Morocco is a country of temptation and oriental beauty welcoming spellbound visitors. Located in North Africa, it is full of paradoxes. The beauty beckons from all sides of the country: in the west — the turbulent Atlantic, in the north — the gentle waters of the Mediterranean Sea, in the south — the cosmic reliefs of the Sahara. And in the heart — the colorful cities, where the hot temperament of the Black Continent, millennial eastern traditions, and modern technology of the West are mixed.
Behind the facade of a chic hotel probably hides an ancient mosque; behind the usual European view of the shopping center-a bustling market with maddening flavors of spices; behind a trendy spa with an exclusive Thalasso menu — a secluded beach with idyllic scenery. The traveler needs only to look around more carefully and be prepared for endless discoveries.
Cities in Morocco
Rabat is the administrative center of Morocco, the pride of the kings and the French colonizers who built the modern part of the city. Unlike many other Eastern tourist centers, it has maintained the Arab rhythm of life and a unique cultural flavor. All of it makes Rabat the best city to know Morocco. Early in the morning, Medina is buzzing with bazaars and shops open, delivery boys rushing about their business, but everything freezes to a halt when the azan sounds from the minarets.
Rabat's modern visitors will appreciate not only the chance to immerse themselves in a completely non-European atmosphere, but also the unique architecture, Middle Eastern cuisine, authentic Moroccan oranges and mandarins, and the endless politeness and smiling of local merchants. This is where the royal family spends most of the year. And perhaps, having visited it, every traveler will understand why.
The most striking and famous landmark in Rabat is the fortress of Kasbah Udaya. Behind its walls, a small town can fit (as it used to be). The defensive construction was built for two purposes: to control the traffic of ships passing near the city and to protect the townspeople and their property from regular pirate raids. The monumental structure was erected in the 12th century and has retained its formidable and picturesque appearance. The Kasbah of Udaya is no longer terrifying, but rather mesmerizing. It is better to choose a not hot day or go early in the morning to visit this place. Do not forget to bring your camera, because this attraction has the best views.
Opposite the minaret is the mausoleum of the Moroccan king, who defended the independence of the country in the 20th century. The complex is guarded by royal guards who, unlike the guards outside the palaces in Europe, willingly talk to locals and visitors. Another popular attraction is the Schellach Necropolis. It is difficult to guess at what time the city arose, but scientists are unanimous in the opinion that this was the first human settlement on these lands. At first, it was actively developed and rebuilt. The Phoenicians and then the Romans lived there. But in the 12th century, the city was abandoned and was used to bury the dead. Today, it is the most important architectural monument, providing access to the cultures of many ancient nations.
The rich history of Fez, the ancient capital of Morocco, has endowed it with two "old cities" — medinas. The royal palace, the Jewish cemetery, and the Boujeloud Gardens are in Fez el Jdid. The most confusing medina in the world is Fez el Bali, with 14 gates, 6,000 streets, 200 mosques, and 180 hammams. Fez is not just the oldest of the four imperial cities and the fourth largest city in Morocco. It is also a monument to three eras, reflected primarily in the architectural appearance of the ancient city. Like many ancient capitals, Fes is quite far from the coast, so the best time to relax there is April-May or October-November when it is not very hot, and you can walk around the city, looking at the sights with comfort. Fez travelers will want to visit the 14th-century Madrasa Bou Inania (a fine example of Islamic architecture with intricate carvings, patterns, Arabic calligraphy, and a minaret), the Borj Nord and Borj Sud Fortresses, the Karaouine Library, the Al-Tijani Mosque and the Merenid Tombs, which are located next to the Merenid Hotel.
Traditionally, visitors are attracted to Fez by two ancient centers of different eras, which are monuments to different dynasties of Moroccan rulers — Fez el-Jdid and Fez el-Bali.
