Morocco is a heady mix of languages, cultures, religions, ancient traditions and modern sensibilities. It conjures up images of mint tea and tagine, date plantations and minarets, labyrinthine medinas and pungent spice stalls. Jimi Hendrix, Jack Kerouac and Winston Churchill were all drawn to this enticing North African nation, which continues to pique the interest of curious minds today.
One of the more liberal countries in North Africa, Morocco’s biggest drawing card is Marrakech, a giddying and grandiose city that Winston Churchill described as “simply the nicest place on Earth to spend an afternoon.” This sentiment rings true for many travellers today.
Each city has a distinctively different character. Tangier, in the north, is the gateway to Africa, and is characterised by its white-washed buildings, sandy beaches and burgeoning cultural scene. Further down the coast lies cosmopolitan Casablanca, the faded coastal town of Essaouira and the lively beach resort of Agadir, favoured by sun-seekers and surfers. Inland lies spell-binding Fez, with its dusty souks, high-sided streets and maze of stunning riads (traditional houses built around a central courtyard).
The blend of ancient and colonial architecture that characterises Morocco’s main cities makes them beautiful propositions: Marrakech, Essaouira, Fez and Tetouan are all on UNESCO’s World Heritage list and are home to an increasing collection of cultural attractions. And when sightseeing begins to pall, visitors can retreat to a traditional hammam, sample the country’s delectable cuisine or barter for bargains in the souks.
Beyond the cities, awesome landscapes await. Carving Morocco in two are the Atlas Mountains, home to the monumental gorges of Todra and Dades, the palmeries of Tinerhir and the beautiful Berber city of Ouarzazate. You can even ski. Then there’s Merzouga, famous for camel-trekking and birdwatching, and Toubkal, North Africa’s highest mountain.
The epic waves of Western Sahara prove an adventure too far for most travellers, alas. Government forces continue to occupy this disputed territory, even though Moroccan sovereignty is not recognised by the United Nations. The issue remains a sensitive subject, tread carefully.