top of page


By: Connie Kwan-Wong

Travel with the Publisher to


Photo Credits: CKW LUXE

From movies like Casablanca and books like The Sheltering Sky by Paul Bowles, our impressions of the North African country of Morocco have been formed by images of exotic architecture and punishing desert vistas, as well as tales of romance, intrigue, mystery, and adventure. This fascinating nation, which is separated from Spain by the Strait of Gibraltar, was under Carthage rule before it became part of the Roman Empire until the fifth century AD. After that time, it was ruled by various dynasties and became a French protectorate in 1912, gaining its independence in 1956.

Stimulated by my interest in, and curiosity regarding, the fabled land, I traveled to Morocco with four of my closest friends, Diana, Isabel, Katya, and Teresa, in August. Generally, the climate is moderate to subtropical, cooled by breezes from the Atlantic and Mediterranean oceans. However, the interior can get extremely hot, especially in summer.



Where We Went

Arriving in Casablanca, Morocco’s largest city and principal seaport, we knew to expect temperatures in the high 70s to mid-80s, due to its location on the country’s Atlantic Coast. The thriving modern metropolis is a bustling centre of business, culture, the arts, entertainment, shopping, and gastronomy.

morocco-5 copy.jpg

Katya‘s birthday celebration at Atelier Oriental

Atelier Oriental

We were introduced to Casablanca’s fine dining at Atelier Oriental where we celebrated the birthday of my dear friend, Katya. Decorated in lush reds and pinks, this authentic Lebanese restaurant, located in Hotel Sofitel, met all our expectations. From the exotic flavors of the food to the excellent attentive service, it was the perfect introduction to the tastes and hospitality of Morocco. 

Old Medina

Although Casablanca is a modern city that prides itself on its forward-moving outlook, it does have some picturesque older neighborhoods. Old Medina is one of them. Walking into this historic section of the city, with its remnants of ancient walls and forts and its narrow alleyways that have remained unchanged for thousands of years, is akin to traveling back in time.

Alleyways of Old Medina

Most of the area is a busy bazaar where unique products can be purchased. Everything from hand-made leather goods, linens, and antiques to spices and oils are available. Though vendors generally offer reasonable prices for their goods, bargaining is a common practice, and prices can often be negotiated. Outdoor cafés and restaurants abound and are perfect spots for enjoying good food and drink while chatting with friends and people-watching. 

Hassan II Mosque

Hassan II Mosque

A must-see for anyone visiting Morocco, the impressive Hassan II Mosque is the fifth largest building of its kind in the world. Built to commemorate King Hassan II’s sixtieth birthday, the city’s most famous landmark dramatically sits on a promontory that extends over the Atlantic Ocean. Housing a prayer hall that can accommodate 25,000 worshipers, an ablution room, baths, a Koranic school, a library, and a museum, the religious and cultural center is spread over nine hectares. Its famous minaret, the tall tower with a balcony from which believers are called to prayer, measures over 656 feet, and is said to be the highest in the world. A showcase for the best of Moroccan craftsmanship, the structure is filled with hand-carved stone and wood; elaborate marble flooring and inlay; gilded ceilings; and delicate zellige, the geometric mosaic tile work Moroccan architecture is noted for.

morocco-10 copy.jpg

The Sahara 

From Casablanca, we flew to Moulay Ali Cherif airport in Errachadia, a town in the Drâa-Tafilalet region. From there, we continued to the Ksar Bicha hotel in Merzouga, a small village in the Sahara. Set amongst the Merzougan sand dunes at the gateway of the Sahara, this gorgeous hotel is a wonderful example of a traditional earth building and has many unique features that set it apart from similar structures. In tune with travelers’ desires, the hotel offers a variety of excursions to the desert, including extended tours. During the heat of the day, its elegant pool was exactly where we wanted to be.

Connie Kwan-Wong in the Sahara

morocco-14 copy.jpg

Merzouga Village and Oasis

Inhabited several hundred years ago, Merzouga village and oasis is important today because of its location on the main highway connecting the south of Morocco with the north. Situated at the base of the Atlas mountains, Merzouga is also a gateway to the famous Erg Chebbi, a large “sea” of spectacular sand dunes. 

Merzouga village and oasis is an exotic peaceful location where the Moroccan culture has been preserved and is on full display. Our 4x4 tour of the area took place in the morning before it became too hot to be outside.

