Initially, we thought we would have clear favorites and some things that were not so good – typical with vacations. It became clear early on that choosing favorites would be a nearly impossible task. To some extent, comparing the mosque in Casablanca to a camel ride in the Sahara, is like comparing oatmeal and soap, so the choice is difficult, but on top of that there were characteristics of every place we went that were appealing in their own right and context. We even played a ‘game’ every evening at dinner – name your favorite thing from the day and also so far on the trip. We also compared the hotels and the meals. While we each did pick a favorite (for example, my daughters chose the Sahara, while I was torn between Chefchaouen and Essaouira), but it was not difficult to force us to admit that it was a winner by a narrow margin!
Hassani was our driver and he was excellent. He looked after us, guided us to where we needed to go, offered up options along the way that were excellent, made sure lunch stops were as interesting as the tour stops, and generally was a good friend. We cannot recommend him highly enough. If we ever return to Morocco, I hope we will be able to have him work with us. He never showed any sign of annoyance at our many requests to stop and take pictures or at dealing with baggage and shopping requests. He joined us for dinner at Rick’s Café the last night in Casablanca and we enjoyed chatting about his family.
The true hotels – such as the Novotel in Casablanca –were nice hotels, but after all they are ‘just’ hotels and not unlike others around the world. The true gems were the Dars and Riads. I am not sure how you could improve (by selecting a five-star tour) on the opulent Riad Myra in Fes. It was magnificent. We doubted that the others could live up to it, but looking back we found all of them stellar for their own reasons. Dar Meziana was charming and homey – like visiting a friend’s home in a foreign land. Riad Myra was palatial – I do not think I have ever stayed in a place as well appointed and charming. Riad Moucharabieh, while not as opulent as Fes, was still remarkable in its décor and charm. Riad Mimouna in Essaouria was also remarkable in its décor, but its location next to the ocean and the views from the room were amazing.
Other places, such as the Riad in Midelt were not as nice (and our air conditioning did not work), but they suffer mainly in comparison to the other properties. The service and rooms were quite nice and if compared to more ‘common’ accommodations would fare well.
The tents in the desert had a few challenges – mosquitos being the main issue. Even spraying the tent and our bodies did not do the job, but the food and environment were quite nice and it certainly was a worthwhile ‘bucket list’ sort of visit.
We ate Moroccan food (by choice) every meal except one. We had a fine Italian meal in Marrakech as we were interested in seeing a Moroccan interpretation of a foreign dish (it was delicious – Portofino was the restaurant name).
Hassani also directed us to regional dishes in various places and in the end we had a reasonably complete sampling of Moroccan cuisine. I am sure there are many items we missed, but we certainly covered quite a few – including the 45 spice meal done in something like a tajine, but shaped differently (Marrakech).
The guides in general were quite good. A few really stood out – such as Mohammed in Sefrou (cave home). He was quite a character! This is another way that Hassani looked out for us – making sure we got the best possible guides at each location. Of course I cannot really say what the other guides that we did not have were like, but all of our guides were very good and were able to communicate with us without problems.
It is difficult to say if there were places we would have liked to go that we did not, but it seems that the combination – and even the sequence – of cities made for an excellent tour. Each city had something we liked, although we differ on which the ‘best’ location was and where we would like to spend more time someday. I favor Chefchaouen, Marrakech, and Essaouira myself, but my family has their own lists!
A bit of a surprise for us was how many of the ‘optional’ items you had mentioned in the tour materials Hassani was able to fit in or offer alternatives for. For example, we wanted to see the monkeys, but the visit to the preserve took at least half a day. Hassani was able to stop in an area where we could observe them for about 30 minutes and so we got to do that without impacting our schedule very much. It was like this in many places with visits to kasbahs and other points of interest that were bonuses over and above what was specified in the itinerary.