Places I Remember with Lea Lane

Morocco: Marrakech To Blue City, Sahara To Sea, Ruins To Riads

July 13, 2021 History, food, handiworks, architecture -- Ahmed Toumi, premier Moroccan guide, knows his beautiful North-African country. Season 1 Episode 24
Places I Remember with Lea Lane
Morocco: Marrakech To Blue City, Sahara To Sea, Ruins To Riads
Show Notes Transcript Chapter Markers

Morocco has all the elements travelers love: historic interests, great cities, friendly people; mild climate, scenic beauty, good food and lodging, and great shopping. Expert guide Ahmed Taoumi leads us through the country.

-- Ahmed tells of the Imperial Cities: Marrakech, Fez, Meknes, Rabat, with their casbahs. We also discuss the Roman ruins at Volubulus.

-- He talks of cities and the beauty in the Sahara, and of The Blue City in the Rif mountains, a couple of hours from Tangier.

--  We discuss architecture of the medina, the marketplace, and lodgings called riads, once homes to wealthy Moroccan families.

We talk of traditional foods like tagines, which are stews, and sugared-pigeon called bistila. Lea and Ahmed also discuss the wide variety and beauty of Moroccan handiwork.

Ahmed offers us shopping and bargaining tips . He ends with a favorite memory of a boy and a camel.

 Ahmed Toumi has been touring travelers throughout Morocco for over 40 years. Former president of the Guide Association of Tangier, he is currently a private guide. Ahmed's photos  and descriptions of Morocco, are especially beautiful.  Instagram/tour_with_taoumi;  and here on Facebook. .

Podcast host Lea Lane blogs at, has traveled to over 100 countries, written nine books, including Places I Remember, and contributed to guidebooks. She's @lealane on Twitter; Travelea on Insta; on  Facebook, it's Places I Remember by Lea Lane. Website: placesirememberlealane.comPlease follow, rate and review this weekly travel podcast!

Lea Lane  00:04

Hi, I'm Lea Lane, an award-winning travel writer and author of Places I Remember: Tales, Truths, Delights from 100 Countries. On this podcast we share conversations with travelers about fascinating destinations and memorable experiences around the world. Today's guest is Ahmed Taoumi, former president of the Guide Association of Tangier. Welcome Ahmed. Thank you. It was a we're going to be talking about gorgeous Morocco in North Africa. I think it's just one of those countries and I've been around a lot over 100 countries, but it's one of my very favorites. It's blessed with everything you can think of that makes a vacation special. It's got beautiful scenery and gorgeous cities and terrific food and lovely people and great shopping. So I want to hear more you know all about it. I found when when visiting there that there was a great feeling of tolerance for all religions and types of people. It was very evident to me. Let's talk about some of the beautiful cities of Morocco. The four Imperial cities are Marrakech Fez, Rabat and Magnus. Is that correct? Right. What would you like? Which one would you like to start with? What which one should we talk about first?


Ahmed Taoumi  01:22

My favorite is Marquez personally, I'd love Marquez because it's one of the largest man made men made oasis is in this Atlantic Morocco. Its situation is the defeat of the High Atlas mountain and sometime you see all the High Atlas Lake sometimes 12, 13,000 feet high, all covered with snow. And then you are at Marquez. 100,000 bunk trees all in between and that's that's combination of colors just amazing.


Lea Lane  01:51

The Medina in Marrakech the marketplace is something else. I remember when I was when I went there first there was a snake charmer right next to a dentist, and I couldn't get over that.


Ahmed Taoumi  02:03

Yeah, that's in the square. Oh, you know when you have restaurants and Yeah, well, that have changed a lot because today's more organized. Anyway, Marquez is the second imperial city of Morocco. It was a founded in the 11th century by 1000 Year 1008 1009. But the first Imperial cities in this country is fests fairs, has different aspects offer different things. It's an impressive city, mainly that old, the old the medina in the Old City. And you know, when you walk with the 3000 Donkeys and mules carrying everything. For me, that's impressive, because when you walk, you feel like you are walking in the middle of a city, and it's not made up.


