ASTA Destination Expo, Marrakech, Your Morocco Tour Guide

ASTA Destination Expo, Marrakech

ASTA Destination Expo, Marrakech

ASTA (American Association for Travel Agents) will host its first Expo in Marrakech, Morocco from February 26th – March 1st, 2015. The ASTA Expo is geared towards Morocco Travel Agents and dedicated to showcasing Morocco and teaching industry professionals how to sell Morocco as a destination. The ASTA Marrakech Expo will include various sessions that impart information on Morocco ranging from Cultural Tourism to Adventure Travel, the Unique Cuisine of Morocco to Panel Discussions on Luxury Travel.

Some of the speakers scheduled for the ASTA Estination Expo in Marrakech are: Driss Benhima, the Chairman of the Board and CEO of Royal Air Maroc Airlines, Abderrafia Zouitene, the CEO of the Moroccan National Tourist Office. There will also be a panel discussion featuring Ms. Fatima Zahra Mansouiri, the Mayor of Marrakech.

The ASTA Destination Expo will also offer Morocco site seeing opportunities for a fee along with a special events inclusive of a Dinner Fantasia Event. There are at present 42 exhibitors scheduled to attend.

For more information about the ASTA Destination Expo or a Marrakech Tour 

Morocco’s Imperial CitiesSeaside Resorts,Sahara Desert,Berber villagesA Taste of MoroccoMagical Kasbahs, Ruins & WaterfallsAbsolute Morocco, The Best of MarrakechFes, and Ouarzazate

Discover The Best of Morocco - Travel Exploration
Travel Exploration specializes in Morocco Travel.  We provide Tours and travel opportunities to Morocco for the independent traveler and tailor-made tours for families and groups with a distinctly unique flavor. From Morocco’s Seven Imperial Cities, to the Magical Sahara Travel Exploration offers a captivating experience that will inspire you. At Travel Exploration we guarantee that you will discover the best of Morocco! Call Travel Exploration at 1 (800) 787-8806 or + 1 (212) 618882681 and let’s book a tour to Morocco for you today.

Marrakech’s Koutoubia Mosque and Tomb of Lalla Zohra

Koutoubia Mosque & Koubba Lalla Zohra

Koutoubia Mosque & Koubba Lalla Zohra

The Koutoubia Mosque, visible from many vantage points of Marrakech and towering over the world famous Jmaa el Fna Square, is an iconic symbol of the so-called ‘Red City.’ At 77 meters (over 252 ft), it dominates the skyline and is a useful orientation aid. Look out for the minaret with its distinctive four cooper balls from the roof of your riad or hotel. On clear days you will spot it from the window of your plane as you arrive for your Marrakech vacation in the Moroccan sky.

Built in the 12th century, the Koutoubia is one of Marrakech’s oldest buildings. It remains the city’s largest mosque and was completed under the reign of the Almohad Caliph Yaqub al-Mansur (1184 to 1199). A unique experience of any visit to Marrakech to sit on one of the cafe terraces in Jmaa el Fna as the sunsets behind the Koutoubia and the call to prayer rings out before the beautiful floodlighting is illuminated over the mosque.

Although not open to non-Muslims, the Koutoubia and the 2 hectares (5 acres) Lalla Hasna gardens within which it sits are one of Marrakech’s most popular tourist attractions. In the Moroccan-Andalusian style, the gardens are laid out in a symmetrical pattern with fountains and fruit trees which frame the minaret perfectly for your holiday photographs.

Also worth looking out for at the base of the Koutoubia Mosque is the tomb of Koubba de Lalla Zohra. Although typically Islam forbids the worship of any individuals, Moroccan Islam incorporates the worship of saints and holy men and women, known as marabout. When travelling, you will see the mausoleums and monuments to their memory across the country – typically as white-washed, square koubba buildings with domed roofs and crenulated walls.

