Morocco to France: On the couch with Mary Moody, gardening guru and author

Author, gardener, botanist, grandmother, journalist, speaker, traveller and tour guide. From her line-up of titles, you can guess that Mary Moody loves to keep herself busy. And despite having her life turned upside with the loss of her beloved husband and half-sister, she’s managed to break new ground pursuing a life of adventure.

We chat with the Mary on her love of travel and the best ways to experience Morocco and France. Mary has exciting tours lined up for 2020, including an impressive Ladakh trek, a botanical journey through Central Mongolia, an introduction to Morocco's culture and Atlas mountain scenery, and a culinary and walking Camino experience in France.

You have a natural passion and affinity with the locals wherever you travel. What is your secret to getting to know the locals?

I find connecting with children opens the way to establishing an affinity. I always carry picture books with photographs of Australian animals and stop whenever I see groups of children - sit down in the dirt and share with them. The wonder in their eyes – their joyful response – is magic. Their parents are always just as fascinated.

Often leading trips with a botanical perspective, what has been your most unusual botanical discovery?

In Yunnan, in southwest China, we were hunting for the famed but rather shy blue poppy (Meconopsis sp.). We heard that a documentary film crew from the UK were also looking for it and this intensified our efforts. I am thrilled to say we spotted it first!

What's a tip travellers can do to make the most of their trip?

I tell my group to relax and go with the flow and let go of 'pampered' expectations. It's healthy for us to occasionally step a little outside our comfort zone and to challenge ourselves. I believe trekking not just physical – our mental strength is what will get us into the camp site every afternoon. I also tell them to stop and look around as often as possible – it's not a race and if you try and be the first to arrive in camp you probably have seen very little along the way.

You’ve travelled and led intergenerational trips – bringing your grandson on a Nepal trek. What's different about this style of travel?

Often children in the first world countries have sedentary and over-protected lives. Taking them into another culture, walking with them in the mountains and seeing their horizons open, is just amazing. It's a life-changing experience and it also helps grandparents and their grandchildren to forge a special bond that would be difficult to achieve in any other setting.

You’ve lived in France for extended periods of time doing some writing – when did you first discover your passion for travel and experiencing other cultures?

My love of adventure travel was actually inspired by World Expeditions who invited me to escort botanical treks in the Himalayas during the period when I was a presenter on Gardening Australia. I was so drawn to the spectacular beauty and the alpine flora of these mountains that I have returned dozens of times, and never tire of sharing this joy with others.

What do you love most about showing people around the southern corner of France?

Rural France is glorious, and the region where I take my tour is like stepping back in time – with medieval villages and historic chateaux. This region of France is largely unspoiled because it has never been overdeveloped. So, you get a real sense of history and the continuity of people’s lives.

I like to explore history and culture with some gentle walks between villages and some outstanding private gardens. It goes without saying that the food and wine are superb, and [on my tour] we sample the very best of regional cuisine.

What historic site is a must-visit in France?

The pilgrimage township, Rocamadour. Wandering through this small yet beautiful cliff top village is amazing – carved into a rock face above the river Lot. Eleanor of Aquitaine made pilgrimages there in the 11th century and it’s considered to be one of France’s top sites to visit. It’s an unforgettable experience.

Have you always loved walking? What are your top tips for getting the most out of walking trips?

Good shoes are always important; and I tell people to just take their time walking and soak up all the sights and sounds around them.

On my Morocco trip, I believe we will see much more of the country on foot than in a vehicle. The day walks are not difficult (like a trek can sometimes be). We will stay in villages and walk through glorious countryside, seeing how the locals live.

What is it about Morocco that excites you the most?

Everything excites me about Morocco, which is so close to France where I spend quite a bit of my time. When I took a trip there, I was blown away by the history, architecture, gardens and mountains.

The trip I designed with World Expeditions is based on my favourite destinations from that visit, and I know others will love it as much as I did.

The markets are endlessly fascinating; a labyrinth of stalls with everything from ceramics and brassware to rugs, fabrics and clothing. The food, of course, is absolutely delicious and I even discovered some local wines (from Meknes) that were outstanding. A feast for the senses.

Morocco is home to some incredibly beautiful and elaborate Islamic gardens, some of which you will be visiting on your trip. What is so special about these gardens and what kind of plants will you be looking out for?

Interestingly enough, Islamic gardens are as much about their design as about the plants. Often based around a courtyard with a central fountain, the gardens have fantastic mosaics and plants that can withstand the hot, dry climate. I particularly love the Jardin Majorelle in Marrakech which was inspiration of Yves Saint Laurent. It’s extraordinary!

You’ve led trips to Nepal, Morocco, China, Mongolia, India and France – do you have a favourite destination?

Like so many people, I fell in love with Himalayas at first sight. That was in northern India trekking in the Harki Dun Valley which is superb. To me, all the countries that run along these ranges are incredible (I haven't been to Tibet or Pakistan but would love to).

Your latest book, The Accidental Tour Guide, is part memoir/part travel adventure on love, loss and discovery. Why do you think it is important for people to write their personal or family memoir?

So many people have led fascinating lives and have a great story to tell. I really enjoy giving them the skills and the confidence to get their own story or their family memoir onto the page because it’s such a satisfying process. And people just love reading other people’s life stories, so I can also help them find a way to get their stories out into the world.

But writing can be daunting when there is so much to deal with – should I tell the whole truth? What will other people think? Are there legal implications?

It took me five years to gather the courage to write The Accidental Tour Guide.

Working through all these issues and developing positive strategies to keep the momentum going is important, and I teach such techniques at my writing workshops.

Meet Mary in Sydney or Melbourne: Special one night only events

Join us for a special talk with Mary Moody for an evening of fun, stories and travel inspiration. Click your city below to register your place and hear about her recent trip to Mongolia and Morocco, as well as the exciting 2020 tours she will be escorting.

Sydney
When? Wednesday, 16 October 2019, 6pm
Where? World Expeditions Sydney Office: Level 5, 71 York Street, Sydney

Melbourne
When? Monday, 11 November 2019, 6pm
Where? World Expeditions Melbourne Office: Level 1, 393 Little Bourke Street, Melbourne

adventure tour, morocco, france, gardening

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