The "City of a Hundred Minarets", glittering Meknes, seems to exude with every brick of its buildings a ponderous, unhurried sense of dignity. One of Morocco's three imperial cities, it is perhaps best able to preserve the atmosphere of royal laziness and enjoy every minute of life: magnificent gardens are reflected in the smooth surface of the pond Agdal, and the area of El Gedim is nightly filled with fortune tellers, jugglers, fire-suckers, and snake charmers. And from Meknes, you can easily reach the most important Roman ruins in the country or play golf in the lush gardens of the royal palace.
The Medina of Meknes and the remains of the Royal Palace have been inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List. Walk around the medina for the best panoramic view of the surrounding countryside and climb one of its Borjas (military forts) to appreciate the full force of its walls. The jewels of Morocco's religious architecture, the Grand Mosque of Meknes, with its fabulously carved doors, and the Bou Inania Madrasa next door, built in a Spanish-Moorish style.
The Dar Jamai Palace, a magnificent monument of Meknesian residential architecture in the Arabic-Andalusian style, welcomes the Ethnographic Museum under its vaults to explore the rich collections of engravings, porcelain, and antique jewelry. El Mansour Palace, now a popular traver store, is another example of wealthy Meknesian housing. In the heart of the Imperial City, sit silently in front of the frozen surface of the Agdal Pond, which serves to irrigate the harem gardens and provide refreshment on hot summer days. Dar el-Ma, the "house of water," the cisterns that supply the city with water, is also located here. Golf enthusiasts should not miss a rare opportunity to play on the grounds of the Royal Palace: the Meknes Royal Golf Club is located in the heart of the lush flowering gardens of the Imperial City. It is the best golf field!
Marrakech is a huge tourist attraction; you have to dodge souvenir vendors, street acrobats, and snake charmers. Leaving the hustle and bustle behind, you can enjoy a walk through the UNESCO-listed Medina and the magnificent gardens and parks.
Resorts in Morocco
Agadir ("city of white", Berber for "fortified attic") is the center of beach holidays on the Atlantic Ocean and the most popular resort in Morocco. Visitors come here to enjoy the sun, swim, surf, play golf, ride horses, and visit the Thalasso center. In general, they lead a hedonistic lifestyle.
It is easy to confuse Agadir with a European town in the Mediterranean region: the women do not cover their faces, and most passersby in the streets are dressed in European style. This is the best beach on the entire Atlantic coast of Morocco (the length of the beach strip is 6 km). The weather is comfortable almost all year round (more than 300 sunny days per year). Agadir is also a great starting point for excursions, especially in the south of Morocco.
The port city of Essaouira is located 173 km north of Agadir. The city is easily recognized by its dazzling white houses with bright blue windows. Essaouira is popular with windsurfers, because it has the highest waves on the coast and a constant, gentle breeze. All of it makes the Essaouira the best destination for the active watersport lovers. For the same reason, bathers and sunbathers won't be comfortable there.
Tangier is a major port city in Morocco, which attracts visitors with its ancient medina, a beautiful beach, many good restaurants, and a Museum of Modern Art, quite worthy of some European capital. Tangier is located at the northernmost point of Morocco, nestled in a picturesque harbor. The main attraction of the city is the area of the ancient medina and fortress Qasba, which was built by the Portuguese in the 18th century. From the observation deck at the Kasbah, you can see the Strait of Gibraltar and even the mountains on its Spanish side. In the ancient Medina are majestic mosques, old houses and palaces, and most importantly, the "Grand Bazaar". Visitors can buy the world-famous handmade carpets, fine dishes, spices, and oriental sweets, and touch the original Moroccan culture — customers are entertained by fakirs, dancers, and snake charmers.
