Morocco, between the beach and the largest medina in the world!
Finally Africa! A new continent, a debut for me!
The chosen destination was Saïdia, a small seaside resort in the north of Morocco, right next to the border with Algeria.
I cannot say that this trip was planned far in advance, quite the contrary, but it was a very desired destination. We definitely decided that we were going to go 2 days before departure. Perfectly on time!
The flight was with Air Horizont, it was smooth and fast (about an hour), from Beja to Oujda with the opportunity to visit the cockpit...
The fact that we left from Beja had the advantage of being able to see this region of Portugal in detail, the Strait of Gibraltar, and finally the African coast.
Saïdia doesn't have an airport, so we landed in Oujda, the biggest town in the area, which from the sky seems to have all the houses equal and with the same color. The first feeling I had was that being so close to Europe, everything is so different...
Saïdia is known as the Blue Pearl of Morocco and is located on the Mediterranean coast. It was conceived as a holiday destination by the King of Morocco a few years ago. It is close to the border with Algeria and about 60 km from the airport in the city of Oujda, where we land.
In this photo of the aerial view of Saïdia bay, we can see, on the right side, the town of Saïdia, and the border with Algeria, which is the parallel line. At the end on the left side, the beginning of the marina, and in the middle, the hotel zone, where the Hotel Be Live and the Hotel Iberostar are located.
Exterior view of the airport in Oujda.
After picking up our bags and filling out the paperwork, we begin the 40-minute journey to the Iberostar hotel by bus. Along the way, the details showed me that I was in a special land with rules and customs completely different from what I knew. Even the signs in Arabic fascinated me and didn't let me forget where I was. But what struck me right away was the amount of police I saw along the road.
I realized later that it was due to the fact that we were close to the border with Algeria and, on the other hand, we were in an area where the King of Morocco used to spend his holidays...
The heat is already squeezing and any shadow is good to sleep a bit...
Along the way, we see many fruit sellers, especially watermelons and palm figs.
Along the way, the road goes around the border with Algeria as we can see in this photo. On one side (left and in brown) the Moroccan lookout post, and on the other (in white) the Algerian post. Through the network that separates these two countries. They say this network continues all the way to the desert!
I can say that the Iberostar Saïdia was a pleasant surprise after hearing so many negative comments about this hotel. When choosing this destination, we cannot expect to find the all-inclusive as in the Caribbean. We will not find it! And it is necessary to have the notion that we are in Africa. Having an open mind and not giving importance to less positive details is the recipe for peacefully enjoying an unforgettable week.
The arrival was made to the sound of typical Moroccan music and we were offered cakes and tea...
The room is comfortable and clean. The detail of the headboard with tiles with a typical pattern is very well thought out. Although already showing some usage and asking for some maintenance, this room fits perfectly. We stayed in block 1 on the bottom floor.
Common areas in an Arabic country.
Of the three pools, the two in front of the lobby were always full of entertainment throughout the day. Always with great sympathy by the animators and lifeguards. The only difficulty is that most of them only speak Arabic... Neither French, nor English, nor Spanish... But this didn't bother me. Hugs to Hamza, Azouzzi and Hicham!
The beach is in fact the most positive point of this hotel. After all, if it were in the interior of Morocco, Saïdia would probably not be the "Blue Pearl" nor would it have the tourism it does.
With the mountains of Algeria as a backdrop, the beach is made of fine and dark sand but the water is warm, around 25ºC, maybe 26ºC...
Between the hotel and the beach, there is a road that connects Saïdia to the Marina and a walkway to access the beach.
The hotel also receives local tourists, the majority of whom belong to people with an average standard of living significantly higher than the average of the country and Moroccan emigrants. Everyone respects their Islamic customs and it is normal and frequent to see ladies dressed in burkinis next to tourists in bathing suits and bikinis. All this is very natural and in excellent coexistence.
