|Country Information & Lifestyle|
Al Maghrib - The Land Of The Setting Sun
Al Mamlakah al Maghribiyah, The Western Kingdom, is a fascinating country with an ancient and colourful history which has left its mark in the form of architectural treasures in many towns and cities. Superb examples of historic architecture can be found in the many palaces scattered throughout Morocco.
The coastline fronts both the Mediterranean and the Atlantic, offering plenty of sandy beaches, as well as a number of fascinating old coastal cities. In the south east the mountain ranges yield inexorably to the desolate expanse of the Sahara, whilst the rivers that flow down from this side of the High Atlas support long, narrow and lush river valleys.
The climate is reliably dry, although small amounts of rain do fall between November and March. The temperature varies considerably by season and locale, the southern and south eastern desert regions can reach extremely high temperatures during the hot summer months, the higher altitudes of the mountains are cool in the summer evenings and freezing in the winter.
In general Moroccan culture can be exciting and a worldly experience, the people are friendly and colourful and Souks are a way of life in Morocco. Traditionally the men take to the streets and the women are in control of their homes. Most of the Moroccans today can claim both Berber and Arab ancestry, though they are generally referred to as Berbers.
Spices hold pride of place in any Moroccan kitchen and are used skillfully to create a variety of distinctive flavors to tempt any palate. Couscous plays an important role in Moroccan cuisine and is gaining in popularity world-wide. Be sure to try out the triple-layered savoury pastry known as Bisteeya, or Mechoui slow-roasted lamb, and make sure you don't miss a Morocco tagine, a savoury dish of chicken, fish, beef or lamb and vegetables which is slow-cooked to perfection in a unique pottery container.
Morocco is a land rich in natural beauty and unforgettable places that are both fascinating and intriguing. As one moves from south and east into and over the starkly beautiful Atlas mountains range, Morocco's Mediterranean character melts away like a mirage as the Sahara stretches out across the horizon.
The Sahara is the world's largest desert and stretches across much of North Africa, and is the hottest place in the world with summer temperatures that often exceed 57 degrees C. It is very windy with windstorms sweeping the sand up to heights of 1000 meters and moving sand dunes constantly. The Sahara can be an inspirational experience at night, with the air being crisp, clean and clear and the stars being so close you can almost touch them, but it also has a deafening silence at night. The town of Tata is located where the desert meets the mountains and has reputation for being the hottest town in Morocco.
Zagora, located in the magnificent Draa Valley, is a popular starting point for camel excursions into the desert. Hugging the Draa Valley are palmerias and villages, this was part of the ancient trade route that connected west Africa and Sudan with the Maghreb and Europe. From medieval times caravans journeyed this way between Marrakesh and the Great Atlas trading in ivory, salt, gold and slaves.
Berber nomads, who were the original inhabitants of Morocco, still use the valley for their seasonal migrations to and from the mountains. There are only 12,500 nomads left and outside of Agdz is a solitary encampment where the nomads have nothing. It takes the nomads several days to reach the Sahara, by car it is just a few hours. After Zagora the road narrows to single lane and the flora retreat and mirages appear.
After crossing the Tizi Beni Selmane pass, the landscape is flat and empty. The ruins of Kasbah Tamnougalt sits prominently above the river like an abandoned sand-estate. At Mahamid the tarmac runs out and the town feels like the end of the road. A sign says "Sahara - La piste de la soif" Timbuktu 52 days, reveals that is just the beginning. A gateway to a desert almost the size of the USA.
Ouarzazate caters for the tourist trade where visitors can enjoy the typical Moroccan market in the city centre and see the beautiful preserved Kasbah which gives an interesting glimpse into the lives of the people who live there. South-east of Quarzatate the road climbs through a barren landscape, remember the film Beau Geste, to reach the Trinififft pass, 1,660 m2 above sea level on the escarpment of the Anti-Atlas, then descending into the Draa Valley, the High Atlas recedes into the haze for the last time.
Rabat is home to the Moroccan government as well as a hub of traditional cuisine and architecture and much more. For a capital city, Rabat is very quiet and offers a number of excellent restaurants, clubs and pubs. Rabat is the second biggest city after Casablanca. It is famous for its many historical monuments, luxurious carpets and rich embroidered goods.
Near the Royal Palace is one of Morocco's finest attractions: the Bab Rouah. This great attraction is also known as the "Gate of the Winds" as it is constantly being battered by coastal winds. The gate is one of five that are located in Rabat and once served as entrances to the city, is the most majestic and well preserved of all the gates.
The Mamora Forest is the perfect location to find peace, quiet and seclusion from the bustling world outside and is situated near the city of Rabat. More than 50% of Morocco's cork trees are located here and visitors can spend the afternoon in the breathtaking beauty of the Mamora Forest before heading off on their next excursion. It is hard to believe when walking through this silent and mystic forest that it is surrounded by many small communities since one feