Seven Sisters Cliffs, England

Our more-than-just-a-friend-more-like-family friend MS came to visit and we used it as an excuse to take a trip to Seven Sisters Country Park and see the beautiful white cliffs. The cliffs are the longest stretch of chalk cliffs around the channel, but are quickly eroding into the sea. Cash especially loved the trip because we let him run around on the beach–a rare treat for a city slicker pup.


On the way home we stopped in Brighton which was mostly strange. The main attractions are a boardwalk which RM and MS convinced me looks the same as every boardwalk ever (how am I to know? I’ve never seen one!). A couple of blocks away was the the King’s summer palace–a strange Indian inspired building built for King George and designed by John Nash in the early 19th century.



Fes (Morocco Part 4)

After dropping our car, we headed into the ancient city of Fes. One of the women from the family who owns our riad came and met us where a taxi dropped us outside the medina, and soon we were inside Dar Faracha Fes, a beautifully restored riad in the old city run by a French family. The alley ending in our riad was just wider than a shoulders width, hard to walk through with our bags–they say that Fes is the oldest, most labyrinthine medina in Morroco.
Fes passed as a whirlwind. Though not as busy as Marrakech (though this is certainly a point of reference issue), the main souks are packed with people in the early evening hours, and constant calls come from behind warning you to step aside for a horse, donkey, or handcart barrelling through. Fes is known as Morocco’s most holy city, and is where Moulay Idriss is buried, the man who brought Islam to Morocco. Holy places dominate the city, with mosques at every turn and several stunning medersas. It has the feel of an intact medieval city.
By now AM had honed her bargaining prowess (RM decided to let her take it over), and buying some keepsakes in the souk were a highlight of the trip. One shop hidden away in the tannery area (tough to navigate with tens of hustlers asking you to go into a tannery) was a allegedly famous cushion cover shop from Rough Guides called Chez Hamidou. We spent some time looking through colourful cushion covers before the owner, Mohammed, asked us if we wanted tea–things were serious now! He told us of his troop of 5 or so men riding donkeys, scouring the mountains for  cushion covers to sell in his shop, and of the rich ladies from the US who would come and buy 17, 18, 20 at a time to take home to their beach houses. We selected some we liked, and soon the negotiations started (this is good, handmade, Berber wool! You have such great taste! You have picked the nicest ones–others I sell for 60, 70 dirham, but these are much nicer!). He starts at 550, and we go for 120. He immediately says “you’re crazy!,” a tried and true Moroccan negotiating tactic. We mix and match, wheel and deal. Do you want 6 or 7 cushion covers, for your mom and your mom? He starts putting his stock away and ignoring us. There are jokes about how much like a Berber AM is at negotiating (another staple). He traps us a couple times when we get to 275, and sells us one we didn’t actually want (our internal family signalling could use some work). He starts packing them up, and he’s got us. We get to 350 for the two we want, colourful on the front and subdued and red on the back. Perfect. We all walk away happy, though wesuspect we overpaid by 20% or so.
Negotiating a lantern proved easier, and we got away for 200 dirhams for a beautiful handmade piece from good metal. The piece de resistance, however, waited for ourlast day RM had been eyeing the copper frying pans in the metalworkers square, Place Seffarine, just outside the Karouine Mosque, the biggest of the mosques in the medina. Every day, metalworkers hammer out copper pots and pans in the square, shiny and beautiful copper pieces. The clanging has a satisfying ring to it, and from the first day RM was in love with the frying pans (some quick research uncovered the fact that we needed to buy a tin lined one to avoid copper poisoning). We made a first attempt on our second day, but 500 dirhams was way too much. Weshopped around, discounting the lighter ones, before settling on one in a shop on the corner. Soon, negotiations started. 700! 200! The jokes were flying. AM negotiated with the guy on the right, and the metalworker in the centre laughing. He was the boss, and held the final say. The man on the left laughed along to, though his role was unclear throughout. AM rose slowly, and the price came down quickly to 450. Soon we were at 400. The pan gets hung back up–he can’t go below 400. You negotiate like a Berber! Than give me the Berber price! A man appears from behind us, and is handed the pan. This guy wants to buy it, and says it’s worth 500! He was speaking Spanish! And he said 400! How much are you paying this guy, anyways. Even Hamid, the metalworker, laughs at how badly the stunt was pulled off. Hamid clangs away, and the negotiation continues. We wait, we banter. Hamid points at AM and give me the thumbs up–yes, I have chosen my wife well. 350 and sold. We have Hamid put his mark on the pan (he uses it to match lids to bottoms), and another vendor does the same. It’s thick, heavy, and shiny.
Fes itself is a pretty incredible city. We went into two Medersas, the Al Attarine and the Bou Inania. RM preferred the former, for its unbelievable tile work and the closeness in the main courtyard. It was a moving place to be, especially when the call to prayer sounded. There was intricate and well preserved cedar carving around the ceiling, and the tiles were placed in patterns and cut in shapes that seemed impossible. They were both in the same style as the Ben Youssef in Marrakech, with woodcutters, tile workers, stone masons, plaster (or concrete) masons, and metalworkers all coming together to make a beautiful monument to Islamic learning.
Eating, of course, was a big part of the Fes adventure. Our Riad served us a very nice dinner on our first night, and each evening we snacked on sweets and bread from the souks (the Fassi doughnuts and puffy, crepe-like bread were highlights), but the main event each day was lunch. The first day we ate at the Ruined Garden, a tapas place in a ruined building with–you guessed it–a garden inside. The second day we had a classy lunch at Riad Hatim deep in the northern part of the medina. It was pastilla, a Fassi-specialty pigeon pie with cinnamon on top and flaky crust, and a great lamb tagine with a rich sauce. For starters it was a series of small plates of Moroccan salad, different vegetables with spices and some lentils. The riad itself was even more beautiful than ours, with a colourful, woodcut hand painted ceiling and some impressive mason work in the interior. Our favourite food of the whole lot turned out to be little moon pie like cakes with almond paste filling sold by street vendors for 2 dirhams a pop. A low point was getting scammed out of 20 dirhams for tea at Judaica shop whose vendor pushed it on us and then asked that we pay before we left (he also said that he wouldn’t be open the next day–lies!). Perhaps the biggest jolt was our walk through the souk next to Place R’cif where our riad was located, where alongside the live chickens, turkeys, vegetables, fish and sweets were two camel heads hanging at a butchers shop.
We visited the wood museum, beautifully restored and with some interesting pieces like musical instruments and Arabic inscriptions, with a great patio up top to see out on the city. The famed tanneries were a highlight of the visit, as we went into one of the shops and viewed the leather workers from above, as they moved animal hides into and out of giant vats. The first vat, a limestone mixture, is for removing fur; the second, a mixture of pigeon droppings, is for softening; and the third, for colouring (our guide, who we ended up paying 50 dirhams–though 20 probably would have done the job–told us they were natural, with red as poppy, green as mint, blue as indigo, and yellow as saffron, but the guidebook said otherwise). The process was mesmerizing to watch. A stroll through the well manicured gardens in the southwest of the city was a must, as was a look at the famed Blue Gate. The two main souk streets, running east-west from the Blue Gate to the Karouine, were jammed with vendors hawking their wares and people, tourists and locals alike.

