Just back from a trip to Morocco, Mark shares his insights on kicking back like a local, from horse riding on the beach to heart-stopping quad bike adventures and the best mint tea in town.
Where did you visit on your Morocco trip?
The main purpose of the trip was to check out the horse riding in Essaouira for next year’s Morocco Beach Horse Ride challenge with the British Horse Society. You have to meet the stable owners and step in the horse poo to truly get a feel for the ride!
So you were based in Essaouira?
Yes, I stayed at the Jimi Hendrix Hotel. It’s very unassuming with bucket loads of character and a stunning view across the sand dunes to the beach. It’s not licensed and there’s no English spoken.
You went horse riding in Essaouira?
I wanted to recce the whole ride and as a result I’ve changed the itinerary around so that you start from Tamri and ride back to the stables, just outside Essaouira. The southern end of the trail goes across low cliffs which are quite narrow and rocky, so the pace is slow; giving an excellent opportunity to get to know your new horse. By day six and seven of the challenge the riders will really know their horses – and the horses have the scent of home in their nostrils – and the trail is across extended sections of open beach – ideal to test all the gears!
What else is there to do around Essaouira?
In complete contrast to the horse riding, I went quad biking in the sand dunes. At one point I found myself going down the dunes at a 45 degree angle with 100ft drop ahead. That was pretty hairy!
What local dish would you recommend?
I’d opt for the vegetable tagine. Anyone can make a good chicken or lamb version of this popular Moroccan dish but it takes a little more skill to get the flavour in the veggie tagine. The camp chef on the beach ride is amazing. He is a wrinkly, wizened old man who produces the most fantastic food.
I would also take the time to visit the small stone houses that are scattered amongst the beach hamlets and which are in fact tiny restaurants run by the fisherman co-operatives and their wives. The further south you head, the more remote the coastline becomes and there is a big French expat community. Step into one of these restaurants and there’s no menu, only what was caught that morning but the food is delicious and the mint tea is out of this world.
The whole ceremony of making the tea is a mesmerizing ritual of pouring and recanting, in and out of the tea pot, so the brew aerates correctly.
Yes, we know how much you like your tea! Any other Morocco top tips?
I’m planning an art tour to Morocco so had one eye out for a suitable coastal base for this trip. Essaouira lends itself beautifully for painting.
The chap who owns the stables, Omar, took me to a villa that was previously the home of an olive farmer and merchant and has been converted in to a lovely riad with beautiful gardens. This would make an ideal base for groups.
I’m on the search for the perfect base in Marrakech and will be heading out in to the Sahara desert to find a venue when I go back in September to lead the Mt Toubkal trek.