Morocco

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Morocco

Morocco has been staunchly independent throughout its history yet remained open to ideas, creating a heady mix of cultures, religions and languages with ancient roots and a strikingly modern outlook.

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The influence of Romans, Arabs and Europeans is spotted in monuments throughout the country. From Tangier, turn south along Morocco’s Atlantic Coast and you’ll be accompanied by a sea breeze that massages the ramparts of wonderful cities, whose names – Essaouira, Casablanca, Rabat – and atmosphere carry a whiff of African magic.

The imperial cities of Marrakech, Fes and Meknes offer visitors a maze of alleyways and souks (markets) with distinctive handicrafts, where the senses go on overload.

If it’s mountains you love, Morocco has them in abundance, rising from the Rif into the Middle Atlas and on into the extraordinary contours of the High Atlas. This is land custom-built for trekking as you follow quiet mountain trails amid Berber villages and fields of flowers.

Then, suddenly, everything changes. The mountains fissure into precipitous gorges the colour of the earth and mud-brick kasbahs turn blood-red with the setting sun. From rocky fortresses such as these, the Sahara announces its presence in Morocco with perfectly sculpted seas of sand.

At journey’s end, the solitude of the Sahara is ideal for contemplating why it is that Morocco has such cachet. The answer is simple: there is no place on earth quite like it.

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Quick Facts

Capital
Rabat

Population
33,848,242

Area
710,850 km2 (274,460 sq miles)

Major Languages
Arabic, Berber

Major religion 
Sunni Islam

Monetary Unit 
Moroccan Dirham

Flight time from London
3.5 hours to Marrakech

Time Difference 
GMT + 0

When to go
Morocco is at its best in spring (mid-March to May), when the country is lush and green, followed by autumn (September to November), when the heat of summer has eased.

At other times, don’t underestimate the extremes of summer heat and winter, particularly in the High Atlas, where snowcapped peaks persist from November to July. If you are travelling in winter, head for the south, although be prepared for bitterly cold nights. The north coast and the Rif Mountains are frequently wet and cloudy in winter and early spring.

Apart from the weather, the timing of Ramadan (the traditional Muslim month of fasting and purification) is another important consideration as some restaurants and cafés close during the day and general business hours are reduced.

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Highlights

The Imperial Cities

Marrakesh gave its name to the kingdom of which it was long the capital. Enchantingly sited at the foot of the High Atlas Mountains, its rose-coloured walls set within lush green gardens, olive groves and palmeries, it is hard to imagine that Marrakesh, one of Morocco’s four Imperial Cities, lies on the edge of the Sahara. Its very name conjures up images of magic carpets and snake charmers – and not without reason. After dark, the central square in the medina, Jemaa-el-Fna, comes to life and puts on a show little changed since medieval times. It is a riot of enticing colour, noise and smells, with dancers, fire-eaters and acrobats, snake charmers and snake oil salesmen, story tellers and fortune-tellers and rows of trestle tables serving up smoking barbecues and mouth-watering tajines. Around this vast open space stretch the shadowy alleyways of the souks, a vast marketplace selling herbs and potions, carpets and candles, jewellery, spices, meat and metalwork. Marrakesh has long been an important crossroads and trading centre for the Arabic, Berber and black African civilisation. To the Arabic northerners, it is seen as the “beginning of the south”.
Fes

Fes (Fez) is Morocco’s oldest Imperial city and its “old town” is now a UNESCO World Heritage site. Founded in the 9th century and home to the oldest university in the world, Fez reached its height in the 13th–14th centuries under the Marinids, when it replaced Marrakesh as the capital of the kingdom. The urban fabric and the principal monuments in the medina – madrasas, fondouks, palaces, residences, mosques and fountains – date from this period. Although the political capital of Morocco was transferred to Rabat in 1912, Fez has retained its status as the country’s cultural and spiritual centre. The Medina (old town) is called Fes el-Bali and behind its high walls is a magical, medieval city just teeming with life in every one of its 9000 narrow streets.
Meknes

Meknes is smaller and a little more laid back than Marrakech and Fes yet this imperial city has similar charms. The Imperial City, built by the powerful Moulay Ismail in the 17th Century, is a showcase of Moroccan architecture complete with huge gates and impressive carvings. Nicknamed the Moroccan Versailles, Meknes contains the Sultan’s palace and grounds and a wonderfully preserved medina filled with souqs which are easy to navigate without a guide. The Roman ruins of Volubilis and the holy city of Moulay-Idriss, founded in AD 788, lie to the north.