Beside the Koutoubia, you will find one such tomb, that of Koubba de Lalla Zohra (also known as Lalla Zahra el Kouch). She was buried here in the 18th century. As is common in Moroccan history, where little was recorded in writing and stories morph slightly with each recitation, Zohra’s origins are unclear. The most common legend has it that she was the daughter of a liberated sub-Saharan slave who, after converting to Islam, became an Imam (Islamic preacher). Another indicates her father was Abdellah el Kouch, chef to a Sheikh. A further story, perhaps tangled in the mists of time, suggests she was actually part of the Almohad dynasty and therefore a kind of aristocrat. Either way, locals believe that by day she was a woman who died young, but by night she became a dove. Flying through the ancient city, she performed miracles and religious acts and learned all of Marrakech’s secrets. In a religion dominated by male scholars, Lalla Zohra is an important figure for local women and has assumed the status of a saint. Many pay their respects at her tomb and send their children to be blessed there. Some Marrakchis may still name their children after Zohra. Rumour has it that some women avoid eating dove or pigeon (a key ingredient in Moroccan pastilla pastry) in her honour.

You cannot enter the Koutoubia Mosque, but the area around it is certainly worth a visit and a while on a bench under the shade of a citrus tree (perhaps contemplating the legend of Lalla Zohra) makes a welcome break from the bustle of Place Jmaa el Fna and the medina.

For more information about a Marrakech Tour or Koubba Lalla Zohra

Morocco’s Imperial CitiesSeaside Resorts,Sahara Desert,Berber villagesA Taste of MoroccoMagical Kasbahs, Ruins & WaterfallsAbsolute Morocco, The Best of MarrakechFes, and Ouarzazate

Discover The Best of Morocco - Travel Exploration
Travel Exploration specializes in Morocco Travel.  We provide Tours and travel opportunities to Morocco for the independent traveler and tailor-made tours for families and groups with a distinctly unique flavor. From Morocco’s Seven Imperial Cities, to the Magical Sahara Travel Exploration offers a captivating experience that will inspire you. At Travel Exploration we guarantee that you will discover the best of Morocco! Call Travel Exploration at 1 (800) 787-8806 or + 1 (212) 618882681 and let’s book a tour to Morocco for you today.

A Guide to Gluten Free Eating in Morocco

Moroccan Bisara, Dar Dara Guest House Chefchaouen

Moroccan Bisara, Dar Dara Guest House Chefchaouen

Traveling abroad can seem daunting for those who have special dietary requirements or allergies. For people who follow a gluten or wheat-free diet, with its staple carbohydrates of bread and couscous – can seem particularly challenging. Do not worry – you can enjoy a great trip to Morocco – even without eating wheat – if you consider some key pointers before and during your trip.

Moroccans typically eat bread three times a day (or more). It seems at first to be hard to avoid. If you are staying in guesthouse or hotel accommodation, let them know about your dietary requirements. For breakfast, you could enjoy Moroccan beysara (a traditional soup made of dried pulses and topped with olive oil and cumin – it’s very common in Fes) without the accompanying bread or a simple meal of orange juice, omelette and tea or coffee. Either option is readily available in Morocco in the mornings. It is worth noting that bread is baked in Morocco several times a day and each city has a slightly different variation on the flat, round theme. As such, it does not contain preservatives and only stays fresh for the day. Many people who do not tolerate commercially-made bread at home tolerate Moroccan bread well because of this.

It is possible to source a range of flours in Morocco and your hosts may be able to prepare wheat-free bread or pancakes for you if you explain your needs carefully. Some useful vocabulary:

English                     French                                      Moroccan Arabic (Darija)
Wheat                       blé                                              gemah
Rye                            seigle                                         chaâir
Barley                       semolina semoule d’orge        belboula, tchicha
Buckwheat              sarrasin (blé noir)                   el hanta souda
Cornmeal                semoule de maïs                       bdez
Corn flour               farine de maïs                           Maizena
The shining stars of Moroccan cuisine are the tajine and couscous. The former are like stews or hotpots, prepared on the stovetop or on a fire in a conical-shaped dish, which is also called a tajine. Typically, they contain meat or fish plus vegetables or sometimes dried fruits. Vegetarian versions are increasingly available in restaurants. They are usually eaten by a group of people or a family, who collectively dunk bread into the sauce and use it to scoop out the stew. If you prefer not to eat bread, simply ask for a fork or spoon.