Lea Lane  02:50

Yeah, I read that it's the largest carless area there no cars and it's the biggest space for a major city. I know there are two magnificent schools within within.


Ahmed Taoumi  03:04

Oh, yeah, there. So the other thing that another thing is that the oldest university in the world is taken place in that city.


Lea Lane  03:14

It's beautiful. You can get lost very easily, though you better have a buddy.


Ahmed Taoumi  03:19

The oldest university in the world is situated in that city of Fes. That's Old City.


Lea Lane  03:28

So tell me about Magnus. That's another ancient imperial city.


Ahmed Taoumi  03:32

Yes, it's not very, very ancient.


Lea Lane  03:35

The stables there. The horse is of all 


Ahmed Taoumi  03:39

is from the 17th century. Ah, but you see those building were affected a bit by the famous earthquake of Lisbon of 1755 that destroyed all that royal palace was established in the 17th century. muchness was capital of Morocco from 1672 to 1727.


Lea Lane  04:01

And the stables that you see of the Sultan are from the 17th, 16th.


Ahmed Taoumi  04:06

The end of the 1600s. Yeah, right.


Lea Lane  04:10

I know. It's close by boat to Volubilis. Yes, the Roman ruins. That's ancient. 


Ahmed Taoumi  04:17

That's right. Sorry. Yeah, yeah, that's from the year 40 BC. And the one who was in love with mosaics has to visit a little bit is because that's a country contains the most beautiful more or a Roman mosaics ever. And it started any because when you go in there you see even the chronology of the mosaic from black and white that started in the year 50 BC. Till 150 ad, when they start with polychromy with colors, and then till 280 ad, that was the top time of The Mosaic after 280 ad. I mean mosaic started declining


Lea Lane  05:04

One of the things I loved about being there was the time I was there at least it wasn't that crowded it was so crowded yeah it's a very special feeling when you walk among the ancient ruins and you have no one around


Ahmed Taoumi  05:19

That's right. It's no it's almost you know, sometime you go by it you see groups you know, baseball like crowded like fairs or like Marrakesh and so even with groups is not crowded. You see one or two groups you know because they go in back and forth you know, different destinations some are going to there some are going to rabbet some are going to Magnus you know and that's what it's never crowded it's beautiful The only thing is the weather is raining yeah if it is rainy won't be there video Don't you wouldn't enjoy that much bits from February till October. That's beautiful.


Lea Lane  05:52

Okay, so Rabat is the another ancient city but that's good more modern cap. That's where the king lives. Is that correct?


Ahmed Taoumi  05:59

That's right. It's the fourth Imperial cities of this country. You know it the last one. It has also I mean, it's its elegance, as you may have seen with the beautiful a monument like that mausoleum of Mohammed the Feb the ruins of that mosque, the twin sister blood journal, that's our spin daddy's from the 12th century. The cast but received a lot of Moorish, it is also it has beautiful cast by you know that's also from the 12th century you know that that is the last to be to become comfortable of this of this country.


Lea Lane  06:32

Yes. I just want to mention several areas in that that are extraordinary. One is the desert that Sahara you can go and spend an overnight or two in one of the beautiful cities in the middle in the desert and I will never forget my camel ride my Safari on you know with the sunset and and sunrise. 


Ahmed Taoumi  06:53

Yeah, yeah. Because then you have to cross the mean departing from Fez. You can go either from pheasant for Mark as you go from Fez. That's an easy way because you have to cross the High Atlas Mountains get to the pre desert first where you have cities like a Rashidi, you have like that's Rose City of roses. You have those beautiful gorgeous, then you have the city of horses that then you go down a bit 70 kilometers south of Rashidiya to a little city called Erfoud that actually the more the more they it was from air food when they were you to pick up land rovers to go to the desert to the set. You take us about an hour twice. Sometimes you can deploy at 4am to see the sunset, the sunrise and sometime you can go at 4pm you know see the sunset. It's beautiful.


