For imprinting memories, nothing rivals extracting kids from their comfort zone
It struck me on a recent trip to Marrakech that far from the nightmare travelling companions of popular myth, children are actually great explorers. Always remembering the high points, the lows wiped from their memories the moment new excitement appears on the horizon. A few years ago, we took an interminable car journey: eight long cramped hours (having been sold to us as five) in the back seat, on bumpy, twisting roads, to get from Ouarzazate in central Morrocco to a camp in the Sahara.
Monkeys clamber about on leads. Dodging cobras emerging from baskets
The boredom set in within moments, and by the time we finally arrived, there had been tears and rages, two toilet emergencies, one bout of vomiting and a blessedly long nap. Yet the moment the kids saw the vast expanse of majestic shifting sand dunes, silhouetted in the setting sun, the journey was forgotten, as they jumped and danced like ecstatic dervishes in the light of the rising moon. Morocco has been our favoured location for February half-term since my two were toddlers, and at a time when big chunks of the Arab world are off menu for family travellers, it remains a unique oasis of safety, comfort and welcome.
The desert nights might be nippy, but by day the sun beats down, and the blast of exotic Berber pigments of deep indigo, rusty red and yellow ochre are a welcome relief from the dreary grey of British winter. As for food, what could be more child-enticing than a tasty mash of aubergine, sugary carrots, and dazzling array of sweet pastries and flatbreads. Dar Moha in Marrakech’s Medina is a favoured lunch spot of ours, but breakfast has to be fried eggs wrapped in a pancake, bought from a stallholder in Jemaa el-Fnaa.
You realise your short flight has taken you far further than you imagined the minute you step into the main square in Marrakech; monkeys clamber about on leads, dodging cobras emerging from the baskets of snake charmers, while Berber musicians in earth-brown djellabas [hooded cloaks] sit spinning crimson-tasselled fezes in time to their music.
Venturing beyond the mysteries of the Medina, there are mountains to climb, Berber villages to visit, great hikes to take, surfing on the coast, camels to ride and the soft Atlantic
spray and seafood feasts of Essaouira. Accommodation comes to suit all budgets, whether it’s the abject luxury of Dar Ahlam outside beautiful movie-set city of Ouarzazate, the rustic simplicity of Kasbah Beldi, Surf Maroc’s trendy new hotel Amouage or one of Natural High Safaris’ brilliant camping treks; we’ve tried and loved them all.
Often, with kids, it’s tempting to minimise the effort when it comes to holidays, but for imprinting memories there’s nothing to rival extracting them from their comfort zone. No matter how long the road journey, how crowded the airport, how much they whinge on the way, when the hardship ends, they’ll deny outright having experiencing discomforts, remembering only the epiphanies.
It’s not a bad way to look at the world, and one worth bearing in mind when you decide on your next adventure.