Friday, April 26, 2019

Travel Guide: Marrakech

Visiting Majestic Marrakech


Marrakech has been at the top of my travel-lust list for the last six years. At that time, I was on a Euro-trip with my girlfriend who planned to stay back and visit the city. I considered extending my trip but just couldn't make it work. 


Since then, I've been daydreaming about the day when visiting this mystical place would become a reality, and last summer - I made it happen.

I've received so many messages and questions about visiting Marrakech that I thought I should write a blog post about it to share my experience.

Visiting Marrakech

Since I have been wanting to visit for so long, I did a lot of research before getting on to the plane. If you are planning to visit, I'd recommend 4-5 days at least. If you are interested in doing an overnight experience in the desert, then 6 days or one full week would be perfect. 

In this guide, you will find all the information you will need to help you prepare for your visit to this beautiful and colourful city.

Where To Stay

There are two types of accommodation you can get here, a resort hotel or a riad. A riad is a traditional family home or estate. These are found in the old town and from the alleyway, all you will see is a thick wooden door, but these doors open to a 2-3 story bed and breakfast with no more than ten rooms, situated around a central courtyard. Riads also often have beautiful rooftop terraces.


Visiting Africa for the first time, I felt staying in a hotel was a good option. When you're so far from away, it's nice to have a place to come back to that has some of the luxuries of home. However, I also really wanted to experience that traditional Moroccan-style riad ambience. I wanted to FEEL like I was in Morrocco, if you know what I mean.

I was conflicted as I had read that staying in the Medina was a little hectic and I would have a more relaxing experience staying a little bit out of the city.

Final Call

I decided to split my time between a boutique resort hotel about 20 minutes from town and a proper Riad in the middle of the Medina (old town). I couldn't have planned this better, as I feel I got the best of both worlds.


So what should you pick?

Choose a hotel outside of the medina if you are looking for a relaxing and restful holiday with a bit of luxury. The hotel will likely be more of a resort with larger grounds and amenities like a spa, bar and lots of poolside loungers. Tip: Make sure the resort has free transportation to and from the souks, otherwise you will end up spending too much on taxis in order to explore the old town.

Choose a typical riad in the medina if you want to be close to the action of the marketplace. The souks will be within walking distance and you will get a more local experience.
Tip: The market can be overwhelming and loud. The pools are typically plunge pools on quaint terraces. While the riads are like an oasis within a busy city, you will hear some city sounds at night and in the morning. 

Riad Kaiss


Riad Kaiss was a gorgeous surprise. I had actually booked a room at the Riad Dar Anika - it is rated very well and has won many awards for service. It was conveniently located in the Medina and we would have been able to walk to many of the main sites.


When we arrived, the manager explained that they were about to start some renovation work on the terrace and if we'd like we could switch to their sister hotel, Riad Kaiss. We decided to take a look and we were stunned! Riad Kaiss is a true palace complete with all the Moroccan touches I had been looking for - tiled walls, wooden carvings, intricate details and a gorgeous terrace. I was so grateful to be upgraded to a suite and I honestly felt like a princess during my stay here. The bathroom alone was fit for a queen!


Both riads offer an amazing welcome when you check-in as well as a shuttle pick-up service (15 Euro) from the airport or in our case, from the previous hotel. We were greeted by staff and led to a seating area. We were then offered cold towels that were scented with rose water - amazing! We enjoyed a welcome treat of cold milk with local dates and then some Moroccan mint tea.  I was in heaven. 


The staff asked to take a copy of our passports which is pretty standard, but what we didn't know was that they used the copy to fill out our customs forms so we would be more relaxed at the airport the next day! They also arranged a local cell phone for us to use, letting us know that we could call a driver or the hotel if we ever got lost in the medina. They said they would also come and pick us up if we ever needed assistance.


All in all- it was the type of hotel experience you only wish to have but the next morning, it got better. The hotel manager, Phillipe, had a travel package made up for us that included sandwiches and fruit for our flight. It was such an amazing touch and we really appreciated the family feeling.

I'd highly recommend staying at the Riad Kaiss for the amazing ambience and hospitality - we really felt like we were staying in a royal family home. 



 Sirayane Boutique Hotel and Spa

Staying at this boutique hotel about 20 minutes out of the centre of town was one of the best vacation decisions we have ever made. We still talk about our time there and daydream about going back. It was a luxurious experience from start to finish.


Being in a new country I appreciated that the hotel provided a shuttle service from the airport. It saved us the stress and worry of making sure we were with a reputable cab company and being charged a proper fare.

