Wonders Along North Beach to Glass Beach


The hike itself is nothing special. It’s a nice easy tramp from North Beach Park to Glass Beach in Port Townsend. There’s no trail. You simply tread on sand, some of it rocky, along the shore flanked on one side by the Strait of Juan de Fuca, on the other by cliffs. What you do get are tide pools abundantly covered in seaweed (of the kind known in Japanese cooking as wakame), anemones, little crabs, limpets and barnacles, sightings of seabirds and otters, and on a clear day a magnificent view of Mount Baker and Mount Shuksan, two inactive volcanoes in the Cascade Mountain Range. I couldn’t ask for a better experience.

Mount Baker

Barnacles

Barnacles on rusty iron debris

Otters

Driftwood

 

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The Big Madrone, Fort Worden State Park


During a hike through Fort Worden State Park in Port Townsend, my wife and I came across the most breathtaking madrone we’ve ever seen, probably because it stands by itself in a grassy field just north of Alexander’s Castle and thus given the freedom to spread its wings.

As majestic as the Western red cedar and Douglas fir trees are in the Northwest, the Pacific madrone (arbutus menziesii) is more showy. It isn’t as common an evergreen, needing well-draining, rocky soil to flourish. The trunk can divide into several branches at the base, splaying outward from each other in curvilinear habit. When its thin orange-red bark peels as if molting, underneath is a lighter layer. I used to have one growing in my backyard. Now I regret having cut it down years ago.

The Big Madrone
GPS coordinates: 48.1356, -122.7646
Fort Worden State Park
Port Townsend, WA

Ferrying My Cares Away


In its northwest corner, Washington State is blessed with one of the world’s great ferry systems. Taking the sailing between Seattle and Bainbridge Island on a beautiful sunny day, I became lost in thought staring out at Puget Sound and was reminded again how fortunate I am to live here.

 

Of Obsidian, Lava Casts and Waterfalls: Newberry National Volcanic Monument


The lava sparkles. In a sea of black, rocks reflect light like mirrors. It’s eerie enough to walk through a lava field where the ground beneath seems scorched by a cataclysmic firestorm, inhospitable to life, meager vegetation struggling to stay alive.

A pine tree gets a rare foothold

Here in Newberry National Volcanic Monument in Oregon there also happens to be an enormous obsidian flow, one of the very few in the world that can be explored on foot. Obsidian shines because it is glass created by Mother Nature.

Welcome to eastern Oregon, a stark contrast to the greenness west of the Cascade Mountains. The landscape is strewn with volcanoes and volcanic fields thanks to the relentless creep of plate tectonics. When hot lava consists almost entirely of silicon dioxide (SiO2), cools fast enough and free of gas bubbles, obsidian is created. I never thought of pumice in this way, but it is likewise a volcanic glass, also high in SiO2, where explosive events trap gas bubbles before cooling. It isn’t shiny as a consequence. Ancient peoples treasured obsidian for making tools and weapons, particularly arrowheads.

Because of glass shards, there’s a sign on the trail that warns of taking Fido for a nature walk or your traipsing through with flip flops or sandals. The hazard reminds me of a time when I saw three or four young ladies from Japan trying to negotiate the steep, rocky trail to the top of Diamond Head crater—in high heels. I don’t believe they made it very far.

The flow area is about one square mile (2.6 km2). The easy loop trail is 0.6 mile (1 km). At the far end, there’s a good view of the Newberry Caldera, the large shield volcano that dominates the park after which it’s named.

Newberry Caldera

The higher I went, the more black glass I saw, some in spectacular piles, some still in layers.

The most astonishing fact was that the Big Obsidian Flow, which is what this attraction is called, was created only 1,300 years ago. That must’ve scared the living bejesus out of the local peoples who likely fled. Locals today would flock toward it, smart phones in hand.

Casts of Thousands

Halfway into the monument is an attraction called Lava Cast Forest. Imagine old growth trees suddenly inundated by lava flows. Instant incineration, you’d think. Not quite. Turns out that the steam from larger flaming trees caused slow-moving lava around them to cool down and harden. After the trees eventually rotted or burned away, molds were left behind. Vertically oriented hollows look like small man-made wells.

