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Truffle Hunting and Wine Tasting in Tuscany

Truffle Hunting and Wine Tasting in Tuscany

by Ruth Murdoch  |  May 2019  |  Italy

Table of Contents

There are several places in Tuscany to go truffle hunting, for us it was in Ulignano, a small grape growing area within the Province of Siena.
Happy is not a strong enough word to describe how we are feeling after such an amazing experience of truffle hunting, wine tasting and local produce eating in Tuscany today.

Another bucket list item ticked off, although I’m not sure once is enough.

We have some time to while away in Tuscany of all places, as our motorhome, affectionately known as Betsy, is placed into the hands of a Rimor repair workshop in Poggibonsi.

What a place to be delayed before making our way further north towards Hungary and Poland.

“So what is there to do in this region?” we wondered.

Visit castles and towns around the area are on the list and there’s the world famous culinary treat of going truffle hunting in Tuscany.

So as self-confessed foodies we partook in this regional pastime.

Here’s How Our Day Unfolded

We turned up early to Tenuta Toscanini (a proudly family-run winery established in 1720), for an 11am truffle hunt.

So what happens when one arrives at a winery early in Tuscany? They’re rewarded with a friendly welcome by an Italian chap who speaks good English. “Buongiorno, como sta” I said (good day, how are you?). ‘Oh, you speak Italian? was his enthusiastic reply.  “No” was my sad return.  “Solo un piccolo”, (only a little).  I guess it was enough to impress.

“Please sit, (said our new friend), while I find you a wine, do you drink white or red?” “Bianco, grazie” (white, thanks) was my eager reply while looking down at my watch which said 10.45am.  Gosh I love this civilised country.

Two giant glasses and a full bottle of Torciano Vernaccia Di, their signature in-house white wine arrived in front of us.  Our truffle hunters turned up at 11.20am, twenty minutes late.  I’m not sure if that was to give us time to make a serious dent on the wine bottle, or if they were just running late.   Oh well, no harm no foul.

Early Morning Truffle Hunting Wine!

Learning About Truffles

Truffles, which are affectionately known as ‘diamonds of the kitchen’ or ‘golden mushrooms’, come in two main types, white and black.  Within these two types there are about 30 different varieties, however, only a handful are edible.  They lurk under the ground at varying depths and even the trained dogs sometimes get it wrong.

White Truffles

White truffles are found anywhere up to half a metre below the ground and are hunted from September through to December.   The season is regulated by the Italian Government to ensure the long-term sustainability and quality of these diamonds (and no doubt keep the price up).

In 2016 only one kilogram of white truffle was found in the area of San Gimignano near where we are today, while in 2018 eight kilos were discovered.  Thinking back to my university economics class of supply and demand it’s pretty obvious to guess what’s about to come next.

White truffles typically sell for €7,000 per kilo.  A lack of viable truffles increases the demand and a low supply equals, you guessed it, a high price tag.

In 2018 a single truffle was unearthed weighing in at 2.1 kilos and fetched a price of €40,000.  The exceptional price was apparently due to the quality and the unusually large size.

The white truffles do not need to be cooked first before eating them but can simply be shaved thinly on top of the food.  Our lovely guide and English translator Andriano is the nephew of the current winery owner.  He excitedly told us that the addition of truffle to the food turns the worst chef in the world into the best chef.

The Seasons

The government manages the short white truffle season, from September to December.   The season, for black truffles in this region, is from April to May and lasting through to August.  There are some other varieties which can be found all year round.

The most discerning of foodies appear to prefer the scent and flavour of the white truffle.  That’s why Tuscany is flooded with buyers from all around the world during the winter truffle festival, happy to part with their euros for these elusive morsels.

We had to laugh when our truffle hunters told us that while hunting for white truffles in the forest you have NO! friends.  Although this is no laughing matter.  These hunters are serious.  They each have their own secret hunting spots and with limited time available and a license in their back pocket they can often be found before daybreak deep in the forest far away from prying eyes.


Today’s Black Truffles

Thankfully today our hunting is a lot friendlier than the serious business of white truffle hunting.  We’re in pursuit of black truffles and the conditions are near perfect.  A cool period with a lot of rain makes for good growing conditions because after all, truffles are a species of fungus and they like the same conditions as mushrooms.  The last few days of warm weather encourages the aroma of the truffles to permeate up through the ground, which makes them easier for the dogs to sniff out.

The variety we expect to find is called a summer truffle or scorzone which has a black rind and yellowish (bordering on white) pulp.  We could see the white colour when one of the dogs bit into a truffle exposing the white inside.

The White Insides Of The Black Truffles

The Use Of Pigs

We had heard of pigs being used for truffle hunting and just assumed that dogs were now used as an alternative or personal preference.

Although pigs can smell out a truffle at far greater depths than a dog, they root up a much large area of ground when digging down to it and cause serious damage to the fragile ecosystem that supports truffle growth and reproduction.  The increased demand for truffles in the late 1970’s led to a greater use of hunting pigs.  This almost collapsed the industry.  In 1985, a law was passed banning the use of pigs outside of specific competitions and demonstrations.

We are also told that using pigs is dangerous for the hunters because pigs really, really like to eat truffles.  When the hunters try to remove their find from the pig’s mouth they may extract their hand minus a finger or two.  Dogs also love eating truffles but can be persuaded or trained to give them up for a small reward.

About the Dogs

The bred primarily used in Italy is called Lagotto Romagnolo, which means “little lakes of northern Italy”.  Originally this breed was used to retrieve hunters’ kill from the water.  They are known as being fun, friendly dogs and good pets.  Their coat is normally as woolly as a sheep but ours had recently been shorn smooth.

The Italians will tell you this is the only breed to use, but according to the English and French truffle hunters, any dog can be trained. 

How Are The Dogs Trained? 

From the moment the dogs are born truffle oil is placed on their mum’s teats and they are also fed truffles.  I wonder if that’s where the expression lucky dog comes from.  This ensures that the smell and taste are ingrained from day one.  It takes four to five intensive months to train a puppy and they hunt with their mums during this time.

A game is played with the puppies as they grow. A small truffle is placed in a scent container, which is perforated with tiny holes to allow the scent to escape.  This is hidden around the grounds and the dogs are encouraged to hunt it out.  The reward for their find comes in the form of a doggie treat.  Our dogs also received small truffles as rewards, leaving us salivating and thinking lucky dogs.

The container used to train the dogs

Where to Find Truffles in Tuscany 

There are many options for where to go truffle hunting, however, be warned as the price can be steep and you don’t get to keep the bounty.  Typically, you join the hunters and their dogs for an hour or more of foraging then enjoy a lunch or dinner that (as you would expect) shows off the flavour of the truffle.

Truffles are known to grow in and around certain trees, the main ones being poplar and oak trees.  However, lime, chestnut, willow and pine trees can also support truffles.  The truffle, is actually the fruit of the fungi which grows on the roots of the trees in a mutualistic relationship, meaning that both the truffles and the trees benefit from them growing there.

Hunting for black truffles today was not in an open forest as we expected but instead in a cultivated and neatly planted oak grove in Ulignano, in the Province of Siena.  This plantation was at the back of the Torciano Winery’s vineyard.   growing on a large flat paddock where one would typically expect to see grapevines.  The oak trees were planted in neat rows evenly spaced apart and watered with truffle-spore-infused water to give the precious earthly diamonds a helping hand.

Equipment Used

Aiding the truffle hunters, apart from the trained dogs, is a small hoe with a short thin handle called a vanghetto.  This helps to dig the truffles out from the ground once the dogs have located them.  However I noticed when a large truffle was found the hands were the instrument of choice.

The Biggest Truffle Of The Season (so far)

Within just one hour of hunting, we (or should I say the dogs) had discovered quite the haul.  Not only had we collectively found the most truffles in an hour, our allotted time, but we also were credited with finding the biggest truffle of the season.  At an estimated 200 grams, we were delighted to be considered good luck on such a successful hunt.

An Estimated 200-gram Truffle Bought Smiles All Round

Wine Tasting & Delicious Lunch

After an enjoyable hour of hunting and gathering, which I could have continued for much longer, it was time to indulge in some wine tasting and food pairing.

Walking into the restaurant we were greeted by a table filled with umpteen glasses and bottles of wines all lined up waiting to be enjoyed.

An Impressive Amount of Glassware & Bottles

How Ever Will We Cope?

Andriano, our interpreter for the truffle hunt was also our wine instructor and waiter.  Every plate of food brought out was paired beautifully with different wines.  My favourite dish was the lasagna, the likes of which I’d never had before, despite making lasagna regularly.  This was heavy on pasta and béchamel sauce with just a sprinkling of meat throughout.  Of course, it was topped off with shaved cooked truffle.  It was utterly delicious, particularly when paired with a beautiful red wine.  As a dedicated white wine drinker, it was very unusual for me to be enjoying red wine so much.  I’m not a convert, however.

