Last updated on May 15th, 2023
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
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.
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
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!
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!
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.
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.
Where to stay: Want to extend your stay? Click here to search for accommodation.
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.
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.
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Adventures in Morocco: New Year’s Eve in the Sahara Desert
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What an awesome travel experience! Thanks for sharing!
I am leaving on March 2nd for an Intrepid tour of Morocco and am very excited. Thanks for this report.
Off myself Feb 1, 2 days, ahead so as to visit Casablanca, for the trip starting with the meeting on Feb 3.