The longest horizontal mold is about 50 ft long. I might’ve found it if I walked far enough on the trail.

The ‘forest’ is at the end of a 9-mile gravel road that takes a bit of patience to drive and that’s guaranteed to cake your car in mucho dust.

Twist of Fate

Another curious sight in the lava fields are pines, some very ancient, whose trunks appear twisted, the biggest ones in tight coils. It’s a remarkable adaptation to a hostile, arid environment, the most efficient way to channel water to the whole tree from a single tap root that extracted scant moisture from the ground while the other roots expended energy just to keep anchor.

Twin Falls

At the edge of Newberry Caldera is Paulina Falls. It’s a little odd to see it in an area as desolate as eastern Oregon, but here it was, not one but two. They spill over from Paulina Lake which replenishes not from rain but hot springs and snowmelt.

The falls are a short hike from the parking lot.

Lava Butte

Oregon seems to have more than its share of volcanoes, all part of the Cascade range, which also includes Mount St. Helens. Mount Hood stands majestically over the horizon in Portland as much as Mount Rainier does in Seattle. On a clear day, you can see several at once if you’re high enough, as we did when we hiked to the top of Smith Rock.

More numerous yet are cinder cones, which look like miniature volcanoes, but are really a conical pile of cinders, like the ones used for landscaping, that were spewed from and settled around a vent. I noticed many as I drove along US 97, a major north-south thoroughfare east of the Cascades.

One of the largest is showcased in the monument. Lava Butte stands at 5,970 ft (1,820 m). My wife and I took a shuttle to the top from where we saw the crater and walked an interpretive trail.

Lava Butte (image from wikipedia)

I was amazed by the size of the lava field surrounding the base.

Where to Refresh

After all this outdoor activity, especially in warmer months, your stomach can work up an appetite and throat get pretty dry. Over the years, I’ve eaten at many places in and around Bend but only a few stood out.

I’ve yet to find any place better for a great dinner than Diego’s Spirited Kitchen, located in Redmond about 15 miles north of Bend, a Mexican restaurant with a menu more interesting than a typical one. Despite that and I’ve had this three times already, Diego’s flat iron steak is hard to beat, topped with an incredible sauce reduction and blue cheese butter. It doesn’t sound very Mexican yet it’s one of their specialties. Forget the side of fries and opt for green rice.

The margaritas are potent, none made from a mix and all customizable from a long list of premium tequilas. Gratis tortilla chips are wonderfully light and crispy served with a very good, zippy salsa.

Voted by Yelpers as one of the top 100 places to eat in 2017 and 2018, Bangers & Brews serves an excellent hot dog with suds to gulp it down with. The sausage, one of a dozen to choose from, is grilled nicely with casings that make each bite snap. The way it works is you order sausage, two toppings and one sauce. There’s enough variety to satisfy everyone. One of their signature sides is Bacon Gorgonzola Fries that is a meal in itself, savory and rich, but even its small portion is more than two people should sensibly eat. Craft beers from several local breweries are available.

Bacon gorgonzola fries

Smoked polish, sauerkraut, relish and whole grain mustard

Hot smoked andouille, caramelized onions, sweet peppers and spicy mustard

Bakeries are always nice places to get freshly made bread and pastries but few have outstanding meals to start the day. The savory morning sandwiches at Sparrow Bakery are the stuff of legend. Its croque monsieur combines slices of brioche, ham and bechamel all topped with Gruyere.

The most popular seller is bacon breakfast sandwich, a messy but delicious creation of poached egg, bacon and arugula aioli in a toasted croissant.

Bend is a popular winter sports destination but it should be part of the summer’s exploration of outstanding geological sites.

A Tuff Climb at Smith Rock (Terrebonne, OR)


It’s hard to miss the strange but spectacular rock formations as you’re driving through Terrebonne on US 97. The last time I visited Smith Rock State Park in central Oregon was in 2011. Even though ill with a slight fever, I managed to get down to the foot of these rocks to admire them as well as the climbers who were scaling the vertical walls. I wanted to come back some day to do one of the hikes to the top.