Couscous refers to a broth of meat and/or vegetables on a bed of fluffy, steamed semoule (ie wheat semolina, a micro-pasta prepared by rolling and steaming the flour). Any couscous you find in a restaurant is almost certainly made of wheat. However, if you are staying in a riad guesthouse, you could request bdez (cornmeal) or tchicha or belboula (barley – note, it’s not gluten free but it is wholemeal). Riad owners often employ local women as cooks and they know all the best recipes!

The classic Moroccan soup, harira, often contains wheat pasta and is thickened with wheat flour. Again, you may be able to ask the chef in your riad to prepare it with rice noodles and cornflour. Other meals that are suitable for those on a wheat-free diet include lentil (aâdis) or bean (loubia) hotpots (often found at workers cafes and truck stops), and roasted or grilled meats or fish. The latter are typically served with sautéed vegetables and rice (with meats) or a classic Moroccan salad (diced tomato, onion and cucumber) with fish. Morocco has long Mediterranean and Atlantic coastlines and the seafood in towns such as Essaouira, Agadir or Oualidia is not to be missed! Ask around for smaller restaurants owned and run by chefs – they are more likely to be accommodating. In cities such as Casablanca or Marrakech, you will find more international cuisine options such as Asian food with its basis in rice, or Brittany crêpes from France made from gluten-free buckwheat flour.

One way to be sure of what you are eating is to chose a self-catering option for your trip or stay in a riad where you have access to the kitchen. In large cities you will be able to access wheat-free breads in French-style bakeries as well as wheat-free staples such as oat flakes (porridge), corn chips, rice crackers and other imported goods in most large supermarkets. You are unlikely to find quinoa very easy, but you will never be far from a potato! Part of the fun of a self-catering vacation in Morocco is shopping in the souks, where you will find an abundance of fresh fruits, vegetables, dried fruits, nuts, meats and fish at a fraction of the price in the US or Europe.

Whether you choose to cook for yourself, or eat in restaurants, hotels and guesthouses where your meals are provided, with a little preparation and forewarning, you are sure to enjoy the best that Moroccan cuisine has to offer!

Written by Lynn Sheppard 

Lynn Sheppard has lived in Essaouira, on Morocco’s Atlantic Coast for more than 2 years, supporting local non-profits, writing and becoming an expert on all things Swiri (ie. Essaouiran). She blogs at Maroc-phile.com and for other travel industry clients. You can contact Lynn at: lynn@maroc-o-phile.com

For more information about Gluten Free Eating in Morocco or a Morocco Food Tour

Morocco’s Imperial CitiesSeaside Resorts,Sahara Desert,Berber villagesA Taste of MoroccoMagical Kasbahs, Ruins & WaterfallsAbsolute Morocco, The Best of MarrakechFes, and Ouarzazate

Discover The Best of Morocco - Travel Exploration
Travel Exploration specializes in Morocco Travel.  We provide Tours and travel opportunities to Morocco for the independent traveler and tailor-made tours for families and groups with a distinctly unique flavor. From Morocco’s Seven Imperial Cities, to the Magical Sahara Travel Exploration offers a captivating experience that will inspire you. At Travel Exploration we guarantee that you will discover the best of Morocco! Call Travel Exploration at 1 (800) 787-8806 or + 1 (212) 618882681 and let’s book a tour to Morocco for you today.

 

Marrakech’s 14th International Film Festival, Your Morocco Tour Guide

Marrakech 14th Annual Film Festival

Marrakech 14th Annual Film Festival

The Marrakech International Film Festival is now in its 14th year. The festival will take place in Marrakech from December 5th – 13th, 2014. Founded in 2000 as a means to promote Morocco as a production destination on the international film circuit, it is now responsible for an influx of film fan and film industry visitors every December to the ‘Red City’.

Although less well known than festivals such as Cannes or Berlin, the Marrakech Festival is accessible to the general public and is a great way to enjoy foreign and Moroccan films – either new releases in the competition category or old favourites in the retrospective sections. Films are shown in the Palais des Congrès (Congress Center) and then repeated at the Cinema Colissée in Guéliz. Entrance to the Palais des Congrès is free with a public pass, available via online prior registration. A minimal entrance fee is charged for the second showings at the cinema. At the premiers in the Congress Center, the audience is made up mainly of local Marrakchis, students of Marrakech’s ESAV school of visual arts and further afield, as well as film buffs and members of the cast and crew of the film. At the Colisée, you can experience the Moroccan film-going public in all its glory: clapping, cheering and heckling through popular films.

