes.
Fascinated by its presence and the breathtaking landscapes that you can see from its towers, tourists and film-makers come in Ouarzazate to catch a glimpse of its beauty and its history.
Kasbah Taourirt was also the place where there were filmed some scenes from famous movies. One of this movie is Prince of Persia.

7. Rose products, Henna and Argan Oil
Ouarzazate is also famous for its rose products brought directly from the source, the city of roses, Kelaa Mgouna. Rose water, rose oils, rose soaps, rose body lotions and many more.
If you are with Berbers, then you should know that henna, roses and argan rule when it comes about beauty care. Face masks, body scrubbing, body lotions, hair masks, tattoos for special events, all this are huge topics to discuss. If you are there try them all.

8. Kohl for mysterious Arabic eyes
Maybe at least once in your life you asked yourself: How Arabian women make-up their eyes to look so good? The answer is kohl.
Kohl is an ancient eye cosmetic made by grinding galena (lead sulfide) plus other ingredients and it symbolizes many things.
In the beginning, kohl was used to protect eyes against ailments and people that live in desert use it much to protect their eyes from dust and burning sun. It is a belief that darkening around the eyes would protect one from the harsh rays of the sun. If you will go to desert you will see some men, women and children wearing kohl.
In some places, mothers apply kohl to their infants' eyes soon after birth to strengthen the child's eyes and to prevent him from being cursed by the evil eye.
When you buy kohl, be aware to have good quality and to be pure, otherwise you will ruin your eyes.

9. Great patisserie products
Morocco is know all over the world for its tasty, flavored and healthy cuisine. One of the greatest things that Morocco has is its patisserie. People from this country really love sugar and sweets. No tourist ever left Morocco without tasting some Moroccan cakes. Their wide variety of recipes makes difficult your choice when you enter in a Moroccan patisserie. Almonds, rose water, orange water, cinnamon, walnuts blend in amazing flavors.

10. If you go South you definitely have to try Olive oil and Olives
Olive oil made in South of Morocco has a very strong taste, it's very flavored and very healthy. Berbers eat olive oil and olives with homemade bread and mint tea for breakfast or for a snack, almost daily. Beside olive oil, Berbers have a wide range of olives, of high quality and natural.

11. Guesthouses for cultural exchange - Don't miss this!
Ouarzazate has many guesthouses that host tourists willing to discover authentic Berber traditions from Berbers themselves. If you choose to do this, I guarantee you will have the best vacation ever. From the homemade food that will never taste like the food they serve you in restaurants or hotels, to their beautiful ceremony of tea and the chance to try a henna tattoo right there in their house or the opportunity to see and to dress traditional Berber outfits, everything will give an incomparable taste to your vacation.

Just be opened and try to be a Berber during your staying in Ouarzazate.

Kelaa M'gouna - The beautiful city of roses

In the month of April all the city is covered with roses. At the entrance of Kelaa M'gouna people with roses necklaces are waiting for visitors. First when I saw this my mind flew to Hawaii.

Each year, in the first week of May there's the Festival of roses in Kelaa Mgouna. This cultural and touristic event known all over the world gathers together singers, dancers, local people and many tourists.

Kelaa Mgouna is famous around the world due to its fields of ROSES.

This city has two factories that produce rose water - used for beauty care and also in Moroccan kitchen for adding fragrance and taste in food - and rose essential oil which is the most valuable product

Tons of rose petals are distilled each year in order to produce rose water and rose essential oil. From Kelaa Mgouna these 2 products take the path to Casablanca's factories where they are transformed in soaps, shampoos, masks and many other cosmetic products, but also to outside Morocco in Europe and United States. This very expensive rose essential oil from Kelaa Mgouna is taken to France and sold to perfume and cosmetic houses at a very high price.

Be careful when you buy rose products, especially the ones made in Casablanca, because they contain many chemicals and also have always in mind that rose products are not pink. They are always without color, transparent.

In all Morocco you will find in shops rose products with labels saying they come from Kelaa Mgouna. It's not true all the time, because most of all these cosmetics are coming from Casablanca factories. If they really come from Kelaa Mgouna then it means they certainly have good quality and you can buy with no worries. Rose products are the most wanted in Morocco and the most required by tourists.