Delicious Italian Lasagna With Truffles

We learnt how to taste a wine by first swirling it in the glass to aerate before taking a generous sip.  You then suck in some air through your teeth and slosh the wine around all parts of your mouth.  The sucking in of air and swirling around in the mouth are repeated three times, before finally swallowing.  It’s true that you get a different flavour after doing this.  It’s not something I would do around my friends as they’d just laugh at me.

This vineyard specialises in red wines, and we were presented with seven different wines and told about how each was made.  There was so much passion from Andriano about the wines.  He tenderly held each bottle while sharing their story as if they were his own creation.

All of the red wines made here use the Sangiovese grape as their main component.  This is then blended with other varieties such as Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon to produce their liquid masterpieces.  The Sangiovese is an ancient grape with its origins dating back to Roman times.  Andriano called it the ‘mother grape’ from which all other grape varieties were bred.

Other Culinary Delights

Apart from wine, Toricano Winery also sells their own balsamic vinegar.  Their grapes are sent away to the Modena region of Italy to be made into this delectable black liquid, and then returned to the cellar door for selling.  The truffle oil we enjoyed with our meal was also available for purchasing.

By acquiring a bottle of truffle oil and balsamic vinegar we thought this would give us a great deal of culinary pleasure and last much longer than a bottle of wine.

Other Interesting Facts

1.     A truffle needs to be at least five months old before it is ready for harvest

2.     If the truffle is too young, they are returned to the ground however the dogs will usually only smell out ones that are ripe

3.     The white truffles are typically sold to Italian buyers, whereas the black truffles are sold worldwide

4.     For more information including how to become a truffle hunter, which is no small feat, click here.

5.     DOCG means Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita and this highest classification on a wine bottle label guarantees the source of the grapes, the controlled production methods and wine quality of each bottle.

6.     Tenuta Toscanini makes three of their wines under the IGT (Indicazione Geografica Tipica) classification which allows the winemaker more freedom in how they blend and produce the wines.  These wines are delicious and can only be purchased directly from the winery.

7.     If you are keen to try your hand at truffle hunting then enjoy a delicious lunch, including truffles and truffle oil, the place to go is Toricano Winery.  All details including pricing can be found here. 

Our First Truffle

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Week 8 in Morocco

Week 8 in Morocco

by Ruth Murdoch |  March 2019  |  Morocco, Africa

Table of Contents


Week 8 saw us driving over 400 kilometres from Ouzoud Falls, through Khenifra then on to Meknes before checking out Volubilis and starting out way back up north.  Click to enlarge map.

This week we enjoy the stunning scenery of Ouzoud Falls, a rare sight in Morocco, before enjoying the township of Meknes (a must see town) and then wander through the ancient Roman Ruins at Volubilis.

Day 50; Ouzoud, Monday 18 March 2019

After an uneventful trip from Marrakech, where we couldn’t wait to escape, we arrived into the peaceful tranquillity of Ouzoud that became home base for the next three days.

Before moving on, I would like to explain why we didn’t like Marrakech and why we wouldn’t return.

I was really looking forward to this city with its reputation for vibrancy, liveliness, and interesting culture.  I had even considered that we could hang out there for several days and soak up all Marrakech had to offer us until we felt good and ready to leave.  I really wanted this to be an awesome experience.

However, it wasn’t to be.

What we found instead was a dirty city, overrun with beggars, over-enthusiastic shop keepers who wouldn’t take no for an answer, and countless other touts who relentlessly hassled us, trying to squeeze money from us.

I was upset by the cruelty shown towards animals such as the monkeys and snakes being exploited to sell photo opportunities to the tourists.

I understand that people are simply just doing the best they can with what they have to make a living, and get a few dirhams selling whatever they have that someone might want to pay for.  But for this introverted traveller it was just too much and too overwhelming. 

For my pick of the cities in Morocco that we visited, I have my heart in Fantastic Fes.

This little fella was forever pulling on the chain around his neck

Souks – The Place for Fresh Fruit and Veggies

Day 51; Ouzoud, Tuesday 19 March 2019

Today we jump on our trusty electric bikes and headed towards the local souk.  This is the biggest and most authentic souk we have seen yet. 

Find out what delights we bought…

Dozens and dozens of donkeys, mules and some horses are parked up in the adjacent fields like we would park our cars outside a supermarket.  The souk itself is being hosted in a paddock underneath tents and tarpaulins with blue skies above and rolling mountains standing watch in the background.

Donkeys Waiting Patiently For Their Owners To Return

A wander through the makeshift paths has us mesmerised by the amazing variety on offer.  Almonds, walnuts, eggs, live chicks barely a day or two old, clothes, spices galore (some unidentifiable), herbs, bright coloured material, vegetables of all colours, shapes, textures and of varying quality, clay tagines, pots and pans, couscous cookers, crockery, broken electronics, plasticware, sweets, dried legumes, dates, meat (both dead, such as goats and sheep, and soon to be dead chickens) and grains for the animals are just some of the treasures and essentials on sale today.

The souk is not only an opportunity to buy food for the next week, but it is also the time to catch up with friends from neighbouring villages or chew the fat with fellow stall vendors.

Just walking around the souk is fascinating and a full shopping list enhances our visit.

Although we find that we are normally charged a fair price, it’s not a bad idea to do some price checking between vendors because it is not uncommon to be charged ‘tourist’ rather than ‘local’ prices.

Today our pleasure is heightened when I spy some fennel seeds, which are freshly ground for me.  Walnuts are also on my list and one seller has the best I’ve come across so far – unbroken, large and fresh.

Souks are easily the best place to buy vegetables, especially the ones in season.  Once you know what is going to be available, you then find tasty meals to hero those fresh ingredients. 

How To Buy Veggies In The Souk

The process of buying vegetables in a souk is totally different from what we are used to.  First, take one of the low sided plastic bowls lying around (the least cracked and broken one you can find) and then put everything you want together into the bowl. Nothing is priced so it’s not possible to know the cost until the end.   Next hand the bowl over to the vendor, who will remove any higher priced products before placing it on some old-fashioned scales.  Weights are stacked on the other side of the scales until the weights over-balance the bowl.  The vendor then adds a few more items of his choosing to your bowl until they more or less balance.  Sometimes he may seek approval for his additions, but oftentimes not.

The process is then repeated for the higher priced items before the goodies are poured into a bag, money exchanged and you’re all set.  Just be aware that some of the more exotic products (e.g. pineapples) could be quite expensive so it is best to ask before loading them into your bowl.

In our experience of souks, the vendors are usually generous and give you more than you pay for, and the prices are very reasonable.  So, don’t worry if you don’t quite understand how it works, they do, and that’s all that matters.

Here’s the process of purchasing veggies and fruit in a souk

TIP: When making a purchase at a souk, be sure you know the prices before engaging.  That way you won’t feel like you’re being ripped off or you can bargain the price down to what you’re willing to pay.  So how do you know the prices?  Ask someone unrelated to the seller who, hopefully, speaks good English, what they would pay for the item you are interested in purchasing.

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The Souks Are Set Up In A Paddock

Buying Chickens

In my many years on earth, I’ve never seen a chook being plucked, until now.

Alert, you may want to skip the next few paragraphs to the title ‘dates’ if you have a squeamish composition, are vegetarian, or just don’t fancy knowing the cold hard facts of where meat (in this case chicken) comes from.

The chickens arrive at the souks alive and are stuffed into cramped cages.  The customers either ask for a certain weight of chook or just choose one from the cage.  The live chook is placed on the scales and weighed.  This sets the price you pay at the end of the process.

If you are having a chook butchered for you then expect to pay between 13 to 18 dirhams (€1.20-1.66 or NZ$1.97-$2.73) per kilo for the live weight.  If you want to buy one that has already been prepared then you pay more per kilogram because they are missing a few vital bits (legs, head, insides, etc).

We experienced a lot of variation in the asking prices and felt that some vendors were charging tourist prices.  We went from stall to stall until we found a price we thought was reasonable.

The chicken’s throat is then quickly, silently and without fuss, slit and the still kicking chook placed head first down into a makeshift funnel (an upside down re-used plastic bottle) so it can bleed out.  Then it is transferred into a drum of near boiling water (or outside of the souks they are placed into a plucking machine) for a few minutes.  This loosens the feathers, making plucking a quick task.  The butcher runs both hands down the carcass of the bird and the wet feathers literally fall out and onto the ground.

Once plucked, the butcher removes the wingtips, feet, head and organs and places the still warm chook into a plastic bag for the customer.

We couldn’t bring ourselves to condemn a chook that we had chosen, so opted instead to purchase one of the recently departed chickens already available.  There are no such luxuries here as fridges or ice, and with the temperatures in the low twenties, getting this meat back into our fridge became a priority.


Wherever you go in Morocco, where food is being sold, there will be someone selling dates.  Sometimes they will have just one type on offer, in other places, there may be a dozen or more.  The price depends on the quality, the size and where you are.

I’d recently purchased some dates in Marrakech after being offered samples to try.  Alas, when we arrived back at our motorhome we found that we had been slipped small, dry dates instead of the soft ones we had paid for at 60 dirhams (€5.53 or NZ$9.23).  Another example of why we didn’t like Marrakech.