Although less high-profile than other festivals, Marrakech has its red carpet moments – on the opening night, locals and visitors wrap up warm and grab a table on the terrace of the cafés opposite the Congress Center to catch a glimpse of the stars as they arrive or are interviewed in the glass radio booths which line Avenue Mohammed VI. This year, French actress Isabelle Huppert takes over the mantel from Martin Scorsese to lead a jury which features an international cast including British actor Alan Rickman (known for Robin Hood Prince of Thieves, Love Actually and the Harry Potter movies).

Mohamed Mouftakir, Director L'Orchestre des Aveugles (Orchestra of the Blind)

Mohamed Mouftakir, Director L’Orchestre des Aveugles (Orchestra of the Blind)

The line-up of competition films includes only one Moroccan production, L’Orchestre des Aveugles (Orchestra of the Blind), a story of the relationship between a father and son, the second feature film directed by Mohamed Mouftakir. The 2014 Festival will open with The Theory of Everything, James Marsh’s film about the relationship between physicist Stephen Hawking and his wife. J.C.Chandor’s A Most Violent Year will close the festival; a movie about an immigrant who fights to protect his business and his family during 1981, statistically New York City’s most violent year.

Moroccans are big fans of Bollywood movies and in recent years, Marrakech has featured Indian films and attracted big Bollywood stars such as Shah Rukh Khan. 2014 is no exception: locals and visitors can enjoy the undisputed King of Bollywood on a big open air screen once again in Marrakech’s iconic Jmaa el Fna square in this year’s musical heist hit, Happy New Year. One of Bollywood’s most expensive and highest grossing films, young Marrakchis are sure to flock to the square to catch it.

The full Festival programme is still being finalised. It includes an homage to Japanese film as well as a tribute to two leading Moroccan producers, Khadija Alami and Zakaria Alaoui. The list of the movies these two have worked on reads like a catalogue of almost every movie ever made in Morocco, including at the world famous Atlas Film Studios in Ouarzazate. Between them, their resumés include dozens of TV and feature film productions such as James Bond 24, Mission Impossible 5, Gladiator and the Bourne Ultimatum.

Marrakech is a great winter destination: days are sunny and the city is presided over by the majestic snow-tipped High Atlas mountains. If you are in town at the start of December, why not catch some red carpet glamour and a sprinkle of silver screen stardust at the Marrakech International Film Festival?

Written by Lynn Sheppard 

Lynn Sheppard has lived in Essaouira, on Morocco’s Atlantic Coast for more than 2 years, supporting local non-profits, writing and becoming an expert on all things Swiri (ie. Essaouiran). She blogs at Maroc-phile.com and for other travel industry clients. You can contact Lynn at: lynn@maroc-o-phile.com

For more information about a Marrakech Tour or the Film Festival of Marrakech

Morocco’s Imperial CitiesSeaside Resorts,Sahara Desert,Berber villagesA Taste of MoroccoMagical Kasbahs, Ruins & WaterfallsAbsolute Morocco, The Best of MarrakechFes, and Ouarzazate

Discover The Best of Morocco - Travel Exploration
Travel Exploration specializes in Morocco Travel.  We provide Tours and travel opportunities to Morocco for the independent traveler and tailor-made tours for families and groups with a distinctly unique flavor. From Morocco’s Seven Imperial Cities, to the Magical Sahara Travel Exploration offers a captivating experience that will inspire you. At Travel Exploration we guarantee that you will discover the best of Morocco! Call Travel Exploration at 1 (800) 787-8806 or + 1 (212) 618882681 and let’s book a tour to Morocco for you today.