The Desert & Middle Atlas: Erg Chebbi & Sidi Hamza (Morocco Part 3)

We hit the road after Dades gorge and headed towards Merzouga to see Erg Chebbi–the only sand dunes in Morocco. The landscape, as usual, was quite beautiful, and changed to become much more desert like as we drove. There was a huge ancient underground irrigation system as we got close to Merzouga, with large humps rising out of the dirt. Though no longer in use, it was impressive to behold from the road. At we were driving, we saw a very loud “CANAL ICI” painted on the side of a structure going into one of the humps, and naturally we stopped. We haggled with the older women who ran the place on the price of the canal tour, and settled on 50 dirhams. The canal was impressive. It’s a person-high tunnel running just underneath the ground’s surface, meant to transport water from the oasis to the fields. It was pitch dark inside, save for the light filtering through from the holes above.
We drove on across the desert, passing through bustling frontier towns whose streets were filled with people walking, bicycles, motorcycles, tractors, and donkeys. We passed by a camel or two along the unpopulated stretches of road.
Soon we began the approach to Merzouga, and orange-pink mountains appeared in the distance. As we got closer, we realised that the mountains were in fact the sand dunes of the Erg Chebbi, part of the Sahara. We turned off into the hard packed ground of the desert leading to the dunes, following a trail to the Auberge du Sud. The dunes were striking against the blue sky, seeming more a painting than a real landscape. The Auberge is set right at the foot of the dunes, which towered above us, the sand orange. After a tea and some bread and olives, we mounted our camels along with the rest of our group to head into the dunes.
Camels are peculiar creatures, making wookie like noises and hilarious facial expressions. They’re also quite stubborn creatures, and hate getting down or up. After some wrangling, the whole group was mounted up, and a guide (on foot) walked us into the desert. Soon all we could see were the mountains of sand around us, pink and orange and yellow, curving beautifully into the sky. Our camels’ noises and the clop of their hooves against the ground were punctuated by the whir of ATVs in the distance and our guides’ chatter. The ride on the camels began to get a little uncomfortable, but after an hour we were at our desert camp.
Our guide told us to head up the dune to watch the sunset, so we did, soon realising that climbing up a sand dune is not as easy as it looked. The sand itself is incredibly fine, and we fell back a step for every two we took forward. We summited the dune just as the sunset reached its most beautiful, illuminating the dunes in soft purple hues. The sunset over the mountains in the distance was breathtaking.
We headed back down (one of our loud tourist compatriots slid down the dune on her butt–not recommended), and soon found ourselves drinking tea by the fire while chatting with some Australians and New Zealanders who had joined us. After some soup and a Tajine, our group sat around the fire and listened to our guides play the drums. They were clearly making up words in Berber, but it was a great time, finished off by a round of songs from each nationality present (there were Japanese, Chinese, Taiwaneses, Aussies, Kiwis, and French all there). We looked up at the starry starry sky for a bit, and then headed to our rug-bedecked tent to sleep. We awoke to watch the sun rise over the dunes, and soon found ourselves back on our camels, headed back to pick up our car.
The road to our next destination was surprisingly well surface and went straight through the desert. soon the desert gave way to the Ziz valley, with red rock walls rising from a large canyon floor. The canyon is known for its palmeries, and a dense palm forest ran for miles and miles along the canyon floor–yet another scene from Morocco we had never seen anywhere else. The green against the red was striking. We got pulled over for a brief moment at one of the many police checkpoints along the road. The officer asked if we liked Morocco. Obviously, we did. He said have a great trip and happy new year, and we were on our way.
The landscape soon changed from the red canyon to a yellow grey green flanked by towering, snow capped mountains, and we soon saw a turnoff for Zaouit Sidi Hamza, the mountain village where we were to spend our night. The turn off we had planned to take wasn’t for another 10-20 kilometres, but after a brief consultation of our GPS we decided to chance it. The road was well paved, and ran into a beautiful, wide plain that turned into a valley in the distance.
We drove into a smaller town which, with its mud houses and livestock, could have been from a thousand years ago, and the road suddenly turned to dirt. Continue on in our FWD Fiesta, or turn back? After a brief scouting trip on foot, we determined to push ahead. The road ended up being pretty bad, and we had to ford some low water crossings, navigate a little mud, and avoid some gigantic holes–but the scenery, with a beautiful valley rising up above the terraced farmland of the valley floor, was unbeatable.
We passed a few villagers who gave us emphatic ‘salaam m’alaikum’ greetings, forded a stream, and after about an hour’s hard driving, finished the 10 or so kilometres to get to Sidi Hamza. The drive ended in a dramatic, opposite lock charge up a muddy hill to the paved road into town, which we could have taken the whole way if we had just followed our initial plan.
After arriving to the village, we saw a spray painted sign for our lodging, the Auberge Palacio Sidi Hamza, which we had chosen because it seemed just about the most remote lodging that had to offer. We got out of the car, and asked in the small market about the Auberge–we got some strange looks, but one of the villagers took off on a donkey. We decided to continue on, with the now-paved village road quickly turning back into dirt. We followed another sign, but were soon lost in the labyrinth of village streets. Driving around was complicated by our constant encounters with donkeys in the road.
We hit a dead end, and asked one of the village men. He promptly offered to take us there, and hopped in the car with us. We turned around with another a dozen or so people looking on, and within a minute or so Mustafa, one of the people who was a caretaker while we stayed, ran down from the hill, alerted by the donkey rider from before. He got in, and after a bumpy ride we were at the Auberge, in a position overlooking the valley.
Sidi Hamza and the neighbouring Tazrouft are old Berber villages, mainly of mud construction, that seem largely untouched by the passage of time. Besides the couple of cars that we saw, the cell phones, and the electric cables, the village seems as it probably was a few hundred years ago. Mud houses are clustered together throughout the village, livestock is everywhere (goats, chickens, donkeys, and cows were the main ones), and the people were quite friendly. The twin villages sit in a broad valley, with the Jbel Ayachi range to the north (the second highest peak in Morocco), with the mountains towering up on either side, and the pink minaret of the town mosque as the main landmark. Tazrouft, where the auberge rests, is a village of 280 families.
Our time in Tazrouft was one that we‘ll surely remember forever–as perhaps the most remote and hospitable place we‘ll ever visit. After arriving, we had the obligatory welcome tea outside the front gate of the auberge, looking out over the town and the mountains, sitting with Mustafa and his friend who joined us.
The owner, whose car broke down and couldn’t join us, called every hour or so to ensure that we were well taken care of and to discuss the plans for the evening (“this is real Morocco, not one of those tourist places–this is authentic Berber Morocco”). Mustafa soon took us on a walk to the old ksar of Tazrouft on the other side of town, an ancient but still lived in set of homes built one on top of each other on a hillside, set amongst a big plot of terraced farmland. A maze of paths ran under and through the ksar. We passed a picturesque stream and livestock, with Mustafa greeting everyone he saw. We saw the inside of a water powered cornmeal mill, powered by the irrigation channels running in to town, flowing strong from the snow melt off the mountain. The terraces are watered from irrigation channel, with each family’s plot getting an equal amount of water. The system appears mostly unchanged from a thousand years ago.
After walking back to the auberge, we settled in as yet another man from the village came to cook for us. His French was quite good, and that combined with RM’s terrible French allowed some small conversation about the village. After some time by the wood fired stove in our room, we went into the chilly dining area of the auberge for a Moroccan meal. We looked through the guest register, and found that we were the first tourists to come to the village for a month and a half, and that since records started 8 months ago only 20 or so people had come. It was insisted that wesit and listen to some Berber music by the owner (though clearly Mustafa wasn’t that interested), and soon two more villagers arrived. Hand held drums were broken out, and one brought a violin, played with the violin standing on his leg. The music was almost impossible to describe, a poem overplayed on the shrieking violin with the drums seemingly out of sync. The two musicians took it very seriously, while the other two on the drums were joking the whole time. Our hosts tried to get RM to play the violin on his knee, but we all just ended up in laughter at his atempt. Tea was broken out, and we listened for what seemed like a couple hours.
We slept under a layer of blankets a foot thick, as our mud walled room wasn’t quite enough to keep out the mountain chill. When we awoke, we had a simple Moroccan breakfast of bread, jam, butter, and hard boiled eggs, and then set out on a walk into the village. We hugged the mountains to the north, and walked up a stream surrounded by terraced farmland, passing a man out drying mud bricks. The day was perfect, and we wandered in the riverbed. We soon climbed a small peak and watched the village–kids playing football, some men building a house, donkeys ferrying goods.
One last snack of bread, butter, and tea later, we were off to our next destination. We drove on a paved regional road out of town, and the landscape soon opened up into a much broader plain.

