From Fez, we took a day trip to the whitewashed hillside city of Moulay Idriss, second only to Mecca as Islam’s holiest city. The sacred city was once closed to non-Muslim visitors and Edith Wharton, who visited in 1919, claimed she was the first foreigner to witness the town's moussem religious festival. Muslims who are unable to make the pilgrimage to Mecca are allowed to substitute six visits to Moulay Idriss. From Moulay Idriss, we went to the ancient Roman city of Volubilis and then to Meknes, where we toured the vineyards of Domaine de la Zouina and had a tasting with the French owner, Christophe Gribelin. The vineyard’s most interesting wine is vin gris, a traditional Moroccan pale rosé that pairs beautifully with spicy food.
We drove through palm orchards to Ouarzazate. The city’s rugged landscape is one of Hollywood’s favorite sets and both Lawrence of Arabia and Game of Thrones were filmed there. Diane and I spent the night at Dar Ahlam, a boutique hotel set in a renovated kasbah located in a palm grove on the edge of the desert. Dar Ahlam means “House of Dreams” and its concept centers its experience on the idea of surprise, so guests never know where their meals will take place. We had cocktails on the rooftop
as the sun slipped below the horizon and dinner in a stone grotto lit with hundreds of candles.
Leaving the desert, we passed through the High Atlas Mountains en route to Marrakech, where we checked into the legendary La Mamounia Hotel. It’s easy to see why this elegant Moorish-inspired palace was one of Winston Churchill’s favorite hotels. As dusk fell, we headed out to Jemaa el-Fnaa, the central square of the ancient, walled Medina that comes alive at night with snake charmers, monkey tamers, and food vendors selling everything from fresh vegetable salads to boiled sheep’s heads. (We both had salads.) Last year, two museums devoted to the life and work of Yves Saint Laurent opened; one in Paris; the other in Marrakech. Diane and I visited the Marrakech outpost which showcases stunning pieces from Saint Laurent.
Our final stop was Casablanca where we visited the world’s third largest mosque, built to commemorate the 60th birthday of the former king, Hassan II. Overlooking the Atlantic Ocean, the Moorish-style mosque is dominated by its 700-foot minaret (said to be the world’s tallest). It was built by over 10,000 craftsmen and took over six years to complete.
That night, as Diane and I toasted our trip with a bottle of vin gris, we couldn’t believe it had only been ten days. We drove through the majestic Atlas mountains, walked through souks and palm groves, and sunbathed on sandy beaches. We haggled with craftsmen, giggled with young children, enjoyed fantastic food, visited vineyards and ancient ruins and all in all, had the time of our lives. And yet, we didn’t get to Paul Bowle’s adopted home, the Mediterranean port city of Tangiers. We didn’t travel far south enough to see Mount Toubkal, North Africa’s highest mountain. And we didn’t get to experience the ethereal blue city of Chefchaouen. I can’t wait to go back.