The Other Agadir, Traditions of Berber Granaries, Your Morocco Tour Guide

Berber Granary, Agadir Region

Berber Granary, Agadir Region

Morocco is such a melting pot of cultures and identities. The Berbers (or Amazigh; plural: Imazighen, meaning “free men”) were Morocco’s indigenous peoples, settled in the north-western corner of Africa across modern-day Morocco, Mauritania, Algeria and beyond, long before the arrival of Arabs from the East in the 7th century.

The beach resort city of Agadir – known for its golden sands and luxurious beachfront resorts – is also the capital of the Souss-Massa-Draa region. As such it is a bustling hub for traders and farmers of the region as well as tourists. Traveling inland from Agadir, the road towards Taroudant and the Anti Atlas mountains traverses the fertile flood plains of the Souss and Massa rivers. This area is one of Morocco’s prime agricultural regions. Protected by the Anti Atlas Mountains from the harsh climate of the Sahara, and fed each spring by melt water, these plains are one of Morocco’s main breadbaskets.

This is not to say that life is not harsh for the sedentary agriculturalists of the Souss and the Anti Atlas. For centuries, these regions have been the source of large migratory flows to Moroccan and European cities as young men sought to better their circumstances.

Given the precarity of life, the irregularity of the rains, and the risk of attack, the local Chleuh Berbers developed a means to store their wealth – most often in the form of cereals but also important legal documents and gold or silver brought up through the Sahara and perhaps offered as a dowry.

Communal granaries – often fortified – were constructed in pisé (rammed mud) in hilltop villages to store such items. Made from the local earth, an agadir (as they are known in the local Berber Dialect, Tashelhiyt – the plural is igoudar) is an organic structure and often visually almost indivisible from the local environment. Inside, each tribe or family would have their own compartment, locked with an elaborate wooden or metal key. Compartments were stacked on top of each other, some requiring a wooden ladder to gain access. Villages were often inhabited by just a handful of families, so there was a collective motivation for the protection of the agadir and a guardian would be appointed.

Barley could be stored for up to 25 years. Almonds could last up to 20, and argan nuts – oil-yielding nuts indigenous to the area – for up to 30 years. Honey, ghee and oil stored in terracotta or glass jars would also last several years.

The agadir was also a means of defence. Tribesmen would store their arms inside and women, children and even livestock could seek protection in the agadir’s central courtyard in times of siege. In peaceful times, strategically placed igoudar could profit from passing camel trains as places of shelter and trade. Some agadir featured communal services such as a small mosque, a council chamber or a blacksmith and so are seen as an early form of urbanisation of the Berbers. In this way, over time the agadir mutated into the ksar (castle, the Berber word for which is agherm).

The routes between the main Anti-Atlas cities of Taroudant, Tafraoute, Tata and Tiznit make great road trips – each is different and fascinating in its own way. This area, however, is also prime agadir-spotting territory. A few have been restored, some are even signposted. But for the most part, these structures are hidden, neglected and sometimes even in ruins. A local guide can locate them and find the key-holder. Villagers are often pleased that outsiders express an interest in their indigenous culture. The area around Igherm (a key crossroads between Tata or Tafraoute and Tardoudant) is particularly rich in this aspect of Berber built heritage, but the igoudar are often hard to find and may require a 4-wheel drive vehicle for access. Depending on your itinerary, your Travel Exploration driver and guide could take you to the agadir of Anammet (near Igherm), Dou Tgadir (off the P1723 road) or Taguent (along the same road). On the Igherm-Tafraoute road (the R106), you can find igoudar at Issouka and Amane n Tazart.

Kasbah Tizourgane (on the Ait Baha alternative route between Taroudant and Tafraoute) is easily accessible. Situated on a hill in a low plain, this fortified village is being sensitively restored by descendents of the original three families who lived here. Using heritage funding and income from the on-site guest house, the communal areas such as the mosque and agadir are slowly being restored to give visitors a real insight into kasbah life.

Door to Berber Granary, Sidi Moussa Ait Bougumez

Door to Berber Granary, Sidi Moussa Ait Bougumez

Many of the communal granaries have spiritual or religious connections. In the Ait Bouguemez Valley – further north in the High Atlas Mountains – the granary on a pyramid-shaped hill overlooking the valley marks the site of a former Jewish pilgrimage to the saint, Sidi Moussa. In the typical way that pre-Islamic beliefs permeate modern religious practices, the granary is said to offer fertility benefits to female visitors. The agadir is easy to reach and the guardian is happy to show visitors around the small museum to local mountain life inside.

