An Older Adventuress Eats Her Way Through Morocco

by | Jan 17, 2023

A variety of vegetarian dishes at a Moroccan cooking school

Last updated on January 24th, 2023

Featured image: Morocco’s culinary scene offers a delicious array of vegetarian options | Photo by Fiona Chandra

12-day culinary tour in Morocco dazzles the senses 

By Diana Eden, Contributor, Women Over 80

From the vivid blues of the northern Moroccan town of Chefchaouen to the rich greens of the newly sprouted wheat near Meknes to the golden sands of the Sahara dunes, Morocco is a feast for my senses. On the December 2022 Real Food Adventure Tour with Intrepid Travel, I witness couscous prepared from scratch in a small family kitchen, watch pastilla being made in a grand Moroccan villa, taste prickly pears, hariri soup and chebakia pastries on the street, make bread in a wood burning stove in a High Atlas Mountain gite, and create a variety of Moroccan salads in a Marrakesh cooking school.

Morocco is vibrant with color. And that doesn’t even count the richly hued carpets, leather goods, caftans, and ceramics on display in the ancient medinas in every city and town.

Ready to go? Learn more about how you can join this incredible culinary tour to Morocco here
Berber guides Morocco
Berber guides in the desert / Photo by Diana Eden
Dye Pots in Chefchaouen
Colour dye-filled sacks in Chefchaouen / Photo by Diana Eden
Overlooking Tinghir Morocco
Overlooking Tinghir / Photo by Diana Eden
During the 12-day trip, we stay in modern hotels in Casablanca, Fes, and Marrakesh (for total of five nights), four nights in local family-owned homestays (what we might call bed and breakfasts), and one night in a simple tent on the sand.  

Our tour starts in Casablanca, and the moment I enter our hotel, The Moroccan House, through its ornate wooden door into the richly tiled central courtyard, I know I am “not in Kansas anymore”! Richly decorated salons (sitting and meeting areas) spill off on each side. There we meet our tour leader, Jihad Mouksit, a charming young man of Berber heritage, and the other members of our Intrepid tribe of 10 women and two men. We hail from the US, Canada, the UK, and Australia. 

The next morning we are on the train to Meknes, a smooth ride in comfortable private compartments, through a vividly green agricultural landscape. Groves of olive trees, vineyards and oranges trees are on either side and strips of dark fertile earth wind up the hills in gentle curves.

Green Fields Near Meknes Morocco
Green fields near Meknes / Photo by Diana Eden
In a private home in the old quarter of Meknes lunch is a local favourite, camel burgers (they were delicious!), and by late afternoon we are headed to the hilltop village of Moulay Idriss Zerhoun. At the ancient gate, our van can go no further into the hilly old town, but donkeys are there to take up our luggage. I wish I had had a donkey myself for the short but steep journey up uneven steps and alleyways to our first homestay, La Colombe Blanche.

Warmly greeted by owner Mohammed and his son, we are given the traditional welcome of mint tea and cookies. As in all traditional Moroccan homes, there are no windows to the exterior, so the moment you step inside, you find yourself in a cozy (or sometimes grand) environment, with upholstered banquettes around salon walls and plenty of pillows, its own little safe space.

Things to do: Find endless activities and things to do in Morocco here
A donkey carrying baggage up a narrow street in Moulay Idriss Morocco
Donkeys are used to help carry bags around the city / Photo by Diana Eden
Idriss Moulay Street Morocco
Narrow and steep alleyways abound in Meknes / Photo by Diana Eden
In the evening, our first cooking demonstration is in the tiny family kitchen, where the twelve of us gather to watch Mohammed’s wife peel onions, carrots, and turnips at lightning speed and add the spices to the couscous. The finished product will be our dinner that night, and it is one of the best meals of the trip. In fact, for food, welcome, views, authenticity of experience (and I confess the donkeys!), this is one of my favorite trip stops.

Intrepid Travel is very committed to ‘responsible travel”. It makes a point of booking hotel accommodations with locally owned and run hotels and restaurants and encouraging shopping in co-ops where profits are returned to the community.

Chefchaouen, the blue city

On morning three, our drive is to Chefchaouen, the ‘blue city’ towards the country’s north, only 70 miles south of the Mediterranean Sea. Set in a wide valley nestled between two peaks in the stunning Rif Mountains, it meets all expectations for charm, colour, and photo opportunities, not to mention good meals.

There we experience the confluence of Spanish, Jewish, French, and Moroccan influences in food, language, and architecture. I spend my “free-time” morning wandering the alleys, taking photos, and shopping at my own leisurely pace. I then relax on a rooftop terrace with a cappuccino overlooking the square and Kasbah. The sun is out, the weather is warm, and I feel so content. It is Christmas Day!

Blue archway in Chefchaouen Morocco
Exploring Chefchaouen, the blue city / Photo by Diana Eden
Two cats laying beside a blue wall in Chefchaouen Morocco
Two cats lounge against a wall in the blue city / Photo by Diana Eden
Chefchaouen Morocco fruit stand
Fresh fruit and juices for sale / Photo by Diana Eden

Fes, the oldest medina in Morocco

Our next stop is Fes, a large modern city of about one and a half million, with the oldest medina in Morocco at its center, some parts dating back to the 9th century. This architecture has developed over ten centuries and shows its diverse cultural influences.

Our expert guide leads us through one small part of this enormous medina of thousands of narrow alleyways and dead-end passages. We stop to visit a tiny bakery and sample some pastries as well as the food market, where we witness a panoply of foods both familiar and unusual. Somewhat startling is an entire dismembered camel head above a meat stall!