On the hotel's beach, vendors are from morning until night, always nearby the tourists, waiting for someone to give them a signal. Here they sell football equipment, women's clothing, bracelets, floats, tobacco, lamps, kites, everything you need... Some are Berbers who come down from the Reef at this time of year to earn some more money. When the tourists leave, they also return to their mountain villages to pick olives, a very common activity in these areas.
Henna paintings, few tourists can resist! Tip, you have to negotiate well the price and it doesn't cost anything to offer a bottle of water to those who work in the sun all day. It's called 2-in-1 we do a good deed and we are well served!
Another activity that you can do on the beach is to take a ride on a dromedary (because camels have 2 humps). They are comfortable, have a good driving position, and are very quiet. Tip: hold on tight at the start and end to get off the animal!
Another activity you can do is walk along the sea to Saïdia. It's safe and very pleasant. Going to the right, you will pass by the Be Live hotel, a military lookout post, and the next thing you notice is that you are already in Saïdia with the locals who seem to move to the beach with suitcases and furniture...
The population of Saïdia is already used to tourists and therefore there is no problem for tourists to walk around in a bikini. The exception is some older and more radical Moroccans who sometimes don't accept our presence so well and that's why we feel that they curse as we pass by.
The food at the hotel, although very much based on traditional Moroccan food, such as lamb, chicken, turkey, and fish, still has paellas and does not excel in diversity. But it's more than enough to spend a week.
The hotel had a lot of Portuguese and Moroccans and at lunchtime, sometimes there was "rush hour" in the restaurants...
Very tasty fruit and vegetables are supplied certainly by local producers.
ÀAt night, the atmosphere and colors of the thousand and one nights are recreated through a very interesting game of lights. On the last night, there was even a theme party by the pool. The White Night.
Leaving the hotel and walking to the right, we ended up at the marina. Here you can shop for local handicrafts or have a meal.
Saïdia was founded by the Arabic people in the 16th century (around 1548), but it was Sultan Hassan I in the 19th century who gave it dynamism with the construction of the fortress in 1881. In 1934 it was still a French colony, but after Morocco's independence, it witnessed a boost and became a tourist destination.
I visited Saïdia several times, almost always by bus (40 cents or 4 dirhams), it's safe, fast, and cheap.
The town itself doesn't have much interest, but it's worth walking through its alleys and feeling the smells and relaxed atmosphere there...
The Mosque, a sacred place for Muslims, is one of the points of interest to visit.
In Saïdia there are 2 markets where we can find everything. It is worth visiting each of them as they are quite different.
Replicas are official! That's what I was assured! - LOL
Counterfeits and handicrafts are sold side by side but nobody cares. Cristiano Ronaldo shirts, belts, wallets, shoes, and slippers of all colors, lamps, bracelets, or spices emanate smells and sensations that awaken our senses with every step we take.
Traditional medicine products can also be found here.
Here we can still find many products with a lot of quality, namely products made of genuine leather.
At the stalls, sometimes people selling are minors but be careful, don't be fooled, they are experienced and therefore it cannot be facilitated. They are masters at negotiating. It is "mandatory" to always negotiate!
Next to the sea, a fence is born (the one that leads to the desert) that separates Algeria from Morocco. These two countries are in a tense environment and therefore the border is closed. They confided to me that sometimes when they get angry they throw stones from one side to the other! - LOL
On the beach, there is a "nobody's zone" that separates the two countries. From here we can see the Algerians on the beach enjoying the weather and the warm water.
Finally, after shopping, walking around the Saïdia road that goes along the beach at the end of the day is a very pleasant experience.
Fes is considered a World Heritage Site by UNESCO and visiting its medina was one of the objectives of our trip. Visiting the most authentic Arabic medina in the world is like stepping back hundreds of years in time.
Five (!) hours away, we leave at dawn by bus towards Fes. When the sun rose, it showed a fantastic landscape, where there are large olive groves that are interrupted by naked mountains without vegetation, like a lunar landscape.
Sometimes, here and there, you can see shepherds with their flocks and houses without roofs, with only the signal where you can see water tanks that are used by its inhabitants. On the way, it is also easy to guess that we are crossing an area of "deep" Morocco, where the rigor of the relief and climate shape the landscape and its inhabitants.