Imagine my delight when the date seller at the Ozoud souk was selling the most succulent, soft and tasty dates for just 25 dirhams per kilo (€2.31 or NZ$3.80).  We loaded up on 2kg of these juicy treats and Alan sorted through the bags later to remove the live bees that had stowed away.

A Large Variety Of Dates To Choose From


Coming back to our motorhome, Betsy, laden with two kilos of fresh dates and some yummy walnuts, it was time to put my thinking cap on and come up with some worthy recipes.

The first was a Walnut and Date Tealoaf that has been a favourite of ours for years.  Next was a quick and easy batch of Walnut and Date Balls (made with argan oil if you have it, but any oil will do).  This recipe has no added sugar, which means it’s healthy, right?  And thirdly I made the delicious delicacy called Amlou (also known as Swassa), a very popular dish originating from the Berbers of the southern region of Morocco.  This dish showcases their (and now my) favourite way to eat the superfood, argan oil.

If you want to know why argan oil is good for eating check out this blog.

Walnut & Date Tealoaf

Walnut & Date Balls


Ouzoud Falls

Day 52; Ouzoud Falls, Wednesday 20 March 2019

The falls are not far from our camping spot, Zebra Camping Ouzoud (GPS coordinates 32.00531, -6.71998).  Later in the afternoon, once the hordes of tourists had departed, we jumped on our bikes and rode out to see the falls. 

TIP:  When a local says you can’t ride your bike to the falls and that you must park up in their parking area (and pay), just ignore them!  We rode right up to the falls and only had about five or six stairs to easily navigate.

Click on the right side of the picture below to see the gallery of photos


Days 54 & 55, Friday 22 March & Saturday 23 March 2019 

We stayed at the guarded parking right outside the Medina.  While it wasn’t quiet (the road works started up at 11pm directly behind us), it was perfect for easy access to the Medina by foot. (GPS coordinates 33.89093, -5.56408)

The term ‘street art’ has been growing on me and has become somewhat of a filter.  A bit like when you buy a red Mazda, then you suddenly see red Mazda’s everywhere.  Street art is having that same effect on me and the more I travel the more I seem to notice this.

Meknes was no exception.  You can look at these works of art and wonder who drew them, what the inspiration was, and start to imagine the story behind both the artist and the painting.  I will let you make up your own stories to go along with these masterpieces.

Click on the right side of the picture below to see the gallery

New Foods To Try In Morocco

It surprises me that after fifty-something days travelling around Morocco we are still finding new and exciting foods to sample.  One such food, that might look relatively simple, is something we would call a giant crumpet.  In Morocco they are called Baghrir.  Super tasty smothered with fresh Moroccan butter and honey, you will want to try these for yourself. 

The next new taste on our ‘to eat’ list was Maakouda which is a delicious deep-fried combination of mashed potato, garlic, and spices.  Otherwise known as Moroccon potato doughnuts.
And the third food we had for the first time in Meknes was a sweet thin-layered pancake cum bread treat with chocolate and dates in between the layers.  I don’t know the name of this but it was tasty enough for a street food snack.

Dessert Street Food

Nougat and toffee with nuts are also popular sweet treats, not just for the locals and tourists alike but the bees can’t seem to get enough of them.

The sweet pastries here are very sweet, often coated in sugar syrup and stuffed with nuts.  Here’s one that looks like the borek (Turkish pastry), but called M’Hanncha in Morocco.  It’s stuffed full with almonds, walnuts, peanuts and dates all crushed together and then wrapped in a thin pastry (like filo) and rolled into a snail shape.  Next, they are coated with liquid sugar just because there aren’t already enough calories.

Leaving Meknes with fond memories and a determination to return for a longer stay, we head to the nearby township of Moulay Idriss and stayed at the guarded parking (GPS 34.05769, -5.5172).    

Volubilis – Ancient Roman Ruins

Day 56, Sunday, 24 March 2019

Who would expect to see Roman ruins in Morocco?  Not me, but here they are.  In fact, I was rather surprised to see this map showing the extent of the Roman occupation throughout Europe and Africa.

The Red Colour Shows Where The Romans Invaded, Which Was Far and Wide

Situated just 32kms north on Meknes, Volubilis was originally the Berber city considered to be the capital of the ancient kingdom of Mauretania.  The city overlooks fertile rolling hills that don’t have a Moroccan feel at all, in fact, they strongly remind me of the French countryside.  The Romans took over in the first century AD building many significant structures and developing it in the typical Roman style of the day.

The Lisbon Earthquake of 1755 badly damaged many of these buildings, after which significant amounts of marble and stone were removed to build Meknes.  This is another of Morocco’s UNESCO World Heritage Sites, listed for being “an exceptionally well-preserved example of a large Roman colonial town.”

The site is well known for the many mosaics decorating the floors of what would have been the houses of the well-to-do Romans.  The colour of some are still surprisingly vibrant and I learnt this is due to the minerals in the stones which are said to not fade under the harsh elements of the African sun, wind, or rain.

The entrance fee is 70 dirhams and had we arrived earlier in the day, I would have considered hiring a local guide to glean more historical information.

That said, however, the well-appointed museum at the beginning of the site provided a reasonable explanation of the ruins.  It’s well worth a visit if you are in the region.

Roman Ruins of Volubilis

Costs for Weeks 1 – 8

A low cost week as we were on our own and had previously stocked up in the souk with fresh fruit and veggies.

Our running average cost of living for a week in Morocco dropped to just over €200 (NZ$333 or £172).  Compare this to living in Norway where our average spend was €405 and Morocco is a cheap destination to while away the winter months. Oh and the weather is great.

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Tune in next week for our final week in Morocco (at least for this trip).  

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Fantastic Fes

Week 4

Week 7

Week 1

Week 5

Week 8

Week 2

Week 6

Week 9

Week 3

Argan Oil

8 Reasons Why You Shouldn’t Visit Morocco

How To Use Argan Oil

How To Use Argan Oil

All You’ve Ever Wanted To Know About Argan Oil

In this post, I’ve put together all the information I could find about Argan Oil, including what it is, how to use it, how to ensure it’s authentic and then I’ve sprinkled in a little bit of history and future of the argan industry in Morocco.

What is Argan Oil?

Argan oil is a cold-pressed oil made from the seeds of the deciduous argan tree fruit (Argania Spinosa) and is endemic to southwest Morocco.

Argan oil has primarily two uses, the most common of these is for cosmetics (hair, skin, nails), and the other is for cooking.  Don’t mix the two up and “no” you shouldn’t eat the cosmetic argan oil.  Although you could use the culinary oil for massaging into your skin.

The main way to tell the two apart is by the colour.  The seeds for cosmetic use, which are not roasted, give the oil a transparent bright yellowish straw colour.  Whereas the culinary argan oil made from the roasted seeds has a deeper golden, yellow colour bordering on brown and looks cloudy.

Cosmetic oil is normally packaged in small bottles appropriately labelled as “Cosmetique”, as in Morocco, or a similar local name.

How Is Argan Oil Made?

In Fes, Morocco, we were treated to a pharmacy tour and shown how cosmetic argan oil is made.

Primarily the role of the local women, the argan nuts resembling small pebbles, are first harvested. To crack open the nuts they use sharpened stones and bang them against a block of wood.  Each nut is opened individually in what is a painstakingly tedious, manual and labour intensive process.  The kernel is then removed which looks somewhat like an almond only smaller. They are sort of edible, but beware because the initial taste is sweet, before turning bitter in your mouth.

From here the kernels are hand ground, separating the oil from the residual brown tacky substance left behind.  Nothing goes to waste; the brown substance is turned into soap.  Don’t expect the soap to lather up like usual, however, it does leave your skin feeling soft and smooth.

Local women’s cooperatives have been set up throughout southwest Morocco enabling the profits to be shared between the women and keep alive the knowledge of how to process argan for oil.

In former times, goats used to be an important part of the oil making process.  The nuts are incredibly difficult to crack open, so enterprising people poked through goat poop to pick out the valuable argan nuts. Through the magic of goat digestion, the shells of the nuts became easier to open, and processing went from there.

These days, the demand for argan is too big to wait for the goats to do their business, but in some places, the traditional goat-poop process is still in place.


Why Is It So Expensive?

Argan oil is known to be one of the most expensive oils in the world. The oil came to the attention of the outside world in the 1990s and is now highly sought after for culinary and cosmetic purposes.

There are main three factors that make argan oil so expensive.

First, the trees only grow in one region of one country in the world.

Second, the extraction is a time-consuming hand production process, no modern day machines have yet replaced the labour intensive delicate process needed to extract this liquid gold.

Third, its unique elixir properties are creating an unprecedented demand from the rich and famous who search the world for anti-ageing serums. Therefore more cosmetic companies are including argan oil as an ingredient in their products, putting huge pressure on the available oil supply.


How to Use This Precious Liquid Gold

As mentioned above, there are two primary uses for argan oil.  Many people know about the cosmetic use, however culinary use of argan oil is more limited, due in part to its short shelf life.

