While you’re prioritizing self-care, time with your loved ones should be high on your list. I know, for me, there’s nothing like a girl’s night with my crew. Spicy margaritas, lots of wine, lots of laughs, advice, lots of shade. It’s such a cathartic experience. And when you get a whole vacation of it? Now that’s a treat!
That’s why I have compiled the ultimate list — 25, a whole TWENTY-FIVE getaways for you and your crew for Popsugar.com. Check it out now!
*Also for my readers overseas, I’m not sure why but Popsugar.co.uk does NOT show all 25 places on the list — they show only 8 and a random selection. If you have a VPN you can check out the article, in it’s entirety, as it’s meant to be seen on Popsugar.com. I hope you can, I worked pretty hard on this list for you guys and it’s frustrating that everything isn’t available for my international audience. Maybe, at a later date, when it’s been on Popsugar.com for quite some time I’ll repurpose the list here. In the meantime here are the places I listed and you’ll find out WHY on Popsugar.com
I consider myself to be a self reflective person, but sometimes, I am barreling full steam ahead with full on excitement. Those moments of looking at the bigger picture and asking myself what’s the plan come in the moments right before bed, or right when I wake up. With Michele though, even those moments aren’t particularly pensive as we excitedly plan our days, reflect on thoughts, discuss everything most waking seconds together. Hmm… I should get back to meditating.
Recently, while searching for a photo in Paris from the fall of 2017, I came across a treasure trove of photos and blog entry drafts from that summer and it was like watching myself on the precipice of an evolution.
2017: I knew I needed a change from NYC, I was stuck in a rut. A rut doesn’t necessarily always seem bad. Sometimes it comes discussed as a cozy nest. I had a really great year professionally, but while my travel industry friends were always on the move, I felt tethered to my apartment in NYC and it became such a financial burden. People stay in relationships because of great real estate in NYC. It’s a tough market! Finally, I got the opportunity to make a change. As my mom announced that we’d be heading to France in July, I let her know that I’d be staying on when she returned. I didn’t have an exact plan, in fact, I wanted to move to London, but I knew that this would be the first step to getting there.
So there I was in Brooklyn, forging ahead into plans, packing for an indefinite stay in Paris, I planned to be in Europe for at least all of fall. I studied abroad before, I lived in Italy but this was different, there was no safety net. I didn’t really have any friends in Paris, I didn’t speak French. But this wasn’t forever, and it was something I had to do. I had to follow through, didn’t I? I’d just started dating someone. Stating on our first date “Don’t get attached because I’m leaving in 2 weeks.” He was great. “What is this timing?” I thought. I cried leaving my apartment. I avoided saying goodbye to my close friend Jen because that would make it too real. She lived down the street and over the past few years we’d become fixtures in one another’s lives.
I spent a week in Paris and Marseilles with my mom before I bid her adieu and went upstairs to my AirBNB and cried. What was I doing?! I had wine, bread and cheese for dinner and watched a torrent stream of my Housewives. The next day, I woke up in my amazingly sunny and charming AirBNB and smiled.
This was my time.
I’m from New York. Like many of my peers from Amherst, I came back here after graduating. I traveled extensively at one point leaving NYC a few times a month but NYC was home. My longest stints away from home in my adult life were going to Milan; still it was familiar I studied abroad there and had a close relationship with a family; London, I had family and friends there. Paris was different, this was truly making my place in a new city. I explored Paris, took in everything. Spent a LOT of time alone in cafes, reading books. Went on few dates. Blocked a lot of people on Hinge and Bumble respectively. There was one particular evening where I sat in a cafe, on a lovely date but he was confused by how distracted I was by the next table. They’re so chic and French I told him. He laughed. Really, yes, they were but seeing this ground of about 7 young men and women, I desperately missed my friends from home. I wanted to be apart of the smiles, laughs and gasps. I think I probably stared a little too long, laughed a little too much. My date thought I was totally weird. Hosted visiting friends, made new friends with old family friends and really found my little neighborhood in Canal St. Martin. Got lost on the buses, walked everywhere. “Studied” French via Rosetta Stone everyday. There were days were I walked around, soaked the city in, but I didn’t have a true conversation with another person. Felt inspired and reinvigorated. Each day was something new.
I went back to NYC at the end of September to speak at a conference, spending 3 days in town before I flew to Copenhagen and then Djibouti to a Yemeni refugee camp with Norwegian and UNICEF. Afterwards the camp, I continued on to London and settled into a new life there by October. I explored neighborhoods outside of Notting Hill, met Michele and now we’re beginning our journey.
