Putting the Atlas Mountains on the Map, vìs a vìs Lisbon, Portugal. A tale of the Moroccan medina.

Javanti traverses Mount Toubkal, the Essaouria seaside, and the sights and smells of Marrakech. 

Lisbon is where our hearts lied, though.

“Traveling – it leaves you speechless, then turns you into a storyteller.” 

– Ibn Battuta

How to Get There

Get on that Portugal stopover! I can’t say enough terrible things about TAP airlines, but hey, it got us around. Barely, yet for the very reasonable price of $800/RT for each of us. In today’s day and age, wowza. Tons of cancelled flights and interesting customer service to speak of. 

Runabout tips

  1. We had a classic Javanti Friday overnight out of ORD, this time at 8:30pm, arriving at LIS the following day by noon. Def recommend not only the overnight, but a Friday evening out if you can swing it. Arriving on a wknd after also having the opp to fully close out the week is clutch.
  2. With a raging hangover in check, getting those 6 hours back on the return flight was golden. Miserable Sunday, but we were ready for that Peloton by Monday AM!
  3.  Protip: TAP loves to randomly change and cancel flights. Keep a close eye on these to avoid getting stuck in Lisbon without a way back to Chi, for ex (altho… would that be so bad?).
  4. Luggage. Oh, luggage. TAP is Spirit Airlines-esque. Yep, I went there. Depending on the fare choice, you have to pay for seats, and the luggage allowance is not great for nomads such as ourselves that pack it all into one carry on and hit the road. We chanced it all and did great. Until the last flight. Oh well, worth the adventure (Jon would of course call it stupidity. He just really likes sitting next to me, obv). 

Visas? None needed! For Morocco or Portugal.

How to Get Around

Where was Mr. (Jeff) Gordon chauffeuring me to on this adventure? 

And did we get pulled over? Oh yea, speeding ticket issued by oh so friendly Moroccan authorities, check. 

Our Moroccan voyage destinations:

  • Imlil
  • We opted to make the two hour drive upon landing at RAK to get some mountain time for our first glimpse of Morocco. Easy drive? Def not a highway country, and quite barren at times, with questionable roads. Jon did great, even with the straight up cliff driving up to our lil mountain riad for the following two nights. 
  • Essaouira 
  • We left nuts early to make the 4 hour drive out of Imlil in anticipation of mimosas by 10am. Upon getting out of mountains, the drive was smooth. Off to the sea we went!
  • Marrakech 
  • Three hours back to the city, and we happily ditched our car for the 2-night stay in the heart of the medina. Parking in the lot nearby our riad, just outside of the medina, ran a cool 50 dirhams, or $5 USD. Somehow, on our way out, the kind men running the joint plucked our car right out of the zoo that the lot was.  

Runabout tips!:

  • In Lisbon, you absolutely do not need a car. For the city. Of course, if you’re doing a longer Portugal trip, we’d highly recommend grab a 4-wheeled buddy and can’t wait for that adventure in culinary paradise.
  • For Lisbon, download Bolt. Oh so cheap, truly. $6 USD for a 25 min ride to the airport. Uber is in use as well.
  • Rent your car with Skyscanner. Easy $198 for our 7-day Moroccan cruiser. Sure, it was a 1990 SUV without a working gas gauge, but who’s counting? Certainly not the gas gauge… 

Where to stay

Booking hotels is one of my favorite parts of planning a trip. See our May 2023 Spain/Andorra post for few Runabout tips applicable to any destination. 

We fared pretty well this trip, and I continue to be astounded by the insanely clever and gorgeous use of small spaces in other countries. Moroccan riads are every bit as stunning as the pics portray them to be. 

Where we landed:

  1. Imlil – Le Village du Toubkal. $154 total/2 nights, with breakfast included and a pretty solid view of Mount Toubkal. The beauty of this place was in the hospitality. Dinner each evening (40 euros/night) was beautifully prepared, and the lamb was melt in your mouth delish. 
  2. Essaouira – Le Medina Essaouira Hotel & Spa. $200 total/2 nights, inclusive of breakfast. The balcony in-room was awesome, and there was a sizable gym. Location was on point.
  3. Marrakech – Angsana Riads Collection. $284 total/2 nights. Absolutely gorgeous, very cozy, and a delish breakfast to top it all off. We opted to do the 30 min hammam + 50 min. massage for $75/pp, and it was worth every penny. Paradise Gym was a short 10 minute walk, and quite the experience. 
  4. Lisbon on both the way in & out – the perfectly located, Heritage Avenida Liberdade. $244 for our fist Saturday night, and $168 for our next, inclusive of a pretty solid breakfast (chocolate fountain, anyone?) and snacks alllllll day. When I say snacks, I also mean port alllll day, with a complimentary bottle in room to boot. The bubbly for as a honeymoon surprise was just the sweetest touch. Yea, I went there. I will fondly think of this place until the end of time. And we’ll be back. Yes on (small) gym + small pool.

Runabout tips

  1.  In Morocco, opt for riads over hotels. A riad is traditionally a Moroccan house or palace with an indoor courtyard. Lovely concept, and stunning. The level of detail put into these generally smaller spaces takes you to another world. A cozy and beautiful world. The experience is phenomenal, and the hospitality at another level. 

Dinero – what to bring, exchange, and how far does your $$ go?

You will definitely want cash for the Moroccan medina. And perhaps Lisbon’s lovely lil open air markets and stalls. That said, pretty sure all of the latter accepted CC as well. We brought plenty of USD and fared just fine.

Portugal, as part of the EU, uses euros. And of course the universal language of plastic.

$1 USD = just over 10 Moroccan dirhams, making the conversion incredibly simple. 

In both spots, our money stretched far. The cost of our accommodations alone reflects this, and the Moroccan medina simply highlighted this fact times a million. 

Runabout tips

  1.  So you want to haggle? I found this to be a perfect rule of thumb – paying 1/4 or 1/3 of the quoted price is likely reasonable. I would give my bottom line, and then pay a bit above that to keep all sides happy. I know the people selling the goods more often than not could use the money much more than we could, and tried to keep that in mind. Evolving. 
  2.  Always easier to haggle when you have exact change. Break up those bills before hitting the medina stalls. Jon. 
  3.  We easily found a currency exchange in the vast medina. There are several, and you do not need a passport to exchange money. You can always likely get a better rate at a bank, but the currency exchange is so much quicker and more convenient. 

What to do, see, and… most imp, eat and drink.

Part I: Imlil & Essaouira


What does one do in the Moroccan mountains? Hike, obv. Eat, oolala, and damn we did we relax and breathe in that crisp mountain air.

On day 1, Youssef took us on a hike unlike any other we’ve done. It seemed fairly clear that hiking with a guide is the way to go, and it was really nice to simply follow our old friend (who had just served us dinner the night prior) as we winded through the mountain path. We strolled through not one but two little villages where we legit passed by people completing their day to day work and chores, a few small outdoor cafes, and oh!, a series of waterfalls. 

The hike led us right into the small town that gathers the brave Toubkal mountain climbers. There, we had a gorgeous lunch, after which we headed back to our cliffside haven for our final star-filled evening.  

Runabout tips:

  • If you’re a serious hiker and up for the challenge, consider the two-day hike up Mount Toubkal, obviously with a guide. 
  • If you head to Imlil, we recommend staying at Village du Toubkal, or the gorgeous sister property that should reopen soon post-earthquake damage, Kasbah.
  • Is it worth going to Imlil? A relatively short 2-hour drive from Marrakech, we would not change up having visited Imlil. For us, it was an oddly necessary and unexpected reprieve, with a desired slow change of pace. One to two nights is plenty though.
  • It should come as no surprise that Morocco is a dry country. In Imlil, that was abundantly clear. Two days without libations was a total reset for this duo. We should try that more often. But won’t. Of course, we had tons of Berber whiskey (affectionate dub for traditional Moroccan mint tea, people). 
Where to eat & drink? You can easily have all meals at the riad, and many undoubtedly do given that it is off the beaten village path. We opted for lunch in town at Atlas Toubkal (clever) after the hike, which worked perfectly. 
Runabout tip: Moroccans seemed jazzed to recommend pizza, which so many restaurants serve alongside traditional Moroccan fare. Skip it and go for the local stuff. This Chicagoan did not make such good choices, and I regretted the pizza order each time. Hurts the heart a bit to say, but not to worry, I am back in pizza heaven.


In this breezy beach town, you’ll primarily find French vacationers and retirees, along with kite surfers capitalizing on that raging wind.

We didn’t have a clue what to expect and embraced the opportunity to stroll our first Moroccan medina, soak in the beach rays, and get further into those delectable eats, this time with a lovely French twist. 

What else can you do here? The fishing port [Google Maps] is pretty wild. You’ll see fisherman doing their thing all day, from getting their nets ready to bringing in their daily catch to baiting their fishing poles with squirming sardines that seem to be in abundance. 

If all of that has resulted in a fresh seafood craving, have at it at the line of restaurant stalls set up for you to enjoy the catch of the day. The folks working these joints are persistent, fair warning. 

Where there are French, there is wine. Get your tasting on at Le Domaine du Val d’Argan

Runabout tips:

  • Ladies (& gents), near Essaouira is said to be home to argan oil and goods. You’ll see tons of this in the medina, and at a fraction of the US price.
  • This quaint seaside locale could work before or after Marrakech’s sprawling medina. We liked Essaouira as a precursor for what we were about to get into it. Sans millions of motorized vehicles, of course.
  • We liked staying in a hotel for this leg of the trip. Let’s be honest, the gym aspect did it for a girl. You might opt for a riad tho. More on this below.
  • Worth the trip? Approx 4 hours from Imlil & 3 from Marrakech, we would do it again to see the varying parts of Morocco and get our sun on. 
Where to eat & drink? 
  • Alma – Just outside of the medina, gorgeous (& for that reason, larger) space. Delish seafood & wine to boot.
  • La Clè de Voùte – Gorgeous space, clear French influence, extensive wine list, and fresh eats. Yum.
  • Dar Bar – Beautiful and cozy, def pop in for a glass & a bite. Not the best food we had in Essaouira but absolutely worth a visit. 
  • Caravane – Sister restaurant to Dar Bar, and equally gorgeous in a more eclectic way. Awesome rooftop at this spot.
  • Zayouna – No frills, no booze, and excellent bites with the hospitality to boot.
  • Mama Souiri – This is a riad (see below) that boasts a rooftop restaurant. No boozy drinks but awesome and fresh food for days. 
  • Fish Burger – A must pop in for a casual bite in the heart of the medina. No drinks here. Not the fun kind, anyway.
  • Ocean Vagabond – The opposite direction of the medina, great for brunch and day time fun on the water.
  • Le Domaine du Val d’Argan – Approx 25 minutes from the main strip, nice escape for a lil wine tasting. 

There are many many more restaurants within the medina, and a few along the seaside. Trusty Google Maps will steer you right where you search by top rated.


$153 total/2 nights 


  • Hospitality was out of this world.
  • Thoughtful and relatively cozy for being in the mountains. 
  • Dinners were legit. 
  • Gorgeous view, with tons of stars to boot.


  • No sign of luxury here. 

Recommend for a stay in Imlil. 

Runabout tip: If you prefer to always know what you’re paying for before you indulge in the good or service, be sure to ask at this spot. We did not, and then learned each dinner was 40 euros, and our guided hike 60 euros. No sweat off our backs, but those on a tighter budget may want to make decisions accordingly. 

essaouira hotel (#2) REVIEW – LE MEDINA ESSAOUIRA HOTEL & SPA 

$200 total/2 nights 


  • Location rocks. 
  • Free street parking just outside the hotel within view of the security guard. Not essential but nice to have.
  • Awesome balcony with nice rays and a view of the pool.
  • Friendly customer service. 
  • Gym on site. We didn’t try out the spa.


  • Seems outdated.
  • Breakfast was lacking. This is very important to some people whose names start with A. 

All in all, we’d opt for a different spot next time, but would not be upset at staying here again. 

In you’d like to be in the heart of the medina action, we’d recommend the Mama Souiri riad. Beautifully kept, as these amazing riads tend to be.  


Oh, what awaited us in Marrakech. The suspense provided by the layout of the trip was perfect, particularly with our few days in Marrakech falling on the long weekend and therefore being wonderfully sans work. 

Sensory overload? Oh yes.

Absolute chaos in the medina? You know it. 

Markets and markets, and stalls on stalls of spices, leather goods, sweets, savory treats, ceramics, clothing, you name it. Marrakech has it. We of course prioritized getting our grub on, but also returned with many goodies. Awesome, awesome experience, and quite like no other, even as compared to markets in southeast Asia and certainly Japan. For one, we’ve never almost gotten run over by motorized vehicles, in the medina, about 1000 times. 

Runabout tips:

  • Stay in the medina. Super convenient, and it’s part of the unique experience. Our riad – see below – was gorgeous.
  • See above section re: dinero for haggling tips & tricks.
  • Get lost. Enjoy. Walk away when you need to, of course being respectful of any merchant’s time you do engage. 
  • Yes, there is booze in the medina. If not too close in proximity to a mosque, and where owned by a non-Muslim, joints can and do get liquor licenses to sell booze. There is no way to search for this, that we know of anyway. We help you out a bit below. 
  • The famous Jemaa el-Fnaa square [Google Maps]. Quite the people watching, and it should be obvious that purchasing your goods there is going to run you priciest. We’d recommend window shopping in the square and purchasing the same items a distance away. Honestly tho, with the prices are low as they are, you’ll be good either way, so follow your heart’s desire. 
  • The souks are separated by goods. We didn’t bother figuring out which was which (it can be obvious, and you can navigate accordingly) and simply strolled around. Found our bearings rather quickly, not that we needed to with trusty Google Maps to fall back on as our guide home. 
Marrakech Medina Guide: How to Prepare and Be Amazed
Where to eat & drink? 
Again, Google maps was clutch. We stayed within the medina for almost all of our meals and wouldn’t change that up. Definitely take a gander outside of the city walls tho, where it is widely known that alcohol is much more available. The charm of the medina is quickly lost once you step outside of its walls, however. Honestly feels like night and day, and it’s worth witnessing this dichotomy:
  • La Terrasse des èspices – Holy gorgeous. Stunning space, more heaters than I’ve ever seen in one place (your girl was happy), full bar, and tasty eats.
  • Safran – Recommeded by a local, this spot is just outside of the medina and to die for. Some of the best food (and shots) we had the entire trip.
  • Kabana – Another stunning space. Marrakesh does not play. 
  • Kosybar – Go for sunset. Super cute, tasty, and yes on drinks. The fun kind. 
  • Le Slimana – Stunning and delicious. Awesome rooftop, altho every level is stunning. Very creative mocktails at this joint. 
  • Limoni – Lovely Italian joint with a serene courtyard that boasts a lemon tree. No booze until dinner time, much to our chagrin. Our server recommended the traditional Moroccan fare that is also on the menu. We’d recommend getting that at a more traditional spot. 
  • Bar Le Churchill, La Mamounia – Amazing cocktails and ambiance. 
  • Atay Cafe – Awesome rooftop for a casual meal. The Atay burger was on point. No booze here.
  • Le Jardin Secret – Stunning and now open to the public. Great midday reprieve for tea and snacks. No booze.
  • Nomad – Very highly rated and regarded, but didn’t speak to us. No booze. I know what you’re thinking.
  • Naranj – Lebanese treats very close to our riad. No booze.
  • Cafe Arabe –  Service was awful but the lamb pretty tasty. We would not go back.

marrakech riad (#3) REVIEW – angsana riads collection

$284 total/2 nights  


  • Located within the medina, super convenient to bouncing around.
  • Gorgeous.
  • Stellar restaurant. With breakfast included, we were winning. 
  • Amazing customer service and hospitality. 
  • The hammam rocks. 


  • None. 

Strongly recommend, obv. 

Part III: Beloved Lisbon


On both excursions in this awesome city, on the front and back ends of our trip, I absolutely fell in love with Lisbon. There’s an electric yet simultaneously relaxed energy about this place that is simply intoxicating. We ran into live music and open air markets at every turn, while Jon tried to keep up with me on the not so flat streets of Lisboa. Mix in a few shots of ginjinha, and this girl had to pried out of Portugal. 

Shout out to the homies Jazimin, John, Kris & Badr! 

Next stop, wine country! 

Runabout tips:

  • Make this a longer stopover. Hell, go for a week and hit wine country along all of the other wonders of Portugal. Am I booking this trip right now? Yes, obv.
  • You can’t go wrong strolling around Lisbon. It’s quaint, exquisite, sprawling, and manageable all at the same time. Just lovely. 
Where to eat & drink? 
Oh, Lisbon. You da shizz. 
  • Zapata – No frills seafood haven. Best to make a reso or sneak in right at 7pm when this spot opens up. 
  • BytheWine –  Lovely, lovely spot to try tons of wines and delish small (or big) bites. Service is on point and oh so friendly. 
  • Brilhante – Awesome open concept kitchen smack in the center of the bar-like set up in the middle of the room. Date night! Scallops were to die for. 
  • A Venda Lusitana – Super cute ambiance, and clearly tons of pride in what’s being served up at this joint. Musts: gobs of wine, octopus, pork cheeks. 
  • Javà Rooftop -Given my affinity for tequila shots – everywhere – I can’t speak to the cocktail program, but a few friends said the old fashioned was legit. Very cute space, and likely always pretty packed.
  • Amaru! – We went for drinks. When we needed none. This spot has a special place in my heart for allowing me to DJ… and maintaining a strong long and found program. 
  • Manteigaria – Pasteles de nata mmmmmmm. 
  • Odaan – We’ll pop by this very well rated Nepalese grub spot on our next rendezvous. 
  • The Bifanas of Afonso – This place comes highly recommended and will be a future adventure. 
  • A Casa do Bacalhau – House of cod, a popular Portuguese delicacy, mmm.
  • Pensào Amor – A former brothel, several locals boasted about this place. Perfect for a girls’ night out. 

lisbon HOTEL (#4) REVIEW – heritage avenida liberdad

$244/first Saturday night in Lisbon, and $168 for the following. 


  • Perfectly positioned for exploring tons of delectable joints.
  • Beautiful and well kept. Many thoughtful touches.
  • Small but nice gym.
  • Same deal on the pool.
  • Solid breakfast.
  • Treats available all day, including delish tarts, awesome variety of tea, and port. 
  • $6 Bolt ride from the airport. ~25 minutes.


  • Not a one.

I love this place. 

El Fin.

I will move to Lisbon. Loved it oh. so. much.

Morocco was unexpected. Absolutely a sensory overload. But not one we’ll be running back to. In many ways, it was just what we needed. A slow paced, food (and not drink) centric mecca of goods and spices that didn’t mirror the hustle and bustle of our everyday lives in any recognizable way. 

Will we be back? To Portugal, yes. Soon. Booking flights… now.

I Belong Here



  1. John Truesdell

    Meeting you both was fantastic! The tequila aftermath the following day was definitely worth it. Avanti.

    Looking forward to seeing you in Chicago and exchanging travel stories, and obviously more Tequila shots. Again, Avanti. Haha.

    Also have to agree, loved Lisbon. By far my favorite of our travels.

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