Cosmetic Use

Packed with rejuvenating vitamin E and full of rich antioxidants, fatty acids and other agents that add glow, argan oil is reported to provide youth and beauty to hair and nails.  It apparently started its life as a hair product you couldn’t do without.  I’ve tried it twice, unsuccessfully, in my hair as a conditioner, so the jury is still out for me with this particular use.  It is suggested you use the oil as a conditioner, leaving it in the hair.  I don’t like the greasy look or feel so traditional conditioner has my vote, for now.

Argan oil is popular with women who prefer using natural, organic substances on their skin instead of artificial chemicals.

Pure Argan oil is light on the skin, glides on easily and is absorbed into the pores of your skin to give a glow like no other.  It can be used as a moisturiser at night before bed to help reduce wrinkles, especially around the eyes.

Sufferers of sensitive skin can enjoy the healing properties of this all-natural oil.  For those with olfactory sensitiveness, the argan oil scent disappears within a few minutes upon contact with your skin.  

Culinary Use

Hmmm, finding ways to eat this liquid gold wasn’t so easy.  Our Moroccan friend suggested we eat it every morning with breakfast.  I’ve drizzled it on top of peanut butter on my toast, which is delicious.  However I wanted to find a healthier way to consume argan oil.

So it was time for some research.

I can highly recommend making a traditional Moroccan dip called Amlou.  It is a blend of roasted ground almonds, honey and salt which turns into a dip or paste that you then spread on fresh Moroccan bread (khobuz).

You can also dip bread straight into the oil itself, although I found that a bit strong in flavour.

Apparently, it is awesome when added to tagines or other savoury dishes and I’m still experimenting with this.

I have, however, made Date and Walnut Balls using argan oil and these are particularly scrummy.  They are relatively healthy with no added sugar and just a few ingredients.  Great for a sweet snack after dinner.

In order to prolong the shelf life of argan oil, place it in the fridge with a pinch of salt.  The oil will harden and then it turns back into liquid form after sitting on the bench for a short period of time.

Eating a small amount of argan oil daily is said to provide anti-aging effects and helps to keep your skin hydrated and smooth.

Argan Oil At Room Temperature

Solid Argan Oil From The Fridge

What Does Argan Oil Taste Like? 

As best I can describe it, this oil has a toasty, roasted nutty flavour, much like sesame seed oil but not as strong and without the bitter after taste.


What Does It Smell Like?

The culinary argan oil has a mild nutty aroma (some identify it as a smell of popcorn or rubber band).  I liken it to a rich roasted nutty scent with buttery after tones.

The cosmetic oil has a much milder scent compared with its culinary sister, making it suitable for those with sensitivity to strong smells.

The best quality argan oil should be also un-deodorised. The deodorisation process removes the argan nut’s scent along with many important nutrients that makes the oil so sought after in the first place.


Four Ways To Identify Real Argan Oil

1.    Smell the oil to ensure you pick up its unique scent. If it smells like sunflower oil or paprika, it is not the genuine article.  Likewise, if it is odourless, walk away.

2.    When purchasing cosmetic argan oil, ensure that there is only one ingredient – 100% Argan Oil (Argania Spinosa) kernel oil.  It should contain no preservatives, no fragrances, not even water.

Anything mixed with it will, in fact, degrades the effects of the oil.

3.    As a completely natural product, this oil will absorb into your skin. Try some on your hand and wait 30 minutes or so. If it has been absorbed into your skin it is the real deal. If it is still oily and visible, it’s fake.

4.    Storing your oil in the fridge also serves to prove it’s authenticity as it will harden.  If your argan oil doesn’t harden, it’s not authentic.

How Expensive Is This Oil?

We purchased our culinary argan oil through a Moroccan friend who knows people in a village where this is hand-made.  He placed the order and we waited for three days, another indication it’s the genuine article.  Our one litre stash, which arrived to our motorhome door in Taroudant, in a re-used one litre plastic bottle, set us back 220 dirham (€20.25 or NZ$33.50).

As a comparison similar oil for consumption sells on Amazon for US$119.96 per litre!

In the souks and medinas throughout Morocco, I’ve seen this for sale at between 200 and 250 dirhams but beware of fakes or imitations.  Not all argan oil is created equal and we are told that some dodgy people sell a blend of argan oil mixed with ‘other’ oil.  But you now know what to look for so don’t be fooled.

We are told that buying from someone knocking on your motorhome door is considered particularly risky.

If you want the real stuff then ask a local for a recommendation and expect to wait for a day or two, or even three, for it to be specially made.

While in Fes we purchased a 75ml bottle of cosmetic argan oil at a cost of 120 Dirham (€12), making this a whopping €160 per litre!  I have seen reports where the price is as high as €263 per litre!  Compare this to your regular moisturisers and you get the feeling for the price!


What Are The Health Benefits?

While the list is quite extensive beyond what I’ve listed below, Scientific research has shown that Argan oil helps with the following ailments.  

• Reduce inflammatory disorders 
• Reduces cholesterol levels 

• Improves circulation
• Stabilise blood sugar
• Ease pain from rheumatism and arthritis
• Strengthen the body’s immune system
• Prevent various types of cancer, eg prostrate cancer
• Reducing the body’s resistance to insulin, helping treat diabetes
• Protecting the body from cardiovascular diseases

Where To Buy Argan Oil

The best place to purchase this wonderful product, in my humble opinion, is of course in Morocco.  However, I understand it’s not possible for everyone to just up sticks and head over there for a holiday.  That’s where Amazon comes in.  You can buy argan oil online here.  (No, I deliberately don’t receive any commission for sales of Argan oil).

Threats To The Argan Trees

Despite its uniqueness and indispensability, the argan tree sadly faces a variety of serious threats.

Goats are one of the primary threats to the argan forests because they climb the trees to graze on the delicious leaves.  The goats, as well as aggressive fruit harvesting techniques from some locals, can damage branches and dislodge buds for the next year’s production.

What is interesting, however, is that goats used to be an important part of the oil making process as mentioned above.


The Future Of Argan Oil

Despite its uniqueness and importance, the argan tree sadly faces an uncertain future.

Nearly half of the argan forest disappeared during the 20th century and average density dropped from 100 to less than 30 trees per hectare.  This historical pressure on the forest was driven by demand for high-quality charcoal (especially important during the world wars).  More recently land is being converted to agricultural production of export crops such as tomatoes.

Attempts to propagate and grow argan trees elsewhere in Morocco, as well as the rest of the world, have been a dismal failure.  (UPDATE August 2019.  While in Slovakia we met a couple from Israel who assures us that Argan trees are now being grown and farmed for their oil, with success.  That’s great news for the longevity of Argan oil industry). 

In recognition of its ecological value and local economic importance, the entire 2.5 million hectares of argan forest was declared a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve in 1998. 

I hope this helps to secure a more positive outlook for the future of this rare gift from nature.

There is a new competitor emerging on the world stage that might reduce the demand for argan oil, and that’s the oil from the cactus plants, called prickly pear.  But that’s a story for another time.

STOP! Don’t Go.  If you liked this article, please drop us a line.  Or even better if you have recipes to share using argan oil, please do so in the comments below, thanks.

Please feel free to PIN for later.


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Week 6 in Morocco

Week 6 in Morocco

by Ruth Murdoch |  March 2019  |  Morocco, Africa

Table of Contents


Week 6 had us driving 297kms from Mirleft beach, through Tiznit (we didn’t stop here this time) to Tafroute then on to Taraoudant, an area called the Anti-Atlas mountains of Morocco.  Click to enlarge map.

This week we tour through the Anti-Atlas mountains of Morocco, we visit our first souk accompanied by a local and learn how to exchange the Moroccan way.

Spectacular Souk

Day 36: Mirleft; Monday 4th March

We’re in for a special treat today. Our friendly Moroccan kidnapper, Mo, whisks us away to the Mirleft souk (weekly market) where we come across the unexpected…

For a small town Mirleft packs a punch when it comes to their souk, selling outstandingly fresh fruit and vegetables. You would have thought that after 36 days of travelling through this wonderful country we would have properly experienced a souk before, but we have either missed them by one day or turned up too late in the afternoon when most of the sellers had left. This was one of those occasions where the early bird catches the worm, or at least the freshest vegetables, fruit and herbs.

We are told that if the sellers arrive and set up, and the expected crowds don’t appear, they simply pack up and go back home. Luckily today, the buyers are out in force so the stall holders stayed put.

Set up in a dry dusty paddock, that is empty six out of seven days a week, is today’s home for this market. Only a fortunate few have makeshift tables to display their wares, the others just spread out a tarpaulin for their merchandise on top of the dirt.

Goodies Piled On Top Of Cloths For Sale In The Souk

It’s mainly men who are the sellers here and the souk appears to be an opportunity to catch up with friends.  The men greet each other; they chat, laugh, drink tea, and eat while watching out for their next sale.  The Moroccan people are always smiling and seem genuinely happy which makes hanging out here a real pleasure.

Men Hanging Around Mirleft Souk Sharing Secrets

Date Seller Asks To Have His Picture Taken

The quality of fruit and vegetables was the best we have seen in Morocco, bar none.  The cauliflowers must have just been picked this morning, as they still looked vibrant and alive.  But the real treat today was finding some much-longed for green spinach, again freshly picked this morning.  What a treat!  Now I can, once again, have green smoothies for breakfast.

