Chefchaouen

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Despite spending most of our time in the south of Morocco, we drove eight hours north from Marrakech just to see Chefchaouen. Surrounded by the Rif Mountains, the entire town is painted in varying shades of blue. Some say it was the Jews who brought the tradition when they fled from Spain in the 15th century. Others say the blue drives the mosquitos away. Or that it keeps the homes cool in the summer. Whatever the reason, it is what makes the city unique and undeniably photogenic.

We stayed at the Lina Ryad & Spa, which is located near the top of the old town. Our room opened up to the terrace, where we had an amazing view of the blue city below. When we weren’t exploring hidden passages and getting lost in the medina, we were at the spa for a traditional Moroccan hammam. We also hiked to the Spanish Mosque to watch the sun set over the city. What we’ll remember most about Chefchaouen though is hearing the call to prayer echo throughout its blue cobbled streets.

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Sahara

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We had always wanted to go to the Sahara and knew it was going to be a memorable experience. It lived up to expectations but not for the reasons we had in mind. While at Dar Ahlam, we were able to make the journey for a one night stay in the desert. It was a five-hour drive along windy roads and scattered Berber villages. In between, we stopped for lunch underneath palm trees in an oasis. After passing the town of Foum Zguid, we proceeded through the gates and entered the desert.

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The beginning was rocky and rough but later transformed into soft sand. We do not know how our driver navigated another hour through the roadless desert. He took a detour along the way to visit one of the nomads that call the Sahara their home. As the elder in the family, the nomad stayed at their base while the rest of the members herded goats through the desert. We saw how sparse their camp was and how difficult their way of life is.

When we arrived at the foot of the dunes, our camp was waiting for us. It was decidedly different from the one we just visited. Inside was a large bed, sitting area and bathroom. After escaping from the hot sun for awhile, we went back outside to have an aperitif and watch the sun set behind the dunes. A trail of lanterns led us back to the camp where we found dinner had been set up under the stars. We had a really nice meal and were amazed at how good everything was given we were in the middle of nowhere.

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Just as we made it back to our tent, the wind started to pick up and sand was blowing all over. The thunderstorm we had been watching in the distance during dinner had made its way to our camp. Within minutes, the still and quiet night had disappeared. The wind was so strong it felt like our tent was going to blow over. Then it started to rain. We tried to sleep but it was a bit difficult in the middle of a desert storm. To make matters worse, the water started to leak through the canvas in the middle of the night.

In the early hours of the morning, the storm had finally blown over. We woke up to find sand everywhere. Yet to our surprise our tent was still standing. We stepped out to watch the sun rise before having breakfast, which again was laid out nicely for us when we returned to camp. We wanted to stay awhile longer but could already feel the heat and had to start our five-hour journey back to Dar Ahlam.

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So while our stay in the desert wasn’t completely calm and peaceful like we thought it would be, we had a really incredible time and enjoyed it nonetheless. The Sahara is such a vast and undisturbed place that the night in the storm made us respect even more the nomads who choose to live their life in this beautiful yet unforgiving environment.

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Dar Ahlam

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Dar Ahlam means House of Dreams. We had arrived at the 200-year old kasbah after driving five hours through the Atlas Mountains from Marrakech. There is no reception, telephone or television and no keys. We were presented our room which had no number.

Meals are served anytime you would like and held at a different location each time. Breakfast in the garden, lunch by the pool, and dinner in one of the hidden rooms of the kasbah. One night we were surprised with dinner in a courtyard full of lanterns with a fire and local musicians playing for us. The cuisine varies from French to Moroccan but there is no menu. Each meal was a surprise and there was not a dish we did not like.

The spa offered a traditional Moroccan hammam experience except instead of a public bathhouse we had the spa to ourselves for an hour. The ritual begins with undressing fully before heading into a steam room. While lying on a marble slab, the attendant covers you with a black olive oil soap. You then get a vigorous scrubbing from head to toe with a kessa glove to exfoliate the skin. This is followed by being covered in rhassoul, a mineral clay from the Atlas Mountains, and then finally a thorough rinse. We felt completely refreshed after it all.

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Excursions are available if you are not content with just staying at the kasbah. We visited the nearby Valley of the Roses, named for the flowers that bloom there each spring. Further along the road of a thousand kasbahs is Boumalne Dades, the site of the Dades gorge.  We even spent a night in the Sahara desert, a five-hour drive from Dar Ahlam.

One of the most impressive sites is the ksar of Aït Benhaddou, a fortified Berber village. The Moroccan architecture made from clay can be seen everywhere. Due to the material, it sometimes felt as if a strong rain could melt away an entire town.

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The Fat Duck

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You wouldn’t expect one of the best restaurants in the world to be located in a small and unassuming village, let alone two restaurants. In fact, that is what you will find in the village of Bray — two of UK’s three Michelin star restaurants. The one I had always wanted to go to was Heston Blumenthal’s The Fat Duck. He also runs a one-star gastropub The Hind’s Head and a country pub The Crown, all within a stone’s throw away.