My wife and I spent a few days in nearby Bend located in a part of the Northwest that’s known for prodigious flows of lava and craft beers. Most of one day was set aside for the long awaited return to Smith Rock twenty-five miles to the north.

The rocks are the result of a volcanic eruption that happened 17 million years ago. The ash from the Newberry volcano spread over much of central Oregon and hardened into tuff over the millenia. The most visually striking features here are the sheer vertical walls and jagged peaks.

The loop Misery Ridge Trail starts at the bridge across the Crooked River. We took it in the opposite direction along part of the River Trail that meets Misery after rounding the southern end of the park. The walk along the river was gorgeous.

River Trail

Along the way, several climbers were scaling the walls. I like to think that I should conquer my fears but not this way.

So far it was an easy trail. Soon Monkey Face came into view. Isn’t it interesting how naming a rock after an animal gives it, well, personality? For obvious reason the formation is the park’s most iconic which from this vantage point looks like a chimp. Monkey Face is near the junction to Misery Ridge Trail that starts the ascent.

Monkey Face (look at the right half)

From its other side, I saw a gorilla.

The views became more fantastic as we made our way to the top. From there we got a sweeping view of several of Oregon’s volcanic cones, including Mount Bachelor, Broken Top and The Three Sisters, thanks to a warm, cloudless sky.

View from the top of Misery Ridge Trail

It wasn’t a particularly hot day but it seemed so as I gasped up the switchbacks bearing backpack, lunch and camera gear with very little shade along the way. It was a tougher climb than it should have been which age did not assuage. Ah, to be lingering over one of Bend’s ice cold brewskis, but a Subway sandwich and water would have to do. Despite that it was a splendid hike.

Morocco Recapitulation and Final Thoughts


This is my last post on Morocco. The writing material provided by the country is inexhaustible because, to me as a Westerner, it’s different in ways cultural, linguistic and religious, reasons I find Morocco so fascinating. I’ll conclude by writing down some loosely related thoughts and observations that together have contributed to my understanding of what makes Morocco unique.

Where’s the Desert?

I’d bet on what many people picture Morocco as being geographically—a desert. I know I did until not too long ago. This may come from the belief that the Sahara spans the entire upper part of Africa which might’ve happened geologically if it weren’t for the mountains that include the highest peaks in northern Africa. The Atlas ranges fortify northwestern Morocco like the Wall of the Seven Kingdoms against the encroachment of the Sahara.

Mountain ranges of Morocco (image from mapsoftheworld.com)

High Atlas mountain range, south of Ifrane

The cooling Canary Current makes Morocco as Mediterranean as its European neighbors across the sea. It could almost be regarded as a continuation of Spain and Portugal but for the Strait of Gibraltar. If I’d gone to Tangier, the coast of Spain would be only 17 miles (27 km) away. With a favorable climate, I shouldn’t have been surprised that agriculture is a significant industry.

My wife summarized it, “Morocco is so green.” She was referring to the forests around Rabat and Chefchaouen, alpine scenery around Ifrane with its distinctive cedars, olives trees, orchards and wheat in abundance and grasses and trees covering rolling hills.

We even came across fog and patches of snow at higher elevations.

Morning fog over Chefchaouen

Things did get much drier as we got to Erfoud, Rissani and Tinghir, yet they were dotted with amazingly lush palm groves (palmeraie).

Oasis, Tinghir (Tinerhir)

To the west were the spectacular gorges that the Todra (Todgha) and Dades Rivers carved into the eastern High Atlas mountains.

Todra Gorge

And of course there was the great Sahara. We rode into an encampment by camel.

Finally, the coastal cities of Essaouira and El Jadida had their own unique environments.

Essaouira

Morocco did surprise me, this, as the guidebooks say, a land of contrasts.

Mediterranean Diet

On our drives, Mustapha pointed out many of Morocco’s crops. From his van, I spotted fields or orchards of grains, stone fruits, apples, herbs, nuts, beets, citrus, grapes, sugarcane, onions. And there was a bounty of olive trees. I lost count of how many local markets (souks) I saw where all this is sold, not only in the medinas but in small towns as we drove past. With scarce supermarkets and home refrigeration, Moroccans shop at the souks almost daily. I wouldn’t be a bit surprised that meals I had were made with ingredients gotten at market not too long before, fresher than most food I could get back home.