Thinking about that month and a half in Paris in the Fall of 2017 makes me so happy. I was so naive as to think as, I’m just going to do this and “pop back into” my life in NYC and nothing will have changed. I wouldn’t have changed. But my subconscious knew. Deep in my soul, there was a rumble, it came out in a shudder as I left my apartment. My avoidance of saying goodbye to Jen.
I knew there was change coming and I was slowing measuring my courage to accept it.
Whether it’s preliminary research for exploration, a desire to mix things up with a trip. A desire to learn about another culture. Or maybe you just wanted to satiate your wanderlust through pretty pictures. I wish for you my NAPW community, the courage of change and the true pleasure and luxury of getting to know yourself on your own terms.
Now that I’ve suggested some places that should definitely be on your travel list for 2019, let me share with you my secret about how I can get there. Yes, my job has a lot of perks, but being in a long distance relationship (and excited to travel every opportunity I get), I find myself racking up a lot of not comped airtime. My airline of choice for the last few years has definitely been Norwegian. My first flight with them was the summer of 2016 flying one of their first dreamliner trips from New York to Paris. Norwegian was new to me at the time, but as soon as I walked into the plane’s premium section, I was hooked. Super comfortable seats, great service and that new fresh feeling that you want your airplanes to have. Honestly Norwegian’s affordability at premium quality made my long distance relationship with Michele so much easier and doable, a reliable service from JFK to Gatwick for under $500 was heaven sent to us!
Our latest Norwegian long haul trip was together, from NYC JFK to Bangkok, Thailand BKK. In total, the trip is about 17-hours of flight time, but really, it was the easiest 17 hours of flight. Why? It’s science!
Norwegian’s Dreamliner’s air control system and ambient lighting allows you to have a restful flight and reduces jet lag! I usually sleep before airplanes take off — jealous?! — but even Michele was snoozing. This made all the difference as we landed in Thailand early AM and were able to hit the ground running and sightsee right away! The seats are also super comfortable with a very far recline in premium so you’re practically on a bed.
Another great thing about Norwegian premium on a long haul trip to Thailand is the lounge access. You’re well fed in premium but I love checking out a lounge spread, relaxing with wiFi and getting those last minute emails in before I check out for a day.
Let’s talk about the food. Fresh salmon, DRAGON FRUIT, PAPAYA, A PRAWN SALAD. Yes, I’m screaming. It was amazing. Michele loved the pretzel bread. Water and juice before you take off in premium. We were really stuffed. Commercial airline food that’s pretty enough for a blogger flat lay is almost unheard of, and it tastes delicious. You can also order snacks and drinks to your seat.
All of this, plus seeing the good that Norwegian does with UNICEF makes me feel great singing Norwegian’s praises and spending my money with them! In fact, taking my mom to Martinique at the end of the month for her birthday with a great deal I found during Norwegian’s Black Friday Sale. There’s a New Year sale happening right now with flights as low as $59 one way… I’m eyeing their Rome to Tel Aviv route! Get on it and see the world in 2019!
** Since the time of my writing, the Norwegian flight experience has only gotten better! Isn’t it nice to see an airline trying to improve the customer experience instead of sitting on their laurels? Starting today, January 8, 2019 Norwegian customers flying between Europe, USA, South America and Asia will be able to stay connected in the skies with the rollout of free and premium high-speed Wi-Fi on the carrier’s Boeing 787-9, Dreamliner and 737 MAX. Nice!
Every day, I have a comment, message or email pertinent to this article and it makes me so happy. Traveling is something that everyone has a right to experience and traveling as a person of color is a certain niche that does require extra research. This is why a guide like the Negro Motorist’s Green Book, a travel guide for African-Americans published from 1936 to 1967 that promised “vacation without aggravation” was created. Like many industries, the behind-the-scenes of travel industry content creation is majority white. They may have a VERY different experience in a destination than people of color. I’m a strong proponent of women traveling solo, I want to highlight my experiences about it. Recently, traveling to Jaipur, India as a black woman was hard. I can still picture the intense stares that went beyond curiosity more often than not into menacing. I was slightly prepped for this due to another influencer from Nigeria’s experiences in the country but never the less, confronted with the stares and the pointing and laughing, I had to keep reminding myself, “there’s beauty everywhere” and I had just as much right to see it as the next person. And I did; I savored those moments of beauty, and the smiles and positivity I did receive. I’m going to write about that experience but I bring it up to say, recently, due to this experience, even more-so did I appreciate and realize the value of this Black-Friendly Travel Destination list.
We deserve to explore the world, but let’s get our feet wet with some destinations that will embrace us first. So here are another 10 places that should be on every African American’s travel list (and for the most part, black people across the diaspora).
