Honeymooning in Moroccan Landscapes

The day after our wedding we headed off on an early morning flight to Marrakesh for 12 days of honeymooning. 

Morocco is a stunning country with awe-inducing landscapes, delicious food and beautiful people.

We spent a few days in Marrakesh to start with mostly eating, drinking mint tea and lounging around on roof terraces. Then we headed off for a 5-day driving tour of the high atlas region. We're not big fans of planned tours and it probably isn't something we would have done if it wasn't our honeymoon as elements of it were a bit constricting and we couldn't just take things at our own pace.  But to fair after months of wedding planning, neither of us was really up for planning the whole trip and figuring out how to get from a-b each day, researching hotels etc. So we went with a tour and thankfully our driver/tour guide was really relaxed and not too pushy like a lot of the tour guides we saw along the way! 

After the tour, we were dropped off at Riad Bouassala, a hotel near Essaouira that we had just found this place on trip advisor the day before we left Marrakesh and it looked great from the reviews so we booked it. When we got wifi halfway through our tour we realised that the booking website had made a mistake and we weren't properly booked! Thankfully when we turned up on the day the lovely people at Riad Bouassala had upgraded us and put us in their beautiful blue and white private cottage. Bouassala was the perfect place to relax and we were lucky enough to have amazing weather and spent the majority of our time there sunbathing by the pool. The staff are so friendly and they serve some pretty delicious food for breakfast and dinner.

Finally, we headed back to Marrakesh for two nights before heading back to London. 

TLDR: We had an amazing honeymoon, Morocco is ridiculously beautiful and here are some photos of the crazy landscapes.

If you're heading to Morocco soon then head to the bottom of this post for places to stay, eat and visit and some further reading.

Where to eat in Marrakesh

Le Jardin - Get the chicken pastilla it is insane. 

Café des Éspices - For lunch, snacks and tea/coffee

Terrasse des Éspices - For cocktails at sunset with views across the medina and posh/romantic dinner

Hammam

Le Bain Bleu Just a really great hammam and massage not cheap but worth it (minus the fake rose petals which gave me the creeps)

Top tips 

If like me, you hate the idea of the crowded souks and haggling to buy bits of cheap tat, visit the souks first thing in the morning at like 8 am, there are hardly tourists, the traders are just setting up and they haven't got into the full swing of trying to swindle tourists into buying cheap crockery! Plus the light is perfect for taking to photos (I forgot my camera the morning I did this and I'm still kicking myself).

When you arrive at the airport take out cash and find somewhere to get some small change or small notes from. It's likely that your hotel will send an airport transfer for you but if you're staying in the medina this transfer will leave you at the gates of the medina as cars can't go into the medina. The driver will call a man with a cart over who will walk you and your luggage to your hotel. There is no agreed price for this service though so its worth having a small bill so you don't get completely ripped off (like we did *insert facepalm emoji here*).

Hotels

We stayed in a number of hotels and riads over our tour and in Marrakesh and they were all pretty great my favourites were.

Riad Dar Mouassine, Marrakesh - In the medina set back away from the hustle down a dark tiny street but once inside it is really beautiful. Staff don't speak great English but were really lovely and helped when we needed it. We quite like to be left to do our own thing so the language didn't bother us. The room we were in was quite dark but there's a lovely a roof terrace and the hotel was generally really quiet so feels very private

Kasbah Azul, AgdzOur favourite night of the tour was spent here the staff are really wonderful and the kasbah is really beautifully decorated with lush gardens surrounding and a lovely swimming pool. Dinner was delicious and served outside by the pool by candlelight. We could've stayed there a few extra nights and spent some time discovering the area but sadly we only had one short evening before heading off to drive to Essaouira.

Riad Baoussala, 5km from Essaouira Perfect place to spend a few days relaxing by the pool and a good distance from Essaouira to take an easy going day trip to the town. Generally has a lovely arty relaxed feel to it and staff are incredibly friendly and helpful. The only thing we found was that in parts the decor was a little too 'eclectic' for our tastes but nothing too bad.