Predictably, Moroccans eat a Mediterranean diet. Olive oil is used liberally in cooking. Meat doesn’t dominate the table; vegetables, fruits, nuts, grains and legumes do. Tajines are noteworthy not only for the cooking vessels but the impressive amount of vegetables (and legumes).

Tajine

Throughout our trip, my wife and I ate Moroccan salad which is nothing more than cucumbers, tomatoes, mint, lemon juice and olive oil. Simple but delicious. The meat-free version of harira (chickpeas, lentils, tomatoes and warm spices), most popularly eaten during Ramadan, is now my favorite vegetarian soup.

Harira soup, Moroccan salad

Zaalouk is a combination of eggplant and tomatoes, traditionally served cold or at room temperature. It’s very much like ratatouille. The version I had at Riad Boussa in Marrakech was so extraordinary that it had me searching for recipes when I got back home.

Because Morocco has a long coastline, seafood is plentiful. I didn’t see much of it on menus, because Moroccans don’t seem to eat large amounts of it, restricting themselves mainly to sardines, tuna and shrimp. Predictably coastal residents eat more. Most of the seafood catch is exported.

I’ll Have a Meal with Those Olives

Like its Mediterranean cousins, an abundance of olive trees signifies the oils and fruit are important parts of the diet. There were olive groves everywhere, acres upon acres of them, from the hillsides surrounding Chefchaouen, down through the Middle and High Atlas foothills and westward toward Essaouira on the Atlantic coast.

Is it any wonder that cured olives are more than an occasional condiment? They were served at the first dinner in Casablanca fresh off the flight from Paris and the following morning for breakfast. Every day after that, all lunches and dinners were incomplete without them.

Every souk had impressive displays of olives, sometimes occupying entire stalls. And what variety: black, green and red mixed with different herbs and spices. At an average price of, say, 16 MAD/kg, that amounts to 80¢/lb here in the U.S. Not suprisingly, Morocco is also one of the world’s leading producers of olive oil.

The Romans are credited with introducing olive trees after they expanded their empire to North Africa.

This Is Not the Middle East

Morocco, Mustapha pointed out, was the first country in the world to recognize the independence of the United States from Britain. I thought it was France. It wasn’t lost on me that even then Morocco was a monarchy (sultanate), part of the Alaouite dynasty that still rules today.

It would continue to surprise the world on the political stage when Mohammed V refused to give Vichy France a list of all its resident Jews. “We have no Jews in Morocco! Only Moroccan citizens,” the king reportedly said. On the tours of the medinas of Fes, Chefchaouen, Essaouira and Marrakech, it amazed me that the Muslim guides included visits to the old Jewish quarters (mellah). Our Essaouira guide gave us a tour of the home and synagogue of rabbi Haim Pinto to whose grave Jews from all over the world make a pilgrimage.

Rabbi Haim Pinto’s synagogue

A gate in Essaouira is decorated with Arabic Koranic inscriptions and the star of David.

Morocco recognizes the contributions that Jews have made to its history and development. Arabs and Jews had been co-existing since the Spanish Inquisition. Morocco even goes so far as to restore many synagogues even after the departure of most Jews from the country. The striking blue paint that covers Chefchaouen could very well be a combination of the symbolic colors of Judaism (blue) and Islam (white). Revealingly, over 50,000 Israeli tourists visit Morocco annually.

Moroccan Berbers now make silver jewelry whose craft was passed down by Jewish artisans (Centre de la Bijouterie Mâalem Ali, Essaouira)

Today Morocco doesn’t deport Syrian refugees who seek political asylum from the Assad regime, even those who may have entered the country illegally.

Call to Prayer

The muezzins sing out the call to prayer five times daily. It used to be that they climbed to the top of minarets and used nothing but their voices. Nowadays, amplifiers and speakers help do the job. The adhan, as the recitations are called, I heard throughout Morocco, their sonority a contrast to city noises. With two mosques nearby, one muezzin could begin a moment after the other. The asynchrony has its own melodiousness.