A visit to The Fat Duck isn’t just a meal but an experience. It started with a hard sought-after reservation four months before. A month’s worth of reservations are filled up within minutes of being released. A few weeks before our meal, we were asked to fill out a questionnaire which was then followed up by a phone call. The reason was to be revealed over the course of the meal.

The philosophy behind the restaurant is to recreate childhood memories and nostalgia through food. As such, the menu, or rather the itinerary as they call it, is structured around the chef’s childhood memories of going on a trip: first, waking up and having breakfast, going out to the sea and the woods, having a big dinner and then going off to sleep. Throughout the four hour journey, they included some touches that reflected our own personal memories.

The Day Before We Go: Are we nearly there yet?

 

A CHANGE-OF-AIR

Paloma, Campari soda, Pina Colada, Vodka Lime Sour - who will be the dragon?

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JUST THE TONIC WE NEED

Smoked cumin Royale, Jerusalem artichoke ice cream

Morning: Rise and shine, it’s breakfast time

 

EXCUSE ME, MY TEA SEEMS TO BE COLD…AND HOT.

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WHY DO I HAVE TO CHOOSE BETWEEN A VARIETY PACK AND A COOKED BREAKFAST?

Truffled egg mousse, jellied tomato consomme, bacon and toasted bread cream, cereals

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Mid-morning: First one to see the sea…

 

“SOUND of the SEA”

 
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“CAN I HAVE SOME MONEY FOR AN ICE CREAM?”

Waldorf salad “Rocket”.
Salmon, avocado and horseradish “Twister”.
Crab and passion fruit “99”.

 

THEN WE WENT ROCKPOOLING

Cornish crab, smoked caviar and golden trout roe, velour of white chocolate and sea vegetables

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Afternoon: If you go down to the woods today…

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DAMPING THROUGH THE BOROUGHGROVES…

Mushroom, beet and blackberry, scented with fig leaf, meadowsweet, melilot, oak moss and black truffle

 

…WE DISCOVERED THE MOCK TURTLE PICNIC

Mock turtle soup and egg, toast sandwich

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Evening: Are you ready for dinner?

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STARTER

 
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MAIN COURSE

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DESSERT

 
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DIGESTIF

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Bedtime: Off to the Land of Nod

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And then to dream…

 

COUNTING SHEEP

Malt, orange blossom, tonka, milk, meringue, crystallized white chocolate, pistachio

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LIKE A KID IN A SWEETSHOP

Oxchoc,
caramel in edible wrapper,
Queen of Hearts jam tart,
mandarin scented aerated chocolate

Montenegro

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Montenegro is definitely an up and coming destination. We see the country featured everywhere lately. The relatively new nation (it split from Serbia in 2006), is located in the Balkans along the Adriatic coast. We flew into Tivat, a small airport right in the Bay of Kotor, for a few days and drove around the southern region of the country.

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The Bay of Kotor

Along the Bay of Kotor are several old towns and villages. Herceg Novi sits at the entrance of the bay, not far from the southern end of Croatia. Perast is a very picturesque town with two small islands. The first is a natural island with a Benedictine Abbey from the 12th century. The other is the Lady of the Rocks, an Orthodox church built on a pile of rocks. We took a small boat trip out to the latter one. A little further in is Kotor with a well-preserved Stari Grad, or Old Town. We woke up early one morning to climb the fortress and city walls that overlook the rest of the town and bay. In contrast, Tivat is home to a marina full of shiny new yachts and Luscitica Bay is a new town being built as we speak to support the growing number of boats coming in.

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Lovcen Mountains

Not far from Kotor are the Lovćen mountains, which is where the country takes its name. From Kotor, narrow roads lead up the mountain, culminating in a series of a twenty-five serpentine switchbacks with amazing views of the bay. On the second highest peak is the Njegos Mausoleum, the highest mausoleum in the world. After entering the national park, we walked up 461 steps to visit the tomb of the famous Montengrin and take in views from the panorama. The road to Cetinje, the former capital, is a less harrowing experience and from there the road took us to Budva.

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Budva Coast

Like many of the other towns, Budva has a Stari Grad but it is mostly overlooked in favour of its beaches. Every square foot of sand was covered by people. We preferred the nearby island of Sveti Stefan instead. A small island that used to be a village for 400 people, the town was turned into a hotel in the 1960s until its decline as a result of the breakup of Yugoslavia. Since 2009, the hotel group Aman has restored the island into an exclusive property where the old houses are now individual suites and the market squares are restaurants. The only way to visit the island without staying overnight is to reserve one of ten spots in the twice daily tours. One of the best views of the island though is from above, up a steep road that eventually leads to the tiny and remote church of Sveti Sava.

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stay

Astoria Hotel Kotor: A boutique hotel in a former palace within the Old Town of Kotor.