Further Reading

Emma from Field and Nest has written 2 great posts about her time in Marrakech

Field and Nest - Marrakech Exploring the Souks

Filed and Nest - Marrakech 24 hours in the desert

Field and Nest - The Slower Side of Marrakech

Suitcase magazine have a fantastic guide to all things cool, hipster and arty in Marrakech (yes Marrakech has a thriving hipster scene, I know it's problematic but hipsters make great choices about food and bars)

And here I put some pins on a google maps list of Our fave Marrakech spots - I suggest if you're going to Marrakech download the city map on google maps and pin the places you want to visit and your hotel so you don't get lost. Scratch that, Marrakech is a maze, you will get lost!

Our Engagement at Cascade d'Ars

I remember chatting with my sister back in November 2015, probably sitting at my mum's kitchen table. Nik and I were about to go off travelling for 3 months in Colombia and Peru. We had been together for just over a year back then and were embarking on our first big trip together. Half joking, my sister said something about who she would be really angry if Nikolai proposed at the top of some mountain in the middle of nowhere where we would have no reception to be able to call her and let her know. I laughed it off and didn't really think about it again.

So, it's fitting that at the top of a mountain in the middle of nowhere in France Nik got down on one knee and popped the question. It's almost like the passing remark my sister made 18 months ago foreshadowed this life changing moment. 

I feel like mountains are such a central symbol in our relationship. 

When Nik went to India and Nepal he hiked the Annapurna Circuit in the Himalayas. I was at home frantically trying to finish my degree and write my dissertation. We were miles apart in both physical and mental circumstance. I was sitting in my house not seeing or speaking to anyone for days on end surrounded by my books, buried in my thoughts. Whilst Nik was hiking (at times alone) through crazy beautiful mountains. Most days Nik would check in from wherever he was laying his head for the night and send photos or show me the view of the most magnificent mountains, but also tell me about his homesickness, feeling alone, and how his body was tired and sore from pushing it too hard.

We were both facing challenging and overwhelming emotional and physical hurdles. Being so far away and at times so alone in our own struggle was really bloody hard.  But in the end, the distance also made our relationship stronger, it helped us build trust and have empathy for each other.

Then, last year, whilst we were hiking in the Andes together Nikolai gently and lovingly encouraged me through the hardest, most physically and emotionally challenging thing I've ever done.

I’ll never forget the first day of the hike, we set off onto the trail full of expectation and anticipation. I had never done anything like this before so I was thankful to be in good company with Nik and three friends, two of whom were pretty much professional adventurers. But, the first day brought with it a pretty quick reality check, I knew I wasn’t going to find it easy but I had no idea how hard the altitude would hit me, and then, of course, I slipped on some rocks, injured my toe and my boots started rubbing. After hours of hiking, we made it to camp and it started chucking it down. We hurriedly set up camp only to find our hired tent had numerous broken zips making it little more than a draughty plastic bag for 3 of us to sleep in. Not the best way to start.

That first night we were all exhausted, in pain and hungry but the thing I remember most is how Nikolai went out in the pouring rain to fetch water from the river and get the pot on to boil while all I could do is curl up in the tent trying to warm up. I'm pretty sure the meal he made us that night was most amazing pasta and veg sauce with garlic bread ever cooked on one dodgy camping stove! 

On the second day, about ten meters from where we had packed down camp, I stopped and broke down crying. I just couldn't fathom 5 more days of hiking like the day before meanwhile, Nik was hurrying off like the mountains were his natural habitat unaffected by the high altitude (we all decided his spirit animal is a mountain goat as a result). For most of the five days, I whinged and whined and felt frustrated that the altitude was killing me whilst not bothering Nik at all. 

I have never felt more broken than I did on that hike and I felt like the worst version of myself. I’m sure Nikolai was deeply frustrated at times, but I hardly saw it, instead whilst I felt weak and afraid, Nik told me I was strong and brave. He could have walked ahead and left me behind but instead, he took my backpack and slowed right down to my pace gently nudging me along, cracking jokes with me, stopping when I needed to rest and hugging me when all I could do was cry because I was struggling to catch my breath in the thin mountain air. 

