When we think of the desert, our imagination runs to its infinite stretches of sand. However, truth to be told, most of the Moroccan Sahara desert territory consists of bare rocks, gravel and pebbles, peppered with oases. We have to almost reach the border with Algeria to find the erg, the sandy desert.

Erg Chigaga, about a hundred kilometers from Zagora, is the largest erg in Morocco, the wildest, but also the most difficult to reach (about 3 hours of travel from Zagora, two of which are on off-road tracks).

The Erg Chebbi is situated in the southeast area of the country, not far from Merzouga. Erg Chebbi is not so vast but has the highest dunes, which can reach a height of 150 meters and its color during the day, varying from pink, gold to red. When it rains, you can experience an even more exciting scene: in the middle of the dunes a small lake forms, it is called Dayet Srji and it attracts hundreds of pink flamingos and storks.


You cannot go to Morocco and not experience the hammam!

The traditional hammam, strictly separate for women and men, is a place where hygienic and aesthetic rituals for the body take place but it is also an occasion to socialize, in fact, since ancient times, the hammam has been playing an important role in the social organization of Islamic cities.

According to tradition, the hammam consists of several rooms with different grades of steam and temperature, heated by underlying ovens, fueled by wood. While the Romans used to build a single large thermal building, the Arabs preferred to create many small baths scattered around the city, often next to the mosques, used also for the ablutions ahead of praying.

The benefits of the hammam are many, but what makes the Moroccan hammam truly unique is the energetic skin scrub done with the use of a special glove and black soap which makes the skin more elastic and brighter.

In addition to the traditional public hammam, you can have the same experience – certainly less authentic, but perhaps also less “traumatic” – in hotel spas and wellness centers of the main cities, that are open to couples too.


The word Kasbah literally means fortress and is used to indicate both a real “urban citadel,” surrounded by walls, often strategically perched on a hill (like the Kasbah of the Udayas in Rabat), and also a kind of ancient dwelling patriarchal (comparable to European castles or noble residences) usually built in strategic places on hills and mountains (such as the Kasbah Telouet).

The existence of the “Road of a thousand Kasbahs” testimonies the importance and spreading of this type of building in Morocco.

The ksar (plural ksour) can be compared to the medieval fortified cities. Generally consisting of a set of barns and houses and closed by imposing walls, the ksar usually stands on hills or plateaus, near oases or waterways. Its houses are close to each other and people can move along a central passage, intersected by winding and narrow streets, sheltered from the heat and cold (ksar Ait Ben Haddou).

Both rural kasbahs and ksour are built with the pisé technique (an ancient technique that consists of mixing and pressing soil with water, straw and natural fibers), and they usually display tall towers and geometric decorations. For some years, an imposing restoration plan has been underway on these buildings, thanks to this it is now possible to see and visit many well-preserved or renovated buildings.

The term Kasbah is often improperly used as an alternative for medina (city in Arabic). This is because, after the occupation of the Maghreb, the French started using the word kasbah to indicate the part of the city that existed before the occupation itself.


The Arabic term madrasa (or medersa) can be simply translated with the word “school,” hence any learning institution for Muslim or non-Muslim students.

In reality, the old madrasas were religious colleges that ensured higher education under Islamic law and doctrine.

From an architectural point of view, the typical structure of a madrasa consists of an open courtyard surrounded by halls with arched vaults and with small rooms, generally on two floors. These small rooms intended for students were not all the same; the best ones were assigned based on student’s performance, length of study and social status. Among the most famous, there are the Medersa Bou Inania in Fez and Meknes, and Ben Yussef in Marrakech.


Medinas are the old historical town centers of Arab cities, mainly surrounded by high walls, with an intertwining of alleys and squares; the medinas are still densely populated and the main monuments can be found here.


Almost all the Moroccan medinas have the same urban plan, a tangle of narrow streets that sometimes turns into a labyrinth. Often wider and straight roads connect the main bab (gates). Particularly intricate is the medina of Fez, the largest in the world with around 9000 alleys. The Medinas of Fez, Marrakech, Essaouira and Tetouan are 4 of the 9 Moroccan sites included by UNESCO in the list of World Heritage Sites.



The mosque is the religious building dedicated to prayer and religious teaching, originally also used as a meeting place for the faithful, for political discussion and for bargaining. The typical structure of a mosque includes a squared courtyard surrounded by arcades, where the fountain for ritual ablutions is located. Inside there is a niche decorated with mosaics (zellige, small polished stone in Arabic) or marble that indicates the direction of Mecca towards which the faithful must turn for prayer.

In Morocco the access to the mosque is forbidden to non-Muslims, with the only exception of the impressive Hassan II Mosque in Casablanca which can be visited for a fee.

Each mosque has its minaret (tower), from where the muezzin calls the faithful to prayer. In Morocco, minarets have a square base, with some rare exceptions such as the circular-based Moulay Idriss Zerhoun minaret or the pentagonal-base El Jadida minaret.

