The ancient centres of Morocco’s big cities — the medinas — are chock full of shops crammed together in twisting alleys. With their goods spilling out into the street, shopkeepers step out even further to coax and cajole you to buy their wares.
Sometimes the experience is good natured, with a friendly exchange of banter about where you’re from and whether this is your first visit to Morocco, as the shopkeeper tries to figure out how big your budget is and how knowledgeable you are about bartering. Sometimes, though, the shopkeepers can turn more aggressive. They grab your elbow to get your attention, follow you down the street, and use their considerable skill to bombard you with questions hoping you’ll give in and open your wallet.
On top of this, you might get lost in the estimated 9000 lanes and alleyways of the Fès medina, and you’ll certainly cross paths with the touts in Marrakech’s Jemaa el-Fnaa. In this immense public square, you’ll need to be on guard for snake charmers wanting to put pythons around your neck or wanting tips for taunting their cobras into striking. Barbary macaques dressed in clothes are forced to do tricks or instructed to jump on your shoulder for a photo. Women grab your hands to paint henna on them and then demand exorbitant fees for something you didn’t even want in the first place.
It’s enough to leave you needing a vacation from your Moroccan vacation!
That’s when it’s time for a visit to Moulay Idriss. This tiny town right is next door to the UNESCO site, Volubilis, and just an hour’s drive from Fès. The pretty whitewashed buildings are perched on two sloping hills and sparkle in the sun. This is a town where you can relax and enjoy a more relaxed version of Moroccan life.
With a stay in Moulay Idriss, you’re just a gentle five kilometre bicycle ride away from seeing the Roman ruins of Volubilis. There’s no need to negotiate for a car and driver. After you’ve explored to your heart’s content (no time limit with your waiting driver), you can head to the outdoor Roman baths for a dip and to watch local boys’ jubulient somersaults into the water.
You can spend the afternoon shopping without pressure for spices, teapots, wood carvings and handmade embroidery. Haggling, if any, is minimal and you’ll most often be quoted the local price. Stop into the hammam for a steam and a scrub. Spend an evening or two in the town square peeking into old-fashioned life. Families and neighbours chat over street snacks, teenagers stroll together hoping no one will notice when their hands touch, and little kids bounce soccer balls. You’ll be welcomed with smiles. If your Arabic or French isn’t as fluent as you’d like, someone will help you find a dinner that will delight your tastebuds.
By staying overnight in Moulay, you can wake up early before the heat hits to hike through forested mountain paths, discovering Roman ruins and wildflowers when you least expect them. And you’ll have time to simply enjoy this peaceful town, considered the holiest in the country.
We would love to help you plan your ultimate Moroccan vacation – no matter how fast or slow pace you like to travel. Our team knows all the best hidden spots in Morocco to relax. Give us a call today to start planning your visit!
Contributed by Johanna Reed. Johanna is a Canadian freelance writer and photographer specializing in travel, food and responsible tourism. She writes for a variety of print and digital publications to promote unique destinations and experiences and encourage sustainable travel. In one year Johanna visited six continents, but since then has only been able to hit five annually (not yet getting back to Australia, and with Antarctica still eluding her). Links to her writing and photographs are at TravelEater.net and you can follow Johanna on Instagram @TravelEaterJohanna and on Twitter @TravelEater.