It’s not just seasonal local groceries that can be bought here, another special treat was finding pineapples (imported from the Canary Islands) and fresh ginger.  I paid three dirhams (€.30 or NZ$0.46) for the ginger and handed over a five dirham coin.  Instead of money I asked for the change to be given in fresh soft delicious dates.  The vendor laughed at me saying ‘that’s the Moroccan way’ and Mo commented that we’ve been in Morocco long enough now to think like a Moroccan and that we should be applying for our residency status.

The souks don’t just sell fruit and vegetables.  There is also fresh honey from cactus, clothing, tea pots, tools, car parts, jewellery, belts, leather items, household items like plastic buckets, couscous pots, electronics (used and old), fabrics, melhafa (the traditional daywear of the ladies), sweet roasted nuts, dried legumes and more.  We saw an old xbox and a Dell computer that must have been twenty or thirty years old. Goodness knows how long the vendor has been carrying this stuff around and who he expects will buy it (apart from a museum curator).

TIP:  If you’re in the market, buy a Berber necklace early in your travels and wear it.  That way you will not only have a great souvenir, but you will please the locals, have a conversation starter and a valid excuse to politely decline to buy another.  Everywhere you go, you will find people selling ‘genuine’ Berber jewellery and artefacts and they are clever and relentless in their efforts to sell to you.

TIP:  Be careful eating the honey from cactus on its own, as it’s very strong and burns in your throat.  The bees know you’ve eaten it and they follow you around which isn’t good when allergic to bee stings!

In 2018, just two days before the clocks were due to be turned back one hour at the end of daylight savings, the Morocco Government decreed that they were going to stay permanently on daylight savings time (GMT plus 1 hour).  This caused mass confusion because the announcement was ‘totally out of the blue’ and even mobile phones automatically reverted to the old standard time as they were programmed to do.  Appointments and flights were missed – chaos!

Mo told us that many of the people have not accepted this new time zone and still use the old system, which is currently one hour behind the official time used by the Government and Government departments, schools, hospitals, airports and the like.

Ah, that explains why our iPhones and computers showed one time and our GPS a different time.

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Carpenter Day

Day 37:  Mirleft; Tuesday 5th March

There’s excitement in the air today as we patiently waited for our local carpenter to turn up with the two new shelves we’d ordered.  These were installed under our bed where our Truma gas heater system is installed.  The vulnerable pipes, valves and hoses are now protected.

The carpenter made an excellent job and if you are wanting any work on your motorhome while travelling in Morocco you can expect craftsmanship quality.

Our Ikea wooden chopping board has been modified to securely sit over the sink, thus increasing our usable bench space.  There’s never enough bench space in a motorhome when one likes to cook and bake.

From the land of cheap labour, all this work costs us just 250 dirhams (€23 or NZ$38) including a 20 dirham tip.

Food, Wine & Great Company

We had new neighbours park beside us today.  Roger and his wife Andy are a friendly retired couple from Germany.  Roger was an interpreter for a submarine manufacturer and speaks fluent English, Spanish and Norwegian as well as his native tongue.  They had so many stories to tell from their interesting life, which included 12 years full-time on a yacht in the Caribbean.

Tonight as a special treat I made my “Australian Chicken and Date Tagine” with Couscous as a treat and thank you to Mo.  This dish is one of my all-time favourites and I was proud to be trying it out on a real Moroccan to check how it stacks up against the local dishes.  

You know how sometimes it’s those unexpected, impromptu events that turn out to be a real treat?   The dinner was washed down with Roger’s Sardinian wine (water for Mo) and the food receiving a standing ovation.  Indeed a night to remember.

Goats Eating Their Favourite Food – Argan Nuts

Anti-Atlas Mountains of Morocco  and Goats in Argan Trees

Day 38:  Tafraoute; Wednesday 6th March

We went from being kidnapped by a friendly Moroccan/Canadian for six days last week to being shown the Anti-Atlas Mountains of Morocco and favourite haunts of our German friends, Roger and Andy for the next ten days. 

One of the touristy ‘must sees’ in Morocco is none other than the goats in argan trees.  We are lucky enough to see this sight in the anti-atlas mountains of Morocco.  The nutritious argan nuts and freshest leaves are out of their reach from ground level but the clever little beasts have learned how to climb the trees for a tasty snack.  Normally these are seen around Essaouira where enterprising locals have trained their goats to scale the branches and pose for photos in return for tourist’s coins.

Driving to Tafraoute we came across some self-taught goats in paddocks strewn with argan trees.  Unfortunately, by the time we found somewhere to park and walked back across the field, the shepherd called the goats away so our photos were a little average.  However, be sure to check in next week to see argan trees seemingly growing goats on their branches as they munch their way through the delicious argan nuts.

Stunning Scenery Photos in the Anti-Atlas Mountains of Morocco

Stunning Scenery Photos

Stunning Scenery Photos

The camper parking at Tafraoute (GPS coordinates 29.72197, -8.98352) is as picturesque as anything we’ve seen in our travels.  High mountains are all around us, lighting up red when the late setting sun kisses the rocks.   There must have been 200 motorhomes here, many of which are set up to stay for what looks like most of the winter. 

This camper parking area is quite unusual for Morocco, where proper campgrounds are the norm.  There can be up to 500 motorhomes here at the busy times, and this seems to support a lot of the local economy.  The cost to park is just 15 dirhams (€1.30 or NZ$2.28).  For such a handsome sum you can park anywhere you fancy, dump your rubbish and dispose of black water. 

If parking here for a while take note at the direction those who are well set up are facing and do likewise.  The wind can come in at night and you will want shelter from the sun’s daytime heat. 

Fresh bread and pastries are delivered fresh every morning around 7.30am by a man yelling ‘baguettes, pan(bread), patisseries’ at the top of his voice.  If you don’t want to get up, you can leave your money in a bag tied to your door handle.  The colour of the bag tied to the door handle indicates the order from the previous evening.  In our case yellow was for one loaf of bread.  Unfortunately, the loaf was half the size we were used to for our 2 dirhams. 

A water truck comes here daily and for 2.5 dirhams he will fill your water tank and every empty water containers you can find.  Or if you miss him, there are young boys collecting and returning 5-litre bottles of water.

Local women come around offering laundry services.

Local men offer to paint murals on your motorhome or make side covers for your awning.

A significant, low cost, motorhome repair and refitting industry has established itself in Tafraoute and a lot of motorhomers take advantage of this.

Tafraoute Camper Parking Area

Sunrise at Tafraoute Camper Parking Area

About Argan Oil 

Mo arrived later in the day to deliver us a very special bottle of argan oil.  He had ordered this for us a few days earlier, putting the local ladies to work on our order and then collected it from a friend living in a small village inland from Tiznit.  This precious ‘hand-pressed to order’ liquid, in a re-used one litre plastic bottle, had travelled many kilometres just to reach us and for 220 dirham (€20.25 or NZ$33.50) was a very reasonable price.  As a comparison this oil for consumption sells on Amazon for US$119.96 per litre!  

TIP:  Not all argan oil is equal and we are told that some dodgy people sell a blend of argan oil mixed with ‘other’ oil, instead of pure argan.  Buying from someone knocking on your motorhome door is considered particularly risky.  If you want the real stuff then ask a local for a recommendation and expect to wait for a day or two, or even three, for it to be specially made.

What does argan oil taste like?

As best I can describe it, this oil has a toasty, roasted nutty scent and flavour, much like sesame seed oil but not as strong and without the bitter after taste.  From experimenting it’s best added to dishes, both savoury and sweet.

How do you eat it?

Hmmm, we had to look it up.

One way is to blend it with ground almonds, honey and salt to make something called ‘Amlou’ which is like a dip or paste that you then spread on fresh Moroccan bread (khobuz).

You can also dip bread straight into the oil itself, although I found that a bit strong in flavour.

Apparently, it is awesome when added to tagines or other savory dishes but we haven’t tried that yet.

I have made date and walnut balls using argan oil and it was particularly delicious.

Why eat argan oil?

It is believed to have anti-aging properties and helps to keep your skin hydrated and smooth.  The celebrities in American are said to be keeping the prices high with their demand for such products.

Cosmetic Uses

I’ve also seen it being used as a conditioner in hair and have tried this twice without success.  My hair looks and feels greasy, so it doesn’t last long before I use regular conditioner for cleaner feeling hair.  I do however use it on my skin (face and hands) more successfully.

Click here to read more about Argan Oil.

Tandilt – A Town Built Under Suspended Rocks

Day 39:  Tafraoute; Thursday 7th March

Despite the offer of a water tanker, Roger had other plans for us.  Having been here before and stayed in the neighbouring camping ground, he made friends with the manager and used that very good relationship to gain free water for us all (with permission of course).  So, loaded up with every water container we could find, we jumped on our bikes and headed next door to fill up.

