The rich diversity and spectacular natural beauty - not to mention droolworthy design - of this North African country make it a bucket-list destination to cross off now.
Kasbah Tamadot blends the bucolic charm of the Atlas Mountains with Morocco’s over-the-top opulence at its pool.
Morocco is a country rich with contrast. Wildly creative, vibrant dishes lie behind a massive door leading to a mazelike medina populated by donkeys carrying Coca-Cola and locals in colorful hooded robes. Glowing red-orange dunes shaped by the wind into sculptures reminiscent of Frank Gehry’s designs are juxtaposed by a city stacked on a hillside, coated entirely in a kaleidoscope of cobalt hues. Spend a couple of weeks in the North African country on an incredibly luxurious, multisensory tour arranged by experiential travel firm Scott Dunn Private Journeys and you’re bound to, like I did, discover its Gemini nature: understated on the outside, the height of glamour inside.
Only seven hours—from NYC and D.C., longer from the West Coast—delivers you to Casablanca, Morocco, which honestly doesn’t feel all that dierent from anywhere else in Europe. It’s upon arrival in Fes—the northern 9th century city with the world’s oldest, largest and likely cleanest medina—that I realize, save for the French I hear, this is like nowhere I’ve traveled. Exactly as the Scott Dunn experts warned me, I think, “What the hell?” while trailing a porter carrying our suitcases swiftly down the medina’s ever-narrowing corridors past mules and caftan-clad gures.
The writer rides a camel over dunes to glamp in the Sahara.
The magic kicks in the moment I walk into Riad Fes (from $250 per night, riadfes.com): impeccable, bright, breathtaking. This intimate 30-room (including suites) Relais & Châteaux property—with a lovely pool, a chic wine bar, several gardens and a rooftop where admiring the sunrise and sunset should be mandatory—is undoubtedly one of the premier bolt-holes in town.
As my guide, Azzedine, says, “Never get shocked when you’re in Morocco.” As in, you never know what oasis could be behind any given door. Fes is a melting pot of Arabs and Berbers, a blend of conservatives and not-so-conservative types, and as an obviously Western blond woman, I attract some curious looks. Thanks to Islamic gardens and architecture and tasting trail tours, I take it all in, from 13th century masterpieces of mosaic, wood carving and plaster work to traditional boiled sheep head (the presentation is shocking, but it’s melt-in-your-mouth amazing) and a dozen delicious local honeys, each with a distinctive avor and homeopathic use. What really blows me away is Nur (nur.ma), a fine dining experience that’s unique every day in response to what catches the chefs’ eyes at the market. Six courses here—a tiny, polished paradise where reservations and a porter to lead you there are necessary—are the culinary equivalent of my trip through Morocco: a vibrant, eclectic adventure that I never want to end.
Riad Fes’ pool is a Zen hideaway in the middle of the bustling medina.
In fact, during my three weeks in the country, I am never once ready to leave a place—as excited as I am about the next. I’d happily surf Imsouane’s inconceivably long, perfect rolling waves until my arms literally fell off. Chefchaouen, which Pinterest addicts may know as the Blue City, is another example. I want to spend days, weeks, wandering the whimsical azure village clinging to the Rif Mountains. Dramatic too are the well-preserved Roman ruins at Volubilis, a UNESCO World Heritage site that throws me back in time for a fascinating history lesson that comes to life when I tuck into a bountiful private picnic of rich, authentic Roman dishes.
The allure of Sir Richard Branson’s Kasbah Tamadot (from $590 per night, virginlimitededition.com) eventually takes me to the High Atlas Mountains, even more peaceful and evocative. A kasbah is a small fortress in the country, and once I enter the massive gate, I get why they’d want to hide what’s behind it. A plush red carpet welcomes me to the kind of luxe bohemian-meets-Moroccan decor of which dreams are made. The food—one dinner is based entirely on sweet local apples being harvested as I hike nearby—only enhances the enchanting, remote setting.
The intricately carved and mosaicked lobby of Riad Fes showcases the country’s artistic heritage.
It’s en route to the Sahara desert, though, that I feel the full impact of those spectacular peaks. The long, occasionally stomach turning drive is well worth the reward awaiting me: a slow ride on a camel gracefully stepping across scalloped-edge sand ridges toward an elegant tented camp, hours from any sign of life. I can hear my own heartbeat, which awakens me to the profound still and quiet. I learn to bake bread like the nomads in hot sand, under a blanket of stars. And my breath is taken away by the beauty of how, for centuries, the wind has moved these ancient grains in ways only nature is artistic enough to conceive.