We also visit the famed Chouara Tannery from the 11th century, one of the oldest tanneries in the world, which still operates as it did a thousand years ago. The entire leather production process comprises manual labour only, and has retained methods unchanged since medieval times. It is where cow, sheep, goat, and camel hides are brought to be treated and dyed with indigo, henna, saffron, poppies, and pomegranates. The resulting leather is then sold to produce Morocco’s famed leather goods, such as bags, coats, shoes, and slippers, prized for their high quality. We witness men in rubber overalls immersed in the stone pools, manipulating the hides. This manual labour looks like hard bone-chilling work!

Dye vats at Chouara Tannery in Fes, Morocco
Chouara Tannery dye vats / Photo by Diana Eden
Our evening’s event is a private dinner at the Ryad Nejjarine after a demonstration of the making of “pastilla”, a salty and sweet pastry parcel filled with chicken, and dusted with almonds and cinnamon. We are dwarfed by the size and grandeur of this privately owned multi-story traditional home. Every visible inch is covered with elaborately designed tile patterns, sculpted concrete, and inlaid wood and topped with a brass lantern of massive proportions.
A group enjoys dinner at Ryad Nejjarine in Fes, Morocco
The group enjoys dinner at Ryad Nejjarine / Photo by Diana Eden
Looking down at a A group enjoys dinner at Ryad Nejjarine in Fes, Morocco
A bird’s eye view of our dinner set up / Photo by Diana Eden
The second half of our twelve-day tour takes us over the Middle Atlas Mountains and south towards the desert. Here we view vast areas of open land, rust-coloured cliffs, streams running through passes, and the occasional green-filled oases. Towns resemble cubist paintings with their square-shaped buildings that perfectly blend with the hills behind, as all but the most recent were built of mud and sand from those very mountains.

The Sahara Desert: chilly but memorable

Though this is a culinary tour, one of the truly great experiences to be had in Morocco is to ride a camel into the sand dunes at sunset. Our experience is no exception and leaves us in awe of the golden light and shifting shadows as the light changes. We dismount the camels on a high ridge and watch in quiet as the sun drops below the horizon. Returning to camp, the shapes of the dunes are in brilliant silhouette. Once dark, the sheer brilliance and abundance of the stars are worth staying up for, despite the chilly December air.

A woman stands next to a resting camel in the Sahara Desert
Diana with her new camel friend / Photo by Diana Eden
A row of people on camelback make their way into the Sahara Desert
The group rides into the Sahara Desert / Photo by Diana Eden

New Year’s Eve in the High Atlas Mountains

Two more nights are spent at a family-owned and run homestay in a remote part of the High Atlas Mountains, where we experience a hands-on class making “medfouna,” a traditional stuffed bread prepared with meat, herbs, and spices. Yes, we all get to mix and knead the dough and slide it into a roaring wood-burning stove. It is also New Year’s Eve that night, and what a unique place to be on a night usually spent watching fireworks on television. Here we have food and drink and a live Berber band, and all at an elevation of 13,000 feet above sea level in the middle of Africa. I have to pinch myself!

Our final two days in Marrakesh also offers unique tasting ops in the vibrant Djemaa el Fna Square, and a cooking class making Moroccan salads in the Amal’s Women’s Training Center. Of course, there is also lots of shopping at the souks and packing up to return home.

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Where to stay: Want to extend your stay? Click here to search for accommodation.
Striking sand dunes of the Sahara Desert in Morocco
The Sahara Desert / Photo credit Diana Eden

Thoughts for women over 80 visiting Morocco: treat it like a buffet

This Intrepid Travel tour is not their “Premium” or “Comfort” tour, but their “Original” level, and it is an excellent value for the money. It takes you off the beaten track for a very authentic experience at an affordable cost.

Is it right for all 80s-and-over travelers? It might not be if you are accustomed to a higher level of luxury or have mobility issues. There are steps involved and certainly uneven ground in the ancient medinas and villages. But I found it to be a fabulous adventure as I was able to treat it like a buffet. I took from it what appealed to me, suited my stamina, and left behind what didn’t. If I got tired on an all-day walking tour, I asked our guide to find me a cab, so I could return to the hotel for a quick nap before dinner. 

Various leather goods at a stall at a Moroccan souk
Leather bags and shoes at a souk / Photo by Diana Eden
A wall of babouches at a Moroccan souk
Colourful Babouches / Photo by Diana Eden

As an 80s-and-over traveler, it is always about choice and not only knowing your limitations but being perfectly okay with them. I didn’t join “the young ones” (most half my age in their 40s) in their after-dinner visits to the rooftop terraces with a couple of bottles of wine. I was happily tucked in by 9.30 or 10 pm, so I could be up and eager by 8 am the next morning. And that worked perfectly for me. I’ve had my days on rooftop terraces.

The cold was an issue only in the desert, and in the future, if I were to take this tour I would take it in a warmer month. Other than that, I say go for it!

Disclaimer: On this trip to Morocco, Diana was a guest of Intrepid, which covered the cost of her travel. Intrepid did not review this article prior to publication. To learn more about Intrepid’s Real Food Adventures Tour click here

More Morocco to Discover

Diana Eden is a Contributing Writer for JourneyWoman magazine, focused on travel for women over 80. She was born in England, raised in Toronto, lived and worked in New York, Los Angeles, and now Las Vegas. She is a former dancer, actress, Emmy-nominated costume designer, and now author. She recently published her memoir, "Stars in Their Underwear: My Unpredictable journey from Broadway dancer to costume designer for some of Hollywood’s biggest stars."

2 Comments

  1. Karen DIMAS

    What an awesome travel experience! Thanks for sharing!

    Reply
  2. Nancy Thompson

    I am leaving on March 2nd for an Intrepid tour of Morocco and am very excited. Thanks for this report.

    Reply

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