Some of the French motorhomers camped in the campground seemed to think that we were stealing water and looked concerned or upset.  One lady even approached me wagging her finger.  She spoke no English but understood the word ‘permission’ and sulked back into her home muttering (insert French accent here) permission.  The French seem particularly interested in other people’s business and are never slow to show their displeasure at something they are unhappy with.

We cycled into the neighbouring town of Tandilt today to see the famous imposing rock, called Napoleon’s Hat, a bunch of huge red rocks precariously perched overlooking the homes and buildings of this town.   One small earthquake, shock wave, or decent storm and it appears that this baby would come crashing down pretty quickly.

Can You Imagine Building A Town Under These Rocks?

On our way out to Tandilt we first stopped off to have a bite to eat from a local cafe called Espace Harbaz.  I ordered a beef taco which was regrettable as the meat was mainly gristle and later that night it came back up again.  We are told green tea or sage tea is good for ‘Moroccan belly’. 

When we arrived at the Cafe, Espace Harbaz, the lovely Anita, Gavin, Judy and Henry from the UK were there just finishing their meal.  We’d connected with Anita through the Motorhome Adventures Facebook page and realised we were all going to be in the same spot, so it was a good opportunity to meet up in person.   We also met Tim Rust and his wife Ali.  It’s so nice to put faces to names that are seen on Facebook, it makes the connection extra special.  

TIP: Social media is a great tool for meeting other people when you are travelling.  If you want that sort of contact then join some relevant Facebook groups or forums and start reading and posting.  You will often find people at the same spot as you and are happy to have a chat over a wine or three.

The footpaths here make me laugh, who decided it was a good idea to plant trees right in the middle?  Take a look at the photo below and tell me how would you walk on this footpath, let alone push a pram or wheelchair?  It’s no wonder that pedestrians mainly walk on the roads over here!

Tafraoute has some very cute shops and is apparently ‘the place’ to purchase babouche shoes.  ‘Babouche’ are brightly coloured traditional Berber handmade goat or sheep-leather shoes which are traditionally worn during certain ceremonies such as holy days or at weddings.  The yellow colour is worn by men and the red colour reserved for women. 

Babouche (Shoes) Anyone?

TIP:  Fillet steak in Morocco is far cheaper than in most other countries but you won’t often find it in the butcher’s display.  The price ranges around 120 – 150 dirhams per kilo (€11-13.75, NZD$18.20-22.80) so it is too valuable for most butchers to stock. However, many butchers will order it in for you to pick up the next day – provided you buy the whole fillet.

Roger and Andy keep their freezer filled with fillet steak to take back home as at €50 per kilo they feel it is virtually unaffordable in Germany.

Fresh Beef Eye Fillet

What to See and Do In Tafraoute

Day 40:  Tafraoute; Friday 8th March

I was laid low today recovering from my dose of Morocco belly, so I spent some time researching about the local area.

Tafraoute is a town in Tiznit Province, Souss-Massa region, Morocco, in the central part of the Anti-Atlas mountains. It had a population of 4,931 at the 2004 census, some fifteen years ago, and judging by what we saw the population has grown significantly.

For more information about this area, here is a great summary blog I found in my research which includes where to eat, which day the souk is on, and things to see and do in the region.  This is so well written that there’s no need for me to reinvent the wheel.

Is BYO Wine Okay In Morocco?

Day 41:  Taroudant; Saturday 9th March

Sadly it was time to leave Tafroute and keep heading inland towards the town of Taroudant that we’ve heard so much about.  The trip took 5¾ hours due to the distance, the windy roads, and a number of photo stops.  Ah, travelling with a keen amateur photographer can be slow going but oh the rewards are so worth it.  Check these out…

The Road Between Tafroute and Taroudant

The Scenery Between Tafroute and Taroudant

The reward for Betsy at the end of our day was a wash at the local Total Service Station carwash where for just 30 dirhams (€2.76 or NZ$4.57) plus ten dirham tip each, two men hand washed Betsy (and our bikes) from tip to tail and she was sparkling white again.

There is a brand-new camping ground, Grand Camping de Taroudant – 80 dirhams per night (€7.35 or NZ$12.15) plus 30 more for electricity built beside the Total Service Station (GPS coordinates 30.49734, -8.81879).  It was here that we stopped for the night.  The showers and toilets were shiny and new with hot water, ah bliss.

There is a restaurant adjoining the Station, which was welcome after such a long drive today.  We took our bottle of wine and ordered two pizzas.  I usually have very low expectations of restaurant purchased food but I have to say the pizzas here were great with lots of topping and large enough for two.  They were so good in fact that they had been scoffed before I thought about taking a photo!  Before the pizza arrived, we tucked into a Moroccan salad comprised of red onion, cucumber, tomatoes, green peppers and parsley.  Yummy.

TIP:  Ask permission before taking your own alcohol into a restaurant; some welcome you with your wine, some tolerate it and as we found out tonight some forbid it.  Or is this a case of asking for forgiveness rather than permission?  If you’re like this couple and fancy a wee drop with your dinner take it along and see if anyone says anything?

Roger, Yachty & Andy

Terrific Taroudant

Day 42: Taroudant; Sunday 10th March

We had just a short journey today into Taroudant where we parked literally just outside one of the gates of the old town. The camping ground was almost full, primarily with French vans that were once again set up for a long stay. And why wouldn’t you? This town has everything you need, including heat. It’s reportedly the warmest place in Morocco in the winter and I can tell you that it is bliss waking up on a winter’s morning to warm weather and sun.

The souk is vibrant, with people everywhere. The traffic is chaotic, the footpaths non-existent for the most part, and street vendors have set up anywhere they can. “But it’s only Sunday.” Roger tells us. “Just wait until you come in here tomorrow when the real traffic arrives.”

Roger and Andy have stayed in Taroudant many times and have established a routine for their visits. First, they make a beeline for the fresh juice man who sends a big wave and smile from about fifty metres away as he recognised his foreign friends. By the time we are seated on the bench behind him, he is already well on the way to freshly squeezing their grapefruit juice. We had orange juice and the following day tried a half and half mixture, which I can recommend. At 3 dirhams (€0.28, NZ$0.46) for a large glass of the freshest juice this has to be the best value drink around.

Then it was off to the tourist medina, followed by the Berber medina.

As soon as we stepped inside the medina we were greeted by a very well spoken Moroccan man who welcomed us to his country and enquired as to where we were all from. Roger has this down pat, “we are from Germany and have been here for nearly six months and this couple are from New Zealand, they’ve been travelling for 21 months and have visited 25 countries”, he says enthusiastically. He is always well received and a dialogue often ensues. Roger is very good at conversing with others, most understand him, others just nod and go on their way.

The town is very interesting; the mechanics workshops are small and dark, jammed packed to the ceiling with all manner of spare parts that may be needed one day. How they find anything is anyone’s guess.

Bab Lakhmiss Gate Into Taroudant

                                      Freshly Squeezed Orange Juice in Taroudant

Crowded And Cluttered Shops In The Medina

European Looking Butcher Shop in Tarodaunt

Our tourist guide, Roger, takes us to a European looking butcher, complete with red and white coloured tiles on the floor and a glass cabinet where the meat is chilled and beautifully displayed.  Inside this shop I’ve been teleported anywhere in the world, except Morocco!  Everything looks so inviting and I couldn’t resist purchasing some pre-spiced turkey mincemeat that was so scrummy I went back the following day for more.

The fruit and vegetables here are superb, very fresh and they even sold pawpaw, brussel sprouts, raspberries, pineapples, tiny lady finger type bananas (that are small and sweet) and other more exotic fruit.  The locally grown produce is very cheap but the imported products are still well priced. 

Roger and Andy have a small poodle-maltese mix dog called “Yatchty” who they call their ambassador.  People are constantly stopping and hoping to pat her which makes for slow walking through the town but we don’t mind because it gives us time to look at everything. 

There are terracotta sellers, musical instrument shops, second hand (or maybe third or fourth hand) furniture dealers, leather goods, and shoe salesmen.  Apart from the tourist souk, most of these shops are there for the locals not the tourists so walking around Taroudant doesn’t feel like a tourist destination.  The odd tourist sticks out like a sore thumb, as I am sure we do.

You’ve no doubt heard the term ‘it’s an assault on your senses’? Well Taroudant is that place!  Everywhere we look there’s so much for our eyes to see and brain to process. 

Our nose is filled with delicious smells coming from the herbs and spices, the roadside street food, and the incense sellers. 

Our ears take in the sounds of the horses clip-clopping along the cobblestone streets, the tooting of vehicles horns, the ringing of bicycle bells, the happy chatter from the children being released from school at lunchtime and the yelling from street vendors advertising their wares and low prices.  It’s all rather exciting and a little overwhelming at the same time. 

I feel like a kid in a candy shop, not sure where to look first and wanting to drink in every last bit, while dodging the traffic that could and does appear from any direction at anytime.


TIP:  If you’re going in to this old town, be sure to take a photo of the gate you enter because like most souks you can easily get lost.  You can then show this to  someone to get directions to direct a taxi.  Another idea is to save a pin in Google maps so you can find your back way out again, if Google maps plays the game.

