Interview with one of our local partners in Morocco
2nd September 2021
A short hop from Europe yet a world away in terms of culture and heritage, Morocco is a captivating taste of the exotic with a huge amount to see and do. Exploring kasbahs, souks, mountain valleys and ancient medinas unveils a treasure trove of beautiful landscapes, vibrant culture, wonderful food and fabulous shopping. Everyone from rugged mountaineers to young families can enjoy Morocco’s charms, and there are great options at every budget. Here are our top ten things to do in Morocco to help you narrow down your favourites.
This bewitching city is rightly one of the most popular destinations in Morocco, a compelling mixture of grand palaces, ornate mosques and a maze-like warren of souks. One thousand years of history seem to melt away in the medieval medina, and an evening spent in the circus of the Jemaa el Fna square is timeless entertainment as hawkers hawk, hustlers hustle, snake charmers work their magic, acrobats tumble and storytellers captivate their audiences. This city has long been at the crossroads of North African trade, at the point where the Berber merchants would arrive from the Atlas mountains to barter with the people dwelling on the plains.
Donkeys laden with goods plod past in the twisting alleys of the best preserved medina in the Arab world, where nothing much has changed for some centuries. Blank facades hide sumptuous riads - many of which now make characterful places to stay - and within the medina there are sections devoted to different handicrafts which are fun to stumble upon, as well as many jewel like mosques. Follow your nose to the pungent tanneries where leather is produced in age old fashion. Don’t miss the artistry and serenity of the Medersa Bou Inania and the Kairaouine Mosque, two of the finest examples of Islamic architecture in this imperial city.
Under the Moroccan sun the harmonious palette and simple style of the coastal town of Essaouira is striking and alluring. Surfers love the swell in the bay, photographers can’t resist the picturesque boats bobbing in the harbour, and shoppers enjoy the galleries and boutiques. A stroll on the beach, a bite to eat in a little café, and a moment watching the comings and goings in the port are the easy pleasures of this seaside town, or perhaps a camel ride, a tour of an Argan oil farm or a boat trip will tempt you. The choice is yours.
Merzouga is the gateway to the Sahara and Morocco’s most impressive dunes at Erg Chebbi, towering to 150m high in places. A night in the Sahara desert camping with the Bedouin and starspotting far from light pollution is a fabulously evocative experience, but if your itinerary doesn’t allow for a trip so far south, there are desert camps within striking distance of Marrakech. The experience of a night in the desert - wherever you go - will usually involve a traditional meal, music and perhaps stories, and a night in a bedouin tented camp complete with sweet mint tea and cushions for lounging.
Rearing up to the south of Marrakech in all their magnificence, the Atlas Mountain range is one of Morocco’s most scenic and alluring regions with a distinct Berber culture. When the heat rises down on the plains, the mountains are high enough to offer cool respite and a blissfully rustic contrast to the urban melée of the cities. Hikers can pick from gentle strolls right through to summit-bagging multi-day treks, while mountain bikers and skiiers (in midwinter) can enjoy the variety of gradients. For anyone who is not inclined to such levels of activity, there are plenty of beautiful places to stay with fabulous views, refreshing pools and lovely gardens to appreciate from your hammock.
The northern range of the Rif mountains is most famous for Chefchaouen, the Blue City. This is a sizeable town with a unique characteristic - doors, window frames, walls, steps are all painted in blues of differing intensities making it a dream for photographers but also just a pleasant place to mooch around with plenty of clean mountain air, a mosque with a view, and a compact medina to explore. Hikers have the option of numerous trails threading off into the hills, but waymarking is scant so a guide is wise.
Every town in Morocco has a hammam, many have several. Large population centres have dozens, and these communal bathing facilities have long been a hub of the community across Morocco. Strictly timetabled access means that bathing alternates between the sexes, so seek the advice of your local experts if you would like to pay a visit to ensure you go at the allocated time. Hammam experiences vary from simple and brisk to indulgent and relaxing, but the general idea is to start in the hot room to sweat out any toxins, then wash away the sweat and any dead skin with water and an exfoliating glove, followed by a massage should you wish.
What could be a better souvenir of your holiday than a new skill? Start your day’s cookery workshop with a trip to the produce market with your cook-teacher, who will talk you through some of Morocco’s important and unusual ingredients and together you can select seasonal goodies for the day’s lessons, then learn how to create some of Morocco’s iconic dishes such as tagine and couscous. You’ll learn about spice combinations, cooking techniques and regional specialities, and then you’ll get to eat your hard work at the end of the day.
If classic Moroccan scenery is something you’re keen to experience, a trip to the Dades Valley should be high on your list of must-sees. Where the Atlas range begins to rise, this valley has been a principal trading route through the mountains to the desert and beyond. Baked hills of red earth enclose a beautiful green valley floor planted with crops and date palms, with stunning earth coloured villages scattered along the floor of the valley, often just at the point where the vegetation meets the bare rocky walls of the valley. Enchanting scenery takes a dramatic turn at Todra Gorge, where steep cliffs plunge down to a rushing stream at the base of the canyon.
Morocco is an intrepid shopper’s delight. With perseverance and tenacity you can find and buy some wonderful locally made handicrafts, clothing, accessories and just about anything else you can think of. You may find you need an extra case to fit all your treasures into for the journey home, such are the temptations. Souks are the most characterful and traditional places to shop, though the larger medinas such as Fez and Marrakech cover large areas and it can be hard to retrace your steps so if you find something you want and the price is right, buy it. Rugs, ceramics, spices, leather, woodwork and silver are good buys.
Make it happen
Morocco has great variety, so you can immerse yourself in nature, history, culture or coast - or a mixture. Contact our handpicked local experts and they will build you a bespoke itinerary based on your specific preferences. To speak to someone in the TravelLocal office please call +44 (0)117 325 7898.