Beside roses Kelaa Mgouna has so many other things to offer. This city is full with green nature. Everywhere you go you see green forests, trees of figs and olives, people preparing natural food like in old times and this reminds you about your native connection with nature.

People from Kelaa Mgouna, the berbers, are friendly and very curious especially when it comes about foreigners. They like to communicate and to discover more about you, your country, family, culture and to observe and study your clothes, car, luggage.

Berbers (Tamazirt) live their life intensely with joy and happiness. They pass all the problems and the difficulties of life with an immensely faith in God. For Berbers each moment counts no matter if they are rich or poor and they don't worry about tomorrow, because for them the present is all that counts.

With this thought in mind, we walked through the fields of roses and we let the smell to fill our senses. Just us and nature. No more stress, no more fighting for money, no more bosses and managers, no more computers, no more social networks. The miracle of real life can not be replaced by anything in this world.

In the nature of Kelaa Mgouna I felt like I was escaping from a cage and I start to breath again the real fresh air. I missed this air for long time.

Up from some rocks we watch the beautiful surroundings, the Atlas mountains, the oasis, the fields of roses, the figs, the olives and all the greens from there. Wonderful. This place is just wonderful.

Cinema Atlas Studios - Ouarzazate

In Ouarzazate there are 2 cinema studios: Atlas Studios and CLA, 2 cinema schools Kanzaman and OFPPT and many sets for movies. This city it is also called Moroccan Holywood and it really worths this name.

Many movies have been shot here: Kundun, Cleopatra, The Mummy, The mumy returns, Alexander, Gladiator, Babel, Kingdom of Heaven, Hidalgo, Prince of Persia are just few titles that come now in my mind.

Visiting Cinema Atlas Studios was interesting, pity the guide was bored and didn't have much appetite to explain more about this fascinating world of movies. Ouarzazate has many values, it just need people to show these values.

Many sets from movies there are exposed for visitors. The fact that I saw them so closed to me it made me understand more how much work it is behind a movie. In fact, my opinion is that the list of names from the crew displayed in the end of a movie should not start with actors but with the people that work in the backstage. These people are very important and without them there will not be any Julia Roberts, Brad Pitt and so on.

So, if you will ever travel to Ouarzazate, don't forget to visit Cinema Studios. They will make you understand more about movies and the way there are made.

Quads adventure in Ouarzazate

The first thing in the morning, our host, which is a very kindly and opened minded person, served us breakfast and gave us an idea of what it will come next.

The tea was so good in the morning. Olive oil homemade (amazing taste, so strong, you will not believe it's the real taste of olive oil), olives, honey, milk, jam, bread, houbz houdra (bread filled with vegetables and spices), batbout (a kind of rounded bread that you use it to eat jam, honey, butter so on), everything natural and homemade. It was delicious.

So the plan for the first day it was like this... QUADS for everybody. Half day excursion.

At 11 o'clock we left to the agency to take our quads. Our destination it was Oasis of Fint. So speed it up.
On the way to Fint we crossed by Kasbah Tifoultout, Kasbah Cigone, where we stopped for 10 minutes to take a better look and meantime we were surrounded by the local children, curious to see who we are and if we have any gifts for them. In one minute candies and baloons were spreaded all over for the children. Happiness is in the air.

From Kasbah Cigone we turned and went to Fint. The landscape is amazing. Mountains, oasis, river, traditional houses, so relaxing. Our host that came with us as our guide, gave us plenty information about the places. One of them is that for the movie Prince of Persia they were shooting some scenes there.

From the Big Fint we crossed a river with quads and entered through oasis. So nice the place around. All is green and fresh. The guide from quads agency took us to an auberge located in Fint, Terase des delices. The view from there is very beautiful. Many tourists were inside resting before continuing their journey in Morocco.

We had lunch there (the food was so and so but the ambiance and the people that work there they know how to entertain tourists so you forget about the aspect of food). The tea they served us was really strong. After two cups I felt like I am drunk. It's not without reason that they call it "whiskey marocaine".

So after we danced and listened to darbouka music, we left back to Ouarzazate. The sun was getting hot so we had to speed it up.

Everyone should try quads in his life. The feeling is great.