In The Lap Of Serenity And Charm
IN THE LAP OF SERENITY AND CHARMBy Aatika H Jain
Unsullied! Slay the masters, slay the soldiers, slay every man who holds a whip, but harms no child. Strike the chains off of every slave you see!” Daenerys Targaryen commands the Unsullied to free all the slaves of Astapor on Slaver’s Bay in the immensely liked TV series, Games of Thrones. The adrenaline-pumping coming-of-age of Daenerys unfolds in the enchanting Atlantic coast city of Morocco—Essaouira, the ‘Wind City of Africa’. Essaouira, in reality, is one of the most serene cities in the country.
The North African nation, Morocco, has a coastline on both the North Atlantic Ocean and the Mediterranean Sea. The country boasts of rich, colorful diversity complete with impressive mountain ranges, charming ancient medinas (walled cities) protected by kasbahs (watchtowers), vast deserts and warm, welcoming people which has resulted in an increasingly booming tourism sector. Marrakesh, Essaouira and the High Atlas are some of the most visited tourist spots in the country; however; there still are many less-explored destinations where you can escape to for some authentic Berber cultural experience and peace.
Nestled in the lush Sous Valley in the south of the country, the trading center is commonly known as Little Marrakesh. Surrounded by beautiful red-mud walls and the snow-covered High Atlas and Anti Atlas peaks in the background, the town has a delightful laidback air about it. It was the capital of the Saadi dynasty for a short while, five centuries ago, before the capital was shifted to the Red City, Marrakesh.
The medina is perfect for leisurely explorations, for soaking up the Maghrebi culture. Linger at the unhurried souqs (marketplace), ride the caleche, a horsedrawn carriage, or check out the ancient kasbahs. The two Sunday souqs, Souq Berbère and Souq Arabe, are worth a visit. Souq Arabe is where you can browse for the lovely local handicrafts like colorful terracotta pots, ceramics, leather products, and handmade baskets. Enjoy a mint tea at the Hotel Palais Salam, an old palace-turned-hotel, and take a turn around the tiled parlors and Moorish lawns.
Travel to the north of the town to the house of the famous late Chilean hyperrealist artist, Claudio Bravo Camus: Palais Musee Claudio Bravo. Around 30km southeast of Taroudant is the lush Tioute Oasis with the remains of a magnificent kasbah overlooking it. The locals here still use the ancient irrigation systems to grow date palms, bitter orange, alfalfa, figs, mint, and Berber fig.
Tafraoute in the Anti Atlas
The area around isolated Tafraoute is the Berber’s heartland in Morocco, where you will find the old tribes and traditions. Travel some 250km from Agadir through twisting lanes and dirt trails to arrive at a group of slim minarets and short pink houses. It appears as if a djinn has conjured up the scene right out of the leaves of One Thousand and One Nights. Enclosed by red granite mountains, located in the stunning Ameln Valley, this difficult-to-get-to small town is one of the most peaceful places in the country and a wonderful base to explore the Anti-Atlas area.
Charming little restaurants, breathtaking idyllic landscapes for outdoor activities and the scarcity of tourists make this secluded oasis the perfect getaway for anyone looking for a relaxing break. Wander around the Ameln Valley; visit the Agadir’s (granaries on hilltops) in the lovely Berber villages of Oumesnat and Emintizket. If you want an authentic hammam experience, check out the Old Hammam located behind the market on sultry noon. You can cycle, hike and trek too. Browse the Wednesday market for some pretty woodwork, silver jewelry, and leather footwear at great prices. The best of the gems hidden in the town’s back lanes is Chez Sabir, the ancestral house of Abdel-Latif Bakrim, a culinary expert. A meal at the place will leave your gastronomic urges deeply satisfied. What more could one wish for?
The tiny village of Mirleft has been frequented by the hippies since the 70s and has been popular amongst artists, musicians, and backpackers for ages. Mirleft yawns at the point where the mountains dip their feet in the Atlantic Ocean. Pristine deserted beaches, fascinating guesthouses, charming little cafes, and fantastic surfing spots will make you yearn to spend a few more days here than intended. Quad biking, paragliding, surfing, horse riding, and trekking will keep the adventure enthusiasts more than happy.
The Moroccan cuisine has influences of myriad cultures such as Berber, Arabic, Mediterranean, and Andalusian, with a little of Saharan and European influence too. Even the simplest of dishes taste great with the infusion of vibrantly colored aromatic spices and exotic ingredients. Berbers contributed the grilling and slow cooking over coals while Arabs brought lambs, dates, and sweets and the Jews added pickled lemons and olives. A common Moroccan dish is a couscous served with meat and vegetables. The meat (lamb, beef or chicken) is cooked with several vegetables and arranged on a mouthwatering pile of soft, steamed couscous. Then there is the famed slow-cooked Moroccan stew called tagine, cooked in the eponymous ceramic pot with a conical top, making the meat and vegetables tender and juicy.
Traditionally, it is eaten directly from the pot with khobz, Moroccan bread. You may have never tasted a mint tea but you can’t possibly go to Morocco and not taste the lip-smacking sweet tea. The green tea base with loads of mint leaves and sugar just might leave you addicted. The coastal position of the country means lots of fresh catch. More than 62 percent of the catch consists of sardines and prawns; anchovies and mackerel also form a part of it. Moroccans love their sweets, and their sugary delicious cakes are the evidence. The date truffles are a delectable mix of dates, nuts, and cocoa powder. Sugared Peanuts are easily available on roadside stalls for those sudden pangs of something sweet. B’stilla is a pigeon pie made with almonds, eggs, and paper-thin pastry. From the early morning call to prayer from the muezzin to the beat of the local hip hop, this vibrant country with its varied landscapes, strong traditions, and warm people will reveal to you a multitude of faces and colors, if you open your heart to the experience.
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