Guest Spotlight: Morocco in November

By Neil Graham

My 69-year-old father, my younger brother, and I arrange a big mountaineering trip each year. We've been fortunate enough to trek to Everest Base Camp in Nepal, the summit of Mount Olympus in Greece, and mainland Spain's Mulhacén, to name a few.

It's not about the profound, male-bonding odyssey or the quest to push each other and test ourselves against the natural elements. Living in different countries, it's the only chance we get to hang out except at Christmas, so we try and make it as memorable and as rewarding as possible. (Just an excuse for a few cold beers, really.)

We have always been intrigued by Morocco, however, with it being so close to Europe, yet on the continent of Africa, and having a large Arabic- and French-speaking population—in addition to ancient cities, bustling markets, sweeping deserts and, of course, superb cuisine. I had been to Tangier for a couple of days a few years earlier where I got a quick glimpse of the above, but this time, I was here with my father and my brother to climb the highest mountain in North Africa, Jbel Toubkal, which stands 13,671 feet tall, is around 60 miles south of Marrakesh, and is no mean feat.

Stay in a luxury tent in the Agafay Desert near Marrakesh!

As we stepped out of the frantic, yet sleek and modern, Marrakesh Menara Airport, we could see the snow-covered peaks of the Atlas Mountains through the sandy haze in the distance. We had no time to truly take it in, as we were ushered into a weathered SUV amid the chaos of the airport's taxi rank.

The driver hilariously repeated our pronunciation of Imlil out loud before chuckling and continuing to exchange friendly banter with us until just outside of Marrakesh. As we were approaching the foothills, the car went silent as we gazed out of the windows, looking at the rocky hillsides and the sheer drop into the deep canyons below, which were just centimeters away as the roads got narrower and narrower.

We arrived in Imlil—a small Berber village that we would use as base camp for our ascent—in the early afternoon and we were greeted by our amiable host, who was nothing but a complete gentleman the entire stay. Within half an hour of our arrival, we were treated to a delicious chicken tajine with a plate of fries, a traditional Moroccan salad, and mint tea.

We spent the rest of the day exploring the shops and the cafés, which, more often than not, just felt like stepping into people's homes—being made very welcome and being offered everything from tea to a three-course meal. The highlight of the day was when we were overlooking the village from the top of a shorter hiking route at the time of the call to prayer. From noisy commotion to a calming silence, the change was surreal. The first lines of the prayer projecting out of the mosque, resonating throughout the mountainous valleys, was spine-tingling.

After a hearty breakfast of boiled eggs, spicy olives, and toast, we set off on the first leg of our trek. We were headed towards the refuge on Toubkal, roughly a four-hour walk past steep gorges, even smaller villages, and numerous mule trains. We stopped for tea and coffee a couple of times on the way, and each time we were greeted with warmth and kindness from the local Berber community.

Upon arrival, our room at the refuge was cramped to say the least. The bunk beds were merely large planks of wood with small mattresses laid out side-by-side to accommodate 16 of us in total. You can imagine the difficulty of trying to sleep in dramatically reduced temperatures, while 15 other people are snoring, rustling in their sleeping bags, and coughing—it was quite orchestral!

We set off for the summit at 8 a.m., and the route started with some steep, energy-sapping scrambling before switching to a long slog up snow- and ice-covered inclines. By this point, the high altitude was having an effect, and the snow made crampons and ice axes a necessity. Despite the relative struggle, however, it was easy to be in awe of the, quite literally, breathtaking surroundings.

Four hours later, we were standing on the summit just as some menacing looking clouds were coming in thick and fast. We had just enough time for the obligatory summit selfie before navigating our way back down during a blizzard. The weather report had predicted snowfall in the evening, but that's mountaineering for you!

We were delighted to arrive at our lodge in Imlil for the night, quite ready for some more tajine and some mint tea. Our room was simple, but sophisticated; the beds were warm and cozy, the shower had hot water, and there was a stuttering Wi-Fi signal, everything we could've wanted. In the morning, our host had prepared us a glorious breakfast and arranged for our ride back to Marrakesh.

By this point, the snow had reached Imlil, and we were looking forward to the dryer weather and the chance to explore the city, especially the medina and its vibrant markets. We were able to enjoy a well-earned cold one in the airport before a few high fives and some back slaps, and then we were on our separate ways...until next time!


