Why Rural Ourika Valley Morocco is a Great Escape from Urban Marrakesh

Why Rural Ourika Valley Morocco is a Great Escape from Urban Marrakesh

In Marrakech, you can see the Atlas Mountains hovering in the distance.  I have always heard how beautiful the Ourika Valley Atlas Mountains were and my interest was piqued.  So we tore the kids away from the hotel pool and hired a guide to drive us for an Ourika Valley tour.  He took us to the closest villages in Ourika – Marrakech was just an easy drive away of about 50 kilometres (approximately 31 miles). Although the Ourika Valley day trip was easy to arrange, we felt a world away from the cosmopolitan buzz of Marrakech. Moreover, even though the Ourika Marrakech route is so easy, we also felt that the area was a lot less touristy than the city of Marrakech.

An Ourika Valley Daytrip

Life in these villages in Ourika Valley Morocco appeared pretty traditional and the outside world seemed far away.  On our Ourika Valley tour we saw people carrying their wares on donkeys, little children just hanging around and houses clinging to the cliffs onto which they are built.  With only a 4 day weekend in the country, we are glad we saw a bit more of Morocco than just the city of Marrakesh.

These little villages date from the 16th and 17th centuries. They are populated by Berbers who have lived in North Africa for thousands of years. During the time of Arab rule in the Middle Ages, the Berbers congregated in the Atlas Mountains. Most Berbers practice Islam now but they also have their own traditional culture, food and music.

A colorful beast of burden by the Ourika River Atlas Mountains

A colorful beast of burden by the Ourika River Atlas Mountains

On the less quaint side, you did get the hard sell from trinket sellers and children begging for money. My kids did ask why so many children weren’t in school as well.

Of course, we had to take the obligatory camel ride.

This little camel refused to be separated from his mother.

This little camel refused to be separated from his mother.

Ourika is great for hiking. Definitely avoid the summer months though because it will be uncomfortably hot. In the early Spring though you will see the spectacular sight of orchards and wildflowers blooming.

The Ourika Valley waterfalls are located near the Berber village of Setti Fatma but you will see smaller waterfalls elsewhere. We loved this Ourika Valley waterfall which our guide described as a Berber freezer.

The cooling waters chill this Coca Cola stand set in an Ourika Valley waterfall.

The cooling waters chill this Coca Cola stand set in an Ourika Valley waterfall.

There are traditional markets and bazaars in the Ourika Valley but we did not visit on a day when they were being held. You know how much I love markets, bazaars and souks so this was a real disappointment.

We did, however, get to visit one of the women-run Argan oil cooperatives that are located in the Ourika Valley. They don’t cultivate the Argan nut here but they do process it for making into oil.

That cobalt blue on the building of an Argan oil cooperative made famous by Yves St Laurent’s Garden Majorelle.

That cobalt blue on the building of an Argan oil cooperative made famous by Yves St Laurent’s Garden Majorelle.

A House In Ourika Valley Marrakech

We were invited into a Berber home in the Ourika Valley for tea.  I expect this home makes a pretty good living out of inviting tourists into their house because it was a seamless part of our Ourika Valley day trip.

This house in the Ourika Valley is built into the hillside and there are lots of little internal stairs. it was built on 3/4 levels and also a terrace from which there were amazing views of the surrounding countryside of the Ourika Valley.

The view of Ourika Valley from the roof top terrace of a Berber home

The view of Ourika Valley from the roof top terrace of a Berber home

I liked the colourful baskets which hung on the walls. Old tagines stacked in the corner give evidence of feasts past.

Inside a Berber home in the Ourika Valley Morocco

Inside a Berber home in the Ourika Valley Morocco

This one-person hamam (steam bath) would be useful for those cold nights.  You lit the fire outside and then took a bucket of water into the little hut and waited for the steam to build.  Very efficient.

A sauna at a Berber home in the Ourika Valley

A sauna at a Berber home in the Ourika Valley

Our snack was made in the home’s kitchen. It was bread with delicious butter and honey on the side for spreads.

Tea, bread and honey was served for our snack on our Ourika Valley tour

Tea, bread and honey was served for our snack on our Ourika Valley tour

The butter was made in the home from milk made by the family’s cow who also had his little room right after the house entrance but before you entered the family living area.

A cow made his home with the family at the house we visited in the Ourika Valley Atlas Mountains

A cow made his home with the family at the house we visited in the Ourika Valley Atlas Mountains

Piles of wood are stocked up for the wood-burning fires.  The walls hold the bellows to keep the fires burning.  Both the heating and the cooking used wood-burning stoves.