The hike was tough, but it wasn't all bad. When the mountains broke through the thick rain clouds we found ourselves walking through scenes that could easily be found on the front of National Geographic. We sat eating our dinner awestricken by the glaciers surrounding us. We worked really hard to see and experience things that most people only dream of.

When we had finished the hike, I had been pushed right to the edge of my physical and mental capacity. I had been well and truly in 'the stretch', that place where you learn the most about yourself. At the end (after having to push our bus out of a small landslide) we were sat on the last leg of the journey back to Huaraz and I distinctly remember feeling so exhausted, dirty and gross but deeply proud and so grateful for this amazing man who swallowed his frustration and with great empathy showed me what love looks like on my absolute worst days. 

All this to say, we have a history with mountains.

For us, mountains hold stories, strength, struggles and dreams. Mountains have separated us and brought us closer than we’ve ever been. We have been pushed and tested and made stronger. 

So, it really is no surprise that on this trip to the Pyrenees we wanted to fit in some hiking. 

After rising early in the morning and catching a beautiful sunrise from the balcony of our Airbnb, we drove to pick Jason up from the airport and drove a few hours south to Aulus Les Bains where the trailhead to Cascade d’Ars lies.

We started off on the picturesque trail, as we walked higher into the mountains the path underfoot gradually turned to melting snow. Being my mother’s daughter I became anxious (and grumpy) because the sight of melting snow could only mean AVALANCHE. As we hiked the path grew steeper and narrower, whilst I got grumpier, and I’m sure Nikolai got more nervous.

At the top, we were met by spectacular views of the waterfall and snowcapped mountains whilst we were surrounded by crisp white snow with the tops of coniferous trees sticking out.

I'm standing there snapping some photos, thinking these will be great for Instagram (I know, I'm that person) whilst Jason, Simeon and Laura casually made themselves scarce. Then, Nikolai, rummaging in his bag, got down one knee and I’m there blissfully unaware. He produced from his bag a beautiful ring and asked me to marry him. I was so surprised, I thought he was joking at first, and then it sunk in and was overjoyed and overwhelmed. It was emotional. I cried, of course. 

I don’t think I can fully express how it felt. I’ve tried writing it down but I’m not skilled enough a writer to put it into words that make sense of it all. 

It was both magical and really awkward because we're both really awkward. So, we're there making really ridiculously excited giddy faces at each other, and the ring won't fit me because my hand is all swollen from being at a higher altitude and we keep falling over in the snow and Jason and Simeon are trying to take photos to capture the moment. It was very classic us! 

The story doesn’t end quite there though. After our little engagement photo shoot, (thanks Jason and Simeon), we walked back to the car all giddy and excited, had a little snow ball fight along the way. The five of us got in the car and got ready for our drive back to the house and we thought 'hey let's take the scenic route home'. About half way along this long, dark, winding mountain road we took a corner and drove straight into the aftermath of a small avalanche. And there we were, newly engaged and stranded on the snow covering the road. It was now pitch dark and the wind was picking up promising a full-on storm would hit any moment and we’re stranded on this dark mountain road! 

We all went from giddy excitement to super-efficient, we-need-to-get-the-hell-out-of-here mode very quickly! We started pushing the car to no avail. Then, we dug snow from under the car with our bare hands and we prayed no trees would come tumbling down on top of us. Eventually, we gathered nearby fallen branches and dug them into the snow creating enough traction for the car to get out. 

After what felt like a long time, Simeon managed to reverse the car out without sliding off the edge of the mountain road and we were free of the snow and driving back home. Of course, five minutes from the house we see a sign saying the scenic road was closed due to snowfall.

Still, we got home with stories to tell and we lived to tell our engagement story!

