We had an absolute bargain, £152 for 3 nights B&B, flights from Bristol and airport transfer all through Easyjet.
Our transfer driver was waiting with my name outside the arrival gate, he drove us in a roadworthy jeep through the crazy scootered city. He had to pull up outside a cornered herbal spice shop, as you can’t fit a car down the narrow alleyways of the Kasbah, but what you can fit is donkeys & carts, numerous scooters, musicians, beggars, Zouks/Shops and kids out actually playing worthwhile games in this day and age! He walked us to the Riad.
Cut a long story short after a half hour drive from the airport, we got there to be greeted by Mr Mohammed’s photogenic smile. We chose the Riad El Farah for it’s amazing location within the 800 year old Ochre City/Kasbah… It’s so full on real with it’s romanticism and escapism amongst total madness outside.
Another factor for choosing this place was the good reviews and the nice friendly/helpful character, previously mentioned known as Mohammed the delightful owner (Who is now a friend called Momo) On our 1pm arrival Momo greeted us with fresh mint tea, fried fish salad and an informative tour of his little gem of a Riad!
The first sight of the picturesque courtyard took our breath away, the fountain, authentic Moroccan tiling, soft furnishings and artwork absolutely sublime. What shocked us more was the peaceful ambience inside these aged red walls; so soothing, it was even the children’s school holidays this week! The coolness from the beating sun was refreshing after a long journey as it was well into it’s 70’s; this was bloody January man! The simple adequate room with it’s sweet little bathroom, nice firm mattress and well socketed walls met our needs/expectations perfectly. There’s also a beautiful roof garden with a sheltered soft seating area, again the ceiling is colorful weaved moroccan plasterwork, also two comfortable towelled sunbeds to lap up the rays. If you want to smoke I suggest you come up here as the rooms are understandably non-smoking. It has a lovely view of the Bahia Palace rooftops, where these great storks nest and fly eloquently over you. Come up here to watch a champagne supernova and almost touch the stars in the cosmic evenings….
The showers take 3 minutes to get warm, which Mo explains in your initial tour guide. He’s very ecologically friendly man and warms the water tank up from solar panels that are on the roof terrace. We respected that he values the environment and has to keep costs down to a minimum which helps to make staying here such value for money. This holiday was now turning into a steal! Momo introduced us to an immediately friendly feeling lady called Fatima, whose smile is infectious, she’s Mo’s industrious little helper; chalet maid, cleaner and chef all rolled into one!
Mo will offer you a tour so you can get your bearings in and out of the metropolitical Kasbah. He will show the two Aerial masts, which you can use for landmarks. We chose to find our own way as I’ve never got lost before in any cities which include, Delhi, Mumbai, Moscow, Paris, Madrid and Rome. My magnetic compass memory would suffice, so I thought! My wife Allyson laughing at my ego! Well on our final day, I got cocky; we decided to just go for a walk into the centre of the Kasbah and Medina, my confidence was high! Four hours later and a few Dirhams lighter, we eventually found our bearings to get back on track!
Luckily enough we got taken to The Tazir Hotel, which thankfully is the only bar in the old town that sells beer ;-) at a cost of 35 Dirhams for a small bottle of Heineken, but who cares? After the ordeal of me getting us well and truly lost on a road to nowhere the beer was worth the price! Mo sells wine back at the Riad, which for about £10 per bottle is reasonable, rather than the stress of bartering in the Zouks. Alcohol is banned in the Old Town due to respect for the Arab religion.
There’s Wifi in the Riad, which is about 2 Euros per day, we are not ones to share our every move into the whole world of social media, so we can’t give info on Wi-Fi reception. Mo allowed me to use his laptop to do some important business free of charge. Mo showed us the trips that were available, he does offer you a full itinerary that he can arranged at a competitive rate. There’s no pressure, your choice. We were very fortunate as we were the only people booked into the Riad for the next few days. Mo could offer us us a VIP trip up to the Atlas Mountains Ourika Valley! It took an hour and half to get there in the comfort of his new Duster Dacia jeep, Mo gave us all the history and info on the way in his communicable broken English mixed with French. He will apologise profusely about his poor English, but he put us to shame, he’s really quite good! He never failed to answer our many questions and we now wish we asked him more questions. Mo is a genuine wise man, respect him and he can make your time memorable, he has a lot of connections in the Ourika Valley and the Kasbah if you get our drift… He took us to a Berber mill and we had a tour of how they mill grain for bread by the power of the river, greeted once again with aromatic mint tea and fresh milled bread. There is a shop if you with wish to support their education and existence by buying something, if not show respect and just give them 10 dirhams for their time. (Less than £1 as the exchange rate was 13.8 Dirhams to the £1) The drive up the valley is majestic, the vistas breathtaking! If you want to stop for pictures just feel free and ask Mo, he will gladly pullover. At about 11am we reached the end of the road, there was a small town with Zouks and many tagine restaurants, there was hundreds of seats spread along the river below and the opposing side. Not just chairs, but cushioned settees and single armchairs. Mo said that on weekends all these would be full.of Marrakech locals escaping for the sophoric air of the mountains. Mo took us on a 30 minute undulating trek up a creek to a Waterfall, due to not having much rain or snow the flow was reduced, but still it was a lovely little hike, Mo stayed a little bit below the falls and allowed us the alone time that was needed in such a special location. The walk down was a little easier and Mo diverted to make a short cut and cross a wobbly bridge made out of blanks of pallet wood… We jumped up and down to make it creak, this freaked my wife out, lol.