Lea Lane  07:43

Beautiful, I check colors. The colors of Morocco are beautiful. I want to just mention the city of CEF showen. Chef Chauhan which I went to specially I flew there myself from Paris once just to see it because it's called the Blue City or the blue pearl and it actually is blue and it's as beautiful as you hoped it was well worth the trip. And I highly recommend it. It's a mountain village town in the reef mountains near Tangier near your home. Yeah. And you can if you go to Tangier, you can drive there and a couple of hours. It's magnificent.


Ahmed Taoumi  08:19

That's right to two hours to two hours 15 minute you are is showing is situated in the in the extreme west of the Rif mountains and also the city a little higher up but situated between two mountains that gives when you're far away and you see show in or it's normally chef so in that actual we can call it with the nickname we can call it showing easy you know, so when you see when you're far away and you see that little city all in blue, as situated between two mountains, those two mountains mountains looks like horns you know their horns or or a cow horns. So when those people that came from the birth mountains far away from the ease they were crossing all the mountains and before getting in there they saw those two mountains like in the shape of the horns. They started saying to each other chef Chawan chef means look shall when these horns look at the horns that that they never heard that. Yeah that that the explanation to worship so it so it has also it's beautiful. You see it's pretty small with the beautiful blue people are using their blue they say it's against mosquitoes. Some others say that's in the summertime which warms up today. You know it gives a little fresh air. It's cool color would mean eight out of cobalt measly that is like characteristic that city because the city receives a lot of Arabs, a lot of Jewish that were exposed from Spain at the time of like Reconquista and a lot of them settle in their beds. That city was built in A year 1400 71. Okay, so it would be like actually about 450 years old or something. And it was built on purpose higher up to protect that area from the Portuguese invasion.


Lea Lane  10:14

Well, right now it's an invasion of tourists because it's slow.


Ahmed Taoumi  10:19

And they're most welcome. They all most welcome You know, sometimes, but everybody's welcome, is most welcome.


Lea Lane  10:27

So the people from all these cultures I think you see it very clearly in the architecture one of the most beautiful aspects of Morocco is the magnificent variety of architecture. Can you tell me? Well, first of all about the Casbah, that's the, the center.


Ahmed Taoumi  10:45

What, Casbah. You know, when people hear the word Casbah, everyone has to also load differential predation according to sometimes with Hollywood, you know, show it you know, how it shows it but normally, a casbah is a word in Berber language. That means the 40 by house it's like castle, you know, you see the those castles in France and United Kingdom and everything. But here we have castles you know, in mud, know that have a squirt shape with four tower tower, each angle, and the castle. So people need to like you see, don't see that's like in Casablanca Marrakech bears. And so you see that mainly in the pre desert. At the very beginning, there was no I mean, there was mainly tribe life, and people tribe you to fight against each other. And as a precaution, everyone or every family had to build the house that house in the shape of little fortress with four towers to defend his own family, not the whole village. And it resulted the cost about you know, the Casbah, you know, became later on a fortified house, but now, only 500 the one America she's about 800 years, but the one of Tangier fez has no Kasbah you know, Casablanca has little tiny one, just little part. The bed has a Casper, so like the one of thing of 500 years ago, it became an army for vacation.


Lea Lane  12:13

But what about the places where you shop, call it Medina, the medina.