A charming scene in a Berber kitchen in the Ourika Valley

A charming scene in a Berber kitchen in the Ourika Valley

The Rope Bridges of Ourika Valley

We were fascinated by these rickety rope bridges which crossed over the river below – a very Indiana Jones sort of experience.

Although this particular bridge had a gate (positively posh!), many of the bridges were just boards haphazardly strung together.

A gate keeps this rickety bridge from being used by interlopers.

A gate keeps this rickety bridge from being used by interlopers.

In this case, the bridge was two logs covered in mud.  Handrails are for wimps!  When we went the Ourika River was quite low but this river can flow quite high and fast. For example, there are river rafting trips on the Ourika River.

The Ourika River in the High Atlas Mountains near Marrakech

The Ourika River in the High Atlas Mountains near Marrakech

Needless to say the children loved walked across the bridges. I was completely freaked out and made their father go with them! I could only stand by and pray that the boards were safe enough and ignore the rocks and rushing water right below their feet.

Clambering around a rope bridge in the Ourika Valley Morocco

Clambering around a rope bridge in the Ourika Valley Morocco

The bridges seemed to lead to private homes as well as restaurants and other establishments. I thought the rickety rope bridges were a fascinating glimpse into rural Morocco – a world away from the health and safety concerns of Europe and the USA.

I’m glad we got to see this different, quieter side of Morocco. It felt a world away from the hustle and bustle of the streets and souks of Marrakech. Ironically, we came back from our long weekend and had to deal with a broken down car. Usually we take a taxi to/from Heathrow but because it was only a long weekend, we left our car in the airport parking lot – with a light on which drained the battery.  Oops.

I was even more glad though of our respite from urban life in the Ourika Valley. City breaks are a lot of fun but we find for a real mental break we need to get out into nature for a bit.

SPREAD THE WORD! PIN THIS TO YOUR TRAVEL PINTEREST BOARDS FOR FUTURE REFERENCE! 

Why you should take time to visit Ourika Valley Atlas Mountains Morocco

Why you should take time to visit Ourika Valley Atlas Mountains Morocco

This site generates income via partnerships with carefully-curated travel and lifestyle brands and/or purchases made through links to them at no extra cost to you. More information may be found on our Disclosure Policy.

SaveSave

Old-Fashioned Fun:  A Victorian Omnibus Tour of London

Old-Fashioned Fun: A Victorian Omnibus Tour of London

London has almost as many different ways of sightseeing as there are sights to see in the city.  I’ve been on duck tours, walking tours, double decker bus tours, cycling tours – you name it.  The one thing that I had not done until last week was the Omnibus Tour.

A horse drawn Victorian omnibus tour of London

The Stanfords’ Omnibus

The Omnibus Tours are run by Stanfords, the travel maps and books store, in Covent Garden that I love.  When my friend Melanie from Sunny in London asked me to be her plus one on a complimentary Omnibus tour, of course, I agreed enthusiastically.  As far as I’m concerned, anything associated with Stanfords should be fabulous.

Omnibus London Tour

The unmistakable red, yellow and green omnibus

The restored Victorian Omnibus is by pulled three horses and technically can seat 18 people. I’m thinking Victorians were a lot smaller even with their poufy skirts because that seems like a tight fit to me.  Apparently people would hang off the sides and squeeze in where they could.  Clearly, health and safety was not much of a concern.

Omnibus London Tour

The horses drew many admirers.

The coachman and driver were in full Victorian regalia which, of course, meant they were immediately easy to spot even in the crowds of Covent Garden.  They told me the team of horses are imported from Belgium because Belgian horses make the best carriage horses.  When they are not navigating the streets of central London, the horses are stabled near Watford.

The Omnibus Tour of London

True to her name, the day of our tour was indeed gloriously sunny.  We took a late afternoon jaunt through the main tourist areas of London on the top deck.  Although the tour was an hour, the ride seemed a lot less.  We weaved our way through traffic at a surprisingly fast clip.

Omnibus London Tour

Stuck in London traffic but at least you are perched in a cool vehicle.

Of course, the tour starts in front of Stanfords in Covent Garden. The rest of the route takes you on a loop through Trafalgar Square, Whitehall, the Palace of Westminster, Pall Mall, Picadilly Circus and Soho as well.  There is a tour guide on board whose patter I thought was fairly basic.  Usually tour guides are chock full of trivia but I didn’t learn very much new.  I’m sure it’s fine for a first time visitor to London.

Omnibus London Tour

Shaftesbury Avenue

Omnibus London Tour

Eye level with the top deck of a double decker

Here’s a short video of what you can expect to see  – many of the clips are from the Omnibus Tour.