When we arrived, we felt so at home, we were seated in a lounge and offered cold towels to freshen up. This was such a nice touch as it was sweltering outside! We also had our first sip of Morroccan tea and I was instantly hooked. So delicious!



The room was stunning and we truly felt we were given the royal treatment. The grounds and pool were also beautiful. The plus side to travelling in the summer heat was that it is the low season so the hotel was very quiet and peaceful - just what we needed to relax.

If you're travelling to Marrakech, I'd highly recommend this hotel as a contrast to the busy vibes of the city centre where you will spend a lot of your time.



Travel Tips:
  • Read reviews of the hotel you are staying at on Tripadvisor

  • Book a hotel that is either walkable from the old town or that provides a shuttle service to take you to the Medina

  • Be sure to book somewhere that has a terrace or courtyard so you can enjoy the outdoors 

  • Make sure you choose accommodations with a pool as it is a basic necessity in sweltering Marrakech (especially in the summer)

  • If you have young children, visiting during the winter months may be a better idea (the average temperature when I went in July was about 55 degrees Celsius)

  • Drink all the mint tea possible :)

  • You will need a SIM card to get around the old town of Marrakech. Buy this at the airport. Also exchange your money and pick up some local currency at the airport too.
  • While exploring the Old Town, unfortunately there are many locals who will offer to lead you around but have been known to deliberately get you lost in the maze-like Medina and then demand payment to lead you back. Avoid these "helpers" and just use your GPS. But use discretion, the more obvious you make it that you're using a map, the more these people will target you. If you do need to ask a local for help, ask a store owner (not a stall) or hotel concierge for some guidance.

  • When getting into a cab, ask the driver to run the meter, or agree on a price in the local currency Dirhams, before beginning the journey.

  • Make sure you have space in your suitcase for all of the amazing decor, clothes and plates you will want to bring home. I packed an extra suitcase and I used it. Like most marketplaces, practice your bargaining skills!



Things to Do and See


If you are visiting Marrakech for 4-5 days, this list of places will keep you busy with time to spare for wandering the Medina. You can select from this list and also add on an experience like a cooking class or a day trip as well. If you have 7-8 days, consider a spa day at the gorgeous La Mamounia hotel or if adventure is calling, try an overnight trek to the desert, complete with a sunset camel ride!
                                      

Shop like a local at Jemaa el-Fnaa


Visiting the night market or main square in Marrakech is a must. Arriving here will make you feel like you've stepped into a scene from Disney's Aladdin. Fruit vendors, street performers, snake charmers, henna artists - it's all here. The sights and sounds of Marrakech are unforgettable. Take a buddy with you, mind your wallet and enjoy the experience.




Find an Oasis at Jardins Majorelle

This is one of the most visited sites in Morrocco. A lush garden oasis with lots of photo opportunities, its the home of the Yves St Laurent memorial.



Experience a Hammam Spa

Make sure to try a true Hammam experience while you're in Morocco - it's a killer exfoliation with traditional black soap.


Soak up the Moroccan Vibes

If you're looking for stunning tile work, arched windows and Instagram worthy architecture, the Ben Youssef MedersaKoutoubia Mosque and La Mamounia Hotel will not disappoint.

La Mamounia is one of the most famous hotels and truly a work of art. If you like luxury, purchase a day pass and spend the day like a royal, at the spa.  (note: If you're visiting in the evening, men are required to wear pants and shoes- no shorts)



Beldi Country Club
A stunning 5 star property with glorious gardens, incredible ambience and design elements that take a modern twist on Morroccan style. They even have an onsite "market" where you can buy some of the same artisinal items you would find in the Medina, without all the hustle and bustle.



Cooking Class with Chef Tarik
This was by far my favourite thing to do. We spent the day learning about the traditional ways of cooking Morroccan cuisine. We had a chance to pick organic produce from the garden, took a tour of a Berber village and sat and enjoyed some traditional tea. We prepared appetizers, tajine and salads under Chef Tarik's guidance. We had a wonderful time, sitting down under a colourful tent to enjoy our true Morroccan feast.

Day Trips

Atlas Mountains

My husband and I did a day trip to the Atlas Mountains. We purchased a package which included transportation from the Medina. The package included lunch in a local restaurant as well as a guided hike in the mountain side.


When I say hike - it was really a trek and if you are not interested in rock climbing, I think you should sit this part out. The experience and view was lovely but it was very hot during our trip in July. My favourite part was a traditional lunch that we had at a restaurant where seating was IN the river. We sat with our feet in the cold water as we dined and it was an unforgettable experience.


