7 January 2018

The Atlas Mountains

On day two, we escaped the hustle and bustle of the Medina and journeyed to the peace of the Atlas Mountains. My mum booked a day trip which included a guide, an experienced driver (for the mountain trails) and lunch with a Berber family, finishing with a hike.

The Atlas Mountains surround Marrakech. There are multiple ranges which make for a 360° jagged skyline, shielding the edges of the city from the world.

On the way up, we enjoyed some scenic stop-offs, including the most spectacular cafe.

The views were unparalleled, and we sipped our drinks in awe. I tried saffron tea and I wish the flavour was easier to explain. It was sweetened - all teas are sweetened here unless you remember to specify beforehand - and it tasted similar to Earl Grey, with a slightly bitter (but not unpleasant) aftertaste.

After our rest break, we set our sights on a higher purpose... literally.

Isn't my Mummy absolute cheekbone goals?

And admired some of the locals...

Upon our arrival, we had no idea what to expect. But we needn't have worried - with our guide fluent in Berber, he translated greetings, our excitement to be visiting, and our thanks for hosting us to the family.

And my goodness, they cooked us the most incredible feast. 

Walnuts, a local delicacy. As we drove up the mountain, ladies were selling them in big hessian sacks on the side of the road, calling out to people passing by. Agriculture is the main source of income in the Atlas Mountains, and Berbers build their houses into the mountains to save the land for crops.

Tea, of course. We were told that in Morocco people pour tea from a great height as a ceremonious, hospitable gesture. In doing so it cools the tea and creates a pleasant trickling sound to amuse guests. They also put great effort into the brewing process, passing it back and forth until the flavour is perfect. I think tea is taken more seriously here than it is in the UK.

The most aromatic chicken tagine, with olives and peas...

And a mountain (quite apt, considering our location) of couscous, hidden beneath some seriously chunky vegetables, steaming away alluringly.

It was divine.

After the meal, we got a photo altogether to document a rather special day - Mum, Grandma, children... and a few more children! Cousins, I believe. Their uncle took the picture.

It was incredibly cold in the house. They don't have any central heating, so we bundled up in jumpers, coats, and blankets that they offered us. The family built the house from scratch out of concrete, and hosted us in a room they keep especially for guests. It was incredibly humbling.

Next came the hike.

I don't claim to be a strong hiker, but I was shocked at how difficult the guide's 'light walk' was. Unlike, say, the Lake District, the Atlas Mountains don't have paths, so you're essentially walking on not-always-solid earth and digging in your heels like your life depends on it. An hour and a half later, sweaty and physically exhausted, we found our car to make our way back to the city.

En route, I'd mentioned how dry my hair had gotten over the last few days - I don't think it'd ever been so static, crackling every time I swept it off my jumper - so we stopped off at a Women's Cooperative, where they make Argan oil in-house.

I definitely recommend stopping by. The head honcho is hilarious, all business as she thrusts bread into one hand to taste the variety of edible oils and pumps oil on your other hand to smell. It's immersive, to say the least.

It was an honour to see the ladies at work in a 4-step production line. As a beauty fanatic, I was in heaven. After all, how many beauty products can you say you've seen made with your own eyes?

While it's not cheap - I bought 100ml of plain oil (you could get ones enriched with almond, grapefruit, orange...) for 200 Moroccan Dirhams (just under £16), but it was well worth it. There's a risk when you buy it in the Medina that it's not the real deal, and it costs the same.. I used it on my hair - you only need a tiny bit on the ends - and voila, static be gone.

For dinner in the evening I'd booked us into NOMAD, a restaurant highly recommended by friends who'd visited Marrakech. It's three levels, and when you book you can opt for 'inside' (on the first floor) or 'outside' (the second and top floors). Even though it's chilly in the winter - coat and scarf weather - definitely bundle up and book outside. It's stunning.

The food was equally stunning - do excuse my photos; candlelight plus a hungry family who want me to take photos quickly so they can eat equals hurried, fuzzy shots!

 A slightly blurred chicken tagine
 A whole cauliflower with couscous
Courgette and feta fritters with a minted yoghurt sauce

Light and delicious, we pretty much inhaled our mains. NOMAD doesn't have an alcohol license, so what we would have spent on wine, we splurged on dessert instead. And with their dessert offerings, how could we resist? Although unfortunately they had run out of the Ultra Rich Chocolate Cake, which was a mighty shame.

Instead, we went for...

Flourless cardamom and ginger orange cake, with caramelised orange zest and fresh whipped cream...

And hibiscus infused yoghurt pannacotta.

I can't vouch for the pannacotta - I didn't try it, but my Mum and brother devoured it - but the cake, holy MUMMA. It was light, moist (I hate that word, but it just was, okay?) and flippin' delicious. We couldn't really taste the cardamom but we didn't really care. Just, wow.

NOMAD has two sister cafes, Le Jardin and Cafe des Epices. If NOMAD is anything to go by, then they all need to be on your list. 

Missed part 1? Read it here.
Read part 3 here.

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