Morocco is a land of contrasts and ethnic diversity, where the locals offer legendary hospitality, generosity, and a wonderful cuisine. The High and Middle Atlas Mountains, the Atlantic and Mediterranean Coasts, luxuriant forests and barren plains, rugged desert and palm groves, all offer incomparable experiences for the visitor and photographer. The warm welcome of its people, the beauty of the landscape and the unique culture have an appeal than no traveler should miss.
Craftsmen and artists continue to keep centennial traditions alive as they pass their expertise from generation to generation. These include potters, weavers, coppersmiths, ironsmiths, silversmiths, leather dyers, stucco carvers and scribes or musicians, dancers, storytellers, snake charmers and many more of these vanishing trades.
ALONG THE MEDITERRANEAN COAST
This coastline provides an endless mix of color, from the emerald green of the sea water to the deep blue skies and the silver crested waves. The northern cities are charming and cooled by refreshing sea breezes. The Rif Mountains contrast with the cliffs, beaches and coves of the Mediterranean Sea. Tetouan is surrounded by 5 miles of remparts accessed through seven carved gates. The Medina is a Unesco World Heritage site, as is Chefchaouen with its Andalusian style of blue painted houses and patios, its winding cobbled streets, the spicy scent of its market, and the red remparts of the 17th century kasbah.
THE ATLANTIC COAST
The Atlantic coast stretches over 1800 miles. In the North is Tangiers, which overlooks the narrow Straits of Gibraltar and is a gateway to the Mediterranean Sea. Down the coast is Assilah, an Andalusian city with a strong Portuguese history, and Larache, which is famous for its restaurants and succulent seafood and grilled fish.
Casablanca is the principal financial and commercial center of Morocco. More than 60% of Moroccan businesses and industrial companies are located in Casablanca, and conferences and seminars proliferate there year round. The Medina is the oldest part of the city, and dates from after the earthquake of 1755, which destroyed most of the city. The architecture in general is a mixture of Art-Deco and Neo-Morrish styles. The Hassan II Mosque is the largest in Africa and the sixth largest in the world. It’s minaret, at 690 feet high, is the tallest minaret in the world. Along the coast, the Corniche is a pleasant area with many restaurants, luxury hotels, luxury apartments, business centers, shopping malls, movie theatres, playgrounds, stores, ice cream parlors, yacht clubs and nightclubs, as well as a new marina.
South of the capital, all along the coast from city to city is a mix of Spanish, French and Portuguese culture.
El Jadida, the former Mazagan, is known for the quality of its horse breeding and the annual Moussem Gathering, the famous “Moulay Abdallah Amghar”, where thousands of horsemen from various Berber nomadic tribes meet to socialize and compete . Mazagan was fortified by the Portuguese, and its most famous building is the Cistern, built in 1514 as an underground room in the castle to store water. The town is listed as a Unesco World Heritage site . Next comes Safi, another Portuguese stronghold with Ksar El Bahr, the Sea Castle, built near the water. Safi is well known for its potters, where generations of skilled artisans have mastered the fabrication of ceramic objects. The port is also renowned for its fisheries and sardine is the favorite local delicacy. Surprisingly, Safi is also one of the ten best surfing resorts in the world with “World Class Waves”.
Further South comes Essaouira, the ancient Mogador, which is also listed as a Unesco World Heritage site. The Medina seems untouched by time as the fortifications and buildings are very well maintained. It is now a renowned cultural center with numerous art galleries and exhibits of local artists. Along the coast, facing the Medina, the Mogador Resort offers luxury hotels, golf courses, and seaside resorts for tourists and surfers from all over the world.
Agadir: As the coastline extends south along the Sahara Desert, we find Agadir, with its mild climate and over 6 miles of golden sand in one of the most beautiful bays in the world. The town is dominated by the ancient Kasbah and the Cornice. You can relax and enjoy the breeze on the seafront in one of the many bars, cafes, pubs or restaurants, and look out for the fresh grilled fish cooked the Gadiri way. A great variety of hotels offer the luxury of spas and steam rooms using local ancestral products such as henna and argan oil. Fifty miles east of Agadir is the town of Taroudant, hidden behind its adobe walls and surrounded by the local unique Argan trees. A stroll in the streets of the Taroudant Medina will take you to the Arabic and Berber sooks filled with colorful spices, herbs and fruits, where it will be hard to resist the offers of jewelers and antique dealers.
THE FOUR IMPERIAL CITIES
Rabat, Meknes, Fez and Marrakech in many ways reflect the cultural and historical heritage of the country. Through the centuries the various dynasties and rulers constantly moved their capital around and built palaces and royal residences each time they settled in a new locale.