The next part of the today’s routine is to find somewhere in the shade, out of the sun, and have a cup of Moroccan (typically mint) tea.  There is a square with cafes facing inwards where groups of men (where are the women?) are sitting around listening to storytellers.  The Berber language is largely unwritten and it’s at these events that I imagine the old men pass down the traditional stories of their ancestors.  

There are buskers who entertain for a few dirhams thrown their way and the busker of the day had to be the owner of a trained white dove sitting atop his turban while playing an instrument resembling a guitar.  Check out the look on the Berber’s face, it is priceless.

Busker With His Well-Trained Pet Dove

By now it was getting late in the day and our weary legs needed a rest so Roger thumbed the nearest horse and carriage which, for a negotiated twenty dirhams (€1.83 or NZ$3) took us on a fifteen minute ride to the camping ground.

We returned back to Betsy buzzing from all the sensory stimulation the old town of Taroudant provided us with and we know that we will be back here on future visits to Morocco.

Tired And Weary But Back In One Piece

Costs for Weeks 1 – 6

A low cost week, apart from groceries as we were cooking for three while hanging out with Mo most days.  We also indulged Roger’s love of eye fillet steak and splashed out on some for ourselves.  

Our running average cost of living for a week in Morocco is €220.50 (NZ$365 or £188).

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Tune in next week for a pictorial blog as we drive through the High Atlas Mountains, stopping every few kilometres to take some of the best scenic photos of our trip so far!

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Fantastic Fes

Week 4

Week 7

Week 1

Week 5

Week 8

Week 2

Week 6

Week 9

Week 3

Argan Oil

8 Reasons Why You Shouldn’t Visit Morocco

Week 5 in Morocco

Week 5 in Morocco

by Alan Gow  |  March 2019  |  Morocco, Africa

Table of Contents


Week 5 had us driving from Guelmim, through to Sidi Ifni then on to Mirleft Beach. Click to enlarge map.

This week, we are kidnapped by a friendly local and not allowed to leave until we had seen all the unforgettable sights around Mirleft.

Day 29: Sidi Ifni;  Monday 25 Feb 

We left the traditional town of Guelmim today after spending three nights parked up on vacant wasteland outside the Marjane supermarket  (GPS 28.96757, -10.03258).  The fuel station on site has reasonable prices and accepts credits cards so we replenished Betsy’s depleted diesel tank before heading west.

TIP: A lot of petrol stations do not take cards so if you are expecting to pay for diesel or petrol with a credit card then ask the attendant if they will accept that for payment.  If you are not sure that they understand you or are not sure they are answering you correctly then keep asking until you are sure.  Maybe ask to see the actual payment terminal before allowing them to fill you up.

Unofficial Petrol Stations

Something interesting that we noted in Guelmim was a number of what you could call unofficial petrol stations because they appeared to be normal shops until you looked more closely.  We parked outside one by mistake one afternoon while checking our directions and witnessed a succession of cars and motor scooters pulling up and being served using funnels and five litre plastic water bottles which had been filled with fuel from the large grey jerry cans.  We found out later that this fuel comes from the Western Sahara region which has little or no VAT so it sells for about 10% – 20% less than the usual price.  The downside is that it tends to be lower quality and can be dirty so it isn’t an option for Betsy’s delicate modern engine.

A Roadside Petrol Station in Guelmim Selling Cheap Untaxed Fuel

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Check Your Maps

After four weeks in the Moroccan interior, the siren call of the sea was beckoning to us and we had to heed that call.  So, our next destination was Sidi Ifni, a seaside town not far from Guelmim.

We usually cross-check our Garmin 760 LDT camper GPS (Emily) directions with Google Maps especially here in Morocco where both forms of electronic maps have had their issues with accuracy and being up to date.  Emily suggested taking the N12 with a drive of about an hour while Google Maps told us to drive about 88km for two hours via the minor P1305 road.  From experience, we knew the “P” roads might be barely one lane wide and the fact that Google said it would take two hours for a relatively short stretch wasn’t encouraging.  We chose to take Emily’s recommendation, which was the right one today.  There were a lot of road works, with some horribly rough short diversions, however long stretches of the road had been rebuilt and resealed and I reckon within 6 months or so this road should be excellent.  There was a short stretch where the N12 was blocked off, with a diversion via a small local road.  I believe that Google knew about the road closure, but not the diversion, which was why it wanted to take us on the torturous minor roads.  Emily, on the other hand was blithely unaware of any roadworks and just took us by the most direct route. It could have gone wrong for us but in this case, we won and found the diversion around the road closure.

Roadworks on the N12 – From our Dashcam

Having a good tyre pressure monitor is great for your safety and peace of mind when driving on these roads.  We have met many motorhomers who have experienced tyres blowing out, which are often the end result of small punctures not being noticed in time.  Our TPMS from TyrePal wasn’t the cheapest on the market but is one of the only ones rated for the high pressures that motorhome tyres run at, and constantly displays the actual pressure and temperature for each tyre.  An alert about possible leaks means that you can reinflate or repair the tyre, or change the wheel before the tyre becomes damaged or blows out on a tight steep Moroccan hairpin bend.

Our Tyre Pressure Monitor shows the real-time tyre pressures and temperatures

Sidi Ifni

Once again the Moroccan terrain changed.  The countryside flattened out with somewhat smaller mountain ranges to what we have become accustomed to and the new obvious visual features are the frequent argan nut trees and the proliferation of prickly pear cactus bushes.  These appeared to have been deliberately planted, probably to harvest the fruit although prickly pear oil production (for cosmetics), is a growing industry which could be driving the mass planting.

As we pulled into Sid Ifni, there was a heavy but dry mist in the air, no doubt originating from the angry Atlantic Ocean breakers pounding the sandy beach beside the Sidi Ifni Camping  (GPS 29.38466, -10.17324).29.384

Jumping out of Betsy, we tasted and smelt the sea in the air and immediately felt relaxed and at home.

Sidi Ifni is one of the last parts of Morocco to be given independence from Spain and remained a colony until 1969 – thirteen years behind the rest of the country. Many of the buildings show a strong Spanish influence and the pace of life is slow here with an economy built around fishing and tourism.  Visitors flock here to enjoy the mild climate, the paragliding and the surfing.  We missed the Sunday souk unfortunately which is apparently well worth planning your visit around.

Sidi Ifni Camping is one of several camp grounds in the town and 80 dirhams per night includes power, hot showers and a reasonably good WiFi signal (we were parked close to the office though).  The showers were nice and hot in the early evening but not so good late at night. Looking around, it appeared that most of our fellow campers are settled in here for weeks, if not months.  Most are from France who are down here for the whole winter – and who would blame them when you compare the weather here to anywhere in France!

Although you are given a three month entry permit when arriving in Morocco, it is apparently relatively easy to get this extended to six months, which is what most people seem to do, or alternatively you can get a new entry permit by taking the ferry back to Spain, then returning straight back to Morocco again.  There seems to be some conflicting information about how to get the original permit extended however for people from visa exempt countries, which includes EU, NZ, Australia, USA and Canada, this should be relatively easy and visiting a local police station would be the starting point.

In the afternoon we cycled up the steep hill to the shops to buy that wonderful round fluffy Moroccan white bread called khobuz for 2 dirham (€0.18 or NZ$0.31.  “Deux pain s’il vous plait” normally gets the desired result but for those non-French speakers just say “der pan seal voo play” and you should be right.  That evening we cooked our first goat tagine using some fresh goat meat bought from a roadside stall.  We are really getting the hang of these tagine things and the wonderful Ras el Hanout we found in Erg Chebbi gives a totally authentic flavour.  We don’t have a tagine pot to cook in but a large saucepan does the trick well enough.

Use Moroccan Tailors

Days 30: Sidi Ifni;  Tuesday 26 Feb & Day 31: Sidi Ifni; Wednesday 27 Feb

Morocco is a great place to save up those little jobs that can be expensive in mainland Europe.  We had some pillowcases that needed cutting and hemming and my trusty High Sierra backpack, which has served me well for over twenty years needed some stitching reinforced.  We were directed to a ‘taileur’ who for the paltry sum of 30 dirham (€2.77, NZ$4.60) did everything we needed on his old but sturdy sewing machine. 

Sidi Ifni Tailer

Back in New Zealand, a great easy meal is a roast chicken scoffed down with fresh bread and a salad. Along the strips of shops and restaurants in most towns here we can usually find at least one café selling freshly spit-roasted chickens.  The going price in Morocco seems to be around 85 dirhams (€7.90, NZ$13) for a whole chicken or 45dh for ‘un demi poulet’ (a half chicken).  The succulent fragrant roast chook, fresh tomato, lettuce, homemade beetroot and mayonnaise, encased in still warm Moroccan bread, khobuz, makes an awesome lunch.

Camel For Dinner

As we wandered the shops we spotted a butcher specialising in dromedaries, or camel meat.  Huge haunches of camel hung from hooks.  A camel hump split down the middle, which is almost entirely fat, looked very unappetising but the meat being cut up by the butcher was lean and looked very fresh.  Camel meat is reportedly cholesterol free with no fat running through it.

