For our first trip to the Marrakech, also known as the Red City, we came up with an itinerary that included visiting ethical organizations, organic farms, and vegan eateries. There were museums we missed out on and palaces we bypassed, but for our intents and purposes, our trip was complete. Starting with a three and a half hour train ride down from Casablanca, we stopped for Lebanese food for dinner and checked into Riad Janat Salam. After a night’s rest, we were ready to get started on our journey.
After a very typical Moroccan breakfast of bread, orange juice, tea, and more bread, we caught a taxi to Amal Association for our cooking class. We spent a lovely morning cooking and a tasty afternoon eating, then took a long stroll to the Majorelle Gardens and the on-site Berber Museum.
The aesthetic landscaping and architectural hues were warm and welcoming. Seeing the Amazigh artifacts and textiles was an interesting glimpse into the cultural past of Morocco’s indigenous people. We walked the grounds several times and finally decided to exit. Still quite full from our lunch at Amal, we went to the nearby Kaowa café for smoothies and browsed their adjacent gallery boutique for creative souvenirs.
On this exciting morning, we hired a driver and 4×4 for a tour of Ourika Valley just outside of Marrakech. Our first stop was the Le Paradis du Safran, home and business to a Swiss expatriate. Impressively, in only a few years, her and her team transformed a largely barren plot of land into a productive saffron farm with a variety of flowering herbs and tropical fruits. Her little paradise is now an informative tourist attraction that teaches you everything you need to know about growing, identifying, and using high-quality saffron.
Following our saffron information session, we were taken for a tour of the farm and given small envelopes to store collected herb clippings. Then, we had a barefoot walking tour along different textured surfaces like smooth pebbles, date palm husks, and fine sand. The walk concludes with a foot wash in vessels of water filled with different herbs, a salt rub, and then a hot water rinse.
Leaving the saffron farm, our next stop was a Berber village in Seti Fatma where we toured a traditional home and flour mill. Housed in the compound was a cooperative marketplace where more than 30 families sell their handicrafts and wares directly to visitors. While there, we met a family of New Yorkers who were enjoying the first trip to Morocco, and we all laughed at the irony of crossing paths so far from home.
Our next stop was a women’s argan oil cooperative. After learning about how the Berber beauty secret is traditionally harvested, we were offered samples of argan oil and its products. My favorite of them was amlou, a paste made of roasted almonds, argan oil, and honey. We also tried a wide array of skin care products made from argan oil too.
Our next and final stop on the tour was Marrakesh Organics, an organic olive farm. In spite of hosting a Permaculture Design Course, the owner graciously accepted our visit and had a delicious vegan lunch prepared for us while telling us about his farm. This family farm had laid barren for some time and the current owner returned after study and travel abroad to revive his family’s farm and start an organic produce business. He shared his ambitious vision with us and invited us back in the future. After praying and thanking our hosts for their hospitality, we made a swift exit for our return to Marrakech.
Back in Marrakech, we needed to stop for dinner and settled on the infamous Earth Café—the only dedicated vegan and vegetarian eatery we know of. Some eateries in major cities are very veg-friendly but this is the only meat-free restaurant we’ve found and we had to give our support. Connected to an organic farm outside of the city, Earth Café’s simple menu has just a few options that heavily feature their veggie harvest. Urbndervish and I opted for the veggie burger which had more vegetables than plant protein as a base. Lil’ Z ordered the lentils and rice but again, the lentils were dwarfed by the rice and vegetables on her colorful plate. My cousin opted for a goat cheese and pumpkin wrap and a beet drink. The presentation and overall vibe of the place compensated for what the meal lacked.
We sat for a while and eventually rose to weave our way through the cacophony of snake charmers, hustlers, and street vendors in Djema al Fna square. We decided to turn in for the night and prepare for our last morning in Marrakech.
Before returning to Casablanca, we had two last agenda items: shopping and henna. Shopping was quick and easy without haggling and bargaining in the quiet morning hours. For henna, we came across the Henna Art Café and I was thoroughly confused. I had read about the Henna Café, a non-profit that funnels their revenue into development projects like free language and business classes for Moroccan women and youth. So, when I saw Henna Art Café, I thought they must be the same. A glance at their nearly parallel menu confirmed my suspicion but still I was wrong. We didn’t have time to find the Henna Café, so we stayed to have henna done and concluded that this newer business was not the original we had intended to support. Nonetheless, my cousin and Lil’ Z were beautifully adorned with henna and it was time to grab our bags and continue to the train station. For lunch, we visited the Lebanese restaurant once more and caught our train back to Casablanca.
With special thanks to Discover Hidden Morocco Tours
for helping us plan our Ourika Valley trip!