One last beautiful view of Sidi Hamza on the way out of town.

The road to Midelt had yet more great scenery, and after an abortive attempt to find an embroidery cooperative in town we pushed on towards Fes. In the famed cedar forests as we crossed the Middle Atlas, we ran into the Barbary monkeys being fed by tourists. We passed through a high mountain road, where people had pulled over to rent sleds and sled down hills in the snow.
The road was in good shape, and we quickly realised that we were set to arrive in Fes a couple hours earlier than planned. The guidebook referenced a women’s cooperative that makes textiles in a town called Zouait d’Ifrane, and we decided to drive there. The road wound up the side of a mountain, with views completely different to those we‘d seen elsewhere–green hills and big plots of farmland rolling into the distance.

The land north of the Atlas Mountains was much more lush.

The towns we passed through were oddly western in style. The road, as we could have expected, became poor very quickly, with gaping potholes in the asphalt and some areas not paved at all. The drive slowed to a crawl. After a couple encounters with some sheep herds and donkeys, we finally got to the town, about an hour later than planned. We talked to a women outside the coop, and she showed us some of the things they made on the big looms sitting on the concrete floor. The stuff they made was beautiful, though unfortunately they didn’t have too much stock. After a brief glimpse of the waterfall above the town, we drove on, arriving to the Fes airport about 45 minutes late to drop the car. We left the car with two guys outside the airport (hopefully they’re the right ones!), and hopped a bus into Fes.

The High Atlas & Southern Oasis Route: Tizi n’Tichka, Ait Benhaddou, and Dades & Todra Gorges (Morocco Part 2)

We were sad to leave Riad Aguaviva, but it was time to go. After a hearty breakfast and a long discussion with our rental car person (we rented through our riad, which turned out to be quite easy), we set off through the medina gates. Just as we pulled out, one of the guys who worked at the riad pulled alongside us on a motorbike and offered to show us the way out of the city. With that, we were off into the crazy world that is Moroccan driving.
After getting used to the chaos that is driving in Morocco (who needs lanes, anyways?), the first thing we noticed is how many police officers there were. Three at each roundabout outside the city, random checkpoints every 10 or 20 miles, and police randomly pulled in along the road. Luckily we didn’t get caught in any of Morocco’s legendary speed traps.
The landscape quickly gave way from city to a sort of open, desert like scene punctuated by palm trees with some agriculture alongside the road. Dirty little towns lined the streets, each with an assortment of half-constructed buildings, mud buildings, larger well kept houses, and everything in between. Towns typically had a few small bodegas and perhaps some tourist shops, and nothing else. After about an hour of flat driving on good roads, we began our ascent through the Tizi n’Tichka pass over the Atlas. The scenery went from rolling foothills to snowy mountains very quickly, and we soon learned that road surfaces in Morocco can change rapidly without warning. At some points in the pass the road was brand new with three lanes (though we often were going into oncoming traffic trying to pass across all three), while at others it was pocked with enormous potholes. Switchbacks were constant, which made for an interesting drive. Once over the pass (2260m) we descended into flat land punctuated by mesas, always with the mountains in the background. Beautiful, indeed.

Mesa Mesa

Every once in a while we’d see a town that seemed to have no purpose all all, half constructed to be big, beautiful homes but with no one living there. Some towns had streetlights with pretty ironwork, with nothing along the sidewalk but abandoned buildings or the desert. Others were a row of concrete buildings along the street, with a few small shops open along a dirt strip aside the street. Each town, reliably, was bustling with activity–kids playing football, welders out welding steel on the street, brightly dressed women carrying sacks of wood on their backs. Each town had at least one minaret rising above the buildings, some simple and some ornately carved.

Random gate–nothing else for miles

After coming down off the pass, we began to enter the “Land of 1,000 Kasbahs.” Villages of red, pink, and grey concrete were mixed in with the ancient ruins of the kasbahs, old mud buildings with four towers that housed Berber families, few still inhabited. The larger complexes are called ksars, and seem to rise up seamlessly from the red earth. The most famous and best preserved of these is Ait Benhaddou, which has seen its fair share of movie sets (this whole area is known as the Hollywood of Morocco, for the Atlas Film Corporation that is still filming in the area). Ait Benhaddou is pretty spectacular. The buildings date from about 1,000 years ago–though no one really knows–and it is a large ksar set into the hillside.
We started by climbing to the top of the hill to get the view of the oasis, and then stopped for tea at a small shop with great views over the kasbahs and the oasis below (at 10 dirhams a cup, the price was great too!).
The buildings themselves each have four pronounced towers surrounding a central courtyard, with designs in the mud that are slowly washing away. There are six families still living in the old ksar–the rest have moved across the river to the newer town–and a guide who waylaid us in one of the kasbahs told us that in olden times the first floor was for grain, the second for sleeping, and the third for the guardians of the kasbahs. Walking around felt like we had been transported back to ancient times. After our kasbah jaunt (hint–it’s 10 dirhams per person to enter, and I recommend exploring on your own–we were charged an additional 10 for the “guide”), we headed down into the riverbed for the views to the front of the ksar. One stop for some road snacks later, and we were on our way out of the valley back to the main road, pausing for one last look at the village before continuing on.
From here, the landscape on the way to Ourzazate was a bit of a wasteland, with flat rocky expanse extending for miles until reaching the mountains and the mesas in the distance. Ourzazate is a much bigger town then expected, another of the towns built by the French in the French style, with larger avenues and nice streetlights, oddly out of place against the other towns we had seen. It was built as an administrative city, with no significance historically–new kasbahs were built, but they looked oddly new compared to the others we had seen. Interestingly, a lot of the architecture wherever we went seemed to mimic the ancient style. From Ourzazate, we continued on to Skoura, a giant oasis of palms in the middle of the barren landscape. Just as the sun started to set, we pulled in to our lodging for the night, the Kasbah Amidril, which we later learned was a reasonably large tourist attraction and is on the new 50 dirham note. It’s a 18th century kasbah with three or four adjoining fortifications. We watched the sun set over the oasis from the ramparts, drinking tea and eating dates while talking with our host. After a nice Tajine with a date-Apple smoothie for dessert, we went to bed. The room itself was Spartan but had a hot shower–and for a mud walled castle, it was pretty nice.
After breakfast the next morning, we bought a big box of dates from our host (yum!) before setting off for the Dades Gorge, one of the two major gorges that attract tourists along the southern oasis route. The drive passed numerous ksars in differing states of repair, and soon we reached the mouth of the gorge. As we drove up, the rock quickly changed to a deep, deep red–and the ksars seemed to rise out of the earth, alongside the ever present red, grey and pink villages with their minarets.
As our drive continued, we passed the impressive and unusual rock formation called the ‘monkey fingers.’ On the way back through the gorge we stopped for tea and took in the view.
We pushed through the gorge and on to even more beautiful sights.
The rock became yellower, and after some more driving we reached the Cafe Timidizzine (sp?), which the guide book told us had ‘stupendous’ views of the valley. Stupendous indeed! From our perch on the rocks we could see deep into the gorge, and gazed down upon the green river flanked by the huge switchbacks we had just driven up. After tea, we drove on higher into the hills, passing more villages and some great views of the mountains before turning around and heading back.
Our next destination was the Todra Gorge,where we would stay for the night. The gorge itself is a narrow passage flanked by cliffs a hundred meters tall. We parked our car, and after assessing that we had just enough daylight left for a two hour hike the guidebook recommended, we set off. A steep ascent out of the gorge led to a saddle, and we explored peak next to the trail with sweeping views of the red yellow rocks leading back towards the gorge. The patterns in the rock, with diagonal layers, were striking.
A choice faced us: go back the way we came, or push on. We chose to push on, and passed by a Berber sheep herding family’s tent before beginning a descent towards town. The views were beautiful, and as dusk began to set the call to prayer echoed across the valley. We realised that it was a race to get to town before darkness fell, and we made it back to the gorge in the nick of time after crossing the river on a small footbridge and walking through some irrigated fields. A walk through the gorge in the dark brought us back to our car.
After settling in to our lodging, we decided to do something bold for dinner–instead of eating where we slept, we looked in the guidebook and read that the Auberge Le Festival up the road had a great chef. With that, we hopped in the car and began driving in the dark. It wasn’t that the drive was particularly dangerous, but the road was narrow and the knowledge that the gorge was just off to one side kept our speed well down. We drove and drove, and just before RM gave up hope we saw the sign for the Auberge. We parked, crossed the gorge on a path, and headed up to the lights in the darkness. Out of nowhere a man with a flashlight appeared, and after an awkward silence we asked “could we have dinner?” The man replied, with a heavy French accent, that “normally we only have dinner for our guests, but since it is not that busy you may eat here. Head up the hill–if the cooks say no, tell them that the owner sent you.” We climbed the hill and entered the building, which we were surprised to find was beautiful inside, a cross between a French ski lodge and a Moroccan riad. It was a three course set menu, traditional Moroccan food with fresh produce from the garden. The food was the best we’d had, a meatball Tajine with great herbs and a lemon and herb chickpea side. For dessert, it was chocolate mousse and fresh oranges. Just as we finished, we spoke some with the owner, who was just sitting down for dinner himself. He’d owned the place for 18 years. He offered us some of the wine he had just opened for himself, a delightfully light red. It was an unforgettable dinner experience.
The next morning, we had breakfast on the terrace of our lodging (the Auberge Cavaliers, a steal at £13 a night), chatted with one of the men who worked their about his Berber horses, and then hit the road. We decided to explore up the valley to Tamtattouchte before heading to Merzouga.