Essouria

This is a nearby seaside town which is often frequented by tourists. If you have time another beautiful stop to add to your itinerary.

Overnight Trips

A Safari in the Sahara

This experience was quite high on our bucket-list and I did a lot of research. The packages I found included 2 nights accommodation (one night in a hotel and one in a tent in the desert), food, a musical show,  a tour of a local village in the mountains and sunset camel rides.


In the end, I opted not to do this overnight experience. The reason was, with such little time in Marrakech, we were advised not to attempt a one night desert experience (this was all the time I could allow for the adventure). Speaking with locals helped me realize that attempting to make the journey there and back in one night would be exhausting as well as dangerous as we'd have to drive in the dark on mountain roads.

If you do decide to take this journey, I'd recommend finding a tour shop in the Medina versus booking from home. It is much less expensive (like 50-60 % less) and you will also get a feel for the guides and whether you think they will offer a good experience. Talk to a few guides and compare packages/prices to get the best bang for your buck.

Where to Eat

Medina

In the medina, you will find lots of vendors selling fresh fruit juices. We LOVED the orange juice. It was the sweetest and best we have ever had. The fresh fruit juices are not to be missed. You will also find vendors selling spiced nuts, we loved that too!

 Riad Dar Anika

We booked this Riad, but when we arrived we were told the rooftop garden was under construction. They upgraded us to the sister hotel Riad Kais and we were very happy with where we stayed. But we missed out on what I've read is a lovely dining experience at Riad Dar Anika. Do look into their traditional dinner service or join them for some Mint tea.

Nomad

Nomad was our favourite restaurant and we ate here twice. It's modern Moroccan food in a beautiful setting with an emphasis on chef inspired fare featuring fresh produce. There's lots of choice for vegetarians here.


Cafe Des Epices

We heard great things about this restaurant and it's a sister restaurant to Nomad. While we did not get the chance to dine here, I believe it is one of the few restaurants in town that serves alcoholic beverages.

Le Jardin

This is a beautiful garden oasis in the middle of the medina. It's tricky to find, especially at night, so make sure you have your GPS maps on standby. We enjoyed a delicious meal of lemon chicken tajine and a vegetable tajine by candlelight in the open air terrace.  Very Moroccan.



Beldi Country Club

This is a great spot for tea or a drink by the pool but add a bite and its a great spot for lunch. The decor and ambience here made it worth the drive into literally the middle of nowhere to its location. Taxis do not frequent this spot, so if you need a ride back make sure to arrange it when you are
dropped off. 

What to Pack

When visiting any foreign country it is important to know a little bit about their customs and traditions. In Marrakech, there is a culture of modesty, especially when it comes to women.
I packed things like maxi skirts and dresses, loose and flowy pants (wide leg or linen styles are good), and left my figure hugging shorts and pants (including yoga pants) at home. I also packed a light and breezy shawl, kimonos and loose vests as layering pieces.

Since I look like I could be a local, I felt a little more conscious of my appearance and was very mindful to follow what I knew would be culturally appropriate despite the extreme heat.


For men, wearing shorts seemed to be fine and was quite common place. Use your discretion and wear what makes you comfortable. (For photos in hotels or inside tourist attractions I removed my shawl but when in the medina, I felt most comfortable with it draped loosely around my shoulders.)



If you are planning a vacation in Morrocco, you are in for a real treat for all your senses. I absolutely loved my time in one of the most interesting, exotic and beautiful places I've ever been!


Happy and safe travels!

Saturday, February 9, 2019

Motherhood: First Trimester Pregnancy Must Haves

A Few of My Favourite Things to See You Through the First Trimester

Every stage of the pregnancy journey so far has been awe-inspiring and challenging in its own way.

Captured by Oottum Fine Photography

When I think back to the beginning though, I think the first trimester was the scariest.

It is a time of excitement and anticipation but there's also the fear of the unknown, the faith you need to muster that things will work out...and if you decide to keep the news to yourselves for awhile, like we did - there's also a sense of loneliness.

It can be an isolating time when you're feeling all these new sensations but cannot talk to your friends about it, since you have yet to make an announcement. That was honestly, something I found to be extremely difficult as a first-timer.


Captured by Oottum Fine Photography

I turned to Youtube quite a bit to ease my apprehension and to get through a time when I needed to "talk," but wasn't ready to share.

It really helped to watch videos of other girls discussing their favourite items, their symptoms and their pregnancy updates week by week.

As a Youtuber myself, I knew I would want to return the favour when I could. So here is my first Youtube Pregnancy video. I plan to do a short series of my favourite things to get me through different stages and will add on videos as they are requested.





In this first video, I'm talking about my favourite foods, clothing and products that got me through the first three months.

I hope that these little updates will help other ladies who are trying to conceive or navigating various phases of the journey to Motherhood.
If you're struggling through this period, I'd suggest some good books, a few binge watching sessions on Netflix, lots of rest/relaxation and healthy eats. Use the time to reconnect with yourself and recenter as much as possible and you will get through it.

Lots of love and all the positive vibes for a peaceful and healthy journey ahead...


XO 

Angelie


Wednesday, February 6, 2019

Recipe: Moroccan Orange Salad

Travelling Through Taste

One of my favourite souvenirs of my travels are photos. The other- recipes and dinner inspiration. I love trying different foods when I'm exploring but even more so - I love playing around in my kitchen once I'm home again to try to recreate the different dishes I've tasted abroad.



Visiting Morocco was amazing because there were so many delicious foods to eat and try - many of them were ones featuring fruits and vegetables.



Since it's a freezing February day, I thought I'd share this recipe which takes me back to the exotic rooftop restaurants of Marrakech.

This dish was literally a show stopper and the reason was the spice blend that was sprinkled on top: Ras-El-Hanout. In Arabic it means, "the best of the shop" and is often a combination of cardamom, cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, anise, mace and various peppers. All I knew, was I wasn't leaving Marrakech without a bag full of these fresh ground spices in my luggage.

If you don't have Ras-El-Hanout, you can get a similar taste by using cinnamon.

This dish can be served as a super simple salad or as a light and refreshing dessert plate.

Either way, it's an incredible combination of spice and sweetness, which always transports me back to Morocco.



Moroccan Orange Salad

Serves 2
Preparation time: 10 minutes

Ingredients

2 navel oranges, peeled and sliced
1 tsp. Ras El Hanout or Cinnamon
1 tbsp. crushed pistachio
1 tbsp. pomegranate seeds
mint for garnish

Step 1) Arrange the sliced oranges on a beautiful plate. (You eat with your eyes first)
Step 2) Sprinkle the spices, pistachios and pomegranates over the oranges.
Step 3) Garnish with mint leaves.

Enjoy!

It's really that simple. Just one word of advice, slow down and really taste the flavour combination if
you do make this at home- for a minute, you may just forget that you haven't left your kitchen.

Thursday, January 3, 2019

Update: Something Sweet is Baking...

Something Sweet is Baking...

It's been a little quiet over here on the blog these days, I know. But there's a very good reason. I've been working on a little baking project that has taken a lot of my time and energy these days - and it truly deserves it.


There's a little bun in the oven!

My hubby and I are super excited, grateful and blessed to share that we will be expecting our first baby in late February of 2019.


For those of you who have been through this life phase before, you know that it is truly all encompassing and life-changing!

While we are very conscious of holding on to our life and who we are as people, we know that this is a time of transition and nurturing a new identity- we're becoming parents!


I am feeling all of the feels these days- excited, nervous, anxious, hopeful...

Babies truly are a miracle and walking this path has clearly shown me just how many things have to go right to get to the place where you can hold your baby in your arms.

We are so conscious of that, and that's why I have been waiting to share this news - it's a journey of uncertainty and one where you just have to stay positive and take one step at a time.

If you are reading this and in your own time of waiting and praying- know that we are sending you positive vibes for some great news to come your way too.


While I am taking some time to really be present in this life-changing moment of our life, I
am definitely looking forward to sharing more of our parenting journey on the blog in a new section called "Family".

The Lifestyle File began as a food blog but over the years has really become a part of me, including all the things that make me feel alive. We as a community have grown together over the last five years. So as I adapt to this new role in life, I will continue to share my favourite food, travel and lifestyle tips here but it makes sense for me to also include bits and pieces of my journey to motherhood, tips and tricks as well as products that make the transition easier.


Also- we are open to advice from other parents on their own journey. If you have a suggestion, tip or insight please let us know- it takes a village and we need ours too!


So Dear Readers, thank you for all your love and support always and I look forward to this new year, new beginning and new job description.

Thanks for joining on my journey and for the positive vibes along the way.

Wishing you all a warm and bright start to 2019 too!



A special thank you to @oottum / OOTTUM FINE Photography/ www.oottum.com for collaborating on this post with their stunning photography. 

Sunday, November 4, 2018

Recipe: Baked Apples with a Turkey Sausage Stuffing

Sweet and Savoury Stuffed Apples

If you're like me, you look for any excuse to extend the festive season and that includes Thanksgiving. A traditional turkey dinner is my absolute favourite meal of the year and there's no way I'd be satisfied unless the combination of sweet and savoury flavours ended up on my dining table multiple times during the year.

That's why I'm always looking for ways to bring that festive feeling to my table with recipes that are quick, healthy and simple enough for a weeknight. 

I have to say, I'm pretty proud of my latest experiment - a stuffed, baked apple with Lilydale's Turkey Breakfast Sausage. It was delicious and made for an amazing side dish at my Dad's birthday dinner. The combination of sausage and apples is perfection if you ask me - and these are easy enough for anyone to prepare on any day of the week!

So get ready to wow your dinner guests - this dish will definitely bring all the special occasion vibes to your table. 



The Star of the Dish: Turkey Breakfast Sausage

I was so excited to partner with Lilydale on this post and found their turkey breakfast sausage to be the perfect star for my dish!

Lilydale is a brand I trust in my kitchen - with 75 years under their belt, they are well-known in the culinary world for their premium products. (They use only responsibly farmed, nitrite-free, 100% Canadian turkey and chicken.)

Bonus- in addition to their variety of breakfast sausages, they also have seasoned, oven-roasted turkey breast available - perfect for those days you're craving a special meal but don't want to slave away in the kitchen for six hours roasting a turkey. 

The ready to eat oven-roasted turkey breast would also be perfect for weekday lunches or dinners and I'm planning to use it in wraps, on salads and in pasta dishes too!


But first thing's first - you have to make these amazing stuffed, baked apples for your next big get-together. I'm willing to bet you'll have some very happy guests.

Baked Apples with a Turkey Sausage Stuffing 

Makes 10 individual servings
Preparation Time: 40 minutes
Cooking Time: 20 minutes


Ingredients

1 package Lilydale Turkey Breakfast Sausage
1 small onion, chopped
1/4 tsp poultry seasoning
10 small apples (I used gala)
2 pieces of bread, toasted and buttered
1 Tbsp canola oil
3-4 sprigs of fresh thyme, stripped
1 lemon wedge
salt and pepper
pomegranate seeds or cranberry sauce to garnish (optional)

Preheat oven to 400 degrees Farenheit

Instructions

Step 1) Using a sharp knife, cut the casings of the Lilydale Turkey Breakfast Sausages and discard. Place the turkey sausage in a bowl and then mash it with a fork.



Step 2) Add salt, pepper and poultry seasoning. Mix to combine.


Step 3) Prepare the apples by making a cut at the top (about a centimetre from the top)  and a smaller cut at the bottom to create a flat surface for the apple to sit on as it bakes.




Step 4) Using a melon baller or a spoon, scoop out the core and middle portion of the apple. 

Step 5) Squeeze lemon juice on the cut portions of the apples to prevent browning. After a few minutes, remove the excess juice from the apples and season the insides with light salt and pepper. 



Step 6) In a pan, heat the oil on medium. Add the chopped onions and brown. Add the Lilydale Turkey Breakfast sausage to the pan and mix to combine it with the onions. 

Step 7) Prepare the toast and cut it into small cubes.




Step 8) Add the cubed bread to the pan and mix to combine. Add a splash or two of water to help the bread combine with the meat. Let it cook for a few minutes but you don't want the turkey sausage to be more than halfway cooked. 


Step 9) Using a spoon, stuff each apple with the turkey sausage and bread mixture. Add some thyme to the top of each apple. Place the apples on a parchment paper-lined baking sheet.


Step 10) Bake the apples for about 20 minutes or until the apples are tender. 


Step 11) Remove them from the oven and transfer to a serving platter. Garnish with fresh thyme and pomegranate seeds or cranberry sauce. 


Let's Dig in!

These baked, stuffed apples are guaranteed to make your house smell amazing and they make a delicious side dish or even an entree if you serve two to each person. 


These are such a pretty little showstopper and the taste is worth the little bit of extra effort that it takes to make them. I served these with Lilydale's Seasoned Oven-Roasted Turkey Breast, some mashed potatoes, gravy and green beans. It was the perfect way to make a holiday meal a little more accessible for the everyday. 

And trust me, now that this recipe is under my belt, you'd better believe it's going to be getting festive a lot more often around here.


Hope you try this recipe for yourself and let me know how it turns out! Leave me a comment below or on Instagram @angeliesood

A special thank you to my friends at Lilydale for partnering on this blog post. As always - all views and opinions are my own.