Ahmed Taoumi  12:18

Where you go anywhere, anywhere you go in Morocco, you get to cities. You get modern cities you may have known when he went through the Bulevar and all those buildings and modern streets and so and then you have the Old City, a walled city. We call it Medina. But some of the cities have on top or in a higher place of the city they built for, to defend, to protect the city from any type of attack from any type of invasion, or any attempt of an invasion, like the one of tng. You were next you were in a hotel matar dura mater. I remember. So, next to the cause, but you see how it overlooks all the Strait of Gibraltar to control all sailing, all kinds of sailing, because in case if there was any attempt of invasion, they could see the boat from far away, and they could get ready to defend their city from any type of invasion or any support. And you may have noticed those old cannons on top of the walls, you know, but that castle of Tangier was built on purpose, the gates against the Portuguese invasion.


Lea Lane  13:21

Let me just ask you, we stayed, I've been to Morocco several times. And my favorite places to stay are Riyadh's. Could you explain a Riyadh because I think many people you know, they hear the word and they they're not sure if they would enjoy it. I thought it was a spectacular experience.


Ahmed Taoumi  13:38

We have some amazing, some stunning places or some stunning react. Korea, in the very old days was a residence of for high ranking or high society, people like those prime ministers or any governors. So I mean, just people from high ranking or rich people, wealthy people, you have them in the old cities mainly. So they had the Riyadh it had to have an interior courtyard. See because you see you may have noted that our our ancient or regional buildings have no balconies overlooking the streets. But you see when you go to the inside these go to like the garden or should they courtyard you see balconies overlooking the interior courtyard. So they were Yeah, they were like fancy homes, a homes for wealthy people. So with the time with generations and generation people start to buy those homes and convert them into reality into like, bed and breakfast. But they call them Riyadh as like, the home of someone important, someone rich. No of the very old days. 


Lea Lane  14:48

Yes, it's very wonderful. And you get to taste very often. They'll serve traditional foods. What are some I mean, the My favorites are tangines. Could you explain the tradition of tangine?


Ahmed Taoumi  15:00

Tangine is a still that has a conical cover and but normally people cook normally in their kitchen but when they serve it the separation that doesn't except if you go to villages. If you go to real authentic places where they they put all the like the sauce and the meat and potatoes and vegetables and everything on that's too and they put him on charcoal cooks when it's cooked and cooked slowly so it when it when it's ready it's more how can I more tastes 


Lea Lane  15:32

I went to one restaurant where I had pistilo, am I pronouncing that,  with the pigeon and couscous and all kinds of delicious.


Ahmed Taoumi  15:42

Right, pistilo or pigeon, that's one of the treats you know, we have a need to read the live from Cordoba from Spain. When Andalusia were Arab, that's where it was created pistil A comes like for pistilo which means apistilo stellar or pristine Spanish means a pill that like medication you know because it's it's a pretty good pill. That's right. That's why we call it pastel. But today you know the more creative they make personal as fish that are very, very very delicious. You know, that's one of the top you know, I need to treat so not everybody makes pistilo everyday home you know it's like they use it as a treat like in in weddings and if it is any any a special day when the celebration day or something.


Lea Lane  16:29

So, I know when people go to Morocco they come back with the most beautiful things I brought back a brass lamp and it puts beautiful light on the ceiling and rug and what else.


Ahmed Taoumi  16:43

We have ceramics, yeah. Ceramics there are three cities where the ceramics is the finest you have the city called Safe city called Sole right next to Rabat, the capital and you have the city of Fes. These are the best cities we can get one of the best ceramics you know and it depends on the color that they use like the fairs is considered as the blue is favorite very, very fine ceramics last embroider tree to say horse saddles.


Lea Lane  17:13

They work tannery, I remember in Fes there was a huge tannery where it didn't smell very good. But it was like only the beautiful products.


Ahmed Taoumi  17:22

Yeah, it's very hard work. Where do you work the ledger that Fred I mean the fleeces when they just take the fleeces from animals and so they put them in there through a process then they have to take them up and take them outside to the open air and try them that would that they make like slippers they make those if you remember those those handbags but not not names now.


