A family adventure in Morocco

By on May 11, 2015
I couldn’t have been more excited about visiting Morocco than if I’d chartered my own flying carpet with room for the whole family. Fantasies aside, high expectations can be a dangerous thing (especially with the family in tow)… but not in Morocco. Much more than just a country, it is an experience of awakening senses, of seamless time and of natural and artistic beauty.

At the risk of stating the obvious: it’s a long way to North Africa from Japan! At least one night’s recovery in Casablanca is an essential ingredient to the family’s fun-filled Moroccan adventure.  Before you lay your weary head to sleep, have a real Arabian onsen experience. Take turns to mind the children and head to the nearest hamam. Slough off the dried skin and steam out the travel grime. You will leave feeling renewed and refreshed. Upscale hotels and riads in Morocco mostly offer these bathhouses and treatments at very reasonable prices (starting at about $25 USD). The more adventurous or budget-minded will find a hamam in almost every neighborhood. Ask the concierge. Men and women’s facilities are separated, but think conservative. Unless you see Moroccans “shaking their naked booty,” preserve your modesty with a bathing suit or well-placed towel.

More than in any other city of Morocco, you will experience marriages of contrast. Age-old traditions hold hands with innovation and French chic cozies up to Arabic opulence. It’s the country’s economic hub–but don’t let that put you off! Allow at least one day seeing the sights.

Walk off remaining jet lag with an early morning stroll. Huge palm trees line the avenues leading to terraced cafes. Sit with the local families enjoying delicious mint tea or good strong French coffee. A time-warped Art Noveau neighborhood surrounds the park.

casablanca_mosque_hassan2_029AM, 10AM, 11AM, 2PM
Take a guided tour around this spectacular Mosque (except Fridays). Marvel at the Moroccan artisans tile work, marbles from Agadir, and carved, painted cedar ceilings. It is the second largest religious construction in the world after the mosque in Mecca. Even the children will be awed.

Shopping Moroccan style, the “Habous” is unbeatable. Of all the Medinas I subsequently shopped in, it was the most hassle-free and easily explored with children, atmospheric, and full of treasures. Prices here are reasonable and there is a wonderful copper and brass souk.

les huitres oualidiaExperience instant low-emission good karma by taking a road trip. Detour down the south coast to be richly rewarded by spectacular coastline views, interrupted only by 15th century-fortified towns. Hit Oualidia by lunchtime. Gorge on sweet juicy and esteemed Oualidia oysters at L’Hippocampe restaurant and hotel. There are plenty for the kids too. Stay the night. Make a leisure walk by the Oualidia Beach.

Only a four-hour drive to Marrakech, there is enough time in the morning to burn abundant young energy on the beach. On the road, a rapidly changing landscape unfolds. The Atlantic-Coastal desert is an ancient seabed–jagged, rocky. The desert gives way to pockets of farm-green that surrenders to red-earthed mining towns. Lime-washed mausoleums with doors of pink and turquoise blue dot the land. Stop at the markets you see on the way! It is a child’s discovery heaven. Meet the Berber tribes, the original inhabitants of Morocco whose dialect is undecipherable even for most locals. There is a fête atmosphere among the donkeys, vegetables and exotic spice–it is the only opportunity people have in remote areas to catch up. Buy some dates, raw almonds, dried figs, and glorious sweet oranges. Snack your way to Marrakech!

Marrakech is pink and has more roses than a honeymoon suite! Rose gardens, fountains, and dreams.  Cradled in the Atlas Mountains, the city itself is conveniently flat. The best way to see everything (even with a pram), is to use the “hop-on, hop-off” bus. Tickets are valid for 24 hours and can be purchased from the helpful driver. Easy.

Here you will find objects of all description, and some that defy it. Carpets, pickled lemons, hand-made leather poufs, ceramics, jewelry, sterling silver, and etc. are virtually everywhere . DHL to the rescue if you over shop. The souks of Marrakech are well paved and flat for young feet and prams. If you allow the “volunteer guides” to show you around, set your price in advance!

PLACE JEMAA EL FNA (NEXT TO THE SOUKS) is a gigantic square swirling with age-old entertainment. Magicians, storytellers, dancers and snake charmers hold a bustling stage. Sunset is when the fun begins. Sit in a café–mint tea for you and a pastry for the kids. Observe.

