The Anou – Fair Trade Finally Reaches Morocco!

fair trade in morocco, fair trade women working morocco, moroccan women sewing, moroccan women artisans, moroccan woman artisan

Tucked into the valleys of the High Atlas, the Amazigh tribes of Morocco make their homes and live in much the same way they have for generations. Agriculture and traditional trades are the way people survive here but like the rest of the country, they too have seen the opportunity to earn money selling their goods to tourists. In these mountain regions the highly fashionable Beni Ourani rugs that grace home design magazines serve the practical purpose they were created for as temperatures commonly dip below freezing during winter months, making warm floors a must. In the same way, wood carving, weaving and metal work is as much art as it is functional craftsmanship. It was here, with these products, that Morocco’s first truly fair trade cooperative, Anou, was born.

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Marrakech is Magic: Into the Souks and Jemaa el-Fnaa

Magical Marrakech

There are places in the world where simply mentioning their name conjures up an image of romanticism, the exotic, a step into the magic of the imagination. The Taj Mahal, built by the Mughal emperor Shah Jahan in loving memory of his third wife, Mumtaz Mahal; Rome’s Colosseum, the symbol for the ‘Eternal City’ and the civilization of the Imperial Roman Empire; Stonehenge, the world’s most famous prehistoric monument, a sacred site beyond the memory of modern man. Say ‘Marrakech’ and a world of souks, snake-charmers and storytellers, kaftans and colour, tales from the Arabian Nights, the call of the muezzin summoning the faithful to prayer, unfolds like the unrolling of a luxurious Moroccan carpet.  “There are certain places on the surface of the earth that possess more magic than others,” said Paul Bowles, the American writer who lived in Morocco for fifty-two years. “And one of those places is Marrakech.”

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How to Appreciate the Pottery of Morocco

morocco potteryMorocco’s souks are filled with colorful treasures, among them, a wide variety of pottery. Vases and pots, decorated with colorful etchings, sit for sale alongside tagines, the conical-shaped cooking pots typical of Moroccan cuisine. Three cities—Fez, Meknes and, especially, Safi, are the main pottery centers of the country, producing about 80 percent of Morocco’s pottery. In these cities, sun-baked clay twirls on wheels, forming into practical and attractive shapes. Designs etched into the wet clay set as the pottery dries in the sun. Artisans fire pieces in kilns and decorate them with colorful glazes, making them water-resistant.

Most Moroccan pottery design is heavily influenced by Islamic or Berber art. Intricate geometric and arabesque patterns tend to cover the entire surface of pieces, completely transforming the humble clay building materials. Groups of artisans carry on centuries-old traditions in their designs, passed on through families. Many pieces of pottery from Fez are various shades of blue, due to the use of cobalt oxide in glazes. Pottery from Safi is known for its metal inlays and is often made of red clay and glazed in green, turquoise and black. Potters throughout the country tend to use multicolor designs, whether Moorish-influenced curlicues or floral motifs. (more…)

What to Give as Gifts in Morocco

pashmina scarfWhenever a family member returns to Morocco from abroad, it’s a good bet that half of their luggage is made up of gifts. While Moroccans have access to almost all of the same conveniences as those in the United States, Canada or Europe, the quality is often inferior. Moroccans are well known for their hospitality and generosity and would never act rude or upset if they were not presented with a gift. However, traveling with small items to be given as gifts can show your host(s) a little gratitude for their efforts. And, with the trips to Morocco we at Journey Beyond Travel put together, you’ll have plenty of opportunities for local connections (and meals in homes) where gifts will be welcome.

What items can be taken to Morocco?

While some gifts can be picked up in Morocco, there are some items that always go over well that you can bring from home. When considering gifts to bring, try to not resort on bringing sweets. This is two-fold. Moroccan taste buds don’t tend to like American sweets that much. We have amazing chocolate in Morocco (mostly from Europe) and Hershey’s isn’t popular here. Additionally, we would rather travelers bring other items that would benefit the women of the household of the kids if at all possible. So, when thinking of gifts, think about bringing something nice for the women and something educational or useful for the kids. (more…)

24 Hours in Marrakesh

marrakesh marketMarrakesh is home to enough attractions and curiosities to keep people occupied for several days, but if you only have 24 hours, here is one way to fill your day:

9:00 a.m.

Start your day with a freshly squeezed glass of orange juice while you watch the city begin its day. You can purchase a large glass for around 3 Dh in the Djemaa al-Fna. Next, get your bearings by sauntering over to the Koutoubia Mosque. This building has the tallest minaret in the city and is one of Marrakesh’s most iconic sites. While non-Muslims are not permitted entry to the mosque, everyone is welcome to roam around the gardens.

10:00 a.m.

Take a spin through the souks in the heart of the medina and start shopping for souvenirs. Shopkeepers traditionally gave a discount to the first customer of the day, although usually it’s worth checking out a few stalls before you buy anything. (more…)

How to Shop in a Morocco Souk

morocco soukEven if shopping isn’t among your favorite activities, browsing in Morocco’s lively souks is a worthwhile cultural experience. And if you happen to enjoy shopping, then you’re really in for a treat—imagine colorful, regional handicrafts from floor to ceiling and artful displays of culinary delights. Either way, it is helpful to know what to expect before joining the clamor.

