To travel to Morocco is to take a journey to a land as welcoming as it is beguiling. More an experience than a destination, Morocco takes life, carves intricate and mesmerising patterns into it, barters over it, spices and slow stews it, and then places it in the sand to watch the sunset emblazon it gold. There's nothing half-hearted about this 'kingdom of a thousand kingdoms'. In its souks, life is lived at full throttle; yet infinite time and patience is lavished on the creation of its sumptuous art and gardens; while the enchantment of its desert and the thrall of its snow-capped mountains and fertile valleys is best experienced at a leisurely pace. Embrace it all, and enjoy the ride.
Read on to discover more of what Morocco has to offer...
From the moment you travel along the red dust roads amid a cacophony of noise, your senses are assaulted by the Red City of Marrakesh. In the medina, a brilliant palette of colours spills from the stalls of the souk; in doorways, smoky aromas drift from slowly stewing tagines; and everywhere is noise, from the haunting Adhan (call to prayer) and beckoning cries of the orange juice sellers, to the clatter of food stalls setting up at dusk in Djemaa El Fna. There is no gentle easing into Marrakesh, its all-engulfing presence will bombard and beguile you, ready or not.
Wondrous Djemaa El-Fna
By day, Marrakech’s most famous square is filled with colourful carts displaying perfect pyramids of oranges or mountains of dried figs and dates; snake charmers; henna tattooists; water sellers and men selling false teeth. After dark, the air swirls with aromas emanating from an encampment of food stalls as Djemaa el-Fna is transformed and, continuing a cultural tradition that has prevailed for more than a millennium, poets, storytellers and musicians enthral and entertain crowds of wide-eyed locals.
A Night Under the Stars
By the time the 4x4 has snaked through the jaw-dropping Tizi n'Tichka Pass and the Drâa Valley, it already feels like a journey done. When your camel finally strolls into the Bedouin encampment of Erg Lihouïdi, you're ready to close your eyes on your amazing day. But when you sit on your sand dune with hot mint tea in your hands, and the open fire blazes, and the sky morphs from cobalt through gold to indigo, you want this night to last forever and you just might forego your carpeted tent and sleep beneath the stars instead.
This atmospheric and stylish oasis is described by owners Jacqueline and Yannick as an ‘ecolodge’ or ferme Berbère, referring not just to their love of animals and the natural world, but also to the informal yet stylish atmosphere they have created from scratch, using Berber stones and more than a soupçon of Gallic flair. Everything has been built, hewn, woven and foraged locally, including the simple stone hammam, and the food is delicious, too – Jacqueline will take you to the souk in nearby Demnate to buy spices and ingredients before preparing a delicious lunch back at the Kasbah.
Tagine - The Taste of Morocco
Tagines are as Moroccan as souks, spices or minarets; and this signature dish takes star billing in restaurants, whether homely or palatial. Ingredients include meat, poultry and occasionally sardines, combined with seasonal vegetables and fruit; all of which is jazzed up by cinnamon, cumin, ginger, paprika, cayenne pepper and the king of Moroccan spices, ras al hanout. A tagine simmers gently before being served in one of the rustic, earthenware pots that give the dish its name – slow-cooked perfection and delicious simplicity itself.
Into the High Atlas
Douar Samra, in the tiny mountain village of Tamatert, is one of those places you will want to tell everyone about, but also keep a secret. Jacqueline Brandt, an impassioned Swiss émigrée, has created this traditional Berber house using only traditional methods and the help of local craftsmen. Here the peak of Djebel Toubkal seems so close you could reach out and touch it, yet you feel wonderfully remote: as you listen to the muezzin’s call to prayer echoing across distant hills after another delicious, home-cooked meal, you will forget about the ‘real world’ entirely.
A Discreet Form of Guiding
A disarmingly gentle and welcoming people, the Berbers know the mountain trails intimately, and our guides are smiling and courteous – happy to tailor walks to suit your needs. Take thrilling trails amid silent mountains, and descend into fertile valleys planted with cereals and orchards, before resting in the shade as your guide quietly prepares your picnic, accompanied only by the sounds of birdsong and a sparkling stream.
The Exquisite Tranquillity of a Riad
Sipping mint tea in the jasmine-scented courtyard of an historic town house, while being serenaded by a trickling fountain, is one of the indulgent pleasures of Moroccan travel. Riad names may change but their ingredients remain the same: the tranquil internal garden courtyard they take their name from; exotic Moroccan furnishings; sublimely decorated bedrooms overlooking a central patio, and a rooftop terrace with views across the city's skyline. Staying in a riad is everything you might imagine it to be – and usually a whole lot more.
A Taste of Berber Life
Once the grass has been scythed and carried back up the valley in sacks tied to backs to feed the animals; when the bread has been baked in the communal clay oven, the almonds have been picked, and the tagine has been set to slow cook for lunch, there may just be time to weave another few rows of the colourful rug that will bring extra income to the village. Being part of a day in the life of a tranquil, traditional Berber village in the foothills of the High Atlas Mountains promises to be unlike any other day.
Fall Under Essaouira's Coastal Spell
In Essaouira, a fish lunch has little distance to travel from quay to plate, carried in brightly coloured crates across a bobbing pontoon armada of uniform blue fishing boats and beneath squadrons of seagulls, to the grill restaurants fronting the harbour. This fortified Atlantic port blends European and African cultures with seamless ease. Artists are drawn here for the extraordinary light; windsurfers for the persistent breeze and vast expanse of empty sand; music lovers for the Gnawa sounds; shoppers for the World Heritage medina; and everyone else for its laid-back charm and the freshest of fish.