One highlight of the tour was visiting a traditional family home, into which we were greeted with warmth and kindness, observed local traditions, and enjoyed delicious local fare. We also picnicked in the desert; made Berber pizza, delicious bread stuffed with lamb and cooked over an outdoor fire; and enjoyed traditional tea made from fresh spearmint.

Although Merzouga isn’t known for its shopping, there are some quaint spots that offer interesting items unique to the region with no pressure to buy. We had a lot of fun exploring Dépôt Nomade chez Toupie, which is filled with authentic Moroccan textiles, rugs, and crafts. 

It was also a thrill to drive through the Erg Chebbi dunes in our 4x4. Just saying they are the highest dunes in the world really doesn’t do them justice, but perhaps this local legend will: According to it, the Erg Chebbi sand dunes were sent as punishment to inhabitants of the Sahara by God for turning away a weary traveler. Their magnificent presence is a reminder to never turn anyone away again. 

morocco-21 copy.jpg

Desert Camp

Visiting the Sahara is a once-in-a-lifetime experience. Our whole party was thrilled to ride across its golden sands on camelback, just as the sun was setting, to reach our desert camp where we would spend an unforgettable night under the stars. That gilded memory will be etched into our minds forever. Here, we danced by the fire and slept in real beds under the vast expanse of the clear desert sky. Our remarkable guide, Ali from Ksar Bicha, made our desert sojourn a trip to remember.

morocco-22 copy.jpg

Ksar Bicha Hotel’s desert camp

After visiting the Sahara, we returned to Casablanca and took a private car service to Fez. On our way, we stopped at Rabat.

Oudaias Kasbah (Kasbah of the Udayas)


The enchanting seaside city of Rabat, one of the four imperial cities of Morocco, is the country’s capital. Many people overlook it when visiting Morocco, but I recommend including it in your itinerary if you are able. The public beaches are gorgeous, and the Kasbah of the Udayas, a twelfth-century royal fort perched over the water and surrounded by Andalusian gardens, is like a vision out of a fairy tale. You will be enchanted by the latter the minute you glimpse the intricate rose-stone gate that leads you inside. The Mausoleum of Mohammed V, which houses the remains of Sultan Mohammed V and his two sons, King Hassan II, who commissioned the structure, and Prince Abdallah, is another stunning site to visit. Topped with a pyramid of emerald-green tiles, the otherwise all-white edifice graces the heart of the city. Historic buildings that mirror Rabat’s Islamic and French-colonial heritage are everywhere, and its old quarter is bustling with venders. The stylish ville nouvelle (new town) features palm-lined boulevards and chic restaurants. In the spring, the annual Mawazine (Rhythms of the World) music festival takes place, featuring international headliners. 

Mausoleum of Mohammad V 

Riad Fes Maya

Riad Fes Maya

The city of Fez, situated in north-central Morocco, is the country’s most ancient imperial capital. It was founded on the east bank of the Fez River by Idris I around 789 B.C. and on the west bank by Idris II around 809 B.C. The two halves became one in the 11th century. By the mid-14th century, Fez had become a significant center of learning and commerce. Its importance as a religious center continues today. It is also a center for trade and traditional crafts and is often referred to as Morocco’s cultural capital. I found it interesting to discover that Fez was the only place in the world to produce the brimless red felt hat of the same name until the late 19th century.

While in Fez, we stayed at the Riad Fes Maya in the center of the city. Recently restored in the Moroccan tradition, it is a beautiful example of Arab-Andalusian architecture with zellige tiles and hand-carved cedar. Two of its outstanding features include an ornate fountain surrounded by a peaceful courtyard and a pretty terrace with a panoramic view

perfect for getting some sun while enjoying mint tea and biscuits.

I highly recommend hiring a private tour guide while in Fez so you don’t miss any of its fascinating features.  