Marrakech (Morroco Part 1)

Even though we vowed to never do it again, we booked an early morning flight out of Stansted to Marrakech, and after a short nights sleep at an airport hotel we were off. Our Riad (a house with a garden in the middle–it’s a type of Moroccan hotel) had a driver pick us up at the airport, and we got our first taste of white knuckle, no lane discipline, honking, swerving Morrocan driving. Oddly, the route from the airport is lined with police officers, a theme we see almost everywhere (most large roundabouts in Marrakech have three). The red walls of the medina greeted us, and soon we were inside, jostling with donkeys, motorcycles, and bicycles to get to our Riad. We pull up, and our Riad’s caretaker meets us on the street, walking us the remaining hundred feet to the entrance. The smell of the Medina–welding, motor oil, donkeys, spices, hot food, and more hits us immediately. We walk down a quiet (at least for the medina) street, and take a sharp left into a sunken alley that sits under another house. We start to worry–is this really the right place? We get to a black doorway with no sign, he knocks, and we enter.
To call Riad Aguaviva an urban oasis doesn’t quite capture it. It’s like a zen palace amidst this crazy, heaving city that is the medina. We walk in, and there’s soft music playing with the smell of rose petals in the air. All of the furnishings are ornately carved, and the doors are solid wood with patterns in them. Morrocan designs ring the courtyard, which has a pool and palm trees in the middle. After leaving our things in our room (perhaps the nicest we’ll ever stay in, with beautiful wood carving and hand wrought brass fixtures), we are brought to the lounge area and drink tea with our hosts as they explain to us our plan for the first day. They warn us about the simple things–ignore people offering to guide you places, bargain hard in the souks (markets), and don’t listen to people when they tell you a way is closed, with that, a hand drawn map, and a short walk to our first turn direction, we’re off on our own.



The medina is true chaos. The streets wind and curve in a massive jumble, making it impossible not to get lost. The streets are filled with throngs of people, and motorcycles and bicycles fly past just a little too fast. Each market stall has aggressive salesmen hawking shirts, scarves, leather, lanterns, and ceramic–show interest, and next comes a very hard sell. We took our hosts’ advice, and soon got used to the tumult. We were lost almost immediately, but our Ulmon Maps2Go app came to the rescue. After a few loops through the iron workers souk (they’re divided by type), we got our bearings and made it to the Jemaa al Fna, the main square, with tens of loud orange juice vendors, snake charmers, and monkeys (the guide says that they’re part of a smuggling ring of some sort). After a forgettable couscous lunch at Cafe Toukbal, we get some cash from an ATM (almost everywhere only takes cash) and head to Patisserie de les Princes, and buy a small box of delectable, nutty mini pastries.

The next stop is the Bahia palace. It is there that we learn that there are two Marrakeches–the chaos and smell and endless noise of the medina, and the blissful tranquility of the many walled Riad’s and gardens. The Bahia palace, built for a king, is nothing from the outside–simply another alley off a street in the medina. The inside, however, is courtyard after courtyard of gardens and beautiful carvings and geometric tile designs. The colours are the ones we will soon see in other places–brilliant blue, green, black, and yellow, all in tile that could only have been laid by master artisans. It’s all about the detail–most walls are plain, but the ceilings are works of art and the moulding is carved with beautiful Arabic script.

The Saadian tombs are the same–big red nondescript walls punctuated by tombs with the most intricate artwork. The style is nothing short of breathtaking.


After seeing those two important landmarks, we began making our way back to the main square. We passed the Koutoubia Mosque, with a minaret that is said to be the most beautiful in Africa. We found it majestic in its size and simplicity, but it couldn’t compare in beauty to what we had seen earlier. RM picked up a big chunk of cactus fruit from a street vendor for 5 dirhams (so many seeds), and then we made it to the 3rd floor terrace of Cafe du France overlooking the Jemaa al Fna just in time for sunset and the eerie call to prayer. The call to prayer, which happens five times a day no matter how remote the village, is echoed from minaret to minaret throughout the city. Performers and music stops out of respect. Our vantage point was perfect to see and hear it all.


We wound our way back through the souk, and did some scarf shopping on the way. Some intense haggling with a shopkeeper got a beautiful scarf for the price of 250 dirhams, or half of where we started the bargaining, though we later learned from our host that we should have paid 180.We finished the evening with a very romantic three course meal at our Riad before calling it a day.



The second day started with a sumptuous breakfast of a doughy, savoury pastry, crepes, fruit salad, fresh squeezed orange juice, and toast on the Riad’s rooftop terrace before our mandatory sit down with our hosts to discuss plans for the day. Our first stop was the Majorelle Gardens, where we arrived after a haggled taxi journey. The gardens are where Yves Saint Laurent’s ashes are buried, and were a beautiful, peaceful campus of bamboo, palm trees, cacti, and unique buildings. Amongst the plants are pots of the most brilliant blue we’d ever seen. The garden’s centre piece is the blue house that sits at one end, accented with yellow and green. The house is striking, and, along with the rest of the atmosphere, was something special.



Getting a cab at the garden (or anywhere in Marrakech for that matter) is an adventure of its own–most rides cost 20-25 dirhams (2-2.5$), but cab drivers will always start at 50-60 dirhams for tourists. Also, there are over 1,500 riads in the city, and it’s impossible for drivers to know them all (this resulted in us taking a cab from one side of the city to the other with a very verbose driver/amateur Berber musician–without getting any closer to our destination). At one point we witnessed a taxi versus mule cart showdown in the medina. The mule won.
We embarked on our next route through the city, provided by our hosts. We started at the Ben Youssef Medersa, which used to be a religious school attached to the mosque. Like most beautiful buildings in Marrakech, it was nothing, but inside was spectacular. Colourful tile mosaics sit below endless repeating wall carvings punctuated by Arabic script. Carvings in cedar ring the main courtyard, which is dominated by two opposing, enormous doors. As they say in the West Wing, schools should be palaces–and this one certainly is.



From the Medersa, it was off into the bustle of the medina again, this time with a mission–find some slippers for RM. Finding slippers may seem an easy task, but in fact it is not. There are several varieties and varying qualities at many different price points. After some aggressive sales tactics and a lot of soul searching, we finally find a place with the right ones–but negotiation gets us nowhere near our hosts recommended price point of 100 dirhams. We leave empty handed after getting an earful from the merchant.