The Sahara Desert is a true natural legend, an endless series of breathtaking landscapes. Dunes reaching up to 300 meters high, many kilometers of perfectly flat stretches of saline soil, lush oases, and endless barchans stretching over the horizon make up some of the most amazing landscapes on the planet. The southeastern region of Morocco, which lies at the foot of the High Atlas Mountains, is the Sahara region most easily visited by the average traveler. In addition to delightful landscapes, it has a natural and historical landmark — the Draa Valley. It is a wonderful world of lush oases, fortified casbah forts, and Berber settlements. It was once the end of a difficult 52-day journey of trans-Saharan caravans carrying precious goods to the Mediterranean Sea from Timbuktu, the capital of the ancient Mali Empire.
Ait Benhaddou is a structure, unlike anything you have ever seen. On the territory of Ait Benhaddou there are earthen fortified villages-fortresses, each crowned with jagged towers. The height diversity gives the overall appearance a complete look. The fortress is especially beautiful at sunset or sunrise. It, burning in the sunlight of a red-orange color (the color in Morocco is called the color of ochre), will seem to you a completely unearthly building, the earthly origin of which will remind you only of the palm groves surrounding the castle. The ancient Ait Benhaddou was created by human hands. It is a clay masterpiece, located on the road from Ouarzazate to Marrakech, 30 km from the southern city of Ouarzazate. By the way, you can see this architectural masterpiece as a "living" decoration in feature films such as "Lawrence of Arabia", "The Mummy" (Part 2), "Jesus of Nazareth", and "Sodom and Gomorrah".
If you want to taste the pluses of Moroccan exotica without the almost inevitable minuses, there is a way out—go to the Habous Quarter, aka the New Medina. Built by the French in the 1930s, this district of Casablanca is a postcard town: a traditional Arab city with a maze of narrow streets with neat houses without sewage spilling out of the doorstep, magnificent mosques with a completely French lawn in front, and a mass of souvenir stores with goods neatly arranged on the shelves in the air-conditioned halls. Nevertheless, Habous is not sugary in its artificiality — there is the same buzz of life, the scurrying of local inhabitants, and the call to prayer from the mosques five times a day.
El Ahad market in Agadir
It's nonsense to be in an Arab city without visiting the traditional bazaar. Especially since the El Ahad market in Agadir is one of the few urban attractions that can capture your attention completely. El-Ahad is the largest market in the region and the third largest in North Africa, and it brings together about 6,000 shops. The market is surrounded by a wall and can be entered from different sides through a dozen gates. It is open all day long without interruption, although many vendors stop trading in the middle of the day for a couple of hours and then reopen.
Inside, the bazaar is divided into sections: there are separate sections for handicrafts, ceramics, handicrafts, spices, meat, vegetables, clothes, furniture, and so on. It seems that you can find everything from tourist souvenirs and leather goods to cooking utensils. Sometimes you may find treasures; this is especially true of the artisan rows and jewelry (note that traditional Berber silver jewelry is not made of silver, but of steel). Moroccan lamps and wood carvings are also worth checking out when looking for gifts and authentic pieces. A must-buy for food-lovers are olives, herbs, and spices.
Surfing in Morocco
The Atlantic coast of Morocco is a recognized paradise for surfers. Here you'll find quite inexpensive accommodation and developed infrastructure, and the waves are no worse than the expensive exotics. The best conditions for this sport are north of Agadir. The best-known surf villages are Taghazout and Tamarhat, close to Agadir. There are a lot of comfortable spots for beginners and coastal areas visited by "treacherous" waves for advanced surfers. Surfing in Morocco all year round is possible; in summer "bareback", better in a wetsuit in winter, as the water in the Atlantic is not too warm. At the same time, however, you can catch the biggest waves. Generally, the waves in Morocco are right-handed and not very big, making them ideal for beginners. There are surfing schools along the coast.
Diving in Morocco
Diving in Morocco is practically not developed: there are only a few schools where you can hire a guide and equipment rental, except in large resorts such as Agadir. The safest dives are in the vicinity of the town of Tetouan: the bottom here is flat and shallow; underwater you can see the unique representatives of flora and fauna (clams, lobsters, crabs, all kinds of fish). The currents in the Strait of Gibraltar are strong, so you should dive here only if you are well prepared.