Mint tea and traditional cookies

Leather tanneries in Fez

Old Medina

Old Medina (Fez el-Bali)
A world heritage UNESCO site, the old city of Fez, with its medieval Marinid architecture and old-world atmosphere, is still contained within its ancient embattlements. Most of the city’s traditional crafts, including leatherwork and pottery are created within its narrow winding streets and can be purchased in the busy marketplaces, also known as sūqs. Everywhere you look there are hills of herbs and vendors pulling carts full of their wares. The University of al-Qarawiyyin, the oldest continuously operating degree-granting university in the world, according to UNESCO and the Guinness Book of World Records, is also found here. It’s part of the remarkable al-Qarawiyyin Mosque, which was built in A.D. 859. While in Old Medina, we also visited Chouara Tannery, the largest, and one of the oldest, leather tanneries in Fez. There, we witnessed leather being tanned and dyed using the same method as was used in the 11th century.

Medersa al-Attarine

Medersa al-Attarine is a madrasa (school for religious instruction), which was founded in 1325 as a kind of prep school for the nearby University of al-Qarawiyyin. Decorated with masterful mosaic tiles, delicate cut plaster, and intricately carved cedar, it is a sight to behold. Because of a renovation in 2019, which opened the upstairs rooms, we were able to get a glimpse of the students’ living quarters.

Medersa al-Attarine

al-Qarawiyyin Mosque 

The al-Qarawiyyin Mosque was built by Fatima Al-Fihri in A.D. 859. She was the first woman ever to do such a thing. She also constructed the University of al-Qarawiyyin. Located near the Spice Market, the mosque was founded as a private oratory, but became congregational in the tenth century. Various styles of Islamic architecture are on display in this masterfully decorated sacred Mosque 

The al-Qarawiyyin Mosque was built by Fatima Al-Fihri in A.D. 859. She was the first woman ever to do such a thing. She also constructed the University of al-Qarawiyyin. Located near the Spice Market, the mosque was founded as a private oratory, but became congregational in the tenth century. Various styles of Islamic architecture are on display in this masterfully decorated sacred building.

al-Qarawiyyin Mosque

Medersa al-Attarine
Medersa al-Attarine is a madrasa (school for religious instruction), which was founded in 1325 as a kind of prep school for the nearby University of al-Qarawiyyin. Decorated with masterful mosaic tiles, delicate cut plaster, and intricately carved cedar, it is a sight to behold. Because of a renovation in 2019, which opened the upstairs rooms, we were able to get a glimpse of the students’ living quarters.

Royal Palace’s Gate

From Fez we traveled to Chefchaouen. 

morocco-39 copy.jpg



Known as the blue city, because every wall and door of every building is some hue of blue or aqua, Chefchaouen is one of the prettiest places I think I’ve ever visited.

Dramatically perched within the Rif Mountains in Northwest Morocco, Chefchaouen’s beauty is almost other worldly. When you’re in the city, experiencing its calming hues and faraway location, it feels like the rest of the world doesn’t exist. Founded in 1471, it retains its medieval feel but also reflects the Spanish and French influences that came later. We were in awe of the gravity-defying structures built on cliffs and hillsides as we followed the narrow cobbled streets and passageways during our quests to discover the hidden gems of the city. 

Casa Sabila, our home while in Chefchaouen, is an elegant guest house in Bab el-Ansan, the city’s historic district, very near the source of the famous Ras el-Maa waterfall. Another fine example of Moroccan craftsmanship, the three-storied five-room building exists in perfect harmony with its surroundings. We loved the fact that each room has a woman’s name: Sarah, Sofia, Malak, Frida, and Nora. The cozy living room with its beautiful fireplace and the terrace with its spectacular views of the medina and the mountains, welcomed us whenever we needed a little quiet time.

It was difficult to leave the blue pearl, as Chefchaouen is also called. Knowing there were adventures still ahead of us, however, as we were traveling to the legendary city of Marrakesh, helped.

Les Borjs de la Kasbah Hotel

Nothing quite prepares you for Marrakesh, our last stop on this amazing journey. As busy and crowded as other Moroccan cities are, Marrakesh, at the edge of the Sahara, is even more so. It is a place where the cultures of Africa, the Middle East, and Europe merge and its traditional sūqs are full to bursting with every type of merchant and article for sale you can imagine. Don’t be surprised if you see a snake charmer or two while you’re there, and henna tattoo artists are everywhere. As well as being a city where traditional cultures meet and ancient castles are in full view, Marrakesh encourages new ideas and entrepreneurship.