Medina exterior - New part
The royal palace of Fes is the official residence of Moroccan monarchs when they visit this city. It was built in 1864, on the site of an older palace from the 17th century. XIV. Inside it has a mosque and several buildings occupied by ministries, a madrassa, a small hippodrome, and a private golf field.
All the buildings are covered in green tiles, a material reserved in Morocco for Moroccan royalty and Muslim religious buildings.
Next to the Palace is the Jewish quarter, also very typical and interesting. Precious stones and metals are traded in this area, and there are numerous jewelry shops around here. Here I started to notice that most locals don't appreciate being photographed. You have to respect.
The view from the outside is impressive!
The Medina of Fes, a World Heritage Site since 1981, is part of the oldest and most Islamic area of the city. Founded in 789 A.C. by Mulaí Idrís, has the oldest university in the world among other buildings of great importance.
Fes is a city of great importance for Morocco and although it is no longer the current capital of this country, it remains one of the most important places on a cultural and spiritual level.
Fes is one of the four Imperial Cities, meaning that it is part of the Moroccan cities that were capitals of the ancient dynasties of the kingdom. Today Fes remains a true open-air museum.
Medina interior - the old part
If the exterior impresses, the interior manages to be even more interesting.
This is indeed a journey where the senses awaken and the adrenaline soars. It is impossible to remain insensitive to everything that surrounds us. Smells, colors, and sounds, in a disorderly rush, transport us to another era.
More than the words, here are the pictures...
In the tight alley the sellers, customers, residents, tourists, and products circulate. There are no cars here and so donkeys are used to move whatever is needed, and when we hear "Balak" we have to get out of front because they do not turn away ...
There are different markets according to the type of products, they are the so-called "souks".
During the years 817 - 818, there were two settlement waves in Fes: From Cordoba arrived 800 Andalusian families, expelled by the "Omeiah" and created the neighborhood of Andaluzes. After Tunisia, about 2,000 Kairouan families run away from the Abbasid's persecution and created the Quaraouiyine neighborhood.
One of the many mosques inside Medina...
This is where skins are treated and acquire the magnificent colors we enjoy so much and are later marketed in many places both inside and outside Morocco. Even the big brands are supplied here ...
This place is one of the best known in Fes and looks like a stone hive. This is where skin treatment is performed. Once the skin has been treated is placed in these color tanks and here is soaked for a few days.
The smell is very intense and so the visitors are advised to take small branches of mint to put on their nose and handle it.
In the end, it is perfectly possible to check the final products.
Madrassas are Islamic schools that teach the Muslim religion. In these places, there is always a water source in the central zone where, before praying, Muslims wash some parts of the body and a part of the structure is facing Mecca, indicating the place to which believers should turn to pray.
The architecture of these buildings impresses and is something that deserves to be calmly appreciated. There are very interesting details such as wood holds over for centuries outdoors without great damage.
The oldest university in the world!
The cultural and spiritual growth of Fes was so great that it was considered the "Athens of Africa"!
It's amazing how this place it grew so much and faced great development!
The founding of the Al Quaraouiyine University Mosque, in 857 contributed to the development of Fes and is the origin of the fact that artists, literate, and students from around the world move to the city.
At the end of the day, the return to Saïdia
After an excellent day, we spent in Fes, we returned to Saïdia again crossing mountains, rivers, and plains that now took other colors with the "afternoon" sun already wanting to leave the horizon.
The herds are a constant in the landscape, and here the pastor was also in "Dulce Fare Niente" mode - LOL
The return to Portugal
In the end, even the climate helped. We went towards Oujda with the sky threatening to rain so that we didn't feel sad on the departure...
That is a gas cylinder...
In Morocco, we see mosques everywhere. From Saidia to Fes, it is a permanent presence in the landscape.
Between Saidia and Oujda always with the mountains from behind.
On the way to the airport, it is often seeing gasoline sellers by the roadside.
No doubt, a special trip.
I hope I'll be back soon and get to know more about Morocco.