Rabat, was proclaimed capital of the country by the French in 1912, when it was moved from Fez. It is a Unesco World Heritage Site and the ‘newest’ of the four imperial cities, dating back only to the 18th century. The Hassan Tower was built originally as a minaret, when Abu Yusuf Yaqub al-Mansur, the third Caliph of the Almohad Caliphate in 1195, intended to build then the largest mosque and minaret in the world. The Mohamed V mausoleum is a modern masterpiece of traditional Moroccan art. The Old Town is surrounded by walls and is entered through five monumental stone gates, called “Bab”. In Chellah is the necropolis and the ancient city of Sale, the twin sister across the river from the capital which has its own separate character going back to its glorious history as a Pirate Republic.
Fez is unique in so many ways, and Medieval times are still reenacted like nowhere else in the Arab world. Fragrance and visions are an unforgettable experience as you walk through the infinite maze of the Medina. Four different dynasties thrived in Fez, starting with Idris I, founder of the Idrisid dynasty who built his capital between 789 and 808, and was followed by the Marinid, Wattasid and Alouite dynasties. In 1912, the French administrators decided to move the capital to Rabat, but Fez has never relinquished its storied heritage. Fez Medina was listed as part of the Universal Heritage of Humanity by UNESCO in 1981.
Surrounded by 15 miles of walls, it has the largest Medina in the Arab world. Inside you will find 176 mosques, 83 mausoleums, 11 madrasas, 40 Hammams and no less than 9500 homes. Blocks of walls often hide magnificent palaces and gardens. Stucco, carved cedar, zelliges and arcades, wrought iron gates, marble fountains, sculptured wrought iron galleries can be found throughout. Austere gates on the houses often hide the jealousy kept treasures of the inhabitants.. Many buildings date from the Marinid Dynasty and have survived intact through centuries.The Mellah, or Jewish community, dates from the 16th century and the houses differ quite widely from the outside. The main monument of Fez is the Royal Palace, which sits on a vast esplanade. Walking around it, you can see examples of the expert craftsmanship which have been passed from father to son: carpenters, boilermakers, coppersmiths. You should not miss the renown tanners working standing up in the cement vats where the pelts of leather are dyed. Thermal springs and the hammams are also available for your health and beauty, plus the delicious fassi cuisine, such as the popular Khli”i, or the Bastilla, which is served in Fassi homes to welcome guests
Meknes is approximately one hour drive southwest of Fez, and is generally smaller, less crowded, and not as well known. It has an interesting imperial past, having been made the capital in the 17th century by the legendary ruler Moulay Ismail. It kept this title even after his grandson, Mohammad III, moved back to Marrakech after an earthquake.. Among its treasures you will find Bab Mansour, a huge gate with arches and mosaic tiling which leads into the former imperial city, where one can find the Mausoleum of Moulay Ismail. The remparts of the city are 25 miles long with 20 fortified gates, bastions and towers. Nearby El Hedim Place is a large area giving access to the souks. At dusk, the vast market comes to life with merchants. storytellers, acrobats, fire eaters and other performers.
Marrakech is perhaps the most famous of the Imperial Cities, with Tripadvisor anointing it the best destination in the world in 2015. It was founded by the Almoravids in 1062, and waned in and out of favor through the centuries as the Moroccan rulers kept changing their residences and capitals. Like Fez, its cousin in the North, the city has seen four different dynasties choosing Marrakech as their capital: the Almoravids, Almohads, Saadi and Alaouites.
Sparkling with life, Marrakesh is exciting and fun. Its luxurious palaces and trendy hotels have attracted artists and celebrities for decades. It is a “People” place where “People” love to return.
The Koutoubia is the symbol of the city. Jemaa el Fna Square is also spectacular, and is a magnet for performers and spectators where the entertainment is an experience like you’ve rarely seen before. It is listed as Oral & Intangible Heritage of Humanity by UNESCO. Storytellers, fortune tellers, acrobats, and serpent charmers join the famous Gnaouas dancers and musicians as they perform African ancient spiritual songs and poems. The Ben Youssef Madrasah is a notable work of art made of marble, stucco, tiles and cedar wood. The Museum of Marrakech is now located in the beautifully restored MeNebhi Palace, and focuses on contemporary art and cultural heritage exhibits. The 14th century Sadian Tombs are a Royal Necropolis with Italian marble columns and a carved cedarwood dome. Don’t miss the “Palace of Beauty”, Bahia Palace, from the 19th century and remarkable for its architecture, fountains and shady courtyards.