Our hotel of choice in Marrakesh was Les Borjs de la Kasbah, a welcoming boutique hotel in the kasbah quarter of the city’s ancient medina. It took local craftsmen four years to create from a complex of six small townhouses and a riad (traditional Moroccan house or palace with an interior courtyard). It is a peaceful haven within a bustling area. While there, we took advantage of its luxurious spa, which offers massages, facials, and other soothing services as well as a traditional marble-clad hammam (steam room). The secluded leisure area, with its deluxe swimming pool, was an added feature we all loved. Access to car, minibus, or caliche for getting around is as close as the front door. We found the perfect way to explore Marrakesh was by being a passenger on a Marraka bike, an electric tricycle with a driver that does the peddling for you. It’s ecological, economical, quiet, and lots of fun.

Marakka Bike

Jemaa el-Fna Square

Jemaa el-Fna Square

Jemaa el-Fna Square is a large square at the entrance of Marrakesh’s medina. Its name means assembly of the nobodies and is a fitting moniker. As the afternoon light begins to wane, this vibrant meeting place comes alive with vendors, musicians, storytellers, fortune tellers, and snake charmers. At sunset, it’s fun to escape to the northern section where stalls featuring inexpensive meals and delicious snacks open up.

Jardin Majorelle-Yves Saint Laurent mansion 

Jardin Majorelle-Yves Saint Laurent Mansion and Musée Yves Saint Laurent Marrakesh

The plot where Jardin Majorelle now sits was purchased in 1923 by French artist Jacques Majorelle. With his wife, Majorelle began the work of creating magnificent gardens on the property using exotic plants from around the world. The couple took up residency in a Cubist villa built for them on the land by French architect Paul Sinoir. To help pay for it, the gardens were opened to the public. In 1962, Yves Saint Laurent bought the property and had his ashes scattered throughout the gardens upon his death in 2008.

Adjacent to the entrance of the gardens is Musée Yves Saint Laurent Marrakesh. The stunning structure, built from natural Moroccan materials, houses a selection of important items from the Fondation Pierre Bergé-Yves Saint Laurent. As fashion enthusiasts, we were dazzled by the clothing and drawings on display.

Koutoubia Mosque

Koutoubia Mosque

The Koutoubia Mosque, Marrakesh’s most famous landmark, boasts a 70-meter-tall (over 229-foot) minaret. It can be seen for miles around. On its northwest side, the remains of the original mosque, built on the same site, are visible. It was destroyed in 1162 by the Almohads and replaced with the current mosque. Viewing the serene rose-colored building today, it’s hard to imagine there was a time when up to 100 booksellers traded at its entrance and in the gardens surrounding it. Its name originates from the Arabic word for bookseller.

What We Ate

If you go to Fez, I recommend you try b’stilla. The modern version consists of a spiced, savory, and slightly sweet chicken mixture nestled in phyllo pastry and baked until golden. Another Moroccan dish we enjoyed was tagine, which is meat, poultry, or fish mixed with vegetables or fruit and slow-cooked in traditional cookware. Couscous is the national dish of Morocco and is traditionally served on Friday with meat or vegetable stew.

I’m really not sure why, but the orange juice in Chefchaouen is the best I’ve ever tasted. There is something about the location that makes the oranges grown there extra sweet and tasty. Speaking of beverages, mint tea, symbolic of Moroccan hospitality, was served to us often. It is a mixture of green tea and spearmint leaves and is refreshing as well as delicious. 

morocco-53 copy.jpg




What I Advise 

If crowds are a concern for you, the best time to visit the Old Medina bazaar is during the week as it is very busy on the weekends.

Modest dress is required in order to tour the Hassan II Mosque. In general, conservative dress is best. Having a shawl or scarf with you at all times is a good idea, too, in case you need a head covering.

Buying local clothing is fun and practical as it is light and comfortable, so I recommend you learn to haggle as it is expected.

Do not accept free tours or directions from strangers.

Before taking any photos, always ask if it is allowed. At some sites, you have to pay in order to do so.

Final Thoughts

Morocco was as exciting and exotic as we had hoped it would be, and each of us embraced every adventure and opportunity with an open heart and an open mind. From its ancient architecture to its miles of dessert sand, we were awed by its beauty. The colors were like nothing we’d seen anywhere else. With all of that said, the best part of the journey for us was taking part in the local culture and accepting the hospitality so generously bestowed upon us. 

morocco-56 copy.jpg
bottom of page