The Omnibus Tour Photo Gallery

Although I’ve seen these sights many times before, it’s still thrilling to see London as a tourist.  It’s all very grand and beautiful.

Omnibus London Tour

Pretend the Banana Republic isn’t there and you are in Victorian England

Omnibus London Tour

For more than map storage nowadays

Omnibus London Tour

Pretty and he knows it.

What’s the Verdict?

I had a very enjoyable time and I know my kids would love the Omnibus tour.  We have taken horse and carriage rides through many a European city (yes, we are those people).  I want to take the kids next time when the Christmas decorations lights are up in London.  It’ll be like stepping back in time riding an Omnibus through London’s historic streets.  What better way to start the Christmas season in London?

Omnibus London Tour

The Omnibus Tour can be booked through the Stanfords website or in the store itself.  The tour runs three times in the afternoon every Tuesday and Thursday. The tours started in the summer and will run through December.  A family ticket (2 adults, 2 children) costs £60.

***

This post is linked up with Wednesday Wanderlust and Travel Photo Thursda, The Weekly Postcard and Photo Friday on Pierced Wonderings.

My Brown Paper Packages
Travel Notes & Beyond
Pierced Wonderings

It’s also time for Wednesday Globetrot again!

Wednesday Globetrot

 


 

The Tower of Terror, London Style

The Tower of Terror, London Style

The Tower of London is one of the must-sees in London.  It’s therefore a bonus that it is always a fun place to take the children.  It’s got lots of history, plenty filled with gore, to keep them interested as well as the amazing Crown Jewels.

All around the Tower are these amazing chicken wire sculptures of animals that used to be in the Royal Menagerie.  For example, the polar bear was a gift to Henry III from the King of Norway.  The polar bear was kept on a long leash and allowed to swim and fish in the Thames.  In the 18th century, the monkeys were kept in a palace room so that visitors could be amused by their human-like antics.  The sculptures are found throughout the Tower area and makes a fun finding game for children.

Another animal, ravens, are integral to the myth of the Tower of London.  Apparently the Tower of London will fall if there are no more ravens left.  They have their wings clipped every couple of weeks to keep them from flying away.  They are fed 4 times a day a diet of meat and blood-soaked biscuits. tower of london raven Having originally been one of the 20 castles established by William the Conqueror to symbolise his dominance and conquest, this site is steeped in history (and blood).  A plaque marks the place where 3 Queens of England were beheaded, including the most well-known, Anne Boleyn.  In happier times, Henry VII had these buildings made as quarters for the Boleyns when they weren’t at Hever Castle.tower of london boleyn quarters This past of mayhem and murder means the Tower has its share of ghost stories especially the White Tower.  Our children were fascinated to learn that the wardens’ dogs will not enter the White Tower.  Apparently, the dogs will just stand outside and whimper.

The White Tower also has an armoury which children will like.  In addition to the armoury itself, there are interactive exhibits to demonstrate how to shoot a bow and arrow or what a knight could see through his helmet’s eye slits (not much!).  In addition, there was a dragon which was made of fighting apparel because historically, armies had displayed arms captured in battle in a pile.  The modern version was much more artistic.

tower of london dragon tail

The dragon’s tail and foot

My daughter (and even my son) were completely enthralled by the Crown Jewels.  She couldn’t believe the Cullinan diamond would have been the size of her head before it was cut into 10 diamonds, including one for the monarch’s sceptre.  There are approximately 11 tons of gold in this collection and thousands of precious stones.

Some random Tower trivia:

  • Not only boiling oil was poured out of the murder holes in the castles walls but also boiling tar, and boiling urine (in that order).  The tar was to represent being tarred and feathered, a form of humiliation, as was the urine, the ultimate insult.
  • Many of the prisoners in the Tower carved graffiti into the stone walls using just their fingernails which resulted in lots of blood, of course.
  • The last prisoner in the Tower was Rudolf Hess, second in command to Hitler, who parachuted into Scotland on a secret mission during World War II and was captured.  (Wouldn’t that be a great parody along the lines of ‘Allo Allo?)

In the obligatory gift shop stop, I found a book which was written as if Henry VIII was a blogger.  In this witty take on the king’s life, Henry wrote blog posts about his women troubles, his annoyance with assorted ministers etc.  I’m waiting for the Twitter version of Henry VIII’s life.  I’m thinking he would be a prolific tweeter, obvs.

Henry's Blog

We were visitors at the Tower of London courtesy of City Wonders.

SaveSave