Volubilis: A Perfect Day Trip from Rabat

Readers, I’m sorry posts have been sparse this past month. The thing with living in a place as cool as Morocco for just nine months is everyone wants to visit! So we’ve had a revolving door of family and friends and it’s been fun (repeat trips to Chefchaouen, Marrakech, Fez) but hasn’t left me much time outside of being a trip planner/taker extraordinaire.

I’ve been wanting to blog about these incredible Roman ruins called Volubilis that are located less than 2.5 hours from Rabat. I can’t say exploring ruins rank among my favorite touristic activities, although I have to say some really do blow me away, like Jerash in Jordan and all the ruins in Athens.

Volubilis in Morocco was unexpectedly wow. And this site also answers the question: “Geez, just how far was the reach of the Romans?” They did indeed make it to Africa, and settled as far south as Volubilis, which was Roman town from the first-through third-centuries but was then overtaken by local tribes and apparently not retaken by Rome because of its remoteness. It was inhabited for hundreds of years by a Christian community and then acted as an early Islamic settlement. In the late 8th Century it became the seat of the Idris Ibn Abdallah, founder of Morocco. By the 11th Century, Volubilis was abandoned and most of its inhabitants went to nearby Moulay Idriss. This is part of what make Volubilis so dramatic – that view of the hilltop (actually two hilltop) whitewashed town of Moulay Idriss a few miles off the the distance.

IMG_7678.jpgAnother especially beautiful part of Volubilis: It’s located among lush green rolling hills as it’s smack in an agricultural hotspot of Morocco. Also, storks, because these big beautiful birds are a common year-round sight all over Morocco.

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But the most impressive part of Volubilis are the mosaics. There are probably more than a dozen, and some are jaw-droppingly well-preserved and intricate.

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On my first trip to Volubilis, Adam and some friends and me stopped first at Volubilia winery, which is about an hour from the ruins. Volubilia is run by a French vine/cellar master from Bordeaux and it’s a really pretty pretty place. We had an epic lunch there and sampled (actually drank quite a lot of) what would become our one of our favorite Moroccan wines, the Volubilia Classic, a blend of Cabernet-Sauvignon, Syrah, and Tempranillo).

volubilia.jpgCurrently, the winery welcome large groups for tastings and lunch with advance notice. If you’re a smaller group and you want to visit, it’s still worth contacting them.

On my second trip to the Volubilis ruins, our group drove into Moulay Idriss, parked and walked to Dar Zarhoune, a guesthouse and restaurant owned owned by an Australian woman that offers a varied menu and pretty views from the rooftop terrace.

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And Moulay Idriss itself is colorful, completely devoid of tourists, and worth a walk-around.

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Meknes

For a truly ambitious day-trip from Rabat, you could add in the city of Meknes, which is notably one of the four imperial cities of Morocco, along with Rabat, Marrakech, and Fez. For that, I’d suggest leaving Rabat around 7:30am, arriving to Volubilis by 10am, and then either doing an early lunch or tea in Moulay Idriss after or going straight to Meknes (45 minutes away) for the rest of the day.

Last month, I went to Meknes with visiting family and there’s a lot to see there but we didn’t have much time. On our post-Volubilis trip, I didn’t realize the city was split into an old imperial section (where all the royalty used to live back when Meknes was the capital of Morocco) and the medina or old city/market area. We thought we were heading into the old city but turns out it was the quiet and scenic imperial city. We entered the main gate into the imperial city, stopped to look at some carpets and were soon ensconced in a by now familiar scenario: Sitting atop piles of rugs as salesmen unfurl gorgeous rug after rug after rug whilst promising a price so cheap it may drive them out of business, but it’s worth it because you have a great name/smile/will tell your friends about them/are pretty much family at this point.

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Rugs were purchased. Oh, and this particular shop (whose name I neglected to record, sorry) had lots of objects made by a particular ancient artisanal metalwork technique for which Meknes is famous, called Damascene.

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When we left the shop, we realized we wouldn’t have much time until sunset (and I don’t like driving at night) so we hired a horse and carriage to quickly show us the sights. It was $15 well-spent.

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We zoomed to the famous grainery, which was closed, but our carriage driver talked to the guards who let us tour the strange underground cavernous space where much of Northern Morocco’s grain was stored many years ago. We especially liked the outdoor stables at the grainery, which were marked by beautifully symmetrical pillars.

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It was getting late and so by the time we realized we had not entered the bustling old city of Meknes, we only had time to poke in for five minutes before returning to our car and driving the two hours back to Rabat. But I was impressed with the bustle in the main square, called Lahdim Square, and immediately preferred it over Marrakech’s Jemaa el-Fnaa. There was an impressive music performance with drums and singing, lots of cafes and vendors were filling bowls with chick peas and cinnamon-scented snails in broth and it smelled heavenly.

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To day trips from Rabat,

Emily

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