We wind our way past endless merchants urging us to look in their shops, drinking in the wild colours and thousand smells of the soul, and eventually find ourselves at the spice market. Spices in Morocco are sold out of big baskets, and are quite colourful–in the market they are a distinct sight. We found a spot on the third floor at Cafe des Epices (cafe of spices), and looked out over the square, filled with vendors hawking their wares and some women with mortar and pestle grinding spice. After a tea and some delightful harira soup, we moved on to Patisserie du Prince (we just couldn’t get enough!) before taking a gander at the Jewish quarter, an impoverished area where all of the Jews of the city used to live. The Jewish population is dramatically smaller now, and there are only a few left still living there. It was one of the few areas of Marrakech devoid of tourists, and it was odd to feel how closed off from the rest of the city it is. Right next door was the jewellery souk, which made for an odd contrast.



We finished our day with a couple of our host’s recommendations, and went to 144, an unmarked and vast antique shop with some of the most beautiful wares we were to see in the city.
After, we  had a sweet Moroccan tea on the rooftop of the Dar Cherifa, the oldest riad in the city. It’s quite grand inside, and is a sort of artist commune/nice restaurant/tea house. Just after it started to get dark, the call to prayer sounded–eerie indeed. We finished the evening with a dinner overlooking the Jemma al Fna at the Argana Cafe, with RM having the delectable  rabbit tajine (if we haven’t discussed tajines yet, it’s a ceramic container with meat, spices, and vegetables slow cooked over some coals).

Bruges, Belgium

It wouldn’t be a European December without a city break to a Christmas market somewhere, and we’d never been to Belgium–so to Bruge we went! It’s a small town that dates from medieval years, and was once one of the most powerful towns in the world with its location on the coast. We went with three (culturally insensitive) goals: drink a lot of beer, eat a lot of waffles, and buy some chocolate. We accomplished all three.

The town itself is beautiful, almost entirely brick houses with Dutch facades set along its many canals. The residents speak Dutch, but pretty much everyone spoke French and English as well. We spent most of our time there walking–since it’s quite a small town, a weekend was perfect. We stayed at De Blecker, a small BnB with free breakfast run by a wonderful Belgian lady.

On arrival, we walked into the town centre, though disappointingly most of the bars were closed. We had our first Belgian fries experience, a heap of fries with one of a dozen sauces on top. The town square was beautiful at night, with its stunning city hall and old traditional buildings along the square.

The next morning, our host recommended a walk along the eastern side of the town, where we saw the four small windmills along the canal. The canal itself is quite huge, with some freight traffic headed out to the main port.

We stopped in the Lost Corner pub, where we experienced our first taste of Belgian beers. RM’s beer, a Straffe Hendrik quadrupel, which the bartender warned “was like a bomb.” A bomb it was, at 11%, and RM spent the next couple of hours fighting off its warm glow. Naturally, we also had to get our first wafels of the trip, which we accomplished at the small, kitschy Christmas market in the town centre.

Our host’s recommendation to shop along the Sint-Jakobsstraat found us wandering between some okay hipster shops selling trinkets, and we finally took a seat at the very local Republik bar, planning on having our second beer of the day. Running into some work friends meant a change of plans, and we stayed for a second (these were some great beers!) before heading over to the decadent Aux Merveilleuse pastry bar. The little cream puff merengue pastries were to die for.

After eating, it was time for more beer, and we drank under heat lamps on the outdoor patio of the 2be shop on the canal, famous for its wall of hundreds of beers. The atmosphere made for a perfect December evening–and we came back to the shop the next day to stock up on beer.

Sunday turned out to be a crisp, clear day, and we decided we pretty much wanted to spend the whole time walking. We stayed on the canals, looking at the beautiful homes and daydreaming about the people who live in them. A lot of the houses had little nooks or gazebos right on the canal, perfect for a Sunday morning. Some had little docks for canal boats, and the many bridges around the city made for some great viewing spots. We went back to all the places we had seen at night, like the two stunning town squares and the churches around the city. After some last minute stops to buy beer, chocolate, and waffels for the road, we were on our way back to the Brussels Eurostar terminal for the journey home.


Corsica, France (Fall Trip Part 4)

Unfortunately, starting in October there is only one ferry a day from Livorno to Bastia, Corsica–and it leaves at 8:30. Corniglia, while it looks close to Livorno, is not–especially at 8:30 on a Sunday. So after a sleepy 4 AM train journey and a walk around Livorno’s port trying to find our ferry, we arrive on the aptly named ‘Mega Express 3,’ a converted cruise ship that now runs for Corsica Lines. One ferry ride, a bus to the airport, and a car ride through Corsica’s winding mountain roads, and we’re at our Bed and Breakfast nestled above the hill town of Moltifao (translation: lots of honey), with a view of a beautiful mountain and the valley below.
Corsica’s beauty is not what we expected–there are white sand, wild beaches with crystal clear water a short drive from hiking trails that take you above 8,000 feet. It’s an outdoors person’s paradise. The mountain ranges fade into the evening in shades of blue, green, and purple, with small hill towns set into the mountainside. There are also glitzy beach towns on the coast with larger, busier beaches–but the best of Corsica, at least to us, was in the wild parts. Driving there is itself an event, as even the better roads are filled with switchbacks, blind turns, steep hills, and cliff edges. A drive may look short on the map, but may take hours when you get there. While there is a train, car is the most practical way of getting around (terrifying as it may be to drive). If you drive be on the lockout for the cows, pigs, and donkeys that roam the streets anywhere and everywhere across the island.

Our days were filled with hiking and beaches, almost exclusively. On arrival, after talking with our hosts for a while, we set off for the Restonica valley, famous for its gorges. The drive was perhaps the most harrowing we’d take, with a road not wide enough for two cars dropping into a hundred foot deep gorge (AM: at a cervain point I just decided to cover my eyes and let RM drive). The mountains were shrouded in mist, with tall spires of grey rock reaching up into the sky. We drove all the way to the end of the valley before setting off on foot to the Lac de Melu, one of a series of three glacial lakes at the end of the valley.

