Morocco – Errachidia-Ouarzazate

on Feb 1, 2020 in Departure | No Comments

Three wonderfully gastronomic days with talented chef Vítor Sobral.

First, a cold soup of watermelon and tomato with olives and dates. Then lamb with aubergine sauce, sautéed mushrooms and vegetables with toasted almonds. Finally, a green tea pudding, spiced with lime, carrot syrup, ginger and orange blossom water. What could be more deliciously Moroccan? Location? The Kasbah Hotel Tombouctou in Merzouga, with food created by Vítor Sobral, TAP consultant chef, and his assistant Sofia Oriana. Culinary magic in the Sahara Desert.

The day before, we flew direct from Lisbon to Casablanca, setting off for Errachidia, about 500 kilometres west of Marrakech, where we were welcomed by a high moon. After a brief rest, a hearty breakfast and a morning at the Rissani market, where we stocked up on fresh produce for the regionally inspired dishes, we were raring to go. (Some of the group did more shopping, of course! – we were in Morocco after all – while others went in search of an expresso, in true Portuguese style). On the road towards the Tisserdmine oasis – Did I mention the temperature? By the end of the morning, it was 40 degrees centigrade, attenuated only by the jeeps’ air conditioning – our young driver Hassan got us into travel mode with Moroccan music, a perfect aperitif for a first meal in Tisserdmine, on this itinerary designed by Morocco Tourism and the hotel group Xaluca with TAP.

 

Up there

I was telling you about Merzouga. That fine meal was good preparation for the next day. We set off for the desert again and learned in a fossil quarry in Arfoud that, thousands of years ago, it was once sea. We saw Lake Merzouga and flamingos, before visiting the Berber community allotments, each family with its own plot of land, and the palm groves – it’s late September, early October, and date harvest season. We enjoyed a moment of contemplation with green tea and dried fruit, before joining the dromedary caravan that transported us to Erg Chebbi’s highest dune (the largest are up to 150 metres tall) to see the sunset, close to Algeria. Unfortunately, the sun hid behind clouds, but the balancing act on the camels, which are very slow and docile, was well worth it.

And where to spend the night? In tents belonging to Bivouacs Xaluca (Erg Chebbi), which seemed rather surreal as they have a proper bathroom, king-size beds, lamps and tons of carpets, both inside and out. And it was outside where all the action was. Next to the bonfire, there was a barbecue and a huge counter, where, once again, Vítor and Sofia prepared a showcooking version of our dinner. Some folk helping, others talking, others dancing. The table was laden with chicken and lamb, salads, couscous with mushrooms, aubergine, and chickpeas with cauliflower and almonds. And the evening’s stars? What a sky!

 

Action!

Ouarzazate is also known as the gateway to the desert. We left Erg Chebbi behind and travelled 350 kilometres along the imposing Atlas Mountains. There was time for detours, which are highly recommended. The famous Dadès Gorges, with their reddish arid landscapes contrasting with the riverside fruit trees, is one of the loveliest landscapes I’ve ever seen. We also visited the Skoura Oasis, which we crossed to visit the Kasbah Amridil.

The natural – and manufactured – scenery of Ouarzazate is famous. And you’ve probably seen it, albeit unknowingly, in films like The Jewel of the Nile (1985) and Gladiator (2000), or in scenes in the city of Pentos, from the Game of Thrones series, among so many other things shot at the gargantuan Atlas Studios, a company founded in 1983 (inspired by Lawrence of Arabia, which was shot in 1962 in the same area). This fun was followed by lunch at Dar Rita, the boutique guest house created by siblings Rita and João Leitão, who swapped Portugal for Morocco over a decade ago. João takes on the role of guide and is one of the best travel companions, a walking encyclopaedia of Moroccan culture. In the late afternoon, the sunset was enjoyed at Aït-Ben-Haddou ksar (fortified village) – but this time without the clouds! The perfect ending.

darrita.com \\\ joaoleitao.com

 

text and photos Rita Cardoso

Arquivos

Rita Cardoso

Lisbon-born and raised with a strong connection to the Oeste region and Alentejo coast, she graduated in animal management, in England, before returning to Portugal in 2003. After working as a veterinary and pharmacy assistant until mid-2007, she became editorial secretary at UP. Lover of the good things in life, she enjoys travel, reading and anything beach related.

Xaluca

Founded in 1998, this Catalan group is market leader in southern Morocco, boasting six hotels and various tents to spend the night in the desert. In addition to accommodation, you can book transport and several attractions directly on site, such as jeep and camel tours.

xaluca.com \\\ From €60

Rissani

The region’s most important market is chaotic and mysterious. Lose yourself amongst the dates and spices, textiles, handicrafts, and a litany of other things. The parking spaces behind the building are for pack donkeys!

Ksar Aït-Ben-Haddou

Built with rammed earth and clay bricks, this very well-preserved fortified village has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1987. Best visited in spring or autumn, when temperatures are more bearable.

Kasbah Amridil

This adobe building in Skoura dates back to the late-17th century and has been owned by the same family ever since. Nowadays, it’s almost like a very well preserved museum.

Vítor Sobral com os Azeites

Olive oil is an essential part of Portuguese and Moroccan gastronomy. This is Vitor Sobral’s most recent book, entirely dedicated to this wonder of nature, with over 130 recipes.

casadasletras.leya.com \\\ €26,91

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