A souk is an open-air market. Many travelers tend to associate “souk” with the winding alleyways of the expansive and historic medinas in Fes and Marrakesh. While these two UNESCO World Heritage Sites are among Morocco’s iconic attractions, the neighborhood souks in large cities often offer similar goods and better prices. Many big city souks are open seven days a week, though most have limited hours on Fridays and weekends. (more…)

Tips for Bargaining in Morocco

morocco marketIf you are Morocco travel, then one of the things you may be eager to check out is the assortment of amazing markets. You are likely to find a great bargain here, but even if you don’t, you’ll find that the atmosphere and the hustle and bustle are worth the trip alone.

That said, with so many interesting trinkets available, it will no doubt add to the trip if you can bring back some sort of souvenir, and you’ll want to try your hand at bartering here so that you get the full experience. Here are a few tips to help you grab a great deal without offending anyone.

Be Polite

When you walk through the markets, people are going to shout out to say hello and ask you where you’re from. Yes this is an attempt to get you to pause long enough to sell you something, but that doesn’t mean people aren’t also genuinely interested in chatting and practicing their English. There’s no need to be rude and ignore them; just answer politely but keep moving if you want to. (more…)

Shopping at Morocco’s Mega Mall

shopping mall window modelsMorocco is known, of course, for its captivating marketplaces, full of twists and turns and treasures. As the country develops, it only makes sense for it to embrace the marketplace of the 21st century—the mega mall. Casablanca’s luxurious mall is a consumers’ paradise for well-to-do travelers and Moroccans looking for global brands.

Inaugurated in 2011 with a Jennifer Lopez performance and the presence of the royal family, the Morocco Mall can be found just outside of Casablanca. Glitz was not spared in its construction. Outside, a musical fountain reminiscent of Las Vegas welcomes visitors with water jets. Though palm trees reach into soaring atriums, and a two-story aquarium ties in with the mall’s coastal location, the mall’s interior would not be out of place in worldwide locations from Vegas to Singapore. With three floors and more than 600 stores, the Morocco Mall aims to be a one-stop shopping destination for North Africa’s elite.

International luxury brands like Louis Vuitton, Chanel, Gucci and Prada line its storefronts with aspirational finds, alongside more modest but coveted Western franchises like Lacoste, Banana Republic and American Eagle. In addition to clothing, jewelry, electronics and specialty retailers, shops include the Marjane supermarket, the Galeries Lafayette department store and the FNAC store, which sell the latest in technology and entertainment. The Morocco Mall has also tried to mirror the country’s rich market culture with “souk-style” stores selling the work of artisans and artists. (more…)

Activities to Enjoy in Any Moroccan City

Hassan II mosque Casablanca MoroccoLike in your home country, you can count on most Moroccan cities—regardless of size—to offer basic staples that cater to the population’s needs and culture. When you Morocco travel, you’re bound to find something to do wherever you are. If you ever wonder how to pass some time, consider some of the activities below.

Browse the market.

Large cities have lively medinas, lined floor to ceiling, with impressive displays of regional handicrafts, colorful wares and culinary delights. Less populated towns tend to have smaller, often open-air, markets.

While a village might have only a shop or two open daily to sell basic necessities, the scene changes dramatically on the weekly “market day,” when residents in and around the community gather to buy and sell anything anyone might need. Expect to maneuver around bikes with baskets, load-bearing donkeys and dusty pick-up trucks. (more…)

Relaxing in Essaouira, Morocco

Blue fishing boats in Essaouira MoroccoIf you travel to Essaouira after visiting other Moroccan cities, one of the first things you might notice in the medina is dreadlocks—several shopkeepers with dreadlocks. The town’s amiable medina, well-kept beach and quiet serenity make Essaouira an attractive place to get away.

Beyond the dreads, the medina, a UNESCO World Heritage site, has a uniquely relaxed ambiance. Rather than calling passers-by into their shops, merchants tend to quietly observe the crowd or mingle with locals, leaving tourists to browse through handmade Berber baskets, colorful fabrics and artisan handicrafts relatively pressure-free. Even negotiating for goods feels low-key, but don’t let down your guard when buying—Moroccan bargaining customs still apply! (more…)

Things To Do In Casablanca

Mosque in Casablanca MoroccoWhen people decide to take a journey to Morocco, they tend to seek out the predefined exotic destinations in the country, and while Casablanca (see our insider’s guide to Casablanca) lacks that label, there are several interesting things to do in Casablanca before traipsing off into the desert for a camel ride. Situated on Morocco’s northwestern coast, the city is known as dar el beida in Arabic. The name Casablanca means “white house.”

Casablanca was founded in the 7th century as an independent Berber kingdom. Later it was seized by the Arabs and subsequently by Almoravids and the Merenids, then finally by the Portuguese and the Spanish. These last two cultures gave the city its name. In the middle of the 18th century, the town was destroyed by an earthquake. It was later rebuilt by Moulay Ismael, the grandson of the second ruler of the Moroccan Alaouite dynasty. In 1907, the French took control of Casablanca; they remained in control until 1956 when Morocco gained independence. (more…)

Exploring Morocco’s Souks

Morocco soukWhy bother with shopping at a mall when you can wander the stalls of Marrakech or Fez (You can view our Fez travel guide like a local? Souks—the outdoor bazaars found in Morocco’s cities that are packed with spices, rugs, clothing, handmade soaps and other goods—do not allow vehicle traffic, so the only distractions are other people and the occasional donkey. These stalls display their wares from the ground up just as they did in ancient times.

If you know what you want to purchase you can do so right away or you can just walk through the souk until you get a feel for the way business is performed. Large souks can be very confusing and people have gotten turned around so it may be a good idea to hire a local guide to escort you. The smaller souks are more easily navigated; this may be a good place for people new to the environment to begin. (more…)