Near an ancient aqueduct, laughing Moroccan kids somersault into the round pool of the outdoor Roman bath. Whitewashed houses, perched on two hills, look down upon the fun. Donkeys, which act as the town's taxis, clip-clop between the houses, carrying goods from the market up streets too narrow for cars. Residents greet visitors with a smile and nod, occasionally stopping to admire younger kids.
This is tiny Moulay Idriss Zerhoun, the perfect spot for your family to relax in between seeing Morocco's more hectic sites.
A taste of real Morocco
Most tourists pass by Moulay Idriss. On a day trip from Fès to see the UNESCO-lauded ruins of Volubilis next door, they snap a photo of the houses clustered photogenically on the hills with no idea what they're missing. With a stay in Moulay, families can spend a few days experiencing Moroccan family life without the crowds and pressures to buy trinkets in the souks, or markets, of the traditional tourist cities.
Staying in Moulay, your family will get into the groove of non-tourist Moroccan life. After day-time swims in the Roman baths, Moulay families transition to evening with a promenade through town. After sunset, families snack from street carts before splitting off to find their friends. Parents might linger chatting with neighbours.
Kids stay up late in Morocco, kicking soccer balls and running around cobblestoned squares after the heat of the day has dissipated. Adults nearby intervene if needed, but kids are trusted to play independently with none of the helicopter parenting too common in the west. Your kids will love the freedom (but be prepared for them to plead their case for more).
The holiest city in the country, Moulay is well known by Moroccans. Moulay Idriss I, the founder of Morocco and who brought Islam to the region, is buried here. A pilgrimage site, the town didn't let non-Muslims enter a century ago, and didn't let them stay overnight until 2005. The guesthouse owned by the first foreign woman to own property here is an ideal place for families visiting Morocco to stay.
Stay at Dar Zerhoune, help the donkeys
Five-room Dar Zerhoune is owned by gregarious Rose Button, an engineer from New Zealand. You'll likely feel comfortable giving older kids their own room, and have no concerns if they wake up before you and head to the hotel's rooftop. If Rose is in residence, kids will be drawn to her laugh, the bright red dress she often wears, and her enthusiasm for Morocco and Moulay.
Rose happily answers questions about her non-traditional career choices and living abroad. She'll also describe her initiative to fund a monthly veterinarian visit so that Moulay's donkey taxis get regular health care that their owners might not otherwise be able to afford.
Learn to bake by look and feel
A highlight of a stay at Dar Zerhoune is the baking class, where guesthouse manager Hajiba Dahik encourages kids and adults to get their hands dirty. Hajiba will teach you how to bake macaroon-like coconut cookies, sesame biscuits, and Moroccan flat bread. Instead of using measuring cups and teaspoons, students learn what's right by the look and feel of the dough.
When the mixing and shaping is complete, carry your baking trays through Moulay's narrow streets to the town's communal oven, called a faraan. Watch the baker slide your trays into the perfect spot next to open flames in his wood-fired oven, and see what the neighbours will be eating tonight too.
While the treats bake, wander through Moulay's market (pick up some of the famous olive oil to take home). Afterwards, climb to Dar Zerhoune's rooftop and feast on the fruits of your labour, admiring the view.