Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Club Med Fam to Marrakech, La Palmeraie, Morroco Jan 25 to 30, 2014

Royal Air Maroc flew us from JFK to Casablanca, and although weather delayed our departure, the crew made up a lot of time and we arrived only a few minutes behind schedule.  Check-in at JFK was quick and efficient, the food was very good, and the in-flight service attentive and friendly, but it was disappointing that there was no inflight entertainment and no TV screens. 

The return flight out of Marrakech connecting with our international flight from Casablanca, was a higher quality experience.  When we arrived at Marrakech Airport, we were met by Ahmed Nait from Travel Link, who whisked us through check-in and security, and took us directly to the Royal Air Maroc lounge where we were offered delicious espresso and cookies.  This is called Fast Track which is offered at an extra cost by Travel Link, and is a service I would highly recommend!  This time the plane was up-to-date and offered in-seat screens, Wi-Fi, and charging ports for electronics.

Travel Link

Upon arrival in Casablanca we were met by Mohammed, our wonderful guide from Travel Link who would be with us for the next few days.   Mohammed and his colleagues did a terrific job in showing us what Marrakech has to offer, and his friendly but professional demeanor and excellent English, really helped broadened our understanding.   

Club Med La Palmeraie is an all-inclusive resort set in Marrakech’s oldest palm grove.  The grounds are spectacular with lush landscaping, fountains, pools, water features, and colorful tropical plantings.  Orange, lemon and olive trees, along with palms and tropical foliage can be found throughout the property.

 The 4 Trident Main Village boasts 300 rooms located in low rise buildings, which reflect the local adobe-style architecture.  The Riad is a separate building, and is a 5 Trident hotel within the property. Unfortunately it was fully booked so we were not able to see the rooms, but the public areas were quiet and luxurious with a country club feel.  There are private seating areas off the main corridor for reading, sitting by the fire, or quiet conversation while outside, the pool and patio area was lovely.  Guests can have breakfast and lunch, and enjoy personalized services here.

In the main village area the rooms are a good size, and have a balcony or patio area.  The bathroom was spacious with a large, walk-in tiled shower, single sink and a separate toilet.  The d├ęcor was Moroccan-themed with tiled floors, dark wood and some nice art pieces.  Although tasteful and spacious, the rooms could use a little freshening up. 

The food in all the restaurants was really good, and the buffet spreads were quite impressive.  There was a selection of cereals, hot items, yoghurt and sliced fruits, as well as made-to-order stations for eggs, meats and pancakes, a wide variety of local delicacies, and a wonderful selection of freshly baked breads to slice and toast as you wish.  The French baguettes and the white chocolate bread in particular were to die for!  The lunch and dinner buffets also catered to all tastes and included local items for the foodies, as well as “comfort food” like pizza and burgers for those less adventurous. 

The bar was a favorite place to relax after a full day’s excursion, or after a satisfying dinner, and there was nightly entertainment here and in the adjacent ballroom.  Amongst other entertainment events, there was a fashion show, local musicians playing, a band, a snake charmer, a Michael Jackson look-alike, and an 80’s themed evening. Every night there was dancing after the show….lots to keep everyone happy and entertained. 
Club Med La Palmeraie has a lot to offer in the way of activities, which includes a mountain bike ride or quad biking in the desert, Zumba and aerobics classes, archery, tennis, basketball, horseback riding, camel riding, bocce, table tennis, and for some adventurous souls even the trapeze.

Wi-Fi was not available in the rooms and although available in the Lobby and bar areas, service was sporadic for most of our stay, which was inconvenient at best. 

The Riad is a quiet oasis of luxury and privacy, while still offering the benefits of the main Village.  It could be a viable option for Americans traveling to Africa, perhaps pre/post safari or in conjunction with a visit to Tunisia, Spain or Turkey, while more budget-conscious clients might enjoy the main Village. Managing expectations and stressing the value of what is included, are key elements in selling this property to the American market.

Excursions by Travel Link

Our first excursion was to Djemma-El-Fna square which is a UNESCO Heritage site, and the main focal point of Marrakech.  The square is alive with restaurant stalls and vendors selling an endless variety of food.  There are entertainers of all sorts from belly dancers, musicians and fortune tellers, to snake charmers, medicine men and story tellers.  Mohammed had advised us to carry small change to give to the performers and for allowing us to take photographs with them, which was very helpful.  As the sun went down and the lights started to come on, the square took on new life as families arrived to dine together and chat with their friends. 

