Interview with one of our local partners in Morocco
2nd September 2021
An intoxicating mix of Arab and Berber cultures overlaid with the rich heritage of the Muslim faith, Morocco is a spellbinding land which draws upon its many influences yet has a distinct and exotic culture all of its own. The diversity of the landscapes in Morocco is one of the major attractions of the country and makes any trip a scenic pleasure. Desert wilderness gives way to green valleys full of orange groves, Imperial cities pepper the plains, breezy beaches fringe the coast and ancient Berber villages huddle in the Atlas mountains. Hospitable people, mouthwatering food and a glorious climate are the icing on the cake.
There are many wonderful experiences to be had in this North African jewel. For further inspiration take a look at the trip ideas put together by our trusted local experts at the foot of this page, but in the meantime here are our top three things to do in Morocco.
Discover Morocco's imperial treasures
Step back in time exploring the medinas of Morocco’s ancient cities. The narrow lanes buzz with commerce, donkeys lumber through laden with goods, craftsmen tinker in workshops and the call to prayer hangs in the air. Fez boasts the the best preserved medina in the Arab world, with dark doorways hiding sunny courtyards or ‘riads’ decorated with intricate tilework, fountains and greenery. Marrakech has the biggest souk and impressive palaces, while Chefchaouen’s medina is a masterclass in every shade of blue.
Be blown away in Essaouira
Essaouira is an elegant coastal base with a pretty old town and a strong maritime tradition. Potter through the souk, browse the boutiques and admire the azure boats in the harbour before hitting the beach for some relaxation. Known as the ‘Windy City’, it is famous for its breeze, which keeps the temperature pleasant year round. Much of the town retains its original fishing-port charm, and you can enjoy fresh fish chargrilled to perfection on an outdoor brazier.
Embark on Atlas adventures
The Atlas Mountains are wild and beautiful, scattered with earth coloured villages, photogenic valleys and challenging peaks. An oasis of cool air and green pastures, the mountains rise just south of Marrakech and are accessible from much of southern Morocco. Relax in a garden ksar, visit traditional Berber villages, and experience legendary local hospitality. Whether you just feel like a break from the heat of the city or a multi-day trek to distant snowfields, there is a world of clear streams and peaceful valleys waiting for you.
A hub of Moroccan communities all over the land, the hammam is central to daily life. Making the chore of washing the body into a leisure pursuit is a stroke of genius which the Moroccans have elevated into both a social event and a relaxation exercise. Many Moroccans don’t have bathing facilities at home, so most medinas will have several hammams, while larger cities may have hundreds. A standard hammam experience involves sweating it out in the hot room, sloughing off the sweat with bowlfuls of water and a rough glove, finishing perhaps with a massage. It's a quintessential part of Moroccan life which can bring you into contact with local people in a relaxed setting, and as a bonus you come out fragrant and refreshed.
Nightfall in the Sahara
Morocco’s far south is a sea of rippled sand, as evocative and beautifully barren as you would expect. It is an interesting and unique experience being in the desert, and in Morocco there are impressive dunes at Erg Chebbi near Merzouga, the gateway to the Moroccan Sahara. A night in a desert camp won’t disappoint, whether in the Sahara or - easier to fit into a short trip - a night in the Agafay desert camp near Marrakech. Opportunities to experience the traditional nomadic lifestyle are plentiful, with most trips into the desert including a night in a tented camp with a Berber meal, storytelling or music. Then, of course, there’s the spectacular star gazing – enough of a show in itself.
While there are many well-known things to do in Morocco, what about the lesser-known highlights? Our local experts have shared some of their top tips for where to go and what to do if you fancy a bit of an alternative Moroccan adventure.
A study in blue
Beautiful, blue Chefchaouen is the kind of place travelers fall in love with – people usually stay a little longer than planned and there’s always a tug at the heart strings when the time comes to leave. Set below the Rif Mountains, Chefchaouen is most famous for its dominant colour: blue. Walls, doors, windows and even streets are all daubed in various shades of blue, from the faintest tint to the deepest indigo, lifting the town out of the ordinary into the realms of the magical. The medina here is small and attractive, and it's easy just to amble without much purpose. Pottering through lanes and squares and stopping for a mint tea or to browse is all part of the town’s mellow appeal.
Great railway journeys
Morocco has an excellent and efficient train network and as well as offering more comfort than bus travel it’s a great way to see the country from a different perspective. Although not very extensive, train lines link most of the main cities, including Marrakesh, Fes, Casablanca and Tangier. Unless you’re travelling during Ramadan it’s quite usual to share snacks and drinks with fellow passengers – many a conversation has been struck up over a shared flask of mint tea.
Discover Roman Morocco
It is a little known fact that Morocco is home to some excellent examples of Roman architecture. One of the most well preserved lies on the fertile plains between Meknes and Fes in Northern Morocco. The partly excavated ancient Roman city of Volubilis is thought to have been the capital of the Kingdom of Mauritania and one of the empire’s most distant outposts. Olive oil made the city rich and many of their lavish mosaics and arches are still very much intact.
Morocco’s vast deserts are best avoided during June to August as the scorching heat makes staying out in the daytime unfeasible. With the benefit of a sea breeze, however, coastal towns can be hot in July and August without being unbearable. March to May is possibly the best time to visit Morocco, with warm weather on the coasts, desert, and mountains – which at this time are lush and green. Morocco can still be enjoyed during Ramadan, but food will only be available from tourist-oriented establishments during the day, and out of respect you should not eat or drink in public during this time.
One of the many appeals of Morocco is the delicious food and drink to be found there. From perfectly spiced savoury dishes, to pastries laden with honey and the freshest mint tea you'll ever sample, there are a whole load of delicacies to be sampled here...
