In November 2019 I decided to combine my two greatest passions and take part in a landscape photography workshop in Morocco.
I paid a fixed quote to have accommodations, transfers and some of the meals included in the holiday, plus of course the precious advice of a great photographer.
Here I will write about the itinerary we followed and the locations we photographed, but I will also recommend you some great places where we ate and slept.
Last thing before I start is about the outfits to wear, in general I would say to wear layers because during the day it can be terribly hot even if it’s November, while during the evening as soon as the sun goes down you will probably freeze. Also, it is a good habit to remember the place where you are and the religion of people there, you should always respect their mores and this is why in the cities is a good habit to have legs and shoulders covered, keeping the shorts for the desert.
Now, there is a lot to look at, so let’s start!
Because we arrived late in the night in Marrakech, our first day in loco was full, from the morning to the evening.
We started walking in the city, exploring the markets, the spice square, the tanneries, here the colours of the city will give you wonderful photography opportunities, many close ups can be done to thousand and thousand spice containers, the lamp shops are also very suggestive, you will also see some animals around town, especially donkeys and horses.
Here it is important to start understanding Moroccan culture as well, being Marrakech one of the most touristic places in the area, local people have an enormous quantity of tourists trying to take pictures of them, especially to the more “exotic” individuals, like women and children (you will see that the men’s outfits will be really occidental, which brands that recall our own ones). So it is more than normal that people will get annoyed when you try to take a picture of them, or will ask you for money. So I would say it is a good habit to ask for the subject consent first or try to freeze a “stolen” portrait without spending too much time pointing your camera at somebody.
Giving €1/2 (roughly 10/20 dirham) will make your life easier and people more keen in helping you achieving the picture you want. For monkey owners and snake charmer this won’t be an optional and you can be sure they are there, in the main plaza, exclusively for tourists to photograph (and pay) them.
In the night the square will become more alive, we admired the sunset from Argana Restaurant Glacier‘s terrace, you can easily spend some time there just buying a drink when you get upstairs and nobody will be annoyed by your camera.
Food-wise, for lunch we stopped at Le Jardin, a 1960s Riad that stands into Marrakech Medina, now turned into an oasis of freshness. Here I tried two different kinds of hummus, a more classic one made out of chickpeas and dressed with olive oil, but also a cauliflower one served with organ oil.
Then as main I chose to have the chicken couscous with apricots and almonds (which is a huge portion, so if you are having a starter as well I would recommend sharing). The chocolate fondant I had as desert wasn’t the best and if I can say, all the deserts I ate in Morocco were not amazing, so don’t expect to eat the same kind of thing you have back home.
Just to give you an idea of the prices here, this meal costed 260 dirham in total (30 for each hummus, 11o for the couscous and 90 for the desert), which is about € 26 (pretty cheap isn’t it?).
Then for dinner we were brought by our guide to Nomad, a rooftop restaurant right above the spice square, which an amazing view of the city lighting in the night and were you’ll be given nice comfy duvets to cover yourself from the night’s wind.
Here I tried my first mint tea, which is really typical here, you will notice they pour it from about 30 cm above your cup, creating a bubbly layer on the top, there are different opinions about why they do it, some say it is to aerate the water, some to cool it a little bit, some others say it is to create the bubbles that give more consistence to the tea, but one thing is for sure, it is really theatrical and the sound it generate is extremely relaxing itself.
For our first night we slept at the Hotel Chems, really close to the town centre, so it is an amazing place to base yourself it you like walking around. It also have a wonderful garden and a pretty big swimming pool where you can relax if your holiday is less busy than the one I had.
After leaving Marrakech we started driving towards the centre of the country and our first stop was Tizi N’Tichka, a mountain pass linking the south-east of Marrakesh to the city of Ouarzazat through the High Atlas mountains. Here you’ll have an amazing view and there are plenty of photographic opportunities, included a monument stating the height of the pass.
After a small break we moved on to Telouet Kasbah, where we paid around €10 each to photograph our two really traditionally dressed guides. I am not sure if this is something they only do for groups or it you can ask them a photo paying when you are there, but it has been an amazing opportunity to create amazing images in one of the most stunning places I have ever seen. Indeed, even if you don’t manage to take pictures of them, the casbah itself is definitely worth the visit.
Last stop of the day to photograph the sunset was Aït Ben Haddou, a fortified village which we admired from the rooftop of one of the bars that are along the main road. We didn’t visit the town itself because there was another stop planned there in the following days.
Also, in the night we had a star-trail shooting session keeping the village in the back and it has been truly amazing, but I will write about the star-trail technique in a separate dedicate article.
Along the road, after stopping at Tizi N’Tichka, we had lunch at Argane Tichka, a restaurant with an amazing view that stands right next to a shop of natural homemade products made by the 30 women that work there, they indeed state that their main aim is to enhance the job done by the women living in this region and here you can follow the process of creation of the organ oil looking at it happening right in front of your eyes.
Here you will in fact have the opportunity to try the bread with both organ oil and amlou (a spread made of almonds, honey and organ oil), which I definitely recommend.
