Just spent a week in Morocco with Susan…

We flew with EasyJet from TLS to Marrakech and picked up a hire car from a local rental company called surprise cars – it turns out they were full of surprises…

The Surprise Cars Office

According to the instructions which we had carefully printed out we were to be met at the exit from the terminal, but there was no-one there. We asked around and were pointed in the direction of the various car rental offices at the far side of the main airport car park. We walked along the various offices (Avis, Europcar, Sixt, etc) but no sign of an office labelled “Surprise Cars”. We stopped at the Hertz desk and asked if they had heard of them, beginning to suspect we may have been “scammed”, but they pointed us to the far corner of the car park where we could see a small group of people standing around a couple of cars. We wandered over and discovered that they operate out of the back of a car!

There was another couple in front just collecting their car which looked like it had taken part in a demolition derby – every panel on the car was dented! It took forever for the agent to record all the existing damage and for the clients to photograph all the evidence. How many rental miles in Marrakech would it take to produce that much damage?

As it turned out our car was brand new and carried a 1000 Euro excess so it was with some considerable trepidation that we ventured out into the random chaos that is Marrakech.

Our apartment was in the Gueliz quarter, not far from the Red Hotel where I stayed with Alexander and Georgina in February. Right next door was the Bagatelle restaurant which does excellent food at very reasonable prices. The weather was balmy and we were able to eat outside – a far cry from the cold and stormy weather lashing most of Europe.

Bagatelle Restuarant

The one downside of the apartment turned out to be the night club/disco next door which seemed to play loud music for most of the night.


Breakfast the next day was at the Pain Quotidienne and I chose the Moroccan option, which turned out to be bread and pancakes in many forms.

Moroccan Breakfast

We then walked to the Medina to experience the full-on buzz of Marrakech.

In the Medina

Wide load

Mint tea in the Cafe des Epices.

Cafe Des Epices

Fresh juices in the Earth Cafe and then on to visit the Bahia Palace.

Bahia Palace Shadows

In the evening we went to the rather posh Cafe de la Grand Poste which was expensive but the food was amazing.

Grand Marnier Souffle

For our second full day we decided to head out of Marrakech to explore the Atlas Mountains which are about 1.5 hours away.

We went up the Ourika valley intending to visit the waterfalls (cascades). They are clearly a big tourist draw and there were lots of coaches and tourism taxis. The parking areas were swarming with official guides all touting for business. We were hoping to make our own way to the cascades – expecting to find a well worn trail that we could easily follow – but this proved elusive and we headed out of the village away from the crowds with “our guide” in tow. Having reached the edge of the village we surveyed the scene and considered what to do next.

Our guide offered to give us tea as we had inadvertently stopped outside his house. We declined as we had just taken tea and there is only so much mint tea you can take.. He explained there was another route to the cascades that started next to where we were which avoided all the tourists and had much better views so we gave in and hired him as our guide. He neglected to mention that route he had in mind was only really suitable for mountain goats…

After a lot of walking, some scrambling and some real rock climbing we eventually got to the cascades which were not particularly impressive in themselves but the surroundings and views were amazing.

Our guide was very helpful and actually proved to be essential as the route was not marked and dangerous in places – accidents are very common apparently.

Steep, slippery and a long way down…

Saturday was the Rugby World Cup Final, which we managed to locate on the television in the apartment…

We then went to visit the Yves Saint Laurent museum and Majorelle gardens.

No photos allowed in the museum
Majorelle Gardens

In the evening we met Susan’s friend Karine who also happened to be staying in Marrakech and had rooftop aperitifs at the Hivernage Hotel followed by a delightful dinner in the restaurant.

rooftop aperitifs

That was our last evening in Marrakech and the next day we set off on the 2.5 hour drive to Essaouira on the coast (pronounced Essa-wee-ra). This is an old fishing port that has hugely expanded and is a popular tourist destination. It does have a fortified old town (Medina) attached to the port which is similar to the Medina in Marrakech but smaller and less chaotic.

On the beach

Our loft apartment in Essaouira was small but very cosy and with the benefit of a roof terrace with views of the sea and Mogador island.

Sunset from the roof terrace

We spent time exploring the fishing port which was buzzing with all the fishermen selling their freshly caught fish and wandering through the Medina, taking impromptu snapshots of the locals and their wares.

Fish for sale

On our last day we drove out of the town to the next village which turned out to be a prime surfing spot and actually held a round of the windsurfing world cup last year. There were very few people there and we were immediately accosted by young boys trying to sell us woolly hats that their mothers had knitted. The weather was more unsettled today and the waves were big – presumably ideal for surfing but there was no-one taking advantage. The beach here is twenty miles long and we had it all to ourselves!

On our last evening we walked in to the Medina in search of a small local restaurant – there are plenty to choose from but most don’t serve alcohol. After dinner we went for a drink at the Cosy Cocktail Bar, where the bar tender from Toulouse mixed up a unique and delicious Pink Kitty Cocktail for Susan – I just had a bottle of local Casablanca beer.

Deliciously decadent cocktail – Pink Kitty Gin
Moon parasols – walking back from the Medina

The next day we drove back to Marrakech to catch the plane home. We had noticed on the way here that there were lots of speed cameras, both fixed and mobile and lots of police check points – we had already been stopped once. It was no surprise that we got stopped again and they asked to check papers etc, but they also told me that I had been speeding 89Km/h in an 80 limit and the fine was 150 Dirham. I protested as I had been watching the speed limits quite carefully (although they change every few Km) and explained that we were not in a hurry. This reduced the on the spot fine to 100 Dirham (10 Euros) and a warning… I think this was probably just a scam that the police use to get some extra pocket money out of tourists but as they were both armed I wasn’t going to argue further.

Along the Essaouira to Marrakech road we passed a few Argan trees with goats in them which is such an amazing and unusual sight…

At the airport we returned the rental car to Surprise Cars in the corner of the car park. And the final surprise was that they discovered a tiny dent in the bonnet and charged us 400 Euros!

Other than that unpleasant surprise it was a fantastic break. Morocco is an amazing place – wonderful weather, exotic surroundings, friendly people, not too far away (2.5 hour flight) and they speak French!