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MY LAST JOURNEY TO MEKNES, THE CITY OF FERTILITY

My last journey was one of my favourites of all Times. I had the opportunity to discover a new taste of the Moroccan culture and explore the many faces of its rich cultural heritage. The region I last visited is positioned on the plain of Saïss, the once notorious city of Meknes.
First of all, let's check a few facts about this region.

Between the Middle Atlas and the Massive Rif Mountains, there is a very green land that was once called Volubilis. The most fertile area in the kingdom, since centuries. Leaders in agriculture, but also in Arts, education, and strategic planning and politics.

What is now called the city of Meknes, is 30 minutes away from the old roman city of Volubilis (Built in the honor and Ruled by the Berber emperor Juba II, 5000 years ago). It is now inhabited by more than 650.000 people and was made Capital by Sultan Moulay Ismail in the 17th century.

I was told that the best time to visit the region is during spring time. The fields are incredibly beautiful and the seasonal fruits and vegetables are heavenly delicious. So I did, spring had just begun.
I called my friend, and had him prepare the perfect sejour for me. Our journey started from Casablanca. Which is on the Atlantic coast 150 miles away from my destination.

Zorhan Mokoele | TDO local expert from South Africa

Three things I love the most in life : Words, music and travelling to explore new places. My passion is sharing everything I like to do with my readers and friends. My life moto "Do everything you want and are able to do, while you can do it!"

- Sarra M., a Casablanca based traveler
Travel Writer & Morocco Travel Designer for TDO

#1 DAY 1

On the road to Meknes, I had to first make a stop at the Zerhoun Mountain. I asked my friend who proposed to be my guide for this trip, about what we were seeing in at the top of the mountain. Apparently, it is a whole village, built surrounding the tomb of Idris I. So as we were getting closer to the mountain, we could start to feel the vibes, a narrow road, trees all around. Everything looked so fertile and green.

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I loved the feeling of climbing a mountain garden. On the sides of the road, we encountered many villagers going up or down the road on their Mules. As soon as we got closer to the entrance of the Zerhoun Town, I was surprised to see so many candles. Candles in all sizes and colours. It seemed like most of the income of this town was sustained by the sales of these offerings. Especially the one the visitors of saint Moulay Driss Zerhoun buy every time they come to visit, to show they respect and help the keepers of his tomb economically. It became a tradition. So I definitely bought a candle too, and we parked the car, then simply followed the crowds of people going up towards the tomb. Women in groups, men, children, tourists. Everyone coming either to explore this tradition or to keep it from falling apart. Many, keep on believing in the protection and guidance that visiting this place probably offers them. In return of their offerings, their visit and their good intentions.

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When I finally arrived at the place these hundreds of individuals came all this way to see and ask for favours. One thing caught my attention, the architecture and the design of this place. I could feel the authenticity and the history engraved on each stone, each pattern and each material used to build the tomb of one of the biggest rulers of this land after the Islamic conversion of the whole country. We offered our candles to participate in the tradition, and left amazed by the synchronised atmosphere that reigns over this town on top of the one mountain visible in the area.

I was already feeling hungry, so he proposed that we go directly to the nearest village on the road to the Valley of Volubilis.

We were warmly welcomed by a local family who invited us for lunch. At that point, I couldn't refuse a good meal. I was craving a dish with all the vegetables that I've seen in the markets, on the side of the roads by simple farmers. It was very interesting to meet the local population, until now, I had never visited or met someone from this region, although I heard so much about their culinary talents and green hands. This was my opportunity to discover more about the deep secrets of Moroccan cuisine.

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The lady of the house had prepared a masterpiece. A dish called "Mrouzia", which is Moroccan Lamb Confit with Raisins, Almonds and Honey. Sweet and salty are the best combo for lamb. And lamb is very famous for being the tastiest of all lamb in the entire country. So this was my chance. I couldn't believe the tastiness of our hosts cuisine. I couldn't resist but ask her for the recipe, yet she insisted that it was all about the freshness and the source of the ingredients. She also affirmed that the fertility of the region's soil was the main reason that their agricultural products taste better than the rest of the kingdom's. After having such a good meal, they obviously offered us tea and Moroccan pastries. Even if they weren't very rich, they sure knew how to host. I would gladly admit that they were definitely the best hosts I had so far, even if that was only for a meal.
As the sun was about to settle down, we jumped in the car and headed straight to the Volubilis Valley.

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The ruins of the old city were sitting there since thousands of years, and yet as we entered the valley, we could still see that time could never take away the greatness of the importance this ancient population gave to details. The materials used were very well crafted and placed.

