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My six year old daughter was desperate to learn to surf. Her father is a keen surfer, but ever since an episode in Australia back in 2004 when I nearly broke my nose, I have been a little reluctant; shielding myself from the pursuit with my children. However, in the spirit of encouraging my children to be more adventurous, I was starting to run out of excuses so, when we last went to Morocco, I dusted off my wetsuit and promised that we would have a lesson together.
On the morning of our lesson, my daughter woke bright eyed and excited. I was apprehensive. As we walked down to meet our guide, however, it was a sunny day and the sea looked calm and inviting. Too calm, unfortunately, we were forced to abandon our plans and wait for better waves the next day. My daughter was disappointed, I on the other hand, was somewhat relieved at my stay of execution.
Tomorrow came quickly, however, and the next day we returned to the surf camp which was alive and buzzing with bodies; surf was officially up. Unfortunately for my daughter, conditions were now too rough and it was judged that she shouldn’t have her lesson, mine, however, could go ahead. She hid her disappointment well, with the incentive on an ice cream her sadness soon abated. I, on the other hand was now on the brink, forced to be brave and face my surfing fears.
The session began with a briefing, going through an assessment of the conditions and safety. They were very thorough and then insisted upon a full warm up before we were to enter the sea. We were then divided up into groups and the more experienced headed off with their guides, I was left for a one on one session, as they could obviously see the fear in my eyes. I started off learning the basic techniques and then went into the water to spend some time body boarding, which I absolutely loved. Catching waves and then coasting in to the shallows. My cheer-leading children came along to watch and play on the beach, my husband came to laugh, but I didn’t care, it was great fun. We then turned to the rather more tricky business of trying to get me to stand up on the board – this was my downfall back in 04. However, before even attempting to stand up, I needed to learn how to choose a wave and then catch it. My instructor was most amused by my attempt to catch every wave coming in my direction. Slow down, he said to me, there is always time, there is always another wave. For a working mother of three, there is never time and I am always trying to do a zillion things at once. Suddenly, the opportunity to step back, focus on the waves and wait for the right one felt very, very appealing. I stopped stressing and worrying and just started to enjoy myself, slowing myself down to a surfer’s pace.
Catching waves is one thing, standing up is quite another. This isn’t something that comes at once, it takes practice and patience and certainly wasn’t something that I could master in my first lesson. But I had a lot of fun trying (as did my family watching) Being in the sea, focussing on the surf, all my other worries seemed to disappear and I really enjoyed myself.
On first glance, food in Morocco can feel like quite a challenge for young stomachs. Prolific use of spices such as cumin, strange and unfamiliar smells can be a worry for children already in a slightly different environment. However, Morocco is a very child friendly place and hidden in the menus are plenty of foods and tastes that young stomachs will enjoy. If you have time before you go away, it might be worth introducing some of the flavours and textures at home, so that your children have had a chance to try them in a familiar environment. Experience shows that whilst children may resist and complain about different food when they are away, when they are truly hungry they will eat and it can be very gratifying watching your child who won’t eat tomatoes at home, eating them on holiday because they are the only ‘normal’ things being served up.
If you are travelling during Ramadan, then please remember that most locally run restaurants and cafes will be closed during the day time. This does not apply to tourist restaurants and hotels, where it will be business as usual.
Breakfasts served in the riads and hotels are generally of the international variety and one of the easiest meals to enjoy with children. Children are typically served hot / cold cocoa whilst adults enjoy tea or coffee. Orange juice is also served – most usually the freshly squeezed variety, with ‘bits.’ To eat, you normally have breads and jams, often accompanied by patisseries and / or eggs. The type of breakfast will vary from place to place, but if your children are struggling with the exotic jams, you can easily get hold of strawberry jam or nutella in the local shops.