Marrakech is an opulent city where world leaders frequent to relax and experience some of its festivals in such areas as international films, popular arts, and comedy festivals. In the back country there is the ski resort of Oukaimeden. Hiking in the green Ourika Valley is a real pleasure as you pass through the villages with adobe houses. Two passes across the High Atlas Mountains at more than 7000 feet, and a drive through the Sahara Desert, brings one to the green oasis Tizi-n-Tichka and Tizi-n-Test, which can be reached through a breathtaking scenic road!
THE DEEP SOUTH
If you wish to know Morocco in depth the South and the desert are a must. Visiting the various Saharan Valleys of the Draa, Dades, or the Ziz would require either a second trip or a much longer stay in the country. This is a bewitching experience as you stay in the majestic and immortal kasbahs, enjoying the shade of the palm groves, and waiting for the sun to rise or set over the sand dunes.
Ouarzazate is the guardian of the Deep South and is known as the door to the desert. It has become a popular set for film productions and meeting place of film directors. The Ouarzazate kasbah stands on the heights of the city as a citadel. It is built in adobe, a mixture of mud and straw. The other two kasbahs, Taourirt Kasbah and Tifoultout Kasbah, are also imposing with their high walls over the valley. The Dades Valley offers a journey out of time. On the ancient road of the thousand kasbahs the valley will offer colorful gardens planted with almond, fig,and olive trees, You will experience the Berber tradition and share mint tea with the friendly Berber inhabitants. Closer to the Atlas Mountains, the valley narrows and forms gorges and waterfalls.
Visiting ksours, adobe citadels, fortified villages and communal granaries are part of the journey.
Towards the Ziz Valley: It’s quite secluded, but well worth the detour to Tinghir. The Todgha Canyon may be the epitome of a Moroccan Adventure as you enter the region between the Atlas and Djebel Sahro mountain ranges. Tinghir is a small town on the side of a green and manicured palm grove with farm plots separated by seguias for irrigation. The scenery is surrealistic because of the shapes and colors. The pink tinted rocks become bright red in the sunlight
Located in the province of Rissani, Merzouga is the birthplace of the Alawite Dynasty. There you will experience the grandeur of the Sahara desert as you see the sun make the sand hills change in color from pink to ocher, and then to red as the day progresses. Activities include hiking, biking, and camel riding, but contemplation and meditation are also quite appropriate. A sand bath is another unique experience and is reputed to have healing virtues. Trading your hotel room for a bivouac in a Berber tent is another unique opportunity.
Zagora and the Draa Valley
The River Draa flows about 50 miles south of Ouarzazate. It springs in the High Atlas mountains and irrigates the pre-Saharan villages before reaching the Atlantic. The valley is a green oasis mostly planted with date palm trees and henna; besides the palm groves many orchards provide food for the Berbers. It used to be on the caravan route leading to Timbuktu.
THE ART OF LIVING IN MOROCCO
If you have a taste for good things you will enjoy the typical and authentic Moroccan cuisine, which is celebrated worldwide. Rich in colors and flavors, it represent the regions complex history and the many different people who settled there through the centuries. Arab-Andalusian cuisine dates back to the 13th century. Cumin, coriander, saffron, paprika and cinnamon are common ingredients. Pigeon pastilla with almonds and mzouria are a specialty of Fez.
Tuna tagine with raisins, monkfish with preserved lemons, sea bream with fennel and celery, fish balls in saffron; all are often on the menu of Moroccan restaurants. Tagine is a Berber dish, and dates are a Bedouin delight. The Moors introduced olive oil, almonds, fruits and herbs
The Arabs brought spices. The British in the 18th century imported their famous tea, which with fresh mint has become a national delicacy.
Shopping & crafts
Elegant fashion boutiques compete with the souks of the Medinas. Clothing, jewelry, shoes and leather goods have combined tradition and modernity as Moroccan designers and craftsmen have developed a unique range of quality products and offerings. Each region has its own specialties. Tapestry is a major art and mostly performed by women, and carpets from Rabat find a special place among Oriental carpets. Pottery handicrafts are second after tapestry, most notably lamps, vases, and tagine dishes in subtle colors and design
Morocco has been considered the kingdom of wellbeing since ancient times. Massage, natural treatment, fitness, spas, and hammams are available all over and staffed with skilled personnel. Argan oil and many other plant derivatives are used for relaxation and their restorative powers.
The virtues of the hammams and their ceremonies have Greco-Romans origins. You can scrub with black soap, rose water or orange blossom flower masks, massage with essential oils, and experience argan oil hydration. All are available to help provide some moments of enjoyable peace. Thalassotherapy, with the virtues of seawater, are provided all along the coast. Many hotels and spas in the cities are now also developing this treatment..