Bab Souk Mosque, Chefchaouen

The feeling of adhan reminds me in its sound-over-the-city way of the tolling of church bells I heard throughout Italy.

This Is California

Mustapha pointed out a section of Rabat that looked strangely familiar. “This is California,” he said, driving through an exclusive neighborhood. It had an uncanny resemblance to certain residential areas of the Golden State with their large stucco homes, winding streets, palm trees, lawns and bougainvillea. Every large city in Morocco has an enclave called California where the well-heeled live. The designation is more a status symbol than Morocco’s climate being likened justifiably to Southern California’s. So what do American Californians do? Their developments are named like Spanish haciendas and ranchos.

Parlez vous français?

Even if France occupied Morocco for only 40+ years, its influence remains strong. Other than Darija (Moroccan Arabic) and the Berber dialects, French is widely spoken in government, education, commerce, the tourist industry and professional circles. It is a required language in schools. The largest ex-pat community is French and tourism from France remains Morocco’s foremost. I had trouble communicating with some riad staff. In français, things would’ve been much less bumpy. My two years of college French taken long ago did little good. I could only pick out words here and there. I tried to order a cocktail at Kasbah Tizimi’s poolside bar but thought better of it after the bartender’s quizzical looks and ordered bière instead. Fortunately, we got by everywhere because there was at least rudimentary English spoken by someone.

With the rapid rise of visitors from other countries, especially the big English-speaking ones (United States, Australia and Canada), English will become more important because, for better or worse, it’s the de facto universal language. I have to say though that this continues to get us Americans off the hook to learn another language.

Tout Les Touts

The one thing I dreaded most before arriving in Morocco was being harassed by armies of touts as many guide books warn. Fortunately, it never became much of a problem. The usual advice is to politely and firmly say ‘no,’ which served us well. The hawkers were most aggressive in Marrakech, whom I still managed to avoid eventually.

But one incident had to make me chuckle. Each stall in Marrakech’s Jemaa el-Fnaa square has a number, which is posted on a sign somewhere above the stall. We walked through one group offering mixed grill when a hawker got in our face to eat there. We said no and walked on. He followed us. “No food poisoning,” he promised us. “Maybe later,” I said as we pulled away. Within earshot, he yelled, “Remember, 75, still alive.”

Infrastructure

We would be driving in the middle of nowhere when suddenly we’d come across a sparkling new town with new construction, including apartments, and wide paved boulevards flanked by sidewalks and the most beautiful light posts. Absent were the narrow streets of older towns teeming with people and traffic that had to pass each other cheek by jowl. My wife and I were puzzled. There were several such towns like Errachidia. When we asked Mustapha about this, he told us that the government subsidizes their development to help Moroccans find cheaper housing. Many Moroccans see it as a way to escape the big cities. Government support could also be part of the its effort to encourage agricultural development.

And what about electrifying these far-flung, isolated places? On our way to Ouarzazate, Mustapha told us about Noor I nearby, the first phase of a massive solar power plant project (Ouarzazate Solar Power Station) which when completed will be the largest in the world. Noor I will provide power for nearly one million Moroccans. Noor II and III are on their way. Of all the Arab-speaking countries, Morocco is the most dependent on Middle East oil, so shifting toward energy independence can only help. If all goes as planned, Morocco will become an energy exporter in the near future with the help of renewable sources.

Noor I (image from http://www.challenge.ma)

Gendarmes

I could swear there were gendarme stations every mile or so on the Moroccan highways. I’m exaggerating of course but there certainly were several checkpoints along any of our long-distance drives. Roadside gendarmes have the authority to randomly stop any vehicle and ask for papers. The gendarmerie is charged with policing and maintaining the nation’s security. They’re more concentrated near the Algerian and Mauritanian borders and near military installations. It occurred to me that law enforcement vis-à-vis travel within the U.S. is not so restrictive, that Americans wouldn’t put up with such interruption to their freedom of movement.