For dinner we simply stayed at our hotel, Bagdad Cafe, which I will describe you more specifically later in the accommodation section.
Here we had a set menu inclusive of an amazing pumpkin soup and a lemon and chicken tagine with plum, dates and figs plus the desert (which I am sorry to say but, again, wasn’t really good on my opinion), all of this for 110 dirham per person (yes, only €11).
To be able to easily reach a good place for our night photography session, we slept right in front of Aït Ben Haddou, at Bagdad Cafe, an amazing little hotel in perfect moroccan style, here they serve an amazing mint tea accompanied by sweets on the pool side under request and if you are a fan of wine you have to remember that this is probably the last place where you will find it before going deeper in the hinterland.
In the morning we started a long long drive towards the Dades Gorges, a series of gorges carved out by the Dadès River, but before reaching our destination we stopped along the road to photograph the Monkey Fingers, a spectacular rock formation unique in its genre.
After adventuring around here we stopped at our hotel and afterwards as I said we moved to the Gorges to photograph the sunset. Here we chose a bar as location to shoot, it was indeed right in front of a couple of wonderful hairpin bends. Here a wide angle lens would work better to include the whole scene in the frame, also the best moment to photograph is when the gorges get in shadow but the light is still orange and warm. You can also get some nice pictures using a long exposure to include the cars’ lights.
For lunch we stopped along the road, already in the area of the Gorges, at the Hotel Kasbah Dades Chems, where I chose to eat a legumes soup and the gallia, which is a sort of meatballs tagine served with eggs and vegetables.
For dinner we simply stayed at our hotel (which I will speak about in more details in the accommodation section).
Here we had an amazing 5 courses meal, starting with a red pepper accompanied by a delicate asparagus sauce, followed first by a pumpkin soup and then by beetroot with cheese, mint and orange.
The main dish was roasted duck breast with berry juice and a wine reduction accompanied by caramelised onion, vegetables and crunchy potato chips.
Now let’s talk about the accommodation, Chez Pierre has been probably the best hotel where we have been, an amazing architecture with wonderful rooms and amazing food served at dinner.
It is definitely not recommended if have problems going up and down the stairs, because it is built on a hill and its rooms are disseminated all around it, in a wonderful natural environment.
The pictures behind here are of the hotel in general and of our suit, which was an apartment comprensive of two separate rooms with en-suit toilets and a small common living room.
After going back to the location of the monkey fingers to shot the sunrise, we started driving towards the desert and the change of landscape has been simply amazing. For somebody that has never seen the desert before it is an unforgettable experience, seeing all dose giant dunes getting closer and closer makes you feel so small and amazed.
After popping in at the hotel for lunch and to leave our luggages we went straight on the dunes to take some pictures waiting for the sunset. Climbing them has been much harder than I thought, but walking in the sand with bare feet was a wonderful sensation.
Food-wise I will not suggest anything because we started requesting more occidental kind of dishes to have a brake from tagines and spices.
For our desert stay we stopped two nights at Maison Merzouga Guest House, a really nice structure with stunning rooms and an amazing view of the dunes from the top terrace.
To shoot the sunrise we woke up early in the morning and drove to a lake that was nearby and admired a sky full of colours.
After breakfast we went to visit Rissani‘s Market, which you will see is much more diverse and less touristic then the one in Marrakech, here you will find also people selling animals, a lot of meat stands and many more local aspects of the moroccan culture. Here pay attention because giving money to children, even if only a couple of euros or less, will make them follow you for the whole day and call their friends as well. In our case luckily they were just curious and even helped us moving around the city, but if you don’t want 10/12 kids walking next to you and asking for money just avoid them from the beginning.
After coming back to the hotel and having a break we went in the desert again, but this time with a group with proper jeeps that departed from the Hôtel Nasser Palace. We gave them about €50 each to bring us in the middle of the desert, where less tracks of people were left on the sand, it was wonderful to climb the huge dunes but if I can say it, the price was a bit too expensive to only bring us there (not even in the exact spot our guide asked), so maybe it is worth to do some more researches and see if there are less expensive tours around.
The only meal worth to mention here is the one we had in Rissani, at the Resaurant La Baraka, where we had this typical berber stuffed pizza (which they do with both vegetables or meat, I would recommend the second one).
In the morning we had to leave the desert to drive back to Aït Ben Haddou, mainly it has been a day of driving.
Once back at the fortified village we crossed the river bed which was unusually dry (usually there are some stones and bags put in the water to allow people to cross or otherwise there is a bridge for pedestrians). Once inside (you have to pay a small admission fee), we explored the town and its boutiques, with many picturesque corners, walking all the way to the top, where the wind was so strong you couldn’t speak.
To give a final impression about this trip I have to warn you that it involves a ridiculously huge amount of time driving, which I didn’t really like, but without all tese transfers we wouldn’t be able to reach so many locations in such a short time.
Also getting further from Marrakesh helps you discovering the real essence of Morocco and its traditions, seeing so many different environments, so if you are into adventurous travelling and don’t mind spending time in the car it is definitely something to experiment.