South Africa, particularly Johannesburg
Johannesburg might be popping up on your feed a lot lately with Afropunk and Mandela 100 (this year’s Global Citizen’s Fest) held in the South African city. “Johannesburg feeds the soul” seems to be the motto of many South Africans I met. This city is vibes. The food, the music, the people, the culture. If you’ve never been to the continent before, this should be your first stop! There is a lot more to South Africa than the recent history of apartheid but as they say “you’ve gotta know your history.” The country’s struggle for freedom during the apartheid regime will move you and also rip you apart because this was in many of our lifetimes. There is a strong initiative from the government to empower and re-enfranchise people of colour as well and you very much see it in the city of Johannesburg. Make sure to explore Soweto (SOuth WEst TOwnships). During apartheid, blacks were moved away from central Johannesburg to this area. It lives in South African history as the area with the heart of the struggle against apartheid. It also has the only street in the world to house TWO Nobel Prize winners: Vilakazi street is home to Desmond Tutu and Nelson Mandela. And the amazing neighborhood has given us Trevor Noah as well… just saying.
Guadeloupe, French West Indies
Guadeloupe is similar to another island on this list, Martinique, as it is a department of France in the West Indies. I’d say the major difference is that Guadeloupe rebelled… A LOT…. The slaves there rebelled a few times and the island also rebelled to overthrow France. In that sense, and in the spirit of who they are, Guadeloupe is an awesome island for a vacation: beautiful beaches, superb food, luxury hotels AND Guadeloupe encourages visitors of all backgrounds to explore its historical sites. Take a tour of places like the slave steps in Petit Canal and the preserved slave market: the first entry point after Africa for many of the slaves in the Caribbean and their last sight of the shore. There’s also the new Memorial ACTe museum. On par, if not better than, the new African American history museum in DC, this museum has won many international awards, has wonderful interactive exhibitions and is part of UNESCO’s Slave Route Project, a global initiative to promote the rapprochement of peoples through the shared legacy of this tragedy. This is such a great trip for African-American families.
Another island in the French West Indies that you should visit, possibly on the same trip (Norwegian has super affordable flights) is Martinique. It’s such a beautiful island with a diversity of landscape: super lush and green in the mountains up north, beachy down south. It’s a beautiful territory of France and has that unique balance of a deep and rich local history (very proud of their African roots) while having the chicness (and structural development) as the South of France. Beautiful people, great beaches, delicious food, great cultural offerings (a former distillery with a modern Art museum) and cheap flights from both the US and Europe. If you’ve ever wanted to “do Carnival” but maybe get intimidated by the crowds or sheer intensity of it all, Martinique has a super fun, light-hearted Carnival in February. It is the PERFECT place for your first Carnival as it is the only one that’s really participatory: there are no barriers separating the spectators and the marchers, everyone is encouraged to participate and does. If you decide to book, check out my Martinique guide for Vogue.com!
Riviera Nayarit, Mexico
The weather is perfect, the water’s perfect, and you can catch some great waves. One of my favorite places in the world, my happy place, is Sayulita, Mexico, I’ve written about it for Vice, Duchess Meghan’s The Tig and tons of other places. A small fishing village-cum-surftown-cum-pueblo-magico Sayulita is abound with good energy, color and good vibes. The locals there are almost like beautiful merpeople, taken to a water at a young age, tan skin glowing; it’s just a beautiful place. The whole riviera is with the different towns being distinct, whether it’s a boutique hotel in Sayulita, airbnb and family vibes in San Pancho or the posh W hotel in Punta Mita. Take a vacation in Mexico, learn how to surf, break the stereotype and get your hair wet ;).
While I was in Hawaii, I often heard the island of Kauai praised as “Hawaiians favorite island.” Often called the Garden Isle, this place is truly breathtaking. Think Fern Gully or Avatar. There’s the north shore, home to the Nā Pali coast where emerald green cliffs, sprinkled with clay red rocks dipping into the sapphire ocean will leave you in awe or the majestic Wailua Falls in Lihue. Retaining a strong connection to their native Hawaiian past is a source of pride to locals. There is a strong connection to the land and appreciation of the creator; a truly beautiful spirituality. In my short time in Hawaii, I went to a lot of blessing ceremonies. I got blessed more times than in a black church! We deserve self-care and natural rejuvenation too! Go for that alone! I wrote about my love of this island for Vice and for ‘NAPW!
Great food, good weather, cool people. I recently took a trip to Thailand with my boyfriend, exploring both Bangkok and the North and found it to be such an amazing and welcoming country. There’s a lot of innovation in the country and we spent the most time in the university city of Chiang Mai, where the openness, inclusion and frankly just the dopeness of the next generation lead the way. Sure, there were moments that I was met with curiosity, generally at temples in the North where Chinese tourists wanted to take photos with me and complimented my hair but it was genuine, good hearted fascination — though it’s OK to say no to a selfie. Throughout our travels in Thailand, I saw a solid amount of fellow black travelers and even happened to be on an excursion with a West Indian couple from my neighborhood in Brooklyn, small world huh?!