Jardin Marjorelle

Jardin Marjorelle

A Moorish Villa built in 1923 by Jacques Majorelle which later was skillfully and lovingly restored by Yves Saint-Laurent, the Majorelle garden features a breathtaking garden.

Berber tribesmen will take you for a camel ride among the olive and fruit trees which could be both scary and fun.

A huge palm grove that, according to legend, grew from date seeds soldiers spat out in the 11th century. For a round of golf, check out the fabulous Palmeraie Golf Palace.

The Atlas mountain drive is a dramatic symphony of fertile lowlands, deeply gorged valleys and cultivated plots. Ever upward, red and ocher Berber villages cling to red and ocher crags. The Tribes people are tastefully chosen jewels accessorizing the land. Crystal vendors line the road- exquisite pieces for bargain prices if you want to carry a little mountain energy back home. Stay in Teloet or Ouazazate.

RABAT, the capital city
mausoleemohamed5Visit the gorgeous Mausoleum of Mohammad V where the previous King’s tomb was laid. Its detailed architecture and design inside and out is one of the finest in North Africa. It sits high overlooking the capital city’s splendid views. Taking pictures with the friendly royal guards is allowed.

Let the kids have a wild encounter with 1,000 African wild Saharan animals from 130 species not normally seen in Japanese zoos such as atlas lions, barbary sheep, antelopes and bald ibis at the Zoological Garden of Rabat (Jardin Zoologique de Rabat) including beautiful rows of mediterranean flowers.

Have brunch with the kids at Le Dhow, a floating restaurant that looks like an old sailing vessel. A bit pricey but great view.

dinarjat-dinner-rabat-01-30-11-4One of the highlights of our trip was gastronomy and the best traditional Moroccan restaurant that stood out among all others we visited was Restaurant Le Dinarjat in Rabat facing the Kasbah. The tagine, couscous   mouton, mediterranean salads were all authentic and superb. We even had live Andalusian music.

Couscous at Le Dinarjat

Couscous at Le Dinarjat

There was a day we all craved for Sushi and it was a surprise to find a good one at Fujiyama, the only Japanese restaurant in town run by the former chef of Japan’s Ambassador to Morocco. Morocco by the way is one of the biggest exporters of octopus to Japan.

A few US chain restaurants are also in Rabat such as Pizza Hut, McDonald’s and Starbucks.


Hotel Meridien, Marrakech

Hotel Meridien, Marrakech

Hotel pool

By the pool

A day before we leave Morocco was spent for last minute shopping and hanging out by the pool gazing at the clear mediterranean blue sky.

Casablanca airport is “rural.” Porters are at the same time irritating and indispensable, so save a few Dirham for them. Duty Free is mostly Euro only. The food outlets serve ordinary baguettes with extraordinary queues.

Morocco is a feast that leaves you full yet famished for more. There are many exotic treats that remain to be tasted and we are hungry for every single one.


CHILDREN: Take them. It’s
 a child-friendly, safe country.

BREASTFEEDING: Acceptable in public but using a nursing cover is suggested.

SHOPPING: Always bargain with a smile.

PHOTOGRAPHY: Ask. Do give a few Dirham if they agree.

PUBLIC TOILETS: Most toilets are the squat type and are manned by attendants. Give a Dirham each time you use one and get a few sheets of toilet paper.

Map of Morocco

Map of Morocco

GETTING AROUND: Domestic flights on Royal Air Maroc link all the major cities. For car hire, see www.avis.com or www.hertz.com. We used a driver for all our journeys around Marrakech, the wonderful and indispensable Said. Email: ramoun@myself.com. The “petit taxis” are cheap, safe, metered and everywhere.

LANGUAGE: Arabic, French, English in tourist spots.

Hammam: Turkish Bathhouse.
Riad: A traditional home/hotel with garden courtyard.
Souk: Market arranged by types of goods and services.
Tajine: Moroccan ceramic dish.
Medina: Walled town

CURRENCY: Dirham like the Euro minus a zero. There aren’t many places where you can change money so it’s better to take US dollars or EURO with you before you leave for Narita airport. You can do so at many
World Currency Shop branches in Tokyo. http://www.tokyo-card.co.jp/exchange/
Directory of websites on Morocco:
For Riads:


About Debbie Oakes