If your itinerary in Morocco does not allow for an exploration of the igoudar in situ, the museums in Agadir (Museum Municipal du Patrimoine Amazigh) and Marrakech (the Berber Museum in the Majorelle Gardens) offer a great opportunity for an insight into Berber life. The museum in Agadir in particular has excellent exhibits of agadir keys plus jewelry and family documents found in igoudar, such as 18th and 19th century marriage certificates and wills. These were carved in wood or written on paper scrolls stored inside bamboo canes or leather pouches. The interesting aspect of these texts is that they are written in the local Berber dialect, Tashelhiyt, but using Arabic script (the Berber script being a modern invention).

So, the word agadir means both fortress and collective storage. If you visit the modern city of Agadir the evidence of its former fortress and Kasbah are long gone, destroyed by the earthquake of 1960, but you may have the opportunity to visit the original kind of agadir in its culturally rich Souss and Anti Atlas hinterland.

Written by Lynn Sheppard 

Lynn Sheppard has lived in Essaouira, on Morocco’s Atlantic Coast for more than 2 years, supporting local non-profits, writing and becoming an expert on all things Swiri (ie. Essaouiran). She blogs at Maroc-phile.com and for other travel industry clients. You can contact Lynn at: lynn@maroc-o-phile.com

For more information about a Tour to Agadir or Berber Granaries 

Morocco’s Imperial CitiesSeaside Resorts,Sahara Desert,Berber villagesA Taste of MoroccoMagical Kasbahs, Ruins & WaterfallsAbsolute Morocco, The Best of MarrakechFes, and Ouarzazate

Discover The Best of Morocco - Travel Exploration
Travel Exploration specializes in Morocco Travel.  We provide Tours and travel opportunities to Morocco for the independent traveler and tailor-made tours for families and groups with a distinctly unique flavor. From Morocco’s Seven Imperial Cities, to the Magical Sahara Travel Exploration offers a captivating experience that will inspire you. At Travel Exploration we guarantee that you will discover the best of Morocco! Call Travel Exploration at 1 (800) 787-8806 or + 1 (212) 618882681 and let’s book a tour to Morocco for you today.

Visiting Morocco In Winter, Your Morocco Tour Guide

Morocco Winter Vacation, Kasbah Tamadot

Morocco Winter Vacation, Kasbah Tamadot

Morocco is the perfect travel destination regarding of season. Visiting Morocco in winter can make for a rewarding holiday travel experience. The period around Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year is a popular time to take vacation and a great time of year to get away from it all. Morocco is a cold country with hot sun. Morocco enjoys sunny, mild weather year round and makes a perfect winter vacation destination.

Depending on the type of vacation you seek as a Morocco traveler a private tour can be arranged with varied trips that focus on one or two centers as well as tours encompassing as much or as little of this fascinating country as you have time and interest to visit.

To give you some idea of the variety Morocco has to offer, here are a few suggestions…

The coastal resort of Agadir enjoys over 300 days of sunshine per year and is the perfect base for a family holiday or for exploring Morocco’s Southern Atlantic Coast. The daytime temperature is typically around 70°F (although evenings are cool – pack a sweater) and although the sea is cooler than in summer, most hotels and resorts have heated pools and there is none of the sea fog characteristic of the hotter summer months. With a new marina development, Agadir offers fine dining and also plenty of nightclubs and casinos for those looking for a party!

Agadir is also a great base or starting point for a more active vacation. Morocco’s Southern Atlantic Coast is world-ranking for surfing and other water sports. December to March is the peak surfing season in Taghazout (15 miles north of Agadir), when the big winter swells from the North Atlantic hit. Equipment and instruction is easily obtained locally and non-surfers can enjoy deserted beaches and mountains for long winter walks as well as yoga lessons and plenty of opportunities to relax gazing out at the ocean, coffee or wine glass in hand.