The following day we went on a walking tour of the Medina or walled city, where we saw vendors transporting their produce on bikes, donkeys, mules, scooters, in carts and on their heads.  The old town is located within the historic adobe walls, while the new town is a separate area with its districts of Gueliz and l’Hivernage.  In the old city we saw fruit, vegetables, meats, fish, and local arts and crafts being sold in stalls or just on the sidewalk.  We stopped to admire the 12th century Koutoubia minaret which dominates the skyline of Marrakech and can be seen from almost every approach to the city.

Next we visited the Saadian Tombs housing the remains of royals from the 14th to 16th centuries.  It is adorned with columns of Italian marble, with finely carved cedar and stucco work.  The necropolis was hidden from view and forgotten for 200 years until re-discovered by accident.  We then explored the medieval Medersa Ben Youssef which once was a Koranic university.  The mosaic tilework, marble and ornate carved woodwork showcased the amazing craftsmanship. 

Back on the bus, we drove along “hotel row” where several well-known properties are located, en route to the Menera and Aquedal Gardens.  The Menera pavilion was built in the 14th century, and its image is reflected in a large artificial lake filled with fish. The lake serves as a reservoir for the surrounding olive groves, which are irrigated by a 700 year old hydraulic system that harnesses water from the mountains and brings it to the lake through pipes.  It is a place for relaxation and quiet meditation, and a popular place for families to picnic at the weekends.

The Souks are a labyrinth of narrow passageways and alleyways grouped into sections.  There were areas for leather goods, lanterns, ceramics, rugs, art, silverware and jewelry, fabrics, spices, dried fruits, meats, vegetables, and just about everything you could imagine.  Mohammed was wonderful at helping us negotiate a good price for our purchases.  The richness of the craftsmanship, diversity and lively atmosphere of the Souks is positively addictive.

We visited a pharmacy called Herboriste du Paradis where the owner let us smell some of the spices, herbal remedies and oils he produced.  The jars of dyes, sacks of spices, oils, creams and infusions were a riot of color and scent. 

On our last full day, we set off to explore the High Atlas Mountains.  We stopped along the way to take photos of the flat, palm-tree dotted plain with a backdrop of snow-capped mountains.  Quite an unusual sight for sure.  We saw Berber villages built of sandstone and clinging to the slopes.  The Berbers are the original indigenous inhabitants of Morocco and still account for 60% of the population.  To preserve their language, it is now being taught in schools along with Arabic, French and English.  As we wound our way up narrowing mountain roads ignoring the sheer drop as we climb, the rain started in earnest. 

Because of the weather, the original plan to hike in the mountains was shelved, and instead we made a stop at Richard Branson’s hotel, Kasbah Tamadot.  Maria el Balghiti was a gracious host and kindly gave us a tour of the property, followed by a sumptuous lunch.  This small, boutique hotel would be a fabulous venue for a destination wedding!   

We stopped at a Berber family home to enjoy some tea and local hospitality.  We were shown around the home, which included a barn for storing animal feed, and a cow and calf were housed on the ground floor.  Upstairs there was a small kitchen with gas burners, a bedroom, a sitting room open to the elements with a spectacular view of the mountains, and a small room where we gathered to watch the matriarch make tea for us.  It is a complicated procedure involving lemon verbena, sage, mint and green tea.  The tea was sweet and delicious, and we enjoyed it along with some homemade cookies. 
With many thanks to Royal Air Maroc, Club Med and Travel Link, this was a fabulous opportunity to experience a fascinating and ancient culture first hand.  I have tons of photos which would make this dissertation even more lengthy, so just let me know if you are interested and I would be happy to send you some.

Nikki Perkins, CTA
Travel Advisor, Edgewood Division
Travel Exchange Ltd - A Virtuoso Agency
67 Holly Hill Lane, Greenwich, CT 06830
T# (203) 661-7233   C# (203) 912-4641

"All of life is a journey.  Which paths we take, what we look back on, and what we look forward to is up to us."   ~Confucious~

Referrals and adventurous spirits welcome!