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Luxury Travel

Get to know Morocco

This is a feature from Issue 23 of Charitable Traveller. Click to read more from this issue.

What's it all about?

Morocco is just a three-hour flight from the UK and yet it feels a whole world away. Ancient medinas offer cultural insights at every turn. Watch the craftsmen carrying out centuries-old trades, hear the twang of distant gnawa music, be drawn to the glow of lamps or catch the scent of aromatic spices heaped upon tables in the souk. While Marrakesh attracts the stylish set, the country’s rural landscapes are just as epic, ranging from dramatic surf beaches to soaring mountain ranges, such as the Atlas and Rif, with nomadic desert communities and surprisingly lush valleys in between.

Arty Morocco

Morocco has long inspired artists and Casablanca’s Art School famously pioneered a new generation in the 70s. Today the city has a street art scene and great galleries, such as Atelier 21 and Villa Des Arts. Marrakesh is awash with galleries, from the Matisse gallery to L’Blassa, a new contemporary art space, while Essaouira is also a must for art fans – start with Galerie la Kasbah and Centre d’art le Real Mogador.

Cinematic Landscapes

Ouarzazate lies on the edge of the Sahara Desert and is known as the ‘Hollywood of Morocco’, with films such as Gladiator and Babel shot here. The landscape that inspired the film sets can be visited from the Skoura Oasis, a UNESCO-listed palm grove home to ruined, rammed-earth kasbahs.

Take a hike

For remote, starry skies not far from Marrakesh, the Atlas mountains are an incredible hiking destination. Treks in the lush Ourika and Imlil valleys can range from two-hour walks past villages to ascents of Mount Toubkal, at 4,167m in the High Atlas.
The Rif mountains, in the north, offer more off-the-beaten-track hikes that are best done with a guide, for example through the Talassemtane National Park.

A Tale of Two Coasts

Morocco is blessed with two coastlines. Rugged beaches along the Atlantic side have big waves that attract surfers, with towns like Taghazout known for their laid-back atmosphere. Morocco’s Mediterranean side, meanwhile, is calmer and has beaches that are better for swimming. An hour and a half’s drive south-east of Tangier is M’diq, where new resort hotels have sprung up along a golden stretch of sand that are good for a family beach break.

Moroccan food is influenced by Arab, Amazigh, Andalusian, and Mediterranean cuisine, so it has a history all of its own.

Beyond the Tagine

Moroccan food is rich and varied, with a mix of influences. Try pastilla, a savoury and sweet pastry filled with ground pigeon or chicken, eggs, almonds and cinnamon. Briouat are baked or fried pastries, a bit like samosas, or tangia is a classic dish from Marrakesh, a slow-cooked stew with mutton or beef traditionally cooked underground.

Lesser-visited Medinas

In Northern Morocco, Tetouan is a city of whitewashed buildings on the slopes of the Rif Mountains, with a UNESCO-protected medina that’s been exceptionally well preserved (it’s the oldest part of a city, often walled and with narrow streets, tiny alleyways, and many mosques and souks). Inside, there’s an open-air tannery and a maze-like souk. the city also contains examples of fine Spanish architecture.

Nicknamed the ‘blue pearl’, Chefchaouen (pictured at the top of this page) is unmistakable for its indigo-painted buildings and azure city walls. Though it does receive day-trippers, the medina is a smaller, charming place for an overnight stay, with five gates, a square and a kasbah museum with gardens. Try lunch on a terrace with mountain views.

Rabat’s medina is tightly packed within a modern city. Amid the fortified walls are souks, artisan shops, an adjacent kasbah that overlooks the sea and a puzzle of streets. Rue des Consuls is famous for its handicrafts, such as carpets, pottery and silver jewellery.

This is a feature from Issue 23 of Charitable Traveller.