Maybe the ocean isn’t your thing and you prefer the mountains? From Marrakech, the High Atlas Mountains are within easy reach, including the ski resort of Oukaimden. Yes, you read right – skiing in Africa! Facilities are not as developed as in the European or North American resorts, but if you fancy skiing at Africa’s highest resort (5 runs at 11,000 ft) and experiencing snow sports ‘Moroccan style,’ this is your chance! Trekking is also possible in the Atlas Mountains in winter, although ascents of snow-covered Mount Toubkal (North Africa’s highest peak at 13,671 ft) are only recommended for those experienced in winter conditions.

From snow-covered peaks to vast sandy deserts…. Morocco’s Sahara Desert is very accessible in winter, once the heat of the summer has died down. At night, you will need the winter clothes you wore to get here, but you will experience stunning clear, starry skies as you sit around the campfire with your Berber hosts. And early risers will catch the unique sight of sunrise over the sand dunes. Morocco has two principal dune ranges: Erg Chebbi and Erg Chegaga. We can arrange trips and overnight stays in both starting from the desert city of Ouarzarzate – in luxury Berber tent or boutique kasbah accommodation. Including camel rides, of course!

Moroccan-Berber-Carpets

Moroccan-Berber-Carpets

If all of that seems rather active for your winter vacation, Morocco’s medinas (old cities) offer plenty of distractions – and relaxation opportunities. Indulge in an authentic Moroccan hammam where you will be scrubbed clean and warmed from the inside out. Spa treatments are also available. Shop til you drop and haggle for bargains in the souks of Marrakech, Fes and Essaouira. And don’t worry – the vendor will be happy to ship that carpet right to your door back home! At the end of the day, enjoy a fireside dinner of traditional Moroccan cuisine in your historical riad guest house (restored townhouse, often more than 200 years old) or modern resort hotel. In either you will be surrounded by the famous Moroccan warmth and hospitality.

Events winter vacationers may wish to travel for include:

Marrakech International Film Festival – 5-13 December 2014, Marrakech. Annual festival features new Moroccan and international films plus retrospective categories and is attended by a star-studded jury.

New Year’s Eve – 31 December 2014. Moroccans typically don’t celebrate new year according to the lunar calendar, but there are plenty of events in tourism centres catering for those wishing to ring out the old and bring in the new!

Marrakech Marathon – 25 January 2015. Road race in this historic city with Half Marathon option.

However you decide to spend your winter vacation in Morocco, a private tour company like Travel Exploration can design your trip of a lifetime!

Written by Lynn Sheppard 

Lynn Sheppard has lived in Essaouira, on Morocco’s Atlantic Coast for more than 2 years, supporting local non-profits, writing and becoming an expert on all things Swiri (ie. Essaouiran). She blogs at Maroc-phile.com and for other travel industry clients. You can contact Lynn at: lynn@maroc-o-phile.com

For more information about Visiting Morocco in winter or a Private Tour to Morocco

Morocco’s Imperial CitiesSeaside Resorts,Sahara Desert,Berber villagesA Taste of MoroccoMagical Kasbahs, Ruins & WaterfallsAbsolute Morocco, The Best of MarrakechFes, and Ouarzazate

Discover The Best of Morocco - Travel Exploration
Travel Exploration specializes in Morocco Travel.  We provide Tours and travel opportunities to Morocco for the independent traveler and tailor-made tours for families and groups with a distinctly unique flavor. From Morocco’s Seven Imperial Cities, to the Magical Sahara Travel Exploration offers a captivating experience that will inspire you. At Travel Exploration we guarantee that you will discover the best of Morocco! Call Travel Exploration at 1 (800) 787-8806 or + 1 (212) 618882681 and let’s book a tour to Morocco for you today.

Essaouira’s Atlantic Andalucía Festival, Your Morocco Tour Guide

Photograph - Lynn Sheppard -  Jalal Chekara and Chekara Flamenca, Essaouira Atlantic Andalucia Festival

Photograph – Lynn Sheppard – Jalal Chekara and Chekara Flamenca, Essaouira Atlantic Andalucia Festival

The Festival des Andalousies Atlantiques (Atlantic Andalucía Festival) celebrated in October 2014 its 11th year in Essaouira, on Morocco’s Southern Atlantic coast. It is now a well-established fixture in the annual schedule of this festival city, alongside the Gnaoua World Music Festival (which held its 17th edition in Essaouira - 2014) and the Printemps Musical des Alizés (the Spring chamber music festival initiated in 2000).