The most iconic dish you are likely to come across is the Moroccan tagine - a deliciously spiced stew cooked in a conical terracotta pot of the same name. It is often a mixture of meat, veg, spices and sometimes fruit such as apricots or preserved lemons. You may see tagines warming over charcoal outside restaurants but unsurprisingly many places cook them in more modern ovens now. A particular tagine to look out for if you are in the Atlas Mountains is the highly regarded Djaj Beldi tagine, made with flavoursome free range chicken.
If you spend time in Fez, look out for pastilla, a sweet spiced pie traditionally made with pigeon meat, almonds, cinnamon and sugar. These days you're more likely to find chicken or fish leading the show as the main filling, but it is just as delicious. Enjoyed as a family meal or served with panache at fancy restaurants, it's a true Moroccan staple.
Couscous is another of the foods Morocco is known for; a special occasion dish served on high days and holidays and often cooked in Moroccan homes on Fridays. Usually couscous is served with various meats and vegetables mixed in, along with herbs and spices for that traditional Moroccan flavour. Many Moroccan recipes call for a particular spice mix known as Ras El Hanout, a complex mixture of warming spices which gives that authentic Maroc flavour.
Typical Moroccan street foods
Chargrilled meat is another classic Moroccan speciality, available everywhere from the humblest street side carts to the finest restaurants. Street food varies from simple warm flatbreads cooked to order, to little pots of snails (spot the French influence), to freshly squeezed juices and dried fruit.
A particularly wonderful calorific sweet treat found throughout the nation is chebakia - sesame biscuits formed into a flower shape and fried before they are drenched in honey. These are a favourite iftar (post sunset meal during Ramadan) treat. If you're missing more western foods, then why not try the Moroccan donut, the sfenj? Deep-fried dough sprinkled with sugar and often sold on a string, these pastries go perfectly with a cup of fresh mint tea, which brings us nicely onto...
What to drink in Morocco
Tap water is generally safe but for sensitive digestive systems it is wise to drink bottled water. The national drink is mint tea, served at pretty much any occasion, usually with plenty of sugar. Coffee is also widely available and popular, whereas alcohol is a little harder to track down. Hotel bars and more touristy restaurants will often serve alcoholic drinks at steep prices, and there are also off licences in the major cities, usually attached to supermarkets, selling a wide variety of spirits, wines and beers. They are not well advertised or obvious, but a quick internet search will show the way to your favourite holiday tipple.
Morocco is a fascinating country. But did you know any of our top three facts about it?
Nobody knows where Morocco’s indigenous Berber people originated, but some say that their genetic roots are the same as the Sami people of Finland.
At its narrowest point the strait of Gibraltar separates Morocco from mainland Europe by just 13km.
Morocco didn’t have a nominated capital until 1913 while under the French protectorate. They nominated Rabat as Morocco’s capital city and it remains so today, although of all Morocco’s cities it is one of the least popular with tourists.
The short answer is "yes" - Morocco is a great destination for families! There are activities galore to keep youngsters of all ages entertained, from camel rides through the desert, to cave explorations and family fun in your hotel's swimming pool. It's also a fantastic place to open your children's eyes to other cultures. Take them to an argan oil cooperative or to meet a Berber family in the High Atlas to see how the locals live. They could even get involved with some of the daily tasks such as gathering the harvest, moving livestock to water or better grazing, or have a go at making felt or a rug in the local village.
Even if you don't venture into the High Atlas, the buzzing cities have plenty on offer to entertain and enlighten your kids. Wandering the medinas of Marrakech or Fez will expose them to wonders that they may only have seen in films - a kaleidoscope of jugglers, fruit sellers, musicians, towering piles of spices, hot food stalls and story tellers will whirl them away into their very own Arabian Nights-esque fantasy world.
Being local, our experts have an extensive knowledge of the secrets to experiencing the 'real' Morocco. Here are a few of their top tips - ask them for other recommendations when you enquire to ensure you have the most in-depth experience whilst on holiday!
If you visit Morocco during Ramadan try going to the souks after sunset. Everywhere will be buzzing with activity and a festival atmosphere prevails for the whole month.
Strike a bargain…
Haggling is obligatory in Moroccan souks, so have fun with it. Share a joke with the vendor, but walk away if it really is too much.
The early bird…
For a more peaceful visit to the Jardins Majorelle or the Secret Garden in Marrakech arrive early to avoid the crowds.
A word on etiquette…
When sharing a platter it is polite to take food from directly in front of you, rather than reaching across for a tasty morsel. If eating with the hand, use only the right hand. Do remove shoes when visiting a Moroccan home. It is not obligatory, but more polite for men and women to cover arms and legs.
If you're looking for something to get you in the mood before you set off on your travels to Morocco, we've gathered a list of our favourite books to inspire you.
'The Caliph's House' by Tahir Shah
British writer Tahir Shah fell in love with Morocco during his childhood holidays and eventually fulfilled a lifelong dream by moving his young family to a crumbling seaside home in Casablanca. This book is a darkly comic account of life in the ‘Caliph’s House’, and beyond.
'The Spider's House' by Paul Bowles
Set in Fez during the 1954 uprising Bowles’ writing in beautifully descriptive and tells a story of political turmoil and the confusion of an outsider in a foreign land.
'White Gold' by Giles Milton
An historic novel telling the little known story of the white Europeans sold into slavery in 18th Century North Africa. His fictional protagonist is a young Cornish boy seized from his ship and sold to the Sultan of Meknes.
Do you already have an idea of what your dream holiday in Morocco entails? Whether you're ready to book or would like your ideas to be fined-tuned into something more, send an enquiry and our trusted local experts will design your perfect tailor-made holiday.