I like to consider myself a global nomad; I grew up moving around the world, and I’ve never kicked the travel bug since. In fact, as an adult, I still love to jetset as much as time permits, curating experiences to seek out inspiration at every turn. It seems like there’s so much to see and do in the world that my bucket list only gets longer each year—so many destinations, so little time.
And every now and then, you come back from a vacation feeling changed and invigorated with a fresh perspective. That’s how I felt at the end of our week in Morocco this summer.
For starters, Morocco just might be the most Instagrammable country in the world. The visual stimulation we experienced included architecture, design, scenery, and food, to name a few. But what propelled the trip to the next level for us was how culturally rich our week ended up being. We were excited to learn about the history of centuries-old cities and humbled to share in cultural and culinary traditions. We undoubtedly found ourselves outside of our comfort zones, but in the end, we leaned into the thrill of exploration. In that way, the trip reconnected me with the sense of wonder I experienced as a ten-year old kid living in southeast Asia. I finished the trip with a renewed desire to see the world through a more cultural lens, to get out and do things that are foreign from everyday life.
Like many of its kind in Marrakech’s medina (the old-school, fortified portion of the city full of winding streets), our riad, Anayela, was once a traditional Moroccan palace that, thousands of years later, has been converted into a boutique hotel. I’ve rarely felt so luxurious. Steeped in history but not without modern luxury, Anayela was everything we hoped for and more. We happened to be the only guests staying in the five-room palace, and wow, did we enjoy riad life. We dined on the rooftop (and enjoyed afternoon tea and wine up there as well), took afternoon dips in the pool, lounged on poufs, sometimes wearing robes and almost always wearing traditional Moroccan leather slippers.
GETTING LOST IN MARRAKECH
Navigating Marrakech’s medina was an adventure in and of itself. We hired a guide for this, partly to prevent us from getting lost but also to share Marrakech’s history and culture with us, perhaps pointing out landmarks or establishments we might have otherwise missed along the way.
Exploring the medina was a full-on sensory experience of sights, smells, sounds, touch, and taste. And when it comes to inspiration, Marrakech does not disappoint. Warm, sun-drenched clay color everywhere (It’s a ‘millennial pink’-lover’s dream). Ancient architecture. Hand-carved and hand-painted arabesque shapes and patterns. Rainbow-colored spice markets. Antique and new-age handicrafts in leather, metal, ceramic, wood, and textile form. Rugs of every shape, size, and pattern that you can envision adding texture to every room of your home. A new archway or a cool door at every turn. Marrakech is the kind of city where even if you manage to avoid getting lost directionally, you almost always still find yourself getting lost in the beautiful details.
Over the course of our week there, we became pretty enamored with the style of eating in Morocco as well as the food itself. Each meal featured new versions of salads, slow cooked meats, and lots of spices and flavors. Everything was fresh and homemade, and most dishes were served family-style for sharing (and I’m always a sucker for being able to sample lots of different flavors within one meal). And the ambiance was always relaxed in a loungey kind of way. One pleasant surprise on our trip was the quality of Moroccan wine, particularly the gris varietal, which is essentially a hybrid of white and rosé wine (with a crisp flavor and beautiful pale salmon color to boot).
Outside of our hotel, our top three meals in Marrakech were:
Maison MK - The tasting menu here started with a welcome shot and by rooftop canapés followed by a poolside meal. Need I say more?
Nomad - This rooftop spot offered a modern twist on Moroccan fare, with possibly the most inventive menu we experienced. Worth it despite the fact that they did not serve alcohol.
El Fenn - The rooftop restaurant was the perfect lunch spot for us, and the hotel’s myriad courtyard lounge spaces are worth exploring before or after.
ADVENTURE IN THE ATLAS MOUNTAINS
We took two day-trip excursions during our time in Marrakech. The first was to the Atlas Mountains, only about an hour outside the city. We drove from Marrakech to the village of Imlil, then hiked further to a traditional Berber village called Armoud, where we enjoyed a traditional local lunch. Throughout, the scenery was striking, from clay cliffs to lush forests and waterfalls. I also managed to ride a donkey for part of the hike, which was well worth the experience despite the fact that the experience came with an uninvited side of flies.
On the way back to Marrakech, we stopped at Sir Richard Branson’s Kasbah Tamadot, where we indulged in afternoon drinks and snacks with a seriously impressive view. I’d like to think that the juxtaposition of authenticity and luxury that we experienced on our excursion to the Atlas Mountains was pretty much the definition of rocking the Kasbah.
We kicked off our day trip to the coastal city of Essaouira with a lunchtime stop at Val D’Argan, which we were told is the only winery in southern Morocco (after all, we have a skill for sniffing out a top-notch winery in any region of the world). In addition to touring the vineyard, we were able to taste wines and eat a fresh-made lunch poolside at their guest house. We were literally the only guests on the property, and it was potentially our best meal in Morocco. Needless to say, I would highly recommend a stop here en route to or from the coast.
We also found time in our travels to stop and visit tree goats. And yes, goats in trees are a thing.
We toured the port and medina of Essouira, admiring the shades of blue, the markets, the narrow and winding streets, and perhaps most importantly, the spots where Game of Thrones was filmed.
And then, there was the main event: Riding camels, which was ultimately the highlight of the entire trip for me. It was pretty surreal. I like riding horses, and granted camels don’t really gallop the way horses do, but it was still a challenge. You’re much higher up, for starters. And it all happened really quickly — one second, we were on the beach, and the next, I was straddling a hump seven feet high. It was insanely windy, but that only enhanced the thrill of the experience. Let’s be honest, I would have done it just for the ‘gram, but in the end, it was so much fun. What a way to spend time at the beach.