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Moroccan magic carpet ride: how to purchase the right rug

Souvenir shopping is one of the great joys of travelling, and for Tour the World’s host Adam Ford the ultimate memento turned out to be a motley Moroccan carpet.

Shopping for a major piece of home decoration while on holiday is a dangerous business. A complete folly if you will. For most of us, our sense of style – and what will and won’t work at home – can be seriously compromised by the holiday brain. It just doesn’t think straight. As a simple example, who hasn’t unpacked a pair of tie-died yoga pants from Bali only to lament getting swept up in the euphoria of it all? However, while on a tour of Morocco a year or two ago, I got lucky.


My partner and I had decided to buy a Moroccan rug. And we weren’t the only ones. There were two or three in the tour group intending to buy a carpet. Having discussed it thoroughly, we’d sold a heap of unwanted furniture to finance the purchase of a decent piece. The tour took in Casablanca and Rabat, Meknes, gorgeous blue Chefchaouen, crumbling Tangier, Fes and of course Marrakech. It was a fascinating trip. The best. And looking back at the photos of carpets that nearly hitched a ride home – there were some serious near misses. I’d have needed therapy to get over the buyer’s remorse from a particular baby-poo green number we considered in Casablanca.



While historically Moroccan rugs have served a purely pragmatic purpose in life – mainly as thick floor coverings and sleeping mats inside the tents of nomadic desert tribes – carpet-making today is big business for the tourists. Anyone who has been on a tour to Egypt, India, Turkey or Morocco knows the obligatory ‘carpet shop stop’ where you’re supplied with a light refreshment and then treated to a dazzling display of carpet unfurling. The ‘carpet master’ gives a running commentary on the quality of the weaves and an army of minions madly runs about unrolling carpets left right and centre. I always feel a little sorry for the underling that has to roll them all up again.


And these sessions can last for some time. Carpet sellers are the best in the business when it comes to parting a harried tourist from their hard-earned readies. These guys won’t give up while there’s even a hint of weakness within the group – much to the chagrin of those with zero interest.


The rug we finally bought – a traditional Berber Jewish weave from the Atlas Mountains – came into our lives in a rather undignified manner. We’d been perusing the wares in a carpet shop in Fes’ fabulous old medina. If you were to ask me to describe Aladdin’s Cave, this would be it. A cavernous, dimly lit space with sumptuously decorated carpets piled high in the shadows and numerous potential candidates of all shapes and designs spread across the floor.



Everyone – including the carpet master – was feeling the strain. This stop was our last chance to find a dream rug and we’d literally looked at what seemed like hundreds of options – but still no joy. Sadly we prepared to depart empty handed. Then my partner spotted what could only be described as a rather bedraggled looking specimen hanging over the railing of a mezzanine floor three stories up. I still remember it to this day. The thick, slightly faded, pink and purple shag, black tassel and a stepped diamond design we hadn’t seen elsewhere.


‘What about that one?’ I asked. The carpet master scoffed, then perhaps noticing something in my voice, glanced upwards. He looked back at us, back at the rug, and as if sensing a match made in heaven barked a terse order. Two of the minions ran for the stairs and a moment later the wonderfully oddball weave that now keeps my toes warm in winter plummeted three stories into our lives – engulfing us, our tour group and the carpet master in a thick cloud of choking dust. He never stopped smiling for a second.   


Having paid for the rug and shipment we continued on our way, quite sure the carpet would never arrive and we’d done our dough. But low and behold, six weeks later, it was delivered right to our door.



So give it a go. And remember – they say when you find the right carpet it will speak to you. The trick is to make sure you’re listening.




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Written by: Adam Ford
Published: 20 October 2014

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