Lea Lane  17:47

Louis Vuitton


Ahmed Taoumi  17:50

Just traditional ones. Yeah, they pretty they good? Yeah, well, it's very diversified because a lot of people are still doing handwork which is very, very important till today and eaten heritage and heritage from the very very old days I think Moroccan than in North Africa is the only one that's top hand workers that we have you may have seen like, the the way how would they do the decoration they like the plaster or the Stockholm or the mosaics on building so when they work those beautiful doors, you know, those cedar walls, doors, windows and everything. So that's an old and heritage and it's I must say that it is a Jewish and Arab the word handwork it's inherited from the Jewish that we have in here because it I mean, they Moroccan and they were born here and at the end they they made a lot, you know, they helped a lot to develop it the handwork and labor.


Lea Lane  18:53

Let me ask you in terms of shopping, do you have any tips on bargaining? A lot of people don't know how to do that in New York today?


Ahmed Taoumi  19:00

It depends. It depends because you know, with with internet that's helped a lot. And people know better. It would not like in the old days people today are a bit careful. They don't want to have like any came to avoid they want to avoid problems or think with people. And normally the bargaining I like personally I'm talking about me personally as the guy I will never accept that from anybody. I will never take anyone any work because I know places how people deal you know they can they can get like 20% 25% Even 30% some size. But I don't like to play with that.


Lea Lane  19:41

I'd like to ask you, there are, well let me ask you on it, title is Places I Remember. So what would be a memory you have you have so many of Morocco. What's one thing you would like to remember?


Ahmed Taoumi  19:54

Oh, okay, I've been working. I've been doing round trips to the country for 25 years. So I know country perfectly I had so many anecdotes and so many little stories and so but the one that's marked me and I still can never forget is one day I was with the couple that have a little young boy and now nine years, 9-10 years old. He was made a spoiled and wonderful and we want all we are touring the outskirt and so and then I told him, Okay, do you want to see the camels to say yes, I would love to slowly separate the camels. It was by the month of April and March, the females gumbo, start giving birth. Okay, so we stopped in there they he rode and they were taking pictures and saw what he saw little cute, baby camo. And he was starting to cry. And he started to say, I want to take this camel with me so they become our it took me about three hours to convince him that cannot cannot be taken into the play. It took me it took me about three hours. A little boy, he was crying. He said he's not moving from there and you want to take that, that come up with Bailey take it take it take the gumball with him to baby gamble with him today to stay. So how are you going to convince him that you cannot take that in the plane? Took me about three hours and I can he was so cute at the end, you know? And he was convinced but he was convinced and he was looking at me. You know all the rest of the tour. He was looking at me like I'm not happy with you. 


Lea Lane  21:32

BecauseI guess that's a shopping spree we won't have to shop right?


Ahmed Taoumi  21:37

Oh, right. You know what the best thing to do is to get free time to people. Yeah, that's what I do normally, because my tours are mainly educational, you know, and historical and a deep love detour me as them whether you want to have some free time, or you want to sit down for coffee, or enjoy your mentee. You know, when you let people walk by themselves be free, you know, it's better.


Lea Lane  22:03

Right? I just think, you know, I'll say it again. I think Morocco is one of the great destinations of the world. And I thank you so very much for sharing your information with us today.


Ahmed Taoumi  22:14

You're very welcome. And you're most welcome. Anytime.


Lea Lane  22:17

Thank you. If you do have any questions about Morocco, or of any episodes, you can contact me at


Ahmed Taoumi  22:28

Thank you, I will.


Lea Lane  22:36

Thanks for sharing travel memories with us. My book, Places I Remember, is available on Amazon and in bookstores, in print, on Kindle, and I read the audio version. Please subscribe to this podcast and consider giving us a review. Until next time, join us wherever in the world we're going.

Four imperial cities and ancient ruins: Marrakesh, Fez, Meknes, Volubulus and Rabat
Chefchouen -The Blue City
Traditional Foods
Shopping and Bargaining
Special Memory of Morocco