Has this blog peaked your interest? Check out these unique accommodations for extraordinary adventures and our top glamping sites in Morocco!

7 Best Off-Season Destinations

By Neil Graham

It was a searing hot day in July, I had been standing in line at the Colosseum in Rome for about one hour, and I still hadn't even reached the shaded area yet. It was at this moment that I realized that perhaps summer was not the best time to attempt to visit one of the world's most popular historic sites. In each photograph I was in that day, I am as red as a lobster, awkwardly posing to hide most of my sweaty t-shirt, and with several tourists beside me, all struggling to find the perfect selfie spot.

Holidays are supposed to be relaxing, a time when you can escape the pressures of everyday life, and off-season vacations offer cheaper flights, a larger variety of accommodations, shorter lines, less crowds...and less awkward posing!

Mallorca

Unwind away from the crowds in Mallorca!

For such a small island, yet the largest of the Balaeric Islands, Mallorca has a fascinating and diverse landscape that is made up of luxury beach resorts, picturesque mountain villages, ancient ruins, and superb geological formations. With only five days of rain and an average high of 23 degrees Celsius (~74 degrees Fahrenheit) in October, you can explore all the delights of the island at your leisure while still enjoying the best bits of summer!

The Greek Islands

Renowned for their idyllic beaches, great weather, and delicious cuisine, the Greek Islands make for an amazing off-season destination, whether it’s for a luxury, five-star getaway or a budget-friendly backpacking odyssey. You can wander the romantic streets of Santorini, swim by the white volcanic rocks of Sarakiniko Beach on Milos, and enjoy a couple of Mythos beers while admiring the Acropolis of Lindos for an unforgettable holiday.

Chile

Why not try something away from the obvious and venture into the sublime natural beauty of Chile while embarking on an array of outdoor adventures? You can enjoy a romantic night stargazing in the Mars-like Atacama Desert, with several top-level observatories offering extraordinary astro-tourism experiences. Alternatively, you can go skiing in the Andes at Valle Nevado, which is only 46 kilometers away from Santiago, Chile's capital, and features over 7,000 acres of skiable terrain. What’s more? The geysers at El Tatio, the mountains of Torres del Paine, and the glaciers throughout Patagonia are breathtaking natural wonders not to be missed.

Baja California

Unwind in a unique setting with these glamping tents in Baja California!

Baja California is ideal for those yearning for a tropical getaway without heading too far from home. With the peninsula sandwiched between the Pacific Ocean and the Gulf of California, Baja California features paradise-like beaches, where you can enjoy an array of water sports, such as world-class surfing, supreme scuba diving, and adrenaline-fueled jet skiing. Away from the water, guests can immerse themselves in nature by trekking through dense jungle on the back of a mule, exploring the Trinidad Canyon and its ancient cave paintings, or hiking along the Sierra de San Francisco for a complete sense of seclusion. Whatever piques your interest, Baja California has it all.

New South Wales

Aside from its iconic coastal cities and its second-to-none surfing hot spots, New South Wales is home to a plethora of natural attractions and outdoor experiences that can be enjoyed at a much more leisurely pace during the off season. The spectacular, limestone Jenolan Caves in the Blue Mountains showcase stunning calcite formations; the powerful Kiama Blowhole is the largest blowhole in the world; and the Walls of China in Mungo National Park are an ancient, breathtaking structure that can be admired from a cycle trail or a self-guided drive tour. The best part? All of these are within easy reach of several of our glamping sites.

Big Sur, California

Enjoy the last of the warm weather to the fullest in Big Sur, California, and bask in the sunshine on glorious sandy beaches, delight in its extraordinary cuisine, and sip on piña coladas in trendy, beachfront bars. Why not make it a truly memorable getaway and stay along the coast in one of our unique glamping accommodations? You'll have your choice of everything from tree houses and Airstreams to safari tents and yurts.

Hawaii

Listen to soothing sound of the waves as you relax in style!

Hawaii boasts year-round sunshine, picturesque beaches, lush green mountains, and a laid-back vibe, making it the perfect destination for an off-season getaway. You'll take away incredible memories of scuba diving in waters teeming with life, looking down upon active volcanoes from a helicopter, and laying on a secluded beach with nothing but the waves to listen to.


Check out more extraordinary accommodations in California here, and stay in the loop with the latest in glamping here!