Whenever we got stopped, which may have been a half dozen times, Mustapha had to show documents. My wife and I never once were interrogated nor asked for our passports, which I thought curious. I just wonder if we were ‘off limits’ because tourism is very important to Morocco’s economy.

Mustapha

As you might’ve guessed, I owe much of this post to Mustapha, our driver who took my wife and me all over Morocco. He picked us up at Mohammed V International in Casablanca and drove us in a great clockwise circle through Morocco, providing insights and pointing out things that surprised me, educated me. Here’s a man who went to university to get a degree in English linguistics. Not language, but linguistics, the scientific study of languages. I gathered he is an avid reader, having mentioned several books or articles he recently read. Even if I thought another profession might better use his talents and education, he appreciates his job. He undertook the 17-day assignment while suffering physical ailments. He smashed his thumb in a car door the day before picking us up and experienced a long, debilitating allergy on our trip. But he soldiered on.

I made the mistake of asking him if it was boring to take tourists over the same route time and again. “How can I get bored when I can see this beautiful country?” As he drove us out of Chefchouen and into the Rif Mountains, he’d point at the valleys and say, “Look how beautiful!”

Mustapha was more than a driver; in many ways he was a guide. He would talk about many things Moroccan. All our wonderful city guides who led us through the medinas were arranged by Mustapha. On the road, he’d identify various agricultural crops along the way, knowing I was interested. “My time is your time,” he said several times. By that, he meant whatever we wanted to see or do, all we had to do was ask. I regretted that I didn’t ask him more about Moroccan history, for he seemed capable of teaching me that as well.

Not once but twice I forgot to return room keys to the front desk (both in Skoura and Taroudant) after checking out. They were in my pocket, well on our way to the next stop. Not to worry, Mustapha said. He arranged to have the keys returned by other drivers who were going the opposite direction.

I don’t know how drivers like him do it, not getting sleepy despite long hours behind the wheel. On occasion, he requested to stop somewhere to get coffee. “It is needed,” he’d say wryly. And, yes, I would get bored driving over the same route repeatedly, so for his stamina and service I applaud him.

Despite his terrible bout with allergies, he refused to take meds in the morning to avoid drowsiness. The next time I make the long drive from Seattle to Los Angeles on I-5, I should refrain from saying how boring the California stretch is. Yeah, that’ll really be a stretch.

Coda

Going to Morocco was out of my comfort zone certainly, but so is travel to any foreign country. Westerners especially seem concerned that Morocco is an Islamic country. Any look at the news shows that there is much less upheaval in Morocco than other North African countries, let alone parts of the Middle East. There never was a moment when I felt uneasy or threatened. Safety for my wife and me never became a concern—except crossing the street in busy traffic or avoiding motor scooters in the alleyways of Marrakech’s medina quarters.

I knew little about Morocco before arriving except what I read in Lonely Planet. But now, having seen and experienced much of the country, I’ve gotten a better understanding. The people were friendly and gracious, as people all over the world tend to be. But, here’s the difference. Almost without exception, when meeting someone for the first time, “Welcome to Morocco.” I rarely heard that kind of greeting anywhere else.

With that, my fond farewell to Morocco.

The Delight of Staying in Moroccan Riads


When traveling, I’m not particularly interested in staying at hotels.

I don’t look for a spa experience, 24-hour fitness center, or concierge services. I don’t book stays at the Marriotts, Hiltons, Hyatts, Radissons and such, never mind luxury hotels like The Four Seasons. Yes, they’re elegant, clean, sleek, efficiently run, and have marvelous guest services, in some cases earning 4-5 stars by the AAA or similar rating service. This is all well and good. But, I’m lukewarm about them because they’re big and impersonal. They’re islands of separation from the people and cultures I’m visiting. And you probably agree the rooms have the same, predictable layout.

That’s why my wife and I were excited about the idea of staying at riads in Morocco because many travelers feel it’s an experience that shouldn’t be missed. Our reservations (and travel itinerary) were arranged by Experience It Tours, an excellent tour company based in the U.S. with an office in Fes that encourages riad stays.