I spent my birthday in Morocco and besides not really feeling Chefchaouen (which was beautiful nonetheless) I absolutely loved my time in the country. Yasiin Bey / Mos Def seems to have his hand in all of the amazing places on the continent (his recording studio in Johannesburg launched this past fall) and the Moroccan city of Marrakesh holds a special place in his heart. Before you head there, take a look at the show, The Getaway an Esquire travel series showcasing his Marrakesh. As for my time in Morocco, As you can probably tell from my most recent posts, I fell in love with the vibes of the city of Fez, the cultural and spiritual capital of the country. There I was called an “African princess.” Fez not only has the oldest medina in the Arab world, but the oldest university which draws millions of religious pilgrims (including those from Sub-Saharan Africa) every year. Another place that we loved was Imlil Valley where we were ensconced in the beauty of the Atlas mountain and the world-famous hospitality of the Berber people. There is so much to see in Morocco and I would definitely recommend it for a black traveler.
As I mentioned in my original black-friendly travel post, France, especially Paris has a love affair with black Americans but what about exploring the smaller, yet cosmopolitan city of Bordeaux? It the capital of this wine region so Bordeaux is also a great base point for fun vineyard exploration. The city is in the midst of a rebirth with younger families opting for Bordeaux and its more relaxed way of life over Paris. It’s chic, it’s young, it’s hip, dare I say, I prefer Bordeaux to Paris at the moment! I wrote about it a few years ago for the Duchess of Sussex Meghan’s former blog, The Tig.
Lisbon & Porto, Portugal
With Brazil, Cape Verde and African countries like Angola being former Portuguese colonies and the immigration patterns that come with this, while not perfect in race relations, the Portuguese are used to seeing people of color and they have been integrated in Portuguese society for centuries. Portugal clung to it’s colonies a lot longer than other European powers (1975) BUT they were supposedly considerably more casual about interracial marriage and intermingling in society leading to a “browning” of the population and in my opinion, some awesome flavor (though there are no “good” colonizers and I would never want to add to that myth)! Lisbon and Porto are really cool cities and compared to other well-traversed European capitals they are very affordable in terms of food and accommodation. Portugal also has a very robust wine region as well so it could be an alternative to vineyard hopping in France! As a Black American, traveling there with my mom and also spending time there with my boyfriend I found myself welcomed in Lisbon and I’m definitely looking forward to going back.
Now here’s an interesting one: Finland. I went to Finland on a press trip with 7 other influencers of color and our Norwegian Airlines PR representative. I had an AMAZING time and was eager to put Finland on the list. Helsinki is a cool city that Lenny Kravitz apparently frequently visits: the design is on point and it has a contemporary food cuisine. We then went up to the Arctic Circle, the Laplands, and snowmobiled, ice fished and did lots of cold weather activities that black people aren’t normally pictured doing. We were warmly received — you know, as warm as the Finnish can be (they seem to be a very quiet people) — and it’s a great alternative to Iceland for seeing the beauty of the Northern Lights. Naturally, given all of this, I was eager to add Finland to the list but this list is not just based on my experiences but also my colleagues in the black travel community, friends, family and the current socio-political climate. That’s where Finland gets, well, complicated. I had great experiences there but according to the Being Black in the EU report (https://fra.europa.eu/en/publication/2018/eumidis-ii-being-black) published by the EU Agency for Fundamental Rights (FRA) among the 12 western EU states in the survey – including Ireland, Austria, Luxembourg, Germany, Denmark, Malta, Sweden, France, Italy, the UK and Portugal – Finland topped the list regarding perceived racial discrimination as well as harassment speech and gestures. Some 14 percent of black respondents in Finland said they had been the victim of a physical attack, which was the highest figure among all 12 of the countries overall. However, at the same time, the respondents from Finland reported among the highest level of trust in police and least examples of racial profiling by the police vs. the other countries. Digging more into it, I found Far Right street gangs street gangs have been on the rise in Helsinki terrorizing the Somali population there. If you do enough digging, you can find incidences of racism for most countries in the world, black countries included, so, I had a good experience in Finland but I want to give you the BIG PICTURE.
Speaking of FRA, on that list, the country with the least discrimination that’s been on my bucket list for a while is Malta. We do have to take these numbers in context because it is an island with about half-a-million people and few minorities, most of whom are Brits. But still the ones there are feeling pretty good about their situation! I’ve always wanted to go to Malta. Pre Game of Thrones fandom I was a Degrassi-stan and one of the characters, Jay, mentioned his family was from there. After looking it up, I decided I wanted to head to this beautiful island nation. It’s on my list for 2019 so you’ll see a post from there soon!