Camel is mainly eaten in the southern Saharan regions of Morocco and in keeping with our plans to sample local foods, we had planned on trying this at a café or restaurant while we were in the area.  However, the meat looked so good that we bought some to cook up for a camel tagine.  It was funny to us that the butcher would not sell us just the meat – if it was going in a tagine then we had to have a separate chunk of camel fat also.

Camel Meat in the Butcher Stall


Day 32: Mirleft;  Thursday 28 Feb 

As we headed north up the R109 and passed through the small town of Mirleft, little did we know that this was to become our home for the next week due to being kidnapped and kept in Mirleft by our local friend.  As we passed Mirleft Beach, we spotted a group of motorhomes parked near the sea and turned off to investigate.  The great thing about being in a motorhome is being able to take advantage of a nice-looking parking area so we decided to stay the night and found a small possie facing the beach.

TIP: The Atlantic ocean along here may look inviting on a warm winter day but it is actually damn cold and pretty rough.  As I found out.  Enter at your own risk!

When we heard some voices speaking English outside our motorhome I popped out to investigate because down here, you just don’t get to talk with many people who speak English well.  So you look for opportunities whenever they arise.  Mostafa (Mo), a Moroccan born Canadian, who has a house in Mirleft, was kindly offering to take a German/Chinese couple, Toby and Alice (travelling on bicycles, into town) to do some shopping.   A few minutes later and we were both invited to join them.

Tasting Tafranot

“Have you ever seen bread cooked on stones?  It’s called Tafranot”, asked Mo.  Well we have now.  Mo directed us into an old bakery to peer into an ancient bread oven containing embers on the left and a base of small pebbles.  The soft flat, round bread dough was pushed onto the bed of stones with some fresh twigs, and less than 10 minutes later we were scoffing warm bread.  The bread was still quite thin, almost burnt in places and with several stones still stuck on one side.  The baker picked off the stones, wrapped it in paper and handed it to us in return for 3.5 dirhams (€0.32 or NZ$0.53) – well worth the money just to watch the process.  The bread was delicious, very crusty and with the taste of the wood smoke.  ‘Best eaten warm with olive oil, or honey’ said Mostafa.

Tafranot Bread in the Oven

Tafranot Bread, Complete with Stones

Along in the market square, the fish were on display for sale.  “The fishermen have been coming in with their catch. They fish all day then sell their harvest at the market in the evening”, explains Mo. 

It all looked very fresh and for a few dirhams you can have it cleaned and cooked by one of the restaurants around the square.

Mo showed us Mirleft’s other two beaches and his house which he has been renovating so he and his Canadian wife can live six months in Morocco and six months in Canada.  Right now, it is about minus 14C where Mo lives in Canada so we can understand why he would rather be in Morocco.

Mo was very interested in how we were able to buy a French registered motorhome in Europe without being EU residents and we explained how this was possible using the organisation that we used.  There were a lot of advantages in buying a French registered vehicle and we explain everything in this article.

We invited Mo to join us for some supper while he gave us an impromptu Moroccan history lesson. 

Morocco was a French/Spanish protectorate (colony) from 1912 – 1956 and the border between the two zones ran through Mirleft.  The French border fort is still visible above the hills and we agreed to visit this with him another day.  It was already looking as if our stay in Mirleft was going to be longer than we anticipated but we have learned to go with the flow and having a local willing to show us around his home turf was an opportunity not to be missed. 

Mo was a font of knowledge including the origin of the name Gibraltar, which comes from Jabal Ṭāriq (literally ‘Mount Tarik’) named after the Berber general Ṭāriq ibn Ziyād, who captured the peninsular in 711, heralding the start of an astonishing 700 year occupation of much of Spain by the Moors.  Ṭāriq didn’t get to enjoy his successes for long though as he was recalled in 714 allegedly for misappropriation of funds and died in obscurity in 720.  We also learned how Moroccans were introduced to chocolate by American soldiers who landed near here close to Agadir during the second world war before helping to push the Rommel’s German army out of the Middle East.

Our Kind Kidnapper

Day 33: Mirleft;  Friday 1 Mar

Our one night stop is turning into another night, and then another as our friendly captor, Mo had more he wanted to show us.  Luckily we aren’t in any hurry.

After bringing us fresh Moroccan pancakes for breakfast, then taking us for the best cous cous in town, we were in for another treat..Astonished that we’d missed it, Mo drove us to Legzira Beach, 30km back towards Sidi Ifni.  It’s great to meet a local who is so passionate about his surroundings and we went with the flow.

Legzira Beach is famous for the arches eroded into the spurs of rock reaching into the sea.  Unfortunately, the most picturesque of these collapsed a couple of years ago and the sea is rapidly reclaiming the fallen material.  There is a theory that the collapse was initiated by the heavy equipment and loud sounds associated with an airline commercial being made here, as it fell just ten days later.  The remaining arch is still spectacular though and reminded us of Cathedral Cove in the Coromandel region of NZ.  The high cliffs and strong thermal updrafts make this a popular destination for paragliders and a constant progression of aerialists landed on the beach around us.

The Famous Legzira Arch

The  Remaining Arch Photographed from the Collapsed Arch

After a great wander up the beach and under the arch, we returned to the inevitable collection of cafes and tourist traps for some genuine Moroccan tea at Mo’s friend’s cafe.  Mo demonstrated the rather complex, almost ceremonial process of tea making.  Nothing in Morocco is rushed, and tea making is no exception.  The green tea leaves are first steeped in a small amount of water, which is then poured out (and may be discarded as this draws out the bitterness).  More water is then added with a few sprigs of fresh mint and the tea is then poured back and forth from the tea pot held high, to the glass and back again until a froth develops on the surface. Some sugar may or may not be added according to taste and some of the bitter first tea may also be returned to the mix.

Mo Makes us Tea

Legzira Aerialists

One of the attractions here is a tame juvenile hawk that was electrocuted and after being nursed back to health he couldn’t fly.  He happily sits on it’s perch, eating only chicken, watches the tourists go by and will step onto an arm (protected by clothing) pressed up to his legs.  

Friendly Local Hawk

Day 34: Mirleft;  Saturday 2 Mar

The road leading down to Mirleft Beach passes alongside a dry riverbed with cultivated fields spread out alongside the narrow flood plain.  Prickly pear bushes form a picturesque foreground to the spire of the mosque minaret. The fields are mostly used for cultivating animal feed and several groups of locals were either turning over the earth or harvesting the crop using a sharp sickle to slice the plants off very close to the ground.

The farmers were happy to stop for a break while I attempted to converse with them in my pidgin French and we had a good laugh trying to make ourselves understood.

Berber Farmer Posing with his Donkey

View up to the Mosque

French Upper Fort, Mirleft

Today we are still held captive by the lovely Mo who as promised drove us to visit the old French Upper Fort overlooking Mirleft.

The atrociously bumpy dirt and clay road up to the site is not signposted and certainly not suitable for a motorhome.  Completed by the French military in 1935, the fort is now decaying but with the aid of a local guide Youssef, another friend of Mo’s, we are able to get a great insight into how the fort was laid out and how military life must have been like in this far outpost of French influence.  The fort originally had a guard/watch tower at each corner and was divided into areas for the horses, the common soldiers, the officers and the commander.  The size and quality of the rooms increasing with each level of rank. Up to two hundred men once manned the fort which now supports just a population of inquisitive desert squirrels.

French “Upper Fort” at Mirleft

Panoramic View Through the Ruined Walls of the Fort

After our time at the Upper Fort, we indulged in a couples massage at the local Hammam (bathes) and Spa.  ‘Le Jardin d’Orient’ is modern, clean and very reasonably priced.  We enjoyed a 60 minute massage for just 200 dirhams (€20) each.  This was a very rare treat for us.

Day 35: Mirleft;  Sunday 3 Mar

After seeing the main sights of Mirleft, it was time for a quiet day with the highlight being a visit from a local carpenter (another of Mo’s friends), who agreed that for 230 dirhams (€21.30, NZ$35) he would build two lightweight shelves under our bed and modify our chopping board so it could sit over the sink.   Another good job to get ticked off in this low-cost country.

It would have been so easy to drive right past this area without being aware of its unique history and charm.  We will always be grateful to Mo, who kindly held us captive, while sharing his home, his knowledge, and his passion for Mirleft and its surrounding areas.

Costs for Weeks 1 – 5

 We had a bit of a blow out in costs this week (by Morocco standards) as we needed some parts for Betsy and indulged in a massage.  Without these extras, our costs for a fantastic week would have been just  €155.   

We love to see comments on our blog as it keeps us motivated to keep writing.  Please say hi or leave a quick one line comment below, thanks.

Next week we visit a local souk and stay in what has to be one of the most spectacular motorhome stopping places you can imagine. 

Please feel free to Pin and read later

Fantastic Fes

Week 4

Week 7

Week 1

Week 5

Week 8

Week 2

Week 6

Week 9

Week 3

Argan Oil

8 Reasons Why You Shouldn’t Visit Morocco