It is perfect at Sunset, and there is also a Hotel that has an amazing view over the ruins of Volubilis. Knowing that this was the only Hotel in the valley with such a view, I would highly recommend trying it at least once in your lifetime.
Walking those valleys can only bring so much peace and calm to one's soul and mind.

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I was able to take amazing shots of the Roman architecture, the mosaic, the houses and different structures. But what made my day was the gift that one of the hosts had offered me before we head to meknes for the night. A beautiful small white and almost opaque rock that he had found near the ruins.

My first day to the once imperial region of Volubilis, was rich in emotion, discovery and neat unforgettable connections.
My next stop : Ibis Hotel, meknes

#2 DAY 2

I spend the whole night dreaming of the old city of Volubilis. I kept on thinking about what could have happened to all of those families. It was not a small space with a few ruins. It really was an entire city, we could still see the narrow streets between the houses, the numerous houses, kitchens and living rooms and shops and even bathrooms. The artistic work on the floor plans was still visible in most of what once was full of life and was apparently living a pretty luxurious life.

What I needed to do is, enjoy my breakfast before I go to one if the most mysterious places on earth.

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So I had a fiest when I tried the traditional Moroccan breakfast. The olive oil was spectacular. The olives were so fresh and tasty, and the khlii omelette was irresistible. Add to that some delicious sweet mint tea. Keeping it classic, Moroccan, and unbeatable. All the energy one can need, with an orange juice to boost the immunity.

My friend had to warn me about our next destination. But it only filled my curiosity with excitement. We were heading to a prison. One the most controversial prisons in history. Many rumours are told about the prison of Qara.

We had to first buy the tickets for a visit. Then the staff asked us not to get far or we might get lost. Since it had already happened to many curious visitors before...

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Mystery had it. It was going to be epic. As we took the stairs to go underground, we moved and walked slowly. We had to remember every detail and stay alert in order to keep our eyes on the exit.
The old cells were clearly impossible to live in. The only light that entered the underground were the holes built on the ground that are said to have been used in the past to throw food and water to the prisoners. Since no one who entered this prison had gone free from it. That scared many enemies of the sultan and empowered his reputation in the kingdom. He was greatly feared by his opponents and very much respected and loved by the population.

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I couldn't help but think about all the mystery that this place raises. Since no map has ever been found about this place, no one knows where it ends. Many archeologists and researchers are supporting the theory that there might be more to this than we can see. This once used as a prison was maybe first built as an underground city that extends to a very much larger area. Rumours say that it is linked to other underground cities in the world. Until now, it is still a mystery unsolved.

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Next, we chose to walk off all of the emotional weight the prison of Qara had thrown at us. We couldn't forget the dizziness that caught us when we went underground. The rooms were all the same, and the possibility of losing the sense of time and direction is even higher especially when the air level gets lower.

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On our way to a typical barbecue spot, we walked through the old media's narrow streets, I was eager to start shopping for my friends ! I almost bought everything I could buy at the time. I wish I had planned to bring more money to even buy more gifts.

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Everything that was on the markets was handmade. I could smell the freshness of the leather in the sandals and bags surrounding the whole market. The roof of the alley was in Wimbled wood, and the sunshine rays could reflect on the floor. And it made us forget all about the obscure underground...

What I loved the most, is the instruments shop. I had the opportunity to watch the making of Al oud instrument. The wood was freshly crafted and meticulously arranged by the craftsman, and as an Art enthusiast I loved discussing with him and learning facts I never knew about many instruments that were made in Meknes and then sold in the other cities.

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After that we had to try the famous lamb's mashed ham with spices on woodfire.
I had never ate so much lamb in my life. But this time I was happy I didn't pass on that last meal, it was the juiciest most delicious barbecued mashed ham in the whole world. It was a modest looking barbecue place, but the most crowded in "Qebt Souq" which means the top of the market, also Called street Sekkakine.
On my way out, I bought as many fruits as I can, and walked through "Sahet L'Hdim" (meaning the place of the ruins).
We ordered coffee In a traditional old Café.

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Remembering every place, every human we met. It was a very overwhelming travel. I didn't feel tired at all, I wonder if that was the weather in the region, or something in the water. But I was very happy and satisfied with all of these amazing spots. I discovered a city full of hope and joy of being alive. People who love life, music, food. I had the chance to start a journey I never wanted to end. The more I talked to the people of this city about the mysteries it beholds, the more I want to know and discover.

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Unfortunately, my weekend was over but I knew that I had to come back for another adventure. I knew that there was more in this region to unravel and bring to light.
On my list : Visit Bab Mansour, Sehrij Souani and then head straight to the famous city of Fes.

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