The muezzin is the person who, from the top of the minaret and 5 times a day, declaims the agreed formula to call the faithful to pray.

Not to be missed: listen to the muezzin’s “chant” at sunset, preferably from a terrace in the medina.


The moussem (festival) was born as a religious holiday to celebrate and honor a saint. But it is also a meeting occasion that brings together people who often come from far away. The importance of two of these events was recognized by UNESCO, which appointed them as Intangible Heritage of Humanity. These are: the Cherry Festival in Sefrou (it takes place every June in Sefrou, a few km from Fez) and the Tan-Tan Moussem, a religious and cultural festival during which, between May and June, in this city of Western Sahara, about forty nomadic tribes gather together.

The Tan-Tan festival, which lasts three days, brings together thousands of people. It is a feast of music and dance, of games, of trading of all kinds of goods (especially the ones from the agricultural and farming sectors), of meetings and even weddings and celebrations. Very suggestive are the dromedary races and the equestrian performances with the Fantasia shows (displays of Berber origin during which the riders perform a military exercise and distant shooting, using lances or rifles, all according to a particular back and forth technique. A shot of a rifle fired in the air by the riders in unison indicates the start of the race and its end).

Other particularly evocative events:

Gnawa World Music Festival in Essaouira is an event originally dedicated only to music coming from the tradition of slaves from Central Africa – in particular from Sudan, Mali and Guinea – and now also extended to contemporary funk, blues, jazz and soul music, which for three days transforms Essaouira into a pulsating center of music, art and culture. Every year more than 500.000 people come to the festival.

Rose Festival of Kelaat M’Gouna, a town about 100 km from Ourzazate. The Rose Festival takes place every year between late April and early May, when the blossom of damask rose grown in the surrounding valleys reaches its climax. According to legend, pilgrims returning from Mecca brought the rose from Damascus to Morocco. It is a particularly fragrant flower, of an intense pink shade. As per tradition, only women can collect the flowers, either at dawn or after sunset, when they are less delicate and it is easier to preserve their perfume. These flowers are used to produce precious essences and perfumes, while some petals are dried for the production of potpourri.

For about 30 years every summer, between July and August, Asilah has hosted the International Cultural Moussem of Asilah, one of the most important festivals in North Africa, a gigantic artistic and cultural event that attracts artists and audiences from all over the world. The walls of the city are decorated with beautiful murals that can only be admired for a year, because they are then covered with lime to make room for next year creations. Only the winning work of the competition remains visible for 7 years.

A very suggestive one is the Moussem dedicated to engagements that takes place every September in Imilchil. According to tradition, the festival celebrates the love story of two young people belonging to different tribes; legend has it that the tears shed by the two lovers formed the two lakes in the surroundings of Imilchil (Isli, of the boy and Tislit, of the girl). The festival is still one of the few occasions on which girls and boys can freely choose the person they want to marry.

At the end of October, the Date Festival takes place in Erfoud, a town in the desert (home of our agency), which matches with the end of the harvest of these precious fruits, notorious for their high energy value and basic product of Moroccan cuisine. Don’t forget…dates must always be eaten in odd numbers!

Taliouine, a small mountain village halfway between Taroudant and Ouarzazate, dedicates its festival to saffron. The festival usually takes place in the first week of November (see Slow Food).

The only issue with attending a moussem is that dates are never set well in advance, so managing to include them in a travel program can be quite difficult.


The riad was the traditional urban home of some Moroccan cities and, it can be found only in their medinas. The riad (“garden” in Arabic) develops around a large courtyard, often with a central pool of water. Usually these are medium-sized structures divided into floors and topped by a terrace on the roof level from which you can enjoy wonderful views. All rooms have windows facing the garden.

For several decades, many riads have been transformed into accommodations. Staying in a riad is a unique experience that allows you to feel at home and receive warm hospitality.

Although they have been renovated with all comforts, these structures are not always very functional: there can be several stairs to reach your room, sometimes the ensuite bathrooms do not have proper doors, most are located in alleys of the medina, and hence they are not reachable by car.

Nevertheless, the atmosphere you breathe sitting in the greenery of a garden or on the terrace at sunset surely compensate for the small inconveniences.

Slow Food

Slow Food, founded in Italy in 1986, has become since 1989 a large international non-profit association committed to restoring the right value to the food, respecting the producer, in harmony with the environment and ecosystems.

Back in 2000 Slow food started the project “Slow Food Presidia” with the intent of protecting and relaunching small artisan and traditional productions at risk of extinction. The project aims to enhance territories, recovering ancient crafts and processing techniques, and saving varieties of vegetables and fruit and native breeds from extinction.

In Morocco, there are 5 “Slow Food Presidia:”

Alnif Cumin

Alnif is located in the southeast of the Country, at 880 meters above sea level, surrounded by cultivations of wheat, date palms, almond trees, orange trees, and figs. But the most particular products of this harsh and arid territory are henna and cumin, which in this area has a particularly intense aroma. It is sown in late January and is harvested between late April and early May; cut by hand it is then collected in bunches which, hung on a stick, dry in the shade, and are subsequently beaten. Usually women are responsible for the harvest and processing of this fundamental ingredient of Moroccan cuisine, which has also various healing properties.

Argan Oil

Argania is an olive-like plant that grows on the southern coast of Morocco and in its hinterland, in an arid, poor and very hot in summertime area. The oil obtained from its berries, which ripen between July and August, is a fundamental ingredient of the Berber cuisine. Almost exclusively women, often gathered in cooperatives, carry out the harvest of the fruit and its processing; to produce half a liter of oil almost fifty kilos of fruit is needed. The oil has a golden color and an intense flavor; a few drops are added at the end of cooking in the main dishes. Together with almonds and honey, it is used for the preparation of amlou beldi, a spreadable cream offered, together with bread and mint tea, to guests as a welcome sign. The uses of this oil are endless in the cosmetic industry.

Rif Einkorn Wheat

In the mountains of Northern Morocco, for centuries, local communities have cultivated a very rustic variety of wheat: the Rif Einkorn Wheat. The cereal seed is used for food, while the long and hardy stems are used as padding material for donkeys and horses saddles and, in the past for the construction of the roofs of traditional stone houses. The harvesting takes place manually between the end of July and the beginning of August and, as often in agriculture, it is delegated almost exclusively to women, who, with a sickle, cut the corn heads and group them into bunches. Rif Einkorn Wheat is the ingredient of several traditional recipes that use both beans and flour. Roasted wheat is also used as a coffee substitute.

Salt of Zerradoun

On the first slopes of the Rif mountains, in north-eastern Morocco, we find the village of Zerradoun, where women, gathered in a cooperative, produce salt today as they did in the past. Close to the village, there are two sources of brackish water which is collected in old tanks, with the walls made up of dry stonewalls, to allow the evaporation of the water. The extracting salt process is quite simple but takes a long time; the production season starts around mid-May and continues for three or four months, plenty of sun is needed, and don’t forget that we are in the mountains. In addition to cooking salt, which has always been sold on Saturdays in the local market, the Presidia also produce salts for cosmetic use.

Taliouine Saffron

Halfway between Taroudant and Ourzazate, Taliouine, a small mountain village, is the heart of the Saffron Presidia. On the Souktana plateau, between 1300 and 1500 meters above the sea level, eleven producers gathered in a cooperative cultivate small plots (at most one hectare) and, together with their families, between October and November they collect flowers at dawn when they are still closed; then they arrange the flowers in a cool room and separate the precious stigmas. The flower is the same one cultivated in other parts of the world, but it seems that only from those in this area, thanks to the soil, the climate and the method of harvesting and processing, such a valuable product is obtained: a little less colored than the others, but with a more intense aroma and flavor. The producers store their saffron in terracotta or glass jars and deliver it to the cooperative for marketing.

Taliouine dedicates the festival of the same name to saffron, which is generally held in the first week of November, although unfortunately, the dates are never fixed.


The souk is the typical Arab market, usually outdoors, but the word is also commonly used to indicate the neighborhood in which it is located.

To describe what a souk really is in Morocco, we rely on the words of Elias Canetti (Nobel prize for literature in 1981) taken from his book “The Voices of Marrakech.” The book was first published in 1967, but little has changed since then. Bargaining is an art, take your time to shop and if you decide to leave the negotiation, do it with kindness.

“It is spicy in the souks, and cool and colourful. The smell, always pleasant, changes gradually with the nature of the merchandise. There are no names or signs; there is no glass. Everything for sale is on display. You never know what things will cost; they are neither impaled with their prices, nor are the prices themselves fixed. […] In addition to the booths that are only for selling there are many where you can stand and watch the things being manufactured […] In a society that conceals so much, that keeps the interior of its house, the figures and faces of its women, and even its place of worship jealously hidden from foreigners, this greater openness with regard to what is manufactured and sold is doubly seductive. […] In countries where the price ethic prevails, where fixed prices are the rule, there is nothing to going shopping. Any fool can go out and find what he needs. Any fool who can read figures can contrive not to get swindled. In the souks, however, the price that is named first is an unfathomable riddle. […]

It is said that you should get down to about a third of the original price, but this is nothing but a rough estimate and one of those vapid generalizations with which people are brushed off who are either unwilling or unable to go into the finer points of this age-old ritual. It is desirable that the toing and froing of negotiations should last a miniature, incident-packed eternity. The merchant is delighted at the time you take over your purchase. […] You can be dignified or eloquent, but you will do best to be both. Dignity is employed by both parties to show that they do not attach too much importance to either sale or purchase. Eloquence serves to soften the opponent’s resolution. […] You must try everything before you surrender […] Some disarm you with arrogance, others with charm. Every trick is admissible, any slackening of attention inconceivable.”