The Atlas Mountains

The Atlas Mountains stretch over 1,500 miles from Morocco’s West Coast to Tunisia and are home to North Africa’s highest peak, Jebel Toubkal (4,167 m).

Given the proximity of the mountains to Marrakech (approx. 40 minutes), the High Atlas are a popular destination to escape the hustle and bustle of the souks and the medina where the tranquillity of Berber (the original inhabitants of North Africa) village life provides the perfect contrast to the hubbub of the city.

Trekking through the Toubkal National Park is highly recommended where footpaths and mule tracks mount through lush, irrigated terraces, apple orchards and walnut groves to villages where the Berber way of life has changed little for centuries and traditional values and hospitality are unaffected by the outside world.

For the less active mountain retreats offer superb panoramic views of snowcapped mountains, valleys and waterfalls.

Essaouira

Essaouira is a laid back coastal town that offers travellers a welcome respite from the hubbub of Marrakech just a few hours away.

Essaouira’s medina is walled like many of the old towns in Morocco and locals and visitors alike enjoy strolling along the impressive ramparts (built upon cliffs) as the sun sets. The souqs within are relativley quiet and clean and thus the medina offers shoppers a relatively relaxed experience (but not necessarily a cheaper one!) and, as it is free from cars, one can walk around at ease.

As Essaouira is on the Atlantic coast the water is pretty cold and it is also quite windy and so not ideal for swimming or sunbathing (although great for both surfing and kite surfing) but the beach is lovely for a stroll and since it runs for about 6 miles (10km) there’s plenty of it.

The port is always alive with fishing boats and watching the daily catch being sold every afternoon to the restaurants around the harbour is a fun experience.

The Erg Chebbi

The Erg Chebbi sand dunes, measuring 22 kms long and 5 kms wide, offer desert enthusiasts an astonishing experience.

Being the most accessible sand dunes in the Moroccan Sahara they are however still a distance to reach (being around ten hours by car from both Marrakech and Fes) and so visiting the South East of Morocco is not for those with a limited time frame.

For the determined though the journey is worth every second for sleeping under the stars in a Berber tent, enjoying a sunrise camel trek where you will see the dunes change from a pale yellow colour to a deep orange glow and witnessing a silence only the desert can offer all contribute to making it a truly unforgettable experience.

The Imperial Cities

Marrakesh gave its name to the kingdom of which it was long the capital. Enchantingly sited at the foot of the High Atlas Mountains, its rose-coloured walls set within lush green gardens, olive groves and palmeries, it is hard to imagine that Marrakesh, one of Morocco’s four Imperial Cities, lies on the edge of the Sahara. Its very name conjures up images of magic carpets and snake charmers – and not without reason. After dark, the central square in the medina, Jemaa-el-Fna, comes to life and puts on a show little changed since medieval times. It is a riot of enticing colour, noise and smells, with dancers, fire-eaters and acrobats, snake charmers and snake oil salesmen, story tellers and fortune-tellers and rows of trestle tables serving up smoking barbecues and mouth-watering tajines. Around this vast open space stretch the shadowy alleyways of the souks, a vast marketplace selling herbs and potions, carpets and candles, jewellery, spices, meat and metalwork. Marrakesh has long been an important crossroads and trading centre for the Arabic, Berber and black African civilisation. To the Arabic northerners, it is seen as the “beginning of the south”.
Fes

Fes (Fez) is Morocco’s oldest Imperial city and its “old town” is now a UNESCO World Heritage site. Founded in the 9th century and home to the oldest university in the world, Fez reached its height in the 13th–14th centuries under the Marinids, when it replaced Marrakesh as the capital of the kingdom. The urban fabric and the principal monuments in the medina – madrasas, fondouks, palaces, residences, mosques and fountains – date from this period. Although the political capital of Morocco was transferred to Rabat in 1912, Fez has retained its status as the country’s cultural and spiritual centre. The Medina (old town) is called Fes el-Bali and behind its high walls is a magical, medieval city just teeming with life in every one of its 9000 narrow streets.
Meknes

Meknes is smaller and a little more laid back than Marrakech and Fes yet this imperial city has similar charms. The Imperial City, built by the powerful Moulay Ismail in the 17th Century, is a showcase of Moroccan architecture complete with huge gates and impressive carvings. Nicknamed the Moroccan Versailles, Meknes contains the Sultan’s palace and grounds and a wonderfully preserved medina filled with souqs which are easy to navigate without a guide. The Roman ruins of Volubilis and the holy city of Moulay-Idriss, founded in AD 788, lie to the north.

