Making more of your holidays in mesmerising Morocco
Morocco has enjoyed one of the most successful tourism rejuvenations of our time. Under the rule of Mohammad VI the country has seen an increase in tourist numbers each year and its recent travel accolades include the 2012 World Travel Award for Best African Tourist Destination with Marrakesh currently at number six on Trip Advisors Best Tourist Destination.
Attracting the likes of Salma Hayek, Orlando Bloom and Adrien Brody, Morocco proudly stands as one of the most sought-after exotic getaway destinations in the world.
Many of Morocco’s visitors stay within the limits of Marrakesh, or the popular city of Casablanca, but there are many other cities and landscapes you can visit in Morocco that remind of you the country’s ancient allure. From the cinematically impressive Ouarzazte to the museums in Fez here’s how to make the most of adventure in Morocco.
Known as the Door of the Desert, it is wise to use Ouarzazate as a base for exploring the surrounding area. You can soak up most of what the town has to offer simply by using it as a place to sleep and eat; it’s the location and day trips that really make Ouarzazate special.
Oasis paradise: Part of the attraction to Ouarzazate is the expansive and daunting Saharan hills that surround the town, but hidden within these dry banks lies a lush oasis. By private car, taxi or even bike in the cooler months, brave the dusty trek from Tabount towards Agadir. Follow the signs along the unpaved roads towards the Oasis de Flint. Full of life, the beautiful green palm grove combines four traditional villages; donkeys freely roam the streets and guests are welcomes to drink mint tea with local families. Guesthouses and hotels are readily available if you want to extend your stay overnight.
Hollywood glamour: The timeless landscape around Ouarzazate has made it a haven for filmmakers and there are two studios worth visiting for movie fans; Asterix & Obelix, Lawrence of Arabia, Cleopatra, Gladiator, Kingdom of Heaven, The Mummy Returns and Babel were all shot between CLA Studios and Atlas Studios. With a long list of directors shooting on location here, visitors can see the impressive abandoned sets and props from the films, eerily wasting in the desert sun. The studios are roughly 1km apart, approximately 5km out of town. Entry to both will cost 150Dh (roughly £24).
Traditional life: If you only do one excursion from Ouarzazate, make sure it’s to Ait Benhaddou. Lying on the old caravan route between Marrakesh and the Sahara, the city is a certified UNESCO World Heritage Site with one of the best preserved kasbahs. There are two entrances to the Ait Benhaddou’s ksar; choose from crossing the new bridge or hopping on the stepping stones across the river. Once inside the ksar much of the exploring is uphill, prepare yourself for lots of steps, but the reward is well worth the effort. At the top is the Granary with impressive views sweeping over the Sahara; it’s especially enchanting to look over the city in the evening at the sunset call to prayer. For roughly 200Dh (£32) you can arrange for a return taxi trip to Ait-Benhaddou from Ouarzazate.
Since the introduction of the Moroccan Grand Prix in the 1950s, the beaches of Agadir have been extremely popular with northern Europeans looking for winter sun. The 10km beach has a smart choice of luxury hotels and the area is also home to a number of popular golf courses and a polished marina. The devastating earthquake that hit in the 1960s ended much of Agadir’s historic sites but, after a much-admired restoration, Agadir emerged as one of the more modern resorts in Morocco.
At the beach: Unlike other North African coastlines the shores are generally well sheltered. The authorities keep the beaches well maintained, clean and safe and there is minimal hassle from hagglers due to the amicable police patrols. Due to strong undercurrents swimming is not advised, however, with quad bikes, dune buggies, camel and horse rides there’s plenty to enjoy on land instead.
Away from the beach: Some of the best views of the area can be found where the old Kasbah stood, especially at sunset as the sunlight reflects gold specks off glass buildings. The newly rebuilt medina is the place for excellent craft souvenirs and although modern the Souk El Had still retains its Moroccan souk atmosphere.
Fez was the principal city of Morocco in medieval times and is home to the world’s oldest university. It’s the largest car-free urban area in the world and a visit here, with donkeys, mules and handcarts filling the streets, will transport you back in time. Much less developed for tourists than other parts of Morocco (don’t expect many English speakers), the beauty of Fez lies in how untouched it is. There is so much to see and do in the city that it really deserves a longer visit. However, for those stopping by just for a couple of days, don’t miss the city’s Merinid Tombs or the Fondouk el-Nejjarine.
Learn the history: It’d be a waste of time to not take in as much history as you can on a trip to Fez. Start with the famous Merinid Tombs, north of the medina. These ruins were once the site of a resplendent marble-clad palace which overlooked Fez and underneath them lie the ancient remains of the city walls. Due to its height, the Medina Tombs is another wonderful spot to visit at the sunset call to prayer.
The top museums in Morocco include the Musee des Armes, which holds around 8,000 pieces of weaponry, and the Musee Dar el-Batha. The Dar-el-Batha museum has verdant gardens within its grounds, complete with a tiled Moroccan courtyard and fountain, and displays 11th century gold embossed books, Andalusian manuscripts and elegant examples of historical calligraphy. There are also works of Moroccan craftsmanship on display with jewellery, ceramics, candelabras and woodwork exhibitions. The Fondouk el-Nejjarine, close to the Henna Souk area is another great place to see spectacular Moroccan wood carvings; the arches of the building itself display exceptional craftsmanship, as does the pretty outdoor fountain.
Stay at the Dar Arbala villa, overlooking the Atlas Mountains. The views of the mountains are incredible all year around, whether they’re frosted with winter snow or wreathed in a summer heat haze. The property includes a private pool, cook service, shared tennis court and fitness room and lush courtyards. The luxury villa is wonderfully located between the convenience of Marrakesh and the exciting destinations surrounding Ouarzazate.
Based in Brighton, Stephanie Sheehan has been writing about travel for over five years. She specialises in short break travel, working with a number of travel companies over the years. From Iceland to the States, Stephanie is an expert on exploring the best of a destination in a limited time.
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