Another disclaimer I want to mention is this list is for places to visit. It is a far different experience being a visitor in a place, seeing tourist attractions, etc than living there and being firmly entrenched in daily life. For better or worse, a place really starts to show it’s true colors then.
Let me know if you have questions about other places that you’re thinking about going and feel free to share your experiences in the comments below. The last post created a great community, with even more insight and suggestions. I’m here for you guys!
This year has truly flown by. It was a year of steady professional highs that I didn’t take time to enjoy. I remember admitting to Michele sometime this year that I find it a bit overwhelming when I receive a professional accolade, or accomplish something because my almost immediate thought is “what’s next… alright so now, I have to do this, this and this while I’m still fire….” I’m still trying to make that travel tv show happen though, so a lot of my self-congratulation has been clouded with “I still don’t have that so… NBD.”
Looking back at the last few years, both professionally and personally, I’ve realized my capacity to will things into being. I wanted to forge my own way in fashion, and I willed myself right to the White House. I wanted to travel write? I started this blog and willed myself right onto being featured by Forbes 3 times in 2018. I even remember going to an iMovie course at the Apple store 2 years ago because, I want to have video travel content but I thought, I don’t have a camera crew so there’s no way I can do that. I’m not winning an Oscar for film editing, but I’m on my way to making things happen. I wanted a change from NYC, I made a life in London for the last year and 1/2 and even found love.
It zipped by. And as I’m finally taking a moment for overall self-reflection. 2018 was a great year. I visited and truly connected with places that have been on my bucket list since I was a child: South Africa, Morocco, India, Thailand, the Artic circle were the big ones. I am truly blessed. The relationships that I’ve invested the most in have flourished like the gardens of my wildest dreams. So moving into 2019, I’m going to LOVE MORE. I’ve let go of some things and people in 2018 and made room for my cup to runneth over with love and abundance. Now… next step is to do that with my wardrobe. I want to consume less — really I love my fashuns but I feel like I’m drowning in clothes and could go the quality vs. quantity route. Splitting my time between two continents really showed me wardrobe wise, less is definitely more. *If you have any particular clothing donation drives that you feel very strongly about, let me know. I’d love to donate boxes of great items.
2018 also seemed to be the year of queueing things up for the rest of my life. So what’s next? Well so far… Milan. What?! I’m still processing it myself. My best friend Carolyn cheered me on and reminded me that I’ve wanted to do this since 2006. Of course, I’m scared as hell. It’s not the right time. But, when will it ever be. It’s for the right person.
I’m thankful for this blog, and you my readers that keep me going. I want to pay this gratitude forward by always having fresh content for you. Sometimes it feels like I’m firing on all cylinders. So many things I want to do, so many things I want to write. Things get lost, I feel overwhelmed. But I’m going to tell more stories.
I can’t wait to see what this next year will bring.
We were lucky enough to have two great experiences at two very different hotels in Fez, Morocco. As I mentioned in my Morocco itinerary post, we rented a car and road tripped to Morocco’s blue city, Chefchaouen for a night and back the next day. We hit the road pretty early as to return our rental car to the Fez airport by noon. From here one of Hotel Sahrai’s luxury vans picked us up and set the tone for our stay. After a 3.5 hour trip through the Moroccan country side a little R&R is exactly what we needed and found at Hotel Sahrai, a member of the Small Luxury Hotels of the World.
Here’s why I like staying with Small Luxury Hotels of the World properties: I love a boutique hotel experience and members of this group operate independently but maintain quality standards that I can rely on. Generally if you’ve fallen in love with one SLH property, you will love them all.
A 5-star luxury hotel, Sahrai sits perched on a hill of the new city overlooking the old medina — the largest in the Arab world. The boutique hotel combines contemporary with tradition design. If the medina and riads are an onslaught of colors, sights and sounds, Sahrai filters them through a GOOPish lens. Very curated and fragrant, albeit beige. Upon entering the airy lobby you feel like you’re walking on water and are treated to a gallery of African artists. The use of light in the hotel from the common spaces to the rooms is really incredible.
On the site of the former French resident-general of Morocco’s summer palace, the design from architect Christophe Pillet is reminiscent of the motifs and arches of the palace. I love the Taza stone etchings in the rooms!
2 restaurants (they serve alcohol!)
a Rooftop bar with international DJs
a gorgeous infinity pool with a full pool bar menu
an exclusive Givenchy spa, combined with a traditional hammer
and a full service gym
I spent a very happy birthday with Michele at Hotel Sahrai and it will always have special memories for us.