If you made it to the end of this post thank you for reading! I wrote a more informative less gratuitous post about the holiday we took a few weeks ago. Check it out if you want links to the Airbnb and other things we did on our trip. 

N x

*photos in this post are a mix of mine and Nikolai's and our engagement photos were taken by our lovely friends Jason and Simeon. 

An Affordable AirBnB holiday with Mountain Views

First off, I'm sorry!! It's been more that 2 months since my last post. The reasons for that are many which I won't go into now but the plan is to be around posting more frequently from now on (best laid plans and all that!).

So, here's a LONG awaited post about our holiday in the Pyrenees way back at the beginning of March. If you've been following me on Instagram you would have seen that I went on holiday to the most beautiful little mountainside cabin nestled in the French Pyrenees. Many of you asked for more details and info about where we went and I promised to deliver. I didn't think it would take me so long to get down to editing the photos and getting a post together but finally, here it is!

The whole thing was a perfect short break from London. We went with two friends and we had a great time. We hiked together, cooked and ate lovely food and did a good amount of relaxing and lazing about in our jogging bottoms! 

There's probably too much (and too many photos) to fit it all in one post, so for now here's some info about the house we stayed in, the surrounding area, and roughly how much the whole thing cost us.

 The cabin from the garden

The cabin from the garden

The AirBnB

We booked really cheap Ryanair flights to Toulouse and then kind of forgot to book accommodation. A few days before we were set to depart we were still looking on Airbnb for a place to stay and found this little place that seemed pretty nice. The photos on their profile do it very little justice and at £47 a night for four I was nervous it might not be all that great.

However, when we arrived we were pleasantly surprised. The decor is simple and rustic, definitely a genuine mountain house but with all the necessary amenities for self-catering (including a coffee maker!) and plenty of bedding to stay warm on the chilly nights.

But, what really made it for us was how remote it was and how incredible the view was. The snowcapped mountains were just outside our bedroom windows, I'm convinced it's the most wonderful view to wake up to each morning.

 Sunrise from the upstairs Terrace

Sunrise from the upstairs Terrace

We never met the hosts but spoke with them on the phone one evening when the gas went out and they were really nice and helpful.

The house was very clean and had some lovely features. Each level had a terrace looking out onto the mountain range, perfect for watching the sunset or catching the sunrise lighting up the mountain peaks in the morning. 

It also had a wonderful stove that once the fire got going quickly heated up the whole house. And made for a great spot to sit and read, or play board games. We brought along Settlers of Catan and Rummikub from home to play in the evenings.

The house has two cats that come and go as they please who were very relaxed with the presence of strange people in their house. They were actually really sweet, even for me, and I'm no animal lover!

For the really (almost unbelievably) reasonable price we paid we had no complaints about the house. It had a bit of a funny sleeping arrangement with one bed in the main living space and sadly the bigger bathroom didn't work as the water pressure was too low to get hot water to it. So the bathroom was a little small and tight but nothing to really worry about. 

Normally when we travel we do pretty basic accommodation so this was actually a bit of a step up for us!

 Walking in Castillon-en-Couserans

Walking in Castillon-en-Couserans

The Surrounding Area

Like I said we flew to Toulouse but actually didn't want to stay in the city we knew we wanted to be in the mountains good and proper.

We'd never been to the Pyrenees before so we just google mapped locations and tried to find an AriBnB because we found such a great deal on AirBnB we picked Arrien-en-Bethmale. It's about a two and half hour drive from the airport and pretty straight forward getting there.

Here's a nifty trick, if you don't have data roaming you can download maps from google to your phone when connected to the wifi at the airport and still be able to map your route whilst you're driving.

On the way to the house, we stopped in Saint-Girons to pick up some food and supplies at the supermarket as we knew we'd be pretty tired once we got to the house and it was going to be getting dark.

For the four days we were there we spent a lot of our time cooking and eating great food together and drinking plenty of lovely (and cheap) French wine. The local town has a small Carrefour supermarket with everything you could need to cook and eat great food. The town is either a 15-minute drive away or an hour's slow stroll down the hill through some picturesque, sleepy french villages.