If you are away from the city, then a good value option is to buy a picnic. Bread is available in nearly all village shops as are staples such as cans of tuna and seasonal vegetables and crisps. If you are eating in a café. omelettes are widely available and a cheap lunchtime meal. They come plain, with tomatoes or with cheese (the Laughing Cow variety)
Eating out with children in Morocco is very easy. Children are welcome almost everywhere, the exception being some of the high end tourist restaurants. For the most part, children’s meals are not widely available, but it is entirely acceptable to order a dish to share. In larger towns, you will find retsuarnats and cafes serving more recognisable fare; pizza, pasta and ice cream. If pasta isn’t advertised on the menu and you are struggling to find something that your child will eat, you can always ask if they have any.
One of the staples of Moroccan cuisine is tagine, a type of stew made with beef, chicken, lamb or fish with seasonal vegetables. This is remarkably similar to a casserole or stew and young children tend to particularly enjoy the chicken version, served in a lemon and olive sauce. Tested by one of the world’s fussiest 5 year old eaters, this dish has been proclaimed ‘normal’ - high praise indeed.
Other easy to come by dishes include chicken and chips and brochettes (grilled kebabs) again served with chips. Most restaurants and cafes have ketchup, so this is often a good back up meal for nervous eaters. Cous cous is another popular option for some children. This is usually served with a gravy like sauce and seasonal vegetables. Waiting staff will often be happy to serve the sauce separately for children. All meals are served with bread so, at the very least, children can fill up on this.
At 4,167m, Mount Toubkal is the highest peak in the Atlas Mountains. It is a non-technical summit requiring only a reasonable degree of fitness and determination. Toubkal (often called Jbel Toubkal) is easily reached from Marrakech and lays at the heart of a network of trekking trails that offer striking high altitude mountain scenery, lush valleys and relatively untouched Berber communities. Toubkal is climbable year round, albeit in winter, from Nov – May, snow settles above 3000m and crampons and ice axes are required.
The Trailhead: Trails all start from Imlil (1740m), a large picturesque village set at the head of the Imlil Valley surrounded by walnut groves, apple trees and bisected by a rushing river.
Imlil – Toubkal Refuge: The most direct route to the Toubkal Refuge is a 4 hr uphill walk from Imlil via the shrine of sidi chamharouch (2350m). As this is a busy trail and is usually the descent route, most opt for a more scenic approach via the neighbouring Azzaden Valley.
Toubkal Refuge (3207m): Whichever route you take there is no avoiding a night at the refuge. Dorms are crowded and bathroom facilities leave much to be desired. In good weather avoid the dorms and camp.
Toubkal Refuge – Tizi n Toubkal Pass (South Col): From the Refuge, the trail zig-zags up the South Col, a long and moderately steep scree slope ascending 750m to the Tizi-n Toubkal Pass
Approaching the Tizi n Toubkal Pass at 3950m
Tizi n Toubkal Pass – Summit: From the pass, the trail traces a dramatic ridge to the summit, with spectacular mountain views to the N/S/E/W. It is an easy scramble set well back from the precipitous drop of the ridge.
Summit 4167m: With good visibility, the summit of Toubkal offers stunning views over the surrounding High Atlas Mountains and out to the Sahara Desert in the far distance.
Optional Descent via North Col: The majority head back down the same route, but for the adventurous there is a longer more dramatic descent via the North Col, requiring moderate scrambling from the summit.
The North Col: The North Col is a classical U-shaped Valley offers cracking scenery and a more remote feel, with few other trekkers.
Remains of a 1960s Portuguese Army cargo plane: The plane went down with its four crew in the 1960s and much of the wreckage remains scattered eerily about the mountain-side.
Back to the refuge: Anywhere between 4 -6 hours later, weary trekkers arrive back at the refuge for a well-deserved lunch. Many descend back to Imlil and Marrakech the same day.
2 Days: The two day route is a simple up & down via the same trail from Imlil. The first day is spent getting from Marrakech to the mountains with an afternoon walk up to the refuge. The second day tackles the summit, before the long descent back to Imlil and on to Marrakech.