It is always such an honor for me to be featured on Forbes.com with my peers. Obviously Forbes sets the industry standard in so many fields and whenever they recognize little ole me as a travel expert, I’m absolutely grateful. The writer of the piece Laura Begley Bloom has been so supportive of me and ‘N A Perfect World upon our meeting in 2017 and I can’t thank her enough.
This time, I’m discussing the places that should be on your 2019 bucket list along with some of my favorite nomadic women. The fun twist this time around: we’re talking USA!
Traveling within the USA is definitely something I want to do more of and do think it’s wild that I’m more comfortable exploring the nooks and crannies of far flung cultures more than my own. I chose Nashville. Check out why at Forbes.com!
This list has definitely inspired me. Have any travel plans in 2019? Where are you headed next? Drop a line, let me know!
I’ve had the itch to go to Morocco for years now. I’d talk about Marrakesh with my mum, toyed with the idea of visiting for a weekend with friends while I studied abroad in Milan, watched Casablanca and poured over magically “exotic” Moroccan cities of yore in books like Tahir Shah’s The Caliph’s House (Casablanca) and The Saffron Gate by Linda Holeman (1930s Marrakech). Maybe this is what put Fez in the back of my mind, but when planning our trip to Morocco, party brunches in Marrakesh with horses painted like zebras didn’t seem like our speed. We wanted to experience true Moroccan culture, food, and yes, luxury and after a little research, we found Fez to be the perfect place for us. In the lowlands of Northern Morocco, the 1,200 yr old city of Fes has long been thought of Morocco’s cultural and spiritual center.
You haven’t really seen the real Morocco until you’ve been to Fez we heard. And this city of just over 1 million people is often skipped by the typical tourist, naturally Michele and I decided to start our trip to Morocco here.
The medina of Fez is the largest medina in the world and a designated UNESCO world heritage site. It contains two of the city’s 3 main areas.
Old Fez, el Bali is an ancient car-free area from the 9th century. New Fez, El Djedid, not so new, dates from the 13th century and Ville Nouvelle is the modern Fez created during the French occupation in the early 1900s. Spend an afternoon wandering around Fez’s medina — it has over 9,500 alleyways. Beware of “good samaritans” offering to “show you the way,” especially at night. They’re not dangerous but can really throw you for a loop on the way to your destination and definitely will ask you for a fee. They may be persistent, but a simple, “no, I’m fine” will do.
Be sure to visit the blue gate, The Bar Bou Jeloud gate (it’s green from the inside like many of the green tiled roofs).
Home to Al Karaween, the oldest university in the world, founded in the 9th century as a mosque and religious center by a woman I might add — Fez sees many spiritual tourists from the Islamic world. Al Karaween mosque can hold 20,000 praying Muslims. Most of the green tiled roofs you see are connected to the university. Do note that while the mosques are among the main attractions in town, they do restrict entry to Muslims only.
So Fez smells perhaps a bit different from other cities and that’s because of the famed Fez Tannery. The Chouara tannery in Fez has been around since the 11th c. The dyes used in the tannery pits are natural: Blue comes from indigo; red, from poppy or paprika; yellow, from saffron, pomegranate, or a mix of turmeric and mimosa flowers. There are a few roof terrace vantage points that a friend we made at breakfast showed us. How did she find La Belle Vue Tannerie? She said she just looked up and went to different places! We followed her. The goods at La Belle Vue de la Tannerie were also of amazing quality but they didn’t pressure us to buy anything just to see the view. You also can get things custom made; tailors can copy a motorcycle jacket for you in three or four hours from goat or lambskin, the softest of the hides…. The more I think about it the more I need another shopping trip to Fez!
Speaking of those leather goods…
Wander along the main thoroughfares like the Attarine souk on Rue Talaa Kebira and do some shopping. Lanterns, rugs, you’ll absolutely find some great home decor and remember to bargain, bargain, bargain. I wish I did it even more. Stop by a souk as the scent of jasmine, cardamom, roses and new spices waft through the air and imagine all the delicious tajine you’ll consume after.
Morocco is famed for its argan oil. There are many shops that will take you through the healing properties of these oils.
As you can see from my Perfect Stay post Dar 7 Louyat is really special to Michele and me. From the welcoming smiles of our hosts who bent over backwards to make our stay comfortable, to the cooking class, to feeling like we had the riad to ourselves, I would definitely recommend a stay here in the heart of the medina. While peaceful and relaxing with the birds chirping in the atrium, it is a swan dive into medina life right outside of your door in the best of ways.
Hotel Sahrai is a gorgeous luxury hotel in the new city with beautiful views of the old city. Catering to Western guests (many from New York) the hotel does indeed serve alcohol in it’s restaurants (two) as well as poolside and has a delicious wine list of Moroccan wines. The rooms are delicious fresh and clean and the decor is “zen Moroccan.” Colorful tilework is replaced by stone etchings and beautiful pieces from Moroccan artists decorate the minimalist lobby. Also, have a luxe hammam experience in the Sahrai’s Givenchy spa. For us, we had an extra night / day in Fez after driving to Chefchaouen and back for an overnight. Staying at Hotel Sahrai provided the a much needed relaxing retreat and escape. Here’s an IGTV showing our room.
The Riad Idrissy is a beautiful restored — but not too restored — riad. The decor evokes the wear and tear and casual luxury of boho chic in it’s 5 rooms.
Our favorite meal we had in Morocco was honestly one that we made ourselves. It was a delicious date and apricot beef tajine that has me craving my favorite Moroccan spot in Brooklyn as I’m writing this. Fassi cuisine is a melting pot of Morocco’s history, Arab, French, Moor and Ottoman Turk.
Our first meal was super local. Honestly we’re not even sure of the name of the place. Our hosts at Dar 7 Louyat recommended it as it was a good place, they eat, around the corner from the hotel. It was a quick snack of delicious mezze that we kind of ordered pointing at the menu and hoping for the best.
If you can’t stay at Riad Idrissy at least have a delicious meal at The Ruined Garden, the Riad’s leafy, relaxing restaurant. The beautiful garden space may entice you but the delicious Moroccan classics like the lamb pastilla is going to make you stay. A relaxed almost overgrown garden, The Ruined Garden is an oasis from what can be a hectic medina.
Café Clock is a Fez institution with a location in Marrakesh as well. The restaurant and cultural center (you can take cooking and music lessons) is famed for their camel burger.
Try Nur for modern new-age Moroccan cuisine like “deconstructed” tajines or Mexican flavors.
Fancy a drink? You’ll see plenty of advertisements for happy hour but do take note, many of the bars and restaurants in Fez are on the surface, alcohol free. Honestly it didn’t both Michele and I very much. We are fresh juice fiends but should you fancy a drink, the rooftop bar at Hotel Sahrai The Rooftop, is the place to be. Beautiful views of the old city, top DJs and definitely an international set will draw you to this space.
Tip: Always go for the breakfast in your riad. It’s sometimes a little extra but definitely well worth it. Think about it, it’s one less thing to worry about to start your day. You’re full, fresh and ready to explore! Our delicious breakfast at Dar 7 Louyat consisted of yummy omelettes, french toast, moroccan breads, and local fruits and fresh juices and coffee.
Morocco is a Muslim country with some cities (Marrakesh) being more Western than others. For Fez, a city with fewer tourists and still considered the spiritual center, it’s best to cover your shoulders and wear a long skirt or loose trousers for women, especially in the old medina. Men are find in a t-shirt and shorts. Yes, when traveling during the summer as we did in June it can be hot, but trust me, not as hot as the flush you’ll feel when attracting stares from your mini skirt. You’ll see most of the older men in loose trousers and shirts in light, breathable fabrics. Jeans, especially skinny jeans were primarily worn by young Moroccans. When staying at luxury hotels like Hotel Sahrai, the dress code is a little more lax and Western.
There’s more to Morocco than Casablanca and Marrakech. Michele and I were determined to make my birthday trip to Morocco truly unique. We wanted a crash course in the “real” Morocco, so we headed to Fez, the country’s spiritual and cultural center. Like the smells of pigeon excrement and jasmine blossoms pervading the alleyways, Fes was a city of beautiful contradictions. Come explore with us!
Music by Kevin McLeod
Have you ever been to Fez? What’s your favorite city in Morocco?
** Instagram launched IGTV the day that we got to Fez, so here’s a little taste of what’s really our first video with vertical shooting in mind on my IGTV.
This is a story I’ve wanted to write for some time now. With the beautiful send offs of Aretha Franklin and John McCain as well as halloween around the corner, I’ve been thinking about the idea of death and how it’s perceived in different cultures. My family is West Indian. When someone dies, there is a wake that lasts almost a week, that to an outside observer, may seem like an inappropriate party. In Jamaican tradition it’s called Nine-Night. This practice, a celebration of the person’s life and a “send off” of them into death so to speak, can be seen in other cultures; an Irish wake is a well known one for example. Sitting shiva in the Jewish culture lasts a week long, but isn’t as turnt up as West Indian or Irish. While in New Orleans on a Sunday, I saw beautiful brass bands celebrating the passing of someone during second lines. In New Orleans, funeral processions play solemn music on the way to the cemetery and joyous music on the way back. There is also a history of rejoicing at death through music in West African burial traditions. Yes there is sadness but there is also joy. Funerals and death can be a family gathering celebrating the deceased’s life. In Mexico Día de los Muertos happens to be around Halloween but it is a celebration of death and loved ones that have passed.
Montmartre Cemetery in Paris
This all being said, our Western culture has a macabre fascination with death and with cemeteries. Often thought of as spooky and haunted here in the US. The scene of Halloween ghouls, cemeteries get a bad rep. Who remembers being told as a kid to hold your breath when you pass a cemetery as to not breath in the spirits of the dead? However, if you look at it objectively, cemeteries are some of the most beautiful parks in the world, especially in cities. Historical respect for the dead often gave them prime real-estate — sometimes hillside and in some cities, like Paris, cemeteries with their planning and architecture feel like perfectly curated mini neighborhoods. Here are some of the best cemeteries in the world that draw thousands and in some cases millions of visitors each year, whether or not they have loved ones buried there!
Lafayette Cemetery in New Orleans
The St. Louis Cemetery // New Orleans, Louisiana
The St. Louis Cemetery in New Orleans was given the moniker City of the Dead by Mark Twain and the name stuck for many of the sprawling cemeteries in the Southern city. Rows and lanes of beautiful ornate tombs, fresh flowers and yea, the more than occasional ghost sighting makes St. Louis cemetery as bustling as the city outside of its gates. The latest celebrity tomb is that of Nicholas Cage — definitely a sight. If you’re a movie buff, head to the Garden District (a must see area in New Orleans anyway), the stunning Lafayette cemetery has served as the backdrop for scenes from movies like Interview with the Vampire (a tomb here was the inspiration for Lestad’s crypt — Anne Rice’s home is down the street), Double Jeopardy, CW’s hearththrob-filled series, Originals and many more.
Another beautiful cemetery built into the hills of the bohemian Montmartre arrondissement of Paris is the gorgeous Montmartre Cemetery.
Père Lachaise Cemetery // Paris, France
Hmm, is it a French thing? Do they just know how to rest eternally the right way? The most visited cemetery in the world is the Père Lachaise cemetery in Paris. Three of the most visited graves in this cemetery are Oliver Wilde’s beautiful sphinx tomb adorned with red-lipstick kisses, the Doors’ Jim Morrison — just follow the music — and another music legend, Frédéric Chopin.
In the heart of Brooklyn, true to its borough, Green-Wood is happening. Often hosting fun events, like musical concerts on the grounds, Green-Wood seems like a lively place for your final resting place. Created in the mid 1800s, it was considered Brooklyn’s first public park way before the creation of Prospect Park and the popularity of Green-Wood actually inspired the city to create Central Park. Famous residents include Jean-Michel Basquiat and Leonard Bernstein.
Sayulita Cemetery // Sayulita, Mexico
A Mexican fall tradition that has crossed over into the US is Día de los Muertos, or Day of the Dead (11/2). It’s a festival to remember friends and family who have died. Yes, it is mournful, but it is also beautifully colored. One of my favorite cemeteries in the world is Sayulita Cemetery, in Sayulita, Mexico. Perched on a hill overlooking the water and surf of Playa de los Muertos, you have to go through this cemetery on your walk to the beach. Like the town, it is small and colorfully rustic and no matter how crowded this little town gets over the years, the Sayulita Cemetery is still a place to find some serenity.
The Memorial Necrópole Ecumenica // Santos, Brazil
It’s an age-old problem, as real estate rises, the premium goes up on space for the dead. The Memorial Necrópole Ecumenica in Santos, Brazil has gone the way real-estate professionals have done for ages, build up! Started in 1983, today, it measures 108 meters tall, features 25,000 tombs, several wake rooms, crypts, mausoleums, a peacock garden with its own small waterfall and even a chapel and snack bar on the roof.
Closer to heaven, huh?
Morne-à-l’Eau Cemetery // Guadeloupe, F.W.I
And last on my list is my favorite cemetery in the world. It’s so damn Instagrammable. While on a trip with Guadeloupe’s tourism board my fellow journalists and I drove past this cemetery in the commune Morne-à-l’Eau. We insisted the driver stop and give us time in this BEAUTIFUL place. The tiled black and white on the tombs and graces symbolize the passing from light to dark. A beautiful site to see, I could spend hours here. From what I heard, this cemetery is lit on All Saints Day. At dusk, candles are actually lit and this beautiful cemetery glows on the hill.
Take a tour around the beautiful Guadeloupe Cemetery!
Have you ever visited a cemetery while touring a city? What are some of your favorites around the world?