The Atlas Mountains

The Atlas Mountains stretch over 1,500 miles from Morocco’s West Coast to Tunisia and are home to North Africa’s highest peak, Jebel Toubkal (4,167 m).

Given the proximity of the mountains to Marrakech (approx. 40 minutes), the High Atlas are a popular destination to escape the hustle and bustle of the souks and the medina where the tranquillity of Berber (the original inhabitants of North Africa) village life provides the perfect contrast to the hubbub of the city.

Trekking through the Toubkal National Park is highly recommended where footpaths and mule tracks mount through lush, irrigated terraces, apple orchards and walnut groves to villages where the Berber way of life has changed little for centuries and traditional values and hospitality are unaffected by the outside world.

For the less active mountain retreats offer superb panoramic views of snowcapped mountains, valleys and waterfalls.

Essaouira

Essaouira is a laid back coastal town that offers travellers a welcome respite from the hubbub of Marrakech just a few hours away.

Essaouira’s medina is walled like many of the old towns in Morocco and locals and visitors alike enjoy strolling along the impressive ramparts (built upon cliffs) as the sun sets. The souqs within are relativley quiet and clean and thus the medina offers shoppers a relatively relaxed experience (but not necessarily a cheaper one!) and, as it is free from cars, one can walk around at ease.

As Essaouira is on the Atlantic coast the water is pretty cold and it is also quite windy and so not ideal for swimming or sunbathing (although great for both surfing and kite surfing) but the beach is lovely for a stroll and since it runs for about 6 miles (10km) there’s plenty of it.

The port is always alive with fishing boats and watching the daily catch being sold every afternoon to the restaurants around the harbour is a fun experience.

The Erg Chebbi

The Erg Chebbi sand dunes, measuring 22 kms long and 5 kms wide, offer desert enthusiasts an astonishing experience.

Being the most accessible sand dunes in the Moroccan Sahara they are however still a distance to reach (being around ten hours by car from both Marrakech and Fes) and so visiting the South East of Morocco is not for those with a limited time frame.

For the determined though the journey is worth every second for sleeping under the stars in a Berber tent, enjoying a sunrise camel trek where you will see the dunes change from a pale yellow colour to a deep orange glow and witnessing a silence only the desert can offer all contribute to making it a truly unforgettable experience.

Where to stay

These are just a selection of the properties we can personally recommend. Please get in touch to hear more about our full portfolio.

Kasbah du Toubkal

A magnificent mountain retreat spectacularly situated near the foot of Jbel Toubkal, the highest mountain in North Africa, Kasbah du Toubkal is only 40 miles from Marrakech but the peace and quiet and seclusion are so complete the city seems a million miles away.

take me to Kasbah du Toubkal

Kasbah Tamadot

Kasbah Tamadot was bought by Sir Richard Branson during preparations for one of his famous ballooning expeditions in the late 1990’s, and opened as a luxury boutique hotel in 2005. Kasbah Tamadot is a majestic retreat sumptuously decorated for decadent mountain luxury.

take me to Kasbah Tamadot

La Maison Bleue

La Maison Bleue is a traditional Moroccan residence in Fes. The architecture of the house is typically Fassi; the walls are covered with intricate zellij mosaic tiling, the blue symbolizing the ancient city, while the green represents the colour of Islam. The grandeur of Andalusia, where the family originated from, is evident throughout.

take me to La Maison Bleue

Riad Kniza

Enjoy Moroccan hospitality at its finest in the lavishly restored suites of Riad Kniza, an historic 200-year-old mansion, owned by one of Marrakech’s most famous antique dealers. Teams of Morocco’s most highly skilled craftsmen have honoured their masters in creating this gem of Moorish architecture.

take me to Riad Kniza

Villa des Orangers

Get away for a dream vacation and dive into an oasis of calm and freshness in the heart of the Medina of Marrakech. At the foot of the Koutoubia Mosque, between the Royal Palace and bustling Jemaa El Fna Square, the Villa des Orangers 5* hotel opens up to you like a jewel of serene, quiet living.

take me to Villa des Orangers

Villa Maroc

Villa Maroc is Essaouira’s original, 18th-century riad hotel with 21 shabby-chic rooms, a Carita-endorsed spa and a front-row, ocean-view location in the Unesco-protected medina. Situated on top of Essaouira’s ramparts, Villa Maroc was one of the first riads in Morocco to be converted into a boutique hotel.

take me to Villa Maroc

Get in touch with us now to start planning your journey

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