A riad is a type of accommodation where one or two floors of rooms face an inside garden. It only has a handful of units, about 4 to 6, sometimes a little more. Each room is different and uniquely furnished. A similar kind of house, called a dar, has a courtyard instead of garden in the center, otherwise there is a great deal of similarity between the two. Both are uniquely Moroccan. I’ll refer generically to these accommodations as riads.

In medinas, you’d be hard pressed to spot a riad from the outside; there are no large windows facing out. It can be tucked away deep within a maze of alleyways that can rapidly disorient you. In every case, my wife and I had to be ushered there by our driver or porter or risk getting lost. Wandering through the Fes and Marrakech medinas, I was surprised by the sheer number of riads where signs only revealed their existence; otherwise you’d never know they were there. A door on an otherwise featureless wall hinted there might be a dwelling behind it. Once inside, I invariably was flabbergasted by the transition to a beautifully decorated interior—soaring spaces above the courtyard, center fountain or one designed in the Andalusian style along one wall intricately decorated with beautiful tilework (zellij), cozy salons or lounges where guests would be served tea or meals. With their small staffs, I had a sense that I could get to know everyone. And I did. Hotels are missing this feeling of intimacy and charm.

In every instance, when we first arrived, mint tea and little desserts were served while we filled out registration papers. Both my wife and I appreciated this kind of hospitality, a small gesture that made us feel like welcomed guests. We were even offered tea when we happened to be in the courtyard.

Breakfast and dinner were served at all the riads where my wife and I stayed. Here were where we got to know the Moroccan breakfast, which consists of hot beverages, orange juice, sometimes olives and an impressive variety of breads. Generally not fond of high-carb breakfasts, I welcomed the occasional egg or cheese.

Typical Moroccan breakfast

Some of the riads had terraces where you can choose to take a meal (weather permitting) or while away the time lost deep in a book.

Roof terrace

These lodgings were not without minor issues, in my experience mainly in the bathrooms. While the shower spaces were creatively designed, it was difficult to keep water from wetting the floor in some cases, or a few lacked a cradle for the flexible hose shower heads for hands-free bathing. A wash basin faucet in one spurted out water with enough force that it spattered all over the counter; another faucet fixture dangled loosely over the basin. The toilet tank in another took forever to fill up because of low water pressure. Many riads had inadequate outlets to charge up our appliances or lacked anywhere to sit other than the bed. I say again, these are small quibbles that hardly overshadow the riad experience. The beds were all very comfortable, the rooms quiet, clean and beautifully decorated and the service above reproach. As a bonus, we enjoyed our best dinners in Morocco in a few of them.

Foreigners have taken a big interest in restoring riads. Australian Suzanna Clarke wrote about her sometimes exasperating, sometimes humorous experiences in converting a house (A House in Fez: Building a Life in the Ancient Heart of Morocco). Four of the riads were owned wholly or in part by Europeans. One of the bonuses of the French-owned riads where we stayed was the option of having wine with dinner; alcohol is prohibited by Islam and therefore not available at restaurants and cafés (except a few that cater to foreigners).

The many pictures below are of places where we stayed. It’s easy to see why they had such appeal for us. There was nothing cookie-cutter or mundane about any of them.

Riad the Repose (Rabat)

Courtyard

Main room

Shower space

Dar Meziana (Chefchaouen)

Stepped approach. Meziana is at the top.

Courtyard from the salon

Main room

Shower space

Dar al Madina al Kadima (Fes)

Fountain

Courtyard

Main room

Bathroom

Moroccan breakfast served in the salon

Kasbah Tizimi (Erfoud)

Other than the hotels in Casablanca on arrival and departure days, this is the only accommodation that was not a riad or dar but is classified as a hotel. A kasbah is a military fortress.

One of several courtyards

Main room

Dar Jnan Tiouira (Skoura)

Dar Jnan Tiouira from garden

Courtyard

Main room

The alcove was a wonderful place to relax or read

Bathroom

Dining room

Riad Tafilag (Taroudant)

Main room

Sitting area outside room

Dining room

Riad Mimounia (Essaouira)

Salon

Main room

Bathroom

Riad Boussa (Marrakech)

Main room

Bathroom

Wash basin

Courtyard