The north African country of Morocco seems to have it all. Whether you’re interested in history, culture, landscapes or adventure, Morocco ticks all the boxes. It’s a fascinating place to immerse yourself in, with the saturated colors and amazing scents sure to make an immediate impression on you.
It is perhaps Morocco’s cities that will resonate with you most, and exploring them is bound to be an experience. Inside the ancient, walled medinas, you could be forgiven for thinking you had stepped back in time, with everyday life continuing much as it has for centuries.
- Savor Morocco’s aromatic and delicately spicy cuisine
- Stay in a riad, a Moroccan home turned boutique hotel with open-air interior gardens featuring fountains, pools, and mosaics
- Souk it out in bustling bazaars and score an incredible array of goods from traditional earthenware and cooking pots to richly colored rugs and leather bags
- Indulge in a therapeutic hammam experience
- Hike the High Atlas Mountains stopping at Berber homes for traditional mint tea and a meal
Chefchaouen is one of the most attractive towns in all of Morocco – and not just for its location beneath the rugged Rif Mountains. It has a chilled, artsy vibe, and the pace of life is much slower – and more relaxing – than you might be used to. The main reason to visit Chefchaouen, however, is the surprise that awaits you when you discover that many of the houses are washed in soothing, pale-blue colors. This provides a wonderful contrast with the surrounding countryside, and there are a great many theories as to why this hue was chosen by the local people. Some say that it was to repel mosquitoes, or that it represents the sky. Either way, the effect is heavenly.
The Atlantic coastal city of Essaouira looks just like a painting – and this breezy location has long been popular with artists thanks to the light reflecting off the waves, and the brightly painted medina (or inner walled city). As well as a visual treat, Essaouira is a feast for all the senses. Follow winding lanes where the scent of spices hangs in the air, and palm-lined avenues offering welcoming pools of shade and intriguing galleries. The working port has retained its authentic atmosphere, with boats still being constructed in much the same way as they have been for centuries.
Moroccans refer to the city of Fes as their country’s cultural capital and it’s a fascinating place to explore. Even apparent blind alleys can reveal geometric squares with cool, soothing fountains. The dyeing vats at Chouara—as well as at the city’s other tanneries—are among the Fes medina’s most iconic sights. The main attraction is the Fes El Bali walled medina, which contains souks selling anything you can imagine.
HIGH ATLAS MOUNTAINS
The High Atlas Mountains fully deserve their name – the tallest peaks here are over 13,000ft high. Lower down, there are myriad hiking trails to explore, through wonderful scenery. Depending on the time of year, you could find yourself strolling through flower-strewn valleys, while livestock grazes peacefully nearby. Or squeeze through hidden passes to reach ridges offering panoramic views that stretch for miles.
Rabat is the “other” capital of Morocco, but there is much more to the city than government offices. Because Rabat attracts fewer tourists than some other destinations in the country, it can be a wonderful introduction to Morocco without the crowds. The modern parts of the city are delineated by palm-lined boulevards, but Rabat also has its share of evocative historic landmarks, including the walled medina and the impossibly romantic medieval kasbah with its whitewashed houses and sweeping river and ocean views. The Hassan Tower offers similarly dramatic views, and the city has a wonderfully liberating sense of space.
Marrakesh offers the ultimate immersive Moroccan experience. A visit to a hammam or bath house is a wonderful way to socialize with residents, and emerge feeling energized as well as cleansed. Many of the traditional riads – palaces built around cool, shady interior courtyards – are now inviting boutique hotels. The lush botanical gardens of the Jardin Majorelle contain a blue-painted villa which was once the home of Yves Saint-Laurent. At the heart of Marrakesh is the vast Djemaa el Fnaa souk whose character changes as the sun sets, when the orange-juice sellers and snake charmers depart and dancers and storytellers arrive to entertain the evening crowds.
The Sahara Desert is naturally irresistible to most travelers. A camel-back or 4×4 visit to the dunes can feel like you’re reliving scenes from either ‘The English Patient’ or ‘Lawrence of Arabia’. Gazing out over the vast stretches of sand and sky is incredibly soothing for the soul. Consider glamping in Merzouga. Morocco’s itinerant Bedouin people are past masters at creating comfortable homes in the desert: carpets and pillows fill tents that are cleverly designed to capture the desert breezes. Enjoy a traditional Moroccan meal under the stars before sipping your coffee around the fire as your guides tell you stories from Morocco’s rich history.
SKOURA & OUARZAZATE
Breakup your journey from Marrakesh to the Sahara Desert with a stay in Skoura. Skoura is one of Morocco’s beautiful oases and it offers travelers a chance to rest their weary feet and enjoy the abundance of nature.
The striking red-walled town of Ouarzazate lies less than an hour from Skoura. Known locally as the ‘door to the desert’ for its proximity to the Sahara, this town long ago captured the imagination of Hollywood filmmakers. It has been used as a location for some of the all-time classic desert movies, including David Lean’s ‘Lawrence of Arabia’ and ‘Gladiator’. More recently, scenes for the wildly popular TV series ‘Game of Thrones’ were also filmed in the area. Once you’ve channeled your inner Maximus, you can explore the intriguing souk in search of traditional souvenirs.