By Staff Writer
Romance in Casablanca. Hippies in Marrakesh. Peter O’Toole in Lawrence of Arabia. Camel caravan trains in the desert. Humphrey Bogart kissing Ingrid Bergman and saying, “Here’s looking at you kid” in the classic 1942 film, Casablanca. Bedouin tents in the dunes. These are some of the images many will associate with Morocco. Yet this mysterious, mesmerising and very timeless ancient desert country at the north-western tip of Africa is about so much more.
Located at the intersection of Europe and Africa, and the entrance to the Mediterranean, makes Morocco a real crossroads destination. It is bordered by the waters of the Mediterranean and the Atlantic on one side, and the desert sands of the Sahara on the other. This “farthest land of the setting sun” is rich in contrasts, a destination that beckons you to discover two millennia of history.
Here where influences converge, you will find vestiges of the great Mediterranean civilizations, such as the Roman ruins at Volubilis in the north and architectural works attesting to the old French presence in Rabat. Your curiosity will be piqued by the treasures of Muslim civilizations scattered throughout the rest of the country, including the Kasbah of the Udayas, the green expanses of the Menara gardens and many other examples of the myriad dynasties that succeeded one another.
The landscapes themselves are magnificent. Morocco features both sea and mountain and is home to the full range of Mediterranean climates, which surrender to the sands of the Sahara. The country serves up marvellous vistas that you will enjoy soaking in and discovering for yourself. With its mix of diverse, captivating panoramas and a rich kaleidoscope of culture, Morocco is an unbeatable destination.
Tradition meets modernity
Through rooted in its traditions, Morocco offers all the conveniences of modern times
Morocco is a firmly future-focused country that has succeeded in preserving its traditions and promoting its cultural heritage by harnessing them to drive development. The city of Marrakesh is a perfect example: the Medina district and its souks have an unmatched old-fashioned charm, while Guéliz and Hivernage are decked out with the most modern infrastructure and facilities.
As a visitor, you will enjoy every modern convenience and pleasure. For your accommodations, Morocco has many first-class hotels in every price range from the major international chains. Morocco is an active participant in global efforts to protect the environment and promotes tourism practices that are respectful of the earth and local communities.
Morocco has been around for thousands of years and has inherited centuries of tradition. And yet this kingdom is not the least bit frozen in time. It has a vibrant culture that is expressed each day in the little details that make up daily routines and habits, as well as in celebrations and rituals. Spend some time here and soak up Morocco’s irresistible lifestyle.
The best approach is to walk through her cities and villages and experience the narrow alleys of ancient neighbourhoods, bringing you close to and in touch with the local people. They are certain to invite you to have a cup of Moroccan tea, a time-honoured ritual of hospitality and ceremony.
The kingdom loves its celebrations, which punctuate the calendar. One of the types of events that bring Moroccans together are its famous moussems, festive religious events. Do not miss the Tan-Tan moussem, which is especially well known and has been listed on the Intangible Cultural Heritage register since 2008. The Essaouira Gnaouas festival is also highly recommended. These gatherings are opportunities for you to interact with and immerse yourself in the different cultures that make Morocco such a rich, diverse country.
Different regions, different experiences
Travel to the edge of the desert to Ouarzazate, Zagora and Tinghir – wonderful destinations bursting with myriad wonders that will take your breath away. The unbelievable variety of landscapes, ranging from deserts to green valleys, must be seen to be believed.
Follow in the footsteps of famous filmmakers like David Lean, Ridley Scott, Martin Scorsese and Alejandro González Iñárritu, who chose these sumptuous, movie-ready backdrops to film masterpieces of the silver screen, including “Lawrence of Arabia”, “Gladiator”, “Kundun” and “Babel”. For active travellers looking for adventure and trekking opportunities, there are many trails to take you into the desert, where you can meet camel drivers and their caravans at the crossroads of the Draa, Ziz and Dades routes.
Why not camp out? Near Zagora, Tinfou Dune – alsoknown as the “Golden Sand Dune” – makes for an unforgettable experience. Stop in the High Atlas mountain town of Tinghir and be sure to take in the magnificent panorama from the Glaoui Kasbah down over the city’s palm grove and the Todra valley.
Feeling adventurous? Hire a guide and travel into the mysterious landscapes with their palm groves at Draa and Skoura, or climb the dunes at Tinfou, Erg Lihoudi or Chegaga and admire the singular beauty of the Fint oasis. Swim in the Mansour Eddahbi Lake. Ouarzazate and its neighbors Zagora and Tinghir offer up a host of activities and unforgettable panoramas, and will always surprise with the unexpected. Together, they make up an important metropolitan area in southern Morocco, on the edge of the desert.