3 Days: With three days, you can tackle Toubkal via the neighbouring (and very picturesque) Azzaden Valley. This is a reasonably challenging trek with long days on day two and three. A highlight is the traverse from the head of the Azzaden Valley over the Aguelzim Pass (3450m) on day two. See our 3 Day Toubkal Circular Trek.
4-5 Days: Arguably the most balanced route, offering a great taster of relatively untouched remote Berber villages, valley walking and high passes and peaks. The five day route crosses from the Imlil Valley to the Azzaden Valley and on to the remote D’knt Valley via low passes before weaving its way back via up-valley passes to tackle Toubkal on the final day. See our 4-5 Day Villages and Toubkal Trek.
6 Days: For seasoned trekkers. The 6 day route follows a trail through remote areas over several stunning high passes, wild camping at night. The trail passes by Lak D’Ifni where there is usually an opportunity for a spot of relaxation and swimming. It is a more demanding trek, but the rewards are immense. See our 6 Day Toubkal Trek.
It is possible to climb Jebel Toubkal any time, but spring is arguably the best. In winter the mountain is covered in snow and a skilled guide, crampons and ice axes are a must. In spring the weather is warmer and there is still some snow cover over the loose scree making for perfect trekking conditions. Summer and Autumn can be hot, and the scree is loose, but an early start makes it more than manageable.
A detailed weather forecast for Toubkal and at varying elevations in the Atlas Mountains can be found at mountain-forecast.com
Outside the winter months, Jebel Toubkal is accessible as long as you are reasonably fit and determined. No specialist gear is required and with a guide and mule to take the load the task is made much easier. It is tough work and if you prefer to take it a little easier, there are some lovely trails featuring passes and fantastic mountain views (for example see our three day valleys trek LINK)
In winter it is recommended you have some prior experience with crampons and ice axes before attempting Toubkal.
Toubkal is at altitude and altitude sickness is a possibility, severe conditions are rare (primarily because the highest overnight is only 3200m), but mild symptoms such as head-aches, lack of appetite and mild nausea can be common on the summit day.
You don't really need any specialist equipment outside winter months, but common sense applies. You will need hiking shoes or boots with a full-tread sole and good weatherproof clothing, a good sleeping bag (these can be rented) and of course, a first aid kit.
There are two refuges on Jebel Toubkal (right next to each other), the Neltner Hut (Club Alpin Francais) and the newer Mouflons Refuge. Both offer very basic dormitory style accommodation and passable shared bathroom facilities. It is possible to avoid the dorms and camp in the summer months.
Toubkal Hiking Map: Superb 1:50000 map covering the majority of the trekking area around Toubkal (and with a handy Marrakech Medina street map on the reverse)
Moroccan High Atlas Mountaineering Guide: Detailed mountaineering guidebook to the area.
The islands of Lopud and Sipan are beautiful small Islands a short journey from the old town of Dubrovnik. They make a perfect base for a relaxed holiday or multi-day kayaking tour. The accommodation on the Islands is composed mostly of private apartments owned by local families and fisherman, this is mostly of a mid-range standard, well located, clean but not very modern. There are a couple of small boutique hotels we also recommend.
La Villa is a lovely small 6 bedroom boutique hotel on Lopud Islands. The owners are usually on site and their attention to detail is evident in the design touches that run through the hotel. One room has a wonderful terrace (you’ll need to book well ahead to get this room), but others would benefit from a private outdoor balcony. There is a nice garden to the rear of the property and the hotel restaurant is beautifully presented and situated for the setting sun (and the food is very good). A very good choice for couples.
Villa Vilina is a 15 room boutique hotel on Lopud Island. The hotel is sited in a lovely spot overlooking the village and bay with a lovely terrace to take in the views. Service is friendly and rooms are comfortably and traditionally furnished. The apartments behind the main building are sited around the pool and are perfect for families. The hotel grows its own fruit and vegetables in the grounds for use in the kitchen.