All three festivals celebrate the rich cultural diversity of Morocco and in particular the urban coexistence of different religious and ethnic groups in Essaouira (or Mogador, as it was once known). Despite its modest size, 19th century Mogador was Morocco’s foremost port. This was Sultan Sidi Mohammed Ben Abdullah’s strategic objective. He had created the kasbah (King’s Quarters) of Mogador to house his officials alongside the families of 10 Jewish merchants he invited to develop trade with Europe and the new world. European traders and consuls soon followed and the Sultan’s recognition of US independence in 1776 (the first head of state or government to do so) assured a significant market for the erstwhile ‘port of Timbuktu.’

Some of these prominent Jewish families – and the less wealthy families who followed them and found their home in the Mellah of Essaouira – were descendants of the Megorachim, who had fled the Iberian Peninsula at the end of the 15th century after the fall of Al-Andalus. They came to Mogador from cities such as Tangiers, Tetouan and Fes, where many exiles has settled. This cultural melting pot of Muslims, Jews and Christians, of Arabs, Berbers, Europeans and Africans, fuelled great intellectual and artistic collaboration. This is typified in the Andalusian style of music, which draws on Jewish, Arabic, Berber and Spanish influences.

The poster for the 2014 edition of the Essaouira Atlantic Andalucía Festival features French painter Eugène Delacroix’ work, ‘Jewish Musicians of Mogador’. Delacroix didn’t visit Mogador, but was present during the visit of a French delegation to the palace of Sultan Moulay Abd Er Rahman in Meknes in 1832. Wishing to present the best of his Empire, the Sultan brought an Andalusian style orchestra of Jewish and Muslim musicians from Mogador to play for the visitors. The 2014 festival presented a recreation (without the aid of any written records) of the piece which this group played for the Sultan’s guests almost 200 years ago.

Photograph by Lynn Sheppard - Neta Elkayam at the 2014 Essaouira Atlantic Andalucia Festival

Photograph by Lynn Sheppard – Neta Elkayam at the 2014 Essaouira Atlantic Andalucia Festival

The annual Festival celebrates this common yet diverse heritage, as does the Conservatoire (Music School) of Essaouira, which today trains young musicians to preserve these rich traditions. The young artists, such as local talent Hicham Dinar Souiri, follow in the footsteps of great masters – some of whom, such as Abderrahim Souiri, (‘Souiri’ meaning ‘of Essaouira” and by extension its traditions), were on stage during the festival and who themselves have been influenced by the great names of the genre, such as Samy el Maghribi.

In 2014, Festival-goers were also treated to the great Andalusian Orchestra of Tetouan, directed by Amine Al Akrami; flamenco dance and song from Chekara Flamenca in collaboration with both Rabbi Haim Louk (a master of Moroccan Jewish liturgy) and Abir al Abed (lead vocalist with all-female group, Arige); and the modern ensemble of Neta Elkayam (a gorgeous, talented and energetic female singer of Moroccan origin based in Israel) and Maher Khalil Deeba (Palestinian singer and oud musician from East Jerusalem).

The significance of this Festival is not only in celebrating this past, but its contribution to a future in Morocco where inter-religious and intra-community tolerance and respect continues. As Mr André Azoulay, Patron of the Festival, Adviser to HRH King Mohammed VI and Jewish son of Mogador said on the occasion of the 2014 festival: “This story is not only written in the past.” Morocco lives these principles today – no more so than in Essaouira.

Written by Lynn Sheppard 

Lynn Sheppard has lived in Essaouira, on Morocco’s Atlantic Coast for more than 2 years, supporting local non-profits, writing and becoming an expert on all things Swiri (ie. Essaouiran). She blogs at Maroc-phile.com and for other travel industry clients. You can contact Lynn at: lynn@maroc-o-phile.com

For more information about Essaouira’s Atlantic Andalucía Festival or an Essaouira Tour  

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