Along the Atlantic seabed to the west of the country, Agadir is one of the pearls of Morocco. Whatever the season, it always enjoys a pleasant climate that the trade winds soften. Above all, its 10-kilometer long seafront offers tourists magnificent views of the blue of the ocean and the opportunity to relax in the best conditions imaginable. As the country’s main coastal resort, the city boasts 300 days of sunshine a year and bustles with activity. Cafes and restaurants open onto the waterfront, introducing you to the local cuisine and offering their specialties for the informed judgment of your taste buds!
Further into the city, over 6,000 stalls of the El Had Bazaar will seriously arouse your curiosity and tempt your purse…but it’s okay, you can haggle a little with the traders. The city never sleeps and every summer hosts the Timitar festival dedicated to world music, and in particular Amazigh music.
Travel a little further north to Safi. The imposing silhouette of the Kechla as the waves of the Atlantic crash into its walls is but one of the many scenes to behold here. For five centuries now, the fortress has stood guard at the ocean’s edge. Its tall, notched towers offer unbeatable views of the surrounding area. Come here to admire the waterfront and the bustling animation of everyday life in this provincial capital. The potters’ district will also catch your eye. Here the artisans work enthusiastically over their wheels to craft wondrous pieces in terra cotta and clay that are then displayed in their shop windows and stalls.
Rabat, Marrakesh and Casablanca
Still a little further north you’ll come to Rabat, the capital of Morocco. Rabat is a cultural city with a rich history. Pay a visit to the Kasbah of the Udayas, whose grand, majestic silhouette is softened by the surrounding gardens. Not far beyond its walls lies the Chellah, a necropolis that dates to the Marinids. Entering the complex is like journeying to another world: marvel at the ancient remains as you walk through the gardens and glimpse a few storks.
Rabat is also a modern, environmentally responsible capital that takes pride in its green spaces. It is punctuated by parks, such as the Botanical Test Gardens and the Bouknadel Exotic Gardens just a few miles from the city. Rabat also has a well-developed ocean front. There are miles of improved beaches that run along the Atlantic coast all the way to the neighbouring Casablanca. The city’s modern flair is also evident in its infrastructure and festivals, which guarantee a comfortable, entertaining stay in the capital. All the modern conveniences, from airports and tramways to shopping malls, cafes and restaurants, are at your fingertips. Rabat also celebrates music like no other city: Mawazine, Jazz at the Chellah and other festivals fill the air with joyful sounds and rhythms from around the world!
Then of course there’s Marrakesh and Casablanca. From the major thoroughfares lined with palm trees and tall office buildings to the Atlantic Ocean and its view on the world, the vibrant, never-sleeping city of Casablanca is Morocco’s economic powerhouse. Modern constructions blend with charming neighbourhoods that reflect Arabic-Islamic heritage and the traces of the city’s colonial period. Take the time to explore its subtleties. Walk through the medina – one of the most recent in Morocco, or explore the downtown area to admire the Art Deco buildings and visit the famous Hassan II Mosque.
Walk into the Habous district, the most animated part of the old city. Here you will find an entire souk devoted to copper: from the workshops of the coppersmiths to the stalls that sell their wares, the lights, trays and teapots are all festooned with arabesques. Ornamental leather work is also a mainstay: babouche slippers, handbags and poufs are all made to satisfy your souvenir needs.
Casablanca is also known for haute couture and the city is famous for the elegant caftans turned out by young designers featured at the Casa Fashion Show and, more prominently still, in Marrakesh at the annual Caftans of Morocco event.
When you explore the port, check out the Sqala Bastion, a fortified complex from the 18th century that is now a chic restaurant-cafe where diners flock to enjoy delicious local dishes. Venture a stone’s throw from the port into the narrow streets of the medina: within its walls, Arabic-Islamic architecture mixes with European inspiration. An entirely different setting awaits you downtown. Here, the unique urban design, the wide boulevards and the expansive plazas bordered by Art Deco buildings evoke the former colonial period.
Finally, arriving in Marrakesh, yet another delightful mixture of traditional and contemporary awaits you. Take a walk through the Jemaa El Fna and the bazaars with their bright colours and oriental scents, and the red city will whisk you into another world in the blink of an eye. Rides in horse-drawn carriages, sun-soaked terraces, street artists and other activities both day and night will all add to your stay in Morocco.
Admire the architectural wealth of the Medina by visiting one of its many riads, small oriental palaces arranged around a central courtyard, or relax at the Menara, a large pooled garden typical of the city. Marrakech relies on its incredible diversity to provide choice for its visitors. You need only head out of the walled centre to become immersed in contemporary Morocco. The Guéliz and Hivernage districts offer the most up to date infrastructure, luxury boutiques and international brands along broad spacious avenues; all in Marrakesh’s own inimitable style. Enjoy Marrakech at night by paying a visit to the many themed venues, trendy clubs and traditional evenings that reflect the zest for life of its inhabitants.
These are just a few of the cities and regions of Morocco – there is still so much more. Morocco truly is a mysterious, exciting and mesmerising country where old and new blend easily in charming timelessness – you will never be disappointed.
Source of information: Moroccan National Tourism Office