The views back down were a sweeping panorama of mountains rising up from the gorge. The lake itself was eerie, as we were just below the clouds consuming the mountain tops. We were the last ones left at the lake, and we ate a massive sandwich lakeside before heading back down (we had asked for two sandwiches at the small restaurant at the trailhead, and the sandwich maker laughingly put the meat he had left on an enormous bun). For dinner we ate in Corte, the traditional capital of Corsica set in the mountains of Corsica’s centre, before heading back to our B&B.
It’s worth mentioning here that we absolutely loved our B&B, called Les Chambres de Ventulella. It’s run by a French couple, who just opened last year. Each morning there was a huge breakfast of charcuterie, homemade muffins (sometimes chestnut, a delightful Corsican specialty), bread, homemade jam, and fruit. We payed for dinner one night, of which the best part was eating with our hosts and learning some Corsican history (who knew that Corsica had the first modern constitution in 1739?). Also, the view–the view!–and the stars at night were breathtaking.
We ventured elsewhere on the island, hiking in the mountain ranges. We swam in a swimming hole below a waterfall (cold!), hiked by perhaps a dozen bergeries (little mountain houses for goats–the hike was to Le Bergerie de Radule), and climbed mountains by the ocean with panoramic views (Bocca di Pancriazu). Our favourite hike remained the Restonica. Throughout, driving left us with beautiful views, a lot of stops for animals (the pigs and cows on the island roam free, and love snacking by the roadside), and a bit too much engine braking.
Randonnée des cascades de Radule:
Le Bergerie de Radule (Little Houses for Goats)
Bocca di Pancriazu:
We spent a lot of time winding our way through mountain roads and taking in the views. The driving is not for the meek, but the reward of the views makes it (almost) worth it.
Each day we’d also find a new beach. After our hike to the Bergerie de Radule, we completed the drive on the D84, the only road in Haut Corse that cuts across the central range, and went north along the coast till we found Caspiu beach. It’s a small sand beach nestled in a cove on the west coast, with warm water and small waves. The next day it was Plage de Losari, a large beach with parking right next to it, and the day after we had a short stay on Plage d’Ostriconi, a beautiful and large wild beach where high winds caused us to leave. We took a stroll through L’Ile Rousse, one of the towns on the north coast, and bought 1.5 Liters of 3-Euro-a-liter rose from a guy who sold it straight from the barrel into a plastic Evian bottle. L’Ile Rousse itself is a cute oceanside town with a small square where the local men play boules (Bocci). At one point we stopped at Licciola, a small bar and sandwich place on the coast with absolutely stunning views.
Part of the fun of Corsica was being surprised by what was around the bend. Leaving L’Ile Rousse, we took a wrong turn and ended up twisting through the mountains an hour out of the way. There we stumbled across this beautiful little town in the mountains.
With our time in Moltifao sadly coming to a close, we moved on to our AirBnB in Saint Florent, another small town on the coast next to some amazing beaches.  On our way there, we drove up to the ski resort in the middle of the island. We stopped at the Genovese bridge and took in the views on the way up.
Our last day in Corsica was a long beach day on the Plage de Roya, a huge, beautiful sandy beach next to town with clear water that stays shallow far from the shore. We finished with our last bottle of Chianti from Tuscany (from Cennatoio in Panzano, dry and sour and full) watching the sunset in the harbour, had a pretty terrible dinner at a harbour restaurant, and went home to sleep before the flight.

Cinque Terre, Italy (Fall Trip Part 3)

Cinque Terre is a series of five Italian colourful coastal towns set in the cliffs above a wild and rugged coastline, with heavy waves crashing into its tiny harbours. They’re all connected by a series of trails as part of a large national park, with a train running through tunnels along the coast. There aren’t many beaches except at Monterosso, the largest and most northern town with a long span of picturesque beach. We stayed in Corniglia (pronounced Cornelia), a hilltop town with the distinction of being the only of the Cinque Terre without a harbour.
We first visited Riomaggiore for dinner, watching the sunset on the rocks by the tiny harbour before buying 5€ takeaway pasta from a little place on the main drag (it was handmade and delicious) and eating it on a walkway above the town. AM ordered an almond sauce which was unlike anything she’s ever had–it took s couple of bites to get used to, but was delicious.
The next day brought the main event–a walk along Cinque Terre’s famed hiking trails that connect the villages. Manorial was our first stop, with yet another pretty harbour surrounded by bright homes rising above into the cliffs. We took a walk through the vineyards above town and past the cemetery high on a cliff before walking up to Volastra, a tiny hilltop village. The walk was our first taste of what was to come–endless stairs up and down through terraced vineyards.
Another hour’s walk brought us back to Corniglia, and we bought some of the region’s famed, fluffy focaccia and farinata (chickpea bread fried in olive oil) before setting off towards Vernazza. Here, the path was more strenuous, as we climbed up and down, along steep drops into the terraces of the vineyards. The views were beautiful, with blue seas crashing against the green cliffs below. The path was–as expected–quite busy, which caused quite a few stops and starts.
Vernazza was the prettiest of the towns, with a small fortress above it and a postcard perfect harbour. The waves came crashing in, often overtaking the breaker keeping them out of the harbour. The town itself was packed, and after a snack and a long sit (we were dehydrated and a little sun baked by this point), we kept on moving on the last stretch to Montrosso.
The last (and hardest) leg had more views into the sea, looking back at the colourful cliff towns perched above. The trail was crowded but well maintained, and there were quite a few people making the hike in footwear better suited for the promenades than a trail. It was quite steep and a little muddy in spots, with sections passing through lush hillside forest.
By the time we finished we were exhausted (more because we’re out of shape than because of the difficulty of the trail), and ready for some relaxation on the Monterosso beach. The beach was long, mostly sandy, with perfect waves and warm water. After a couple hours sunning and swimming, we took a train to Manarola for some seaside cocktails at Nessun Dorma above the town before heading home.
Looking back, Cinque Terre was beautiful and wild–but also overcrowded with tourists and less friendly than other places we had been. It was great to see once, but I doubt we’ll be back.

Tuscany, Italy (Fall Trip Part 2)

Getting from Atrani to our agrotourismo proved more difficult and more expensive than anticipated, but after a long travel day we were in our tiny Fiat 500, winding up country roads through Tuscan vineyards. Our place was a complex of small apartments set in a vineyard above Greve in Chianti, the gateway to the Chianti region.
Our days in Tuscany were mainly spent bombing down tiny, windy country roads as we went town to town and vineyard to vineyard. The landscape is earthy, rolling hills under hazy, soft light. Our first night was a family style dinner at a famous butcher shop in Panzano, with six courses of beef from every part of a cow,wine, bread, Tuscan vegetables, and grappa to finish it off. The ambiance was great, and we met some Scots and a German couple (at 30€ per person, the price was right too). We chatted over dinner about European politics and our travels–for the first time in a long time the conversation never touched on the American election (a welcome, if not surprising, reprise).
Roberta, the keeper of Patrizia Falciani agrotourismo, gave us some great itinerary recommendations. We started at Montefioralle, a tiny walled town on to of a hill above Greve, with charming houses and countryside views. Next, to Volpaia, by way of impossibly winding roads, with plenty of hairpin turns and olive groves.
Deciding to take the long way, we found ourselves on a long stretch of gravel road, and stopped for a quick break at Cennatoio vineyards, where we tasted and bought some Chianti. Pretty much everywhere you go in Chianti, you’ll find vineyards where you can taste wines in their tasting rooms. People taste to buy, and there are options to ship cases all over the world. We spent a good deal of time discussing when we will start investing in wine at this level (AM’s answer: we need a bigger house and a more permanent address).
Volpaia proved to be the prettiest town of the bunch. With a nice church, great little restaurant with a good view, and narrow streets, it was a postcard of a Tuscan hill town. It was there that we first encountered Lamborghini tractors (who knew that Lambos were farm equipment long before they were fancy cars?).
From Volpaia, we cut south through the countryside to Brolio castle, whose owner allegedly invented Chianti many years ago. The castle is a stronghold that was destroyed and rebuilt many times as wars between Florence and Siena raged, has a commanding view of the surrounding countryside. The Baron still lives in the castle as his personal residence, but you’re allowed to walk the grounds and take in the views (the free glass of wine at Castello Brolio’s enoteca doesn’t hurt either).
We finished off our first Tuscan day with a wine tasting at Terre de Melazzano, the vineyard where our apartment sits. This was a wine tasting that needed advance booking–and the price tag, at 15€ a person, had me worried. It turns out that a booked wine tasting is quite a bit different from a tasting at the shops at the front of most vineyards–this is a tasting of the full range, along with regional food pairings. And so we sat for about 2 hours, drinking 6 large glasses of wine (a fruity, all natural rose, an organic Chianti, more Chianti, and some dessert wine), eating lots of small plates, and watching the sun set over the Tuscan hills.
Our last full day in Tuscany took us through to the larger town of Castellina in Chianti, with a bustling tourist district and panoramas of the countryside. We wound through many more vineyards and olive groves as we visited Montereggio, a tiny fortress town on a hill with a full intact wall around it, before pressing on to San Gimignano, a huge walled town with endless towers.
San Gimignano was the subject of a New York Times article about an Italian town that may have lost a big piece of itself to tourism. While the town was amazing–huge medieval houses and churches set along narrow alleyways and large courtyards–it was truly overrun with tourists like ourselves. We walked it’s beautiful street, took in the views, and bought a small watercolour to take home before driving back home.
 And, too soon, we found ourselves turning in our rental car (we had a bit of a fuel fiasco trying to use self service pumps, which cost us 20€ and about an hour in wasted time) and taking a brief walk through Florence with its beautiful Duomo before boarding a train to Cinque Terre.


Amalfi Coast, Italy (Fall Trip Part 1)

It’s tough to overstate the beauty of the Amalfi Coast. After a forgettable night in Naples punctuated by a trip to what some call the best pizza place in the world (Da Michele, which serves only two kinds of pizza at 4 euros each–it really is pretty great), we took the SITA bus along the coast to our AirBnB. The bus ride is as harrowing as it is pretty, replete with hairpin turns along hundred foot cliffs into the sea. Unlike a lot of iconic coastlines, the Amalfi coast is quite underdeveloped, with a series of small towns set in coves along the coast. Each town has its own beach, piazza, and church.
Atrani was our chosen town, and it did not disappoint (in fact, we’re pretty sure it’s the best place to stay). Atrani is a small town right next to the much larger Amalfi, set into a ravine that sits below the large hilltop town of Ravello. It’s got a nice beach, and a short walk away is the much nicer Castiglione beach (owned by the town of Ravello, much to the chagrin of Atrani’s residents). There’s also a small town square and the restaurant A Paranza, with amazing seafood dishes.  Caffe Vittoria in the square has some of the best sfogliatelle and great cappuccinos as well.
The beaches were unlike any we had ever experienced, a mix of pebbles and sand set in the cliffs of the coastline, with perfectly clear water. Each has a public area and a private area with a restaurants and beach chairs for rent. Access for most beaches is by an enormous flight of stairs straight down the cliff face, though some can be reached by boat.


After a day and a half of lazing about on the beach under the Mediterranean sun, we made the journey up to Ravello, an ancient Roman town once home to 25,000 people. The hike up was longer than we expected–though the straight line distance was under a kilometre, the hike was mostly vertical up the mountain. (AM: it was also longer than expected because we made a wrong turn and ended up taking an old path through the woods. I guess RM forgot to mention this minor detail while writing this…). An hour’s worth of hiking took us up the Dragone creek that flows through Atrani, past houses and terraced farmland, and through some of the forests covering the mountainsides.
Ravello itself is a beautiful little town, and our first stop was the Villa Cimbrone, with a stunning garden that goes all the way to the cliff’s edge with unparalleled views of the sea (even at 7€, it’s well worth a visit). The town is a series of narrow streets and passageways converging on the main square, and is known for its pottery. The walk down the hill from Ravello back to Atrani as the sun set was also amazing, though the thousands of stairs down left our calves aching.
We had also heard of one of the region’s famous hiking trails, called the Walk of the Gods, which goes from Agerola in the hills down to Positano. The views from the cliffs, which allow you to look down the whole coastline, couldn’t be better.
After a few hours of hiking, we were very happy to find a bar set in the cliff overlooking the sea in the town of Nocelle, where we ordered a beer (for RM) and a cappuccino (for AM) before making the final descent down to Positano. Positano was beautiful but perhaps too bustling, and it’s narrow streets were jammed.
We happily found Positano’s second beach, which was far less busy than the main beach in town, and swam in the sun until it was time to catch the ferry back to Amalfi (turns out that the best way to get around the coast is by high speed boat, which is significantly faster than the bus).
Our last day in Amalfi was our best beach day yet. After asking the boat rental shack in Atrani for a ride to Duoglio beach (turns out it’s pronounced ‘duo-lee,’ and sometimes spelled Duoglie), we were promptly informed that there was a free ferry in Amalfi. We found the ferry (in actuality a small motorboat), and for 20€ we secured a round trip boat transfer including a day’s use of beach chairs. Duoglio beach was perfect–set in the cliffs, very friendly staff, not too crowded, and with clear, shallow water.
The sun left the beach at around 4:30 (the cliffs block it early), so we headed back to Amalfi for sunset drinks and food at the Gran Caffe at the end of the boardwalk.