Are you looking to experience an exotic culture that doesn’t require time consuming travel? Morocco is authentic, inviting, and culturally and religiously rich, as well as being right on Europe’s door step.
Morocco is a North African country bordering the Atlantic Ocean and Mediterranean Sea and is extremely diverse in offering: striking coastlines; vast deserts; high mountains; historical ruins and ancient medinas. Tradition and authenticity are still very much alive in Morocco and this creates the country’s charm. Visitors are amazed at the collision of old and new, as the Moroccan people modernise whilst remaining in close connection to their past and the environment around them.
Morocco’s capital, Rabat, is cosmopolitan and laid-back with a sense of both its European and African influences intertwining throughout the city. The Medina is more relaxed than other Moroccan cities and allows you to slowly amble through the windy streets without pressure from the salesmen of the souks. With a relaxed pace it’s also enjoyable to discover some of the city’s monuments such as the Hassan Tower or the Kasbah of the Oudaias- the medieval fortress citadel which provides stunning ocean views.
Stop for lunch at one of the cafes with outdoor seating lining the streets, amble along the palm lined boulevards with ice cream and admire the Art Deco architecture to experience the modern Rabat. For a real sense of tradition head to a Hammam for a relaxing ritual spa day that the locals enjoy once a week for two or three hours. The Hammams are separated by gender and the treatments involve bathing and having your dead skin removed by black soap. Leave feeling pampered and as though you’ve gained an insight into local life by listening to the locals gossip and socialize.
Throw away your map and prepare to be completely lost among the windy backstreets of the Medina. Aesthetically fantastic in colour, sound, and smell, it’s easy to venture off into the depths of carpet covered walls, leather goods and trinkets, for hours on end. The medina at first seems stuck in time, an Aladdin’s cave, but as you meander pockets of modernity will appear to spring up around you. From contemporary art galleries, to up-market boutiques, the Medina is slowly evolving and racing up beside the Ville Nouvelle, or new town of Marrakech. Enjoy a traditional chicken and apricot tagine at an old-style restaurant, or perhaps a camel burger in the quirky new café just next door as the sound of the call to prayer fills the streets.
My biggest culture shock in Marrakech came from visiting the Jamaa el Fna, the main square, at dusk when the moon rises and the city seems to burst into life. Despite the cooling of the days stifling heat, the experience is still somewhat claustrophobic. Our guide book gave warnings of both pick-pockets and gropers and therefore we were rather preoccupied and taken by surprise by the snakes, monkeys and other wildlife disguised in the dark and acting as trip hazards. Many of the street performer’s acts are unrecognisable talents and completely bizarre but that all adds to Morocco’s charm. One thing all cultures do have in common- food. Ensure to spend time following your nose around the square’s food stalls and stop for some delicious, smoky, barbecued meat.
For a really authentic stay in Marrakech, book into a Riad, a traditional Moroccan house with an interior garden or courtyard. It’s a unique experience, as you enter through a small modest door in the Medina and come out the other side into a grand, open and atmospheric space. The smooth stone walls, geometric tiles and ornate decor make the Riads feel very special.
Known by the locals as ‘Idraren Draren’, or Mountain of Mountains, the High Atlas seems worlds away from urban life. In Africa’s greatest mountain range, remote beauty, clear air and countless activities appear an inviting break from the cities. The stunning views make it a perfect trekking and mountaineering spot. The weather is extremely varied, with blazing sun in the summer, and snow-peaked mountains in the winter, and therefore other activities are becoming increasingly popular, such as: mountain biking; rock climbing; swimming in waterfalls and ski mountaineering. Be sure to visit some of the rural villages on route, for tea, dates or something more substantial and allow yourself a different view of Moroccan life that many visitors will not experience.
Located 30 km from the city of Ouarzazate, the picturesque Ait Ben Haddou Kasbah, is certainly worth a visit if you’re in need of a rest from the other action-packed activities the High Atlas has been offering. The building is UNESCO World Heritage Listed as a beautiful example of pre-Saharan architecture and has been used for scenery in films such as “Lawrence of Arabia” and “Gladiator”. The bright orange walls are particularly striking as the sun sets behind them and the Kasbah turrets offer sweeping views of the village below.
For more water based activities, head to Essaouira, named wind city of Africa and destination for surfers and windsurfers from around the world. The long beaches are wild and stunning, and because of the strong winds they’re practically desolate of sun-bathers. If you amble along, camels can be spotted on the horizon seeming to appear out of nowhere. Stop for a clumsy, and extremely bumpy camel ride along the dunes as the sun sets and feel worlds away from normal life.
Essaouira offers more than a beach. Its authentic Medina and harbour, are an 18th century fortified town and took place in the 2001 UNESCO World Heritage List. The traditional Medina has a big art scene and is full of eccentric, brightly coloured new galleries and restaurants serving contemporary takes on traditional food.
Morocco is diverse, exciting and certainly worth a visit. The locals are welcoming and the culture is exotic, the shopping is endless and the architecture stunning. Most importantly, the food is delicious.
Are you brave enough to delve into the unknown and visit Morocco?