From North Africa, the land of coucous, tagine, lamb, prunes, dates, figs and apricots: We moved from the cozy, neighborhood riad on a busy street in the Marrakech medina near the crush of the souq and Jemaa el-Fnaa square to an oasis about 15 minutes beyond the city center.
The Mosaic Palais Aziza & Spa driver fetched and spirited us away in a new Rolls Royce to a neighborhood of gated palaces, mature date palms, lush gardens, climbing pink bougainvillea and aromatic jasmine. We entered a refuge, a rose-colored enclave of repose and serenity. Luxury and 5-star boutique hotel only begins to describe where I landed, thanks to Judith Reitman-Texier and skin care and lifestyle company La Bedouine.
Marrakech is a desert sanctuary. Known as the Red City for her mandated salmon pink buildings, travelers come to experience her legendary romantic appeal, great craftsmanship, outstanding food, and focus on personal health.
Spa life is an integral part of desert culture where both men and women of all economic levels take a weekly cleansing hammam. Small guesthouses, luxury boutique hotels, and grand international hotels all offer spa treatment services. Here beauty is more than skin deep. It is a meditation whose source comes from deep within for spiritual and emotional cleansing and purification.
Mosaic Palais Aziz & Spa is a perfect spot for the frenzied. There’s not much to do here except lounge on pristine white divans on a patio outside the room or at the pool and swim. Take your time. North Africa is slower paced, just like Mexico. Enjoy a spa treatment, take a turn in the fully equipped gym, and sleep at any hour of the day. Reading a book seems to be the preferred entertainment for guests stretched out around the two pools.
You can dine at two extraordinary restaurants where Daniele Tourco, director of food and beverage and chef de cuisine, ensures that guests have the best fresh-made Moroccan and Italian specialties.
Have you ever had scorpion fish? Karim el Ghazzawi, President and CEO, recommended I try this last night. Otherwise, I would never have ventured there with a name like that. I know scorpions. I find them in my Oaxaca casita and I would never eat one! I step on them. But, the name belies the delicacy and Morocco is famed for her fresh fish and oysters.
There is even delicious Halana brand merlot available at the hotel that is made in Morocco to sip at your leisure.
Arabian Nights architecture and decor, lemon, olive, date and pomegranate trees heavy with fruit surround me. I’ve just emerged from a four-hands massage (imagine that). I feel so fortunate to be here at this moment, far away from stress and the decisions at hand.
I did venture out on my own on Day Two, stopping periodically to consult a map, with no difficulty. Though Morocco is an Arabic and French-speaking country, I found myself able to get along in both Spanish and English, using Spanish as my primary language. In tourist areas and hotels, most people speak enough English for basic communication.
Now, for another glass of mint tea before dinner! I’m six hours ahead of you.
Stopover Puebla: Taking a Break Between Mexico City and Oaxaca
Puebla, Mexico, has so much to offer that a two to four-day stopover going to or from Oaxaca to Mexico City is usually in my travel plans. I like to fly out of Mexico City back and forth to the USA (it’s cheaper) and usually plan a visit to this most original Spanish city in the Americas at least twice a year.
What’s to do here? Plenty. Including vibrant street life and good music.
Talavera tile gazing for starters. All the buildings in the historic center of the city are decorated and glazed with tiles harkening back to Moorish influences in Spain. If you want Spain in the New World with a touch of the Alhambra in Granada, come here.
Go antique shopping with La Quinta de San Antonio.
Eat. Traditional food preparation rotates around the seasons based on what is freshly available for ingredients. Now, in July and August, it’s Chiles en Nogada, This is a poblano chile, usually mild, cooked, slit, stuffed with a mix of pork, almonds, apples, peaches, raisins, pears, cinnamon and a lot of other things! The fruit and seasonings are also vaguely North African, another remnant of Moorish influence brought to Mexico. Get the best at El Mural de los Poblanos.
If you come to Puebla in October, you’ll be treated to Huaxmole, a hearty stew made with goat or pork. The essential ingredient is the seed from the guaje tree pod to give it the unique flavor.
Shop. Go to Uriarte for gorgeous talavera to set your table. Go to the new government operated Best of Puebla food shop on Palafox y Mendoza just off the Zocalo to stuff your bags with goodies. Get out on the street for weekend arts vendors selling everything from Huichol art to cemitas.
Visit Cholula, Pueblo Magico. There are two Cholulas: San Pedro Cholula and San Andres Cholula.
Go first to San Pedro, start with breakfast at Restaurant Ciudad Sagrada, garden haven with amazing food. Fortified, climb the pyramid to the Our Lady of the Remedies (Remedios), then watch the voladores. Meander the 16th century Franciscan churches. They say there are over 300 churches in Puebla.
Go shopping at the best folk art boutiques in town — La Monarca, Bosque de Oyamel — operated by Celia Ruiz.
Don’t miss OCHO30 for beer and botanas. No one else does!
Make your way to adjacent San Andres Cholula when you need a thirst quencher Michelada and your tummy starts to rumble. Oder the Michelada “sin salsa” — pure Victoria beer and lime juice, with a heavily salt and chile rimmed glass.
You will be amazed at the great kitsch, excellent hospitality and delicious food. Especially the pizza! Beware. It’s packed and you may have to wait. But, well worth it.
With owner Agustino and friends Celia and Peter on left. OCHO30 pizza.
Take your taxi back to your hotel and collapse.
Where to Stay: Descanseria Hotel for Business or Pleasure, owned by the El Mural de los Poblanos restaurant group, with excellent location, restaurant, ambience and prices.
How to Get There: ADO GL bus from Oaxaca to Puebla CAPU, about $45 USD. Estrella Roja bus directly from Mexico City airport to Puebla 4 Poniente bus terminal, about $16 USD.
Where to Eat Chiles en Nogadas: El Mural de los Poblanos.
Today, I return to Oaxaca, just in time for the last Guelaguetza performance and the best street life in Mexico.
Posted in Cultural Commentary, Dining and Lodging, Food & Recipes, Mexico, Photography, Travel & Tourism
Tagged bus, food, hotels, lodging, Mexico, Oaxaca, Puebla, recipes, restaurants, travel