Hotel Bozika a lovely boutique on its own stretch of waterfront on Sipan Island. Inside, rooms are comfortable and well presented, service is friendly, but this hotel comes into its pool and terraces with views over the Elaphite Islands, and ocean-side platform. The island of Sipan is less touristy than its close neighbours, has a fascinating history and offers plenty of options for exploring. We highly recommend Hotel Bozika either for an extended relaxed stay or a indulgent wind down after more active explorations.
There are a wealth of private apartments on the Islans. Most have air conditioning, good views and are comfortable and clean. They are typuically owned by local families, retirees and fisherman, including some real characters. It is difficult to guarantee the precise quality of the apartments as it does vary depending on what is available. What you can guarantee, though is simple local accommodation at a good price in a good location.
Dubrovnik is not the easiest place to find notable small hotels. For those looking for a treat there are several stunning boutique hotels, in the mid range, the best bet is a private apartment, preferably in the old town. These are some of our favourite recommendations.
Sophisticated, sleek and glamorous, Villa Dubrovnik is perched on the rocky shore of the Adriatic with majestic views over the Ocean and Dubrovnik old town. With 55 rooms it is a large boutique hotel, but manages to hide its size with superb high class service and clever design. Impeccable rooms feature incredible balconies (some with Jacuzzis) and glamorous glass walled bathrooms. The hotel has a library, large terrace and a rocky ‘beach’ platform from where a boat whisks guests into the heart of Dubrovnik old town. The pool is indoors but opens to sea views on one side. Whilst this has advantages, an outdoor pool would be preferable. Villa Dubrovnik would make a perfect honeymoon or treat hotel at the end of a longer stay in Croatia.
Villa Kazbek is one of our favourite properties in Dubrovnik. With only 13 rooms, the hotel is designed and built with incredible attention to detail. The majestic historic building is equally matched by the traditional, high quality furnishings (silk rugs, parquet flooring, antiques …). Villa Kazbek has a stupendous pool, a lovely terrace area and romantic restaurant. If there has to be a criticism of Kazbek it would be the location on Gruz harbour. It is only a short taxi to the old town, but don’t expect to be minutes from a dip in the Adriatic as Gruz is a working harbour (the beach at Lapad is a 20 minute walk)
Villa More is a very smart boutique hotel on Lapad peninsula. Rooms are all you would want from this type of property, the only slight criticism is that the furnishings lack panache compared to the design of the rest of the property. The kitchen and cave bar are the real highlights of Villa More. The restaurant is renowned (and usually booked out) and the Cave bar is set right by the sea next to a lovely private sunbathing and swimming platform. Villa More would make for a nice treat hotel at the end of a longer stay in Croatia.
Villa Wolf is a perfectly situated small hotel in Lapad, Dubrovnik. Rooms all have views of the Adriatic and there is a peaceful garden terrace. Double rooms are comfortable and clean if fairly non-descript. The family suite has cracking views from the balcony, but can suffer from noise from the busy Lapad beach.
Amoret Apartments are a collection of 13 apartments in the heart of the old town. All our furnished tastefully and in keeping with the surroundings. With the Amoret Apartments you get the best of both worlds, with a hotel like service, rooms are cleaned every two days and staff are always on hand if needed. Perfect option if staying in the old town.
Dubrovnik Bed and Breakfast boasts a wonderful position right next to the Ploce Gate into the old town. It is a simple B&B with 5 clean, spacious comfortably furnished rooms and a friendly owner (who lives on the property). The hallways and stairs are a little shabby, but this is a great value centrally located option for those on a budget intending to spend most of their time out and about exploring Dubrovnik old town for a couple of days.
Hotel Perla is a simple, clean and comfortable hotel in the Lapad district of Dubrovnik. Rooms are simply furnished, clean and reasonably modern. Staff are friendly and there is a street-side restaurant out front. Most rooms have balconies with views over the promenade, beach and less preferably the neighbouring hotel. Sensible option if you are on a budget and want to stay Dubrovnik in reach of a swim in the Adriatic.