Once on the otherside, Mo called lunch, he asked if we wanted to find our own restaurant or invited us to eat with him? We both decided to accept his offer and so glad we did as we had the most amazing 3 person Special Tagine, full of tender lamb, carrots, olives, aubergine, potato, onion and courgettes, all cooked in 35 spices. Accompanied by a fresh crisp salad and luscious berber bread, out table was armchairs with the river Ourika lapping at our feet! Berber musicians serenaded us with whirlish dervish singing and haunting sounds! Such a perfect day, the meal worked out about £7.50 per person. Excellent value for money with added everlasting memories.
The trip back down the valley to Marrakech was equally as smooth and scenic, we stopped off at a herb/aromatherapeutic garden, where we had a tour and was told the health benefits of all the plants. They have a shop and offer you miracle creams, herbal viagra and the renowned Argan oil. Their prices are very inflated compared to the herb shops of Marrakech, so be careful not to be taken in and fleeced. We didn’t buy a thing and just left a 10 Dirham tip for the tour.
When we got back to the Riad, Mo invited us for a free/gratis evening dinner, but we was so tired from the Atlas mountain air, we declined and agreed to have it the next day. My wife hit the sack whilst I had a walk to the The Jemaa el-Fnaa, which is one of the best-known squares in Africa and is the centre of city activity and trade. At sun down it turns into a huge multi stall restaurant, market and street theatre with snake charmers, henna tattooists and shady looking arabs who will throw a monkey on your back and demand money if you’re not vigilant. Beware of pickpockets as its very dark in places. If you choose to eat, make sure it’s busy with the locals and not just tourists, this will insure it’s of decent quality and safe. We ate the snails for two nights running and used stall Number 5 on both occasions as the cooking sauce was nice and peppery. Tried quite a few Orange Juice sellers, the best we found was Stall 40, well worth the 4 Dirhams a glass, so refreshing. I recommend trying the Blood Orange too, you can feel the goodness as you drink it.
Bartering is a way of life, whether you love it or loathe it, you can’t get away from it in Morocco. Many reviews suggest offering a quarter and settle for half; when I have done it this way I always felt a bit ripped off! I do it different as I spent some time in India. Offer a quarter of the asking price with a smile on your face and settle for a third of the price, many will refuse, so just walk away; they will either follow you and come to some agreement, or remember you the next time you walk passed. The nearest shop to the Riad El Farah, is run by a friendly Berber lady also called Fatima, she’s really lovely. I had my eye on one of her Berber hats and my wife on a real leather handbag. We knew they were quoting the bag at 700 Dirhams at the leather/tannery market. Fatima gave us the initial price on our first day of 400D. My wife is useless at bartering, so I went in with an offer of 100D, each day we walked past Fatima slowly brought the price down to 250D. On the final day I went out on my own to do some last minute shopping, went to Fatima’s, with a raised offer of 150D for the bag, she then came down to 200D, I smiled and picked up the Berber hat I had my eye on, threw it on top of the bag and said final offer 200D for the two; Fatima snapped my hand off, we both laughed and hugged each other. It was so much fun, so always barter with a smile on your face…
On our final evening Mo was cooking us evening dinner at 8pm, his helper had the day off and Mo was the chef, he had set the table in courtyard instead of the dining/breakfast room, all the candles were lit and the stars shined bright in the cloudless dark sky, it was such a beautiful romantic setting with traditional music playing softly in the background.
We had a Salade El Farah for starters, mixture of tomatoes, fresh black & green olives, lemon juiced grated carrot and potato; washed down with zesty moroccan white wine. Mo requested we ate slower, as he wanted it to be a lasting memory, he was right, this was such a special evening!
We chatted nonchalantly away despite language barriers; about music, politics, religion and lifes ups and downs. Mo has an eclectic taste in music, very similar to our own, we soon had Bob Marley playing and due to the wine found ourselves dancing around the courtyard. Apparently Marley spent some time in Morocco, smoking the hash and gathering inspiration, also the Rolling Stones tuned in and dropped right out for a while too!
Another thing I should mention is Mohammed is a professional golf instructor and back in the day he won the Moroccan Open! Golf is his religion and he organises trips for keen golfers who come from all over Europe. So if you’re into golf, this is an added bonus. He has contracts with Easyjet, British Airways and Hotels.com for the Riad El Farah. How he keeps his prices so low is a miracle!
Next up on the menu was the Creme de la Creme, the famous 35 Spiced Meatball Tagine El Farah! We can honestly say that these were the best meatballs ever tasted, even blew Sweden’s out of the window. They are simply magnifique! Washed down with a bottle of Red Moroccan Cabernet Sauvignon! The clementines we had for dessert, were fresh off the tree, juiciest ever! This evening will live long in our memories as one of the best holiday experiences ever.
Mohammed had earlier arranged our transfer pick up with ease and he was escorting us to the pick up point at 9am prompt the next morning. He even provided us with some coffee and light breakfast beforehand. We said our sad farewells, then Mo gave us a little present each as we got into the car… What a guy!
All in all, this was the best value short-break holiday we had ever had, we highly recommend the Riad El Farah and the unbelievable hospitality Mohammed offers. The Riad El Farah is a hidden gem and Momo you are an absolute diamond geezer!
We’ve tried to cover everything, if you have any other questions feel free to ask, we would be glad to answer. If you like this review, hit the button…
Happy Holidaying Folks!
P.S All rooms are enclosed within the Kasbah walls and alleys, they are authentically simple, the cool darkness makes you feel snug and appreciative to the shades of light that enter the red/ochre domain. Our bathroom and basin were quaintly unique!