Sometimes it’s best not to think about the origin of things. I was feeling that way about argan oil, Morocco’s much lauded export.
Having heard how goats like to feast on argan trees and how the Berbers then collect undigested kernels from – ahem – the ‘other end’ to grind into nutty oil, I didn’t relish tasting it or rubbing it into my skin. But my guide Hassan reassured me that nowadays the pips are harvested in a more straightforward fashion. Perhaps he was just keen for me to buy a bottle, since we’d passed numerous oil sellers on our journey through the Ourika Valley.
Located just 30 kilometres from Marrakech but a world away from the bustle of the city, the valley has been a Berber bolt hole for centuries, and it’s
now a popular destination for day trippers and trekkers.
As the gateway to the High Atlas Mountains, the Ourika Valley provides a respite for city folk during the furnace-hot summers. Fortunately I visited in February when the temperature was just right – warm enough for T-shirts and nearly warm enough to swim (I wasn’t quite brave enough to try the unheated pool).
Returning from the valley later that day, I arrived back in Marrakech by sunset, just the right time to take in the melee of the main square. Djemaa el Fna is one of those places that appears to have changed little over the decades – it’s still populated by tooth-pullers, soothsayers, acrobats and magicians.
Marrakech is, of course, famed for its souks, and I managed to lose myself (literally) amid the dimly lit alleyways crammed with all sorts of goodies. Silk scarves, solid amber perfume, beautiful lanterns and leather bags… it really is a shopaholics’ paradise so be prepared to haggle!
I made sure I didn’t spend all my time shopping, and squeezed in some sightseeing at a handful of palaces and peaceful gardens before calling once again upon the services of Hassan to take me west to Essaouira. I’d heard good things about this coastal resort and wanted to see if it lived up to its hype. Happily it did.
Renowned for its laid-back vibe and fabulous seafood, it’s also a popular spot for windsurfers – they were having great fun on the typically breezy day I happened to visit. After battling to hold my camera steady on the ramparts, I climbed into the lee of these 18th-century walls and began exploring the shabby-chic streets of the old town. Once again there was plenty to tempt the dirhams from my purse.
Later, as we returned to Marrakech along a brand new dual carriageway, Hassan pointed out of the window. “See there, in that argan tree?” I did a double-ake, for perched in the branches were half a dozen goats. There was a shepherd nearby but thankfully he didn’t seem to be collecting kernels!
Moments to cherish
- Gulping down a squeezed-before-your-eyes orange juice amid the street theatre of Djemaa el Fna –
a bargain at 4 dirham (30p) a glass.
- Making your first haggled-for purchase.
- Getting lost and enjoying it. And if you think a map will help, beware: few of the street names are marked!
Saga offer three holidays to marvellous Morocco. Two hotel stays at the Es Saadi Gardens & Resort in Marrakech and Hotel Iberostar Founty Beach in Agadir, and a magnificent tour of the country - Mountains, Medinas and Marrakech .