Skiing in Morocco
A large part of Morocco is occupied by the Atlas Mountains, the tops of which are covered in snow all year round. The skiing season is open from December to April. The pearl of the ski resorts in Morocco is Ukaymeden, located at an altitude of 2600 meters, 75 km south of Marrakech. There are seven ski elevators within the base, and the resort area is constantly monitored. The resort offers restaurants, bars, discotheques, a heated swimming pool, a fitness center, and a solarium. Not far from Marrakech is another ski resort, Ifrane. The local scenery is in no way inferior to the alpine, and the prices are quite reasonable. Ifrane is located about 50 km from Fez at an altitude of 1650 meters above sea level.
Hammams in Morocco
Hammams in Morocco are of two kinds. The first is especially for travelers, who sweat heavily under the supervision of local bath professionals. The second type is an authentic public steam bath, which is visited by the Moroccans themselves. You need to take a cleansing mitt, a towel, and underwear there. Men and women either have separate hammams or have different visiting hours. Men in public baths are strictly forbidden to go naked, while women can go either with or without underwear.
Thalassotherapy in Morocco
Wellness recreation is another highlight of Morocco. It includes water procedures, air baths, being in the sea air, and sunbathing. The major thalassotherapy centers are located in such major cities as Fez, Agadir, and Casablanca. The procedures involve iodine and oxygen-enriched air, seawater, and state-of-the-art technologies. It is no secret that thalassotherapy is the art of recovery and body care. In Morocco, Thalassotherapy has been used since ancient times. Today, it is one of the best ways to gain energy, restore vigor and health, and keep fit year after year. The recovery complex includes hydro massage, Sharko shower, circular shower, water gymnastics, algal wrappings, massages, hand and foot baths, and a hammam. Depending on the duration and set of procedures, prices range from 200 to 1500 USD.
Shopping in Morocco
Morocco is a paradise for lovers of souvenirs with a national flavor; the local shops and markets are full of ethnic art. What to buy depends on the location: in the Medina of Marrakech-antiques of excellent quality; in Fez and Meknes — fine leather goods and carpets, in Essaouira — paintings and women's jewelry. The most popular souvenir is the oriental shoes, "babushi", with their noses curved upwards. At home, it can be worn as slippers, complete with a set of robes called "djellaba", the traditional Berber attire with wide sleeves and a pointed hood. Stylish bags and silver accessories will enrich your "going out" closet. The best interior decorations are colorful ceramics with geometric patterns, fanciful shapes of leather lamps, copper tableware (teapots, glasses, trays), paintings of African landscapes, and hand-woven and painting carpets. Argan oil is an excellent salad dressing and an effective cosmetic product.
There are no luxury shopping malls in Morocco; European stores are open in Rabat and Casablanca. Alcohol and household goods are sold in Acima supermarkets. Most shops and stores are not subject to a strict schedule; the owners themselves decide when to welcome visitors. Trade is usually conducted during daylight hours, and only chain stores and supermarkets work on a schedule from 9:00 to 21:00.
What to taste in Morocco?
Moroccan cuisine makes extensive use of fruits, vegetables, meat, seafood, and, of course, spices. As elsewhere in North Africa, couscous is the head. It is made from crushed wheat grains and served with a stew of meat, vegetables, tomato paste, and spices. Another national dish is "tagine": lamb, chicken, or fish stewed with vegetables and seasoning (cooked differently in different parts of the country). A popular soup is "harira". The best sweets are "pastilla" puff pastry, "bushkutush" ginger cookies, "brivati" cakes with different fillings, and "kaab el gzal" with almond paste. Traditional Moroccan drinks are sweet mint tea and coffee; as a rule, it is strong and hot, often with cardamom. Coffee with milk is much less common and is called "kahou kasse".