 Church along the walk to castillon-en-couserans

Church along the walk to castillon-en-couserans

Had we been there for longer we would have loved to visit a local weekend market. The French really know how to do a good farmers market. We would also have done a few more day trips and taken a drive along the Col de la Core up to Lac de Bethmale which was sadly closed due to snowfall.

The one trip we did do was to Cascade d'Ars but I'll write about that next week because it's a pretty big story!

Affordable Aribnb france
Arrien en bethmale

The cost 

If you're thinking you can't have a beautiful holiday on a tight budget you are wrong! I didn't take note of the exact amount that we spent but roughly speaking for each of us we spent -

Flights - £36 each

Airbnb for 4 people for 5 nights - £273 (£68 each)

Car hire - roughly £200 (including petrol)

Food and wine and everything else- £60

All in all, it cost us roughly £220 each for a 5 day holiday. 

France Airbnb

I'll write more about the trip we took to Cascade d'Ars later in the week. And I'll also post a bit of a life update because ALOT has happened.

Did you find this post interesting and helpful? 

I'm happy to be back here on the blog and you'll be seeing a lot more from me here very soon!

Let me know if you liked this post in the comments. I'll leave you with a few more photos.

N x

The importance of reflection: 2016 a brave year

I realise I've done this backwards somehow. I posted my 'it's 2017 look forward to the year and set your goals' post a few days ago and now I'm posting about reflecting on 2016. 

But I guess that's how my brain works so here goes.

I am lucky enough to work for an organisation that values reflection as core to its everyday functioning. In every meeting, training session or presentation we are always encouraged to reflect. 

We teach the young people we work with to reflect on their achievements and challenges they have faced. And so we challenge ourselves to do the same.

I have learnt the importance of reflecting on my life and I've been doing a lot of that over the last few weeks. 

For Christmas I received a large print of this stunning photo from Nikolai. Taken by our dear friend John at a moment that I will never forget.

We had been hiking in the cold and rain for a couple of days at this point. The air was thin and John and I were struggling massively with the altitude. There is nothing like the feeling that you simply cannot get enough oxygen to your body to keep you going at barely a gentle stroll. 

On the second day I had wanted to turn back, finding the altitude overwhelming, with an injured toe made worse by the thin air stopping it from healing. After some tears and a lot of encouragement from the other 4 in our group we pressed on, together.

On day 3 We took a rest day to help acclimatise before we headed over the mountain pass at 4,750 metres the next day.  At this point, we had barely seen the views surrounding us because of constant cloud coverage and pretty steady rain. 

Exhausted and in pain, I was feeling pretty beat up and spent the day in our tiny broken tent resting and writing. Then suddenly the clouds broke, as if appearing from nowhere we were engulfed in the most spectacular views of the glaciers. For a few brief moments we were awestricken by the beauty and magnitude of where we were.

Just the 5 of us sitting on these rocks in the middle of nowhere. 

 Santa Cruz trek, Peru - Mountain Pass

Santa Cruz trek, Peru - Mountain Pass

Shortly after, the clouds returned and the mountains hid from our sight. We got back into our little tents and the next day we pressed on to pass over the mountains shrouded in fog and clouds. 

For many people (myself included) 2016 was a year highlighted by grief, fear and hatred. But looking back I'm reminded that it was also a year that people pushed through to show each other and the world love, grace and kindness.

There were so many stories of people coming together to fight against hate and fear. Be it at Standing Rock, the Alberta tar sands, the fossil fuel divestment movement or with Black Lives Matter.

I know that for me love won over hate in 2016. For sure, this year I felt like turning back and giving up so many times. But I didn't.

On reflection, I choose to remember 2016 as the year that despite being broken, bruised and afraid, we encouraged each other, we pressed on together and we chose to be brave. 

I hope that we can remember how brave we really are and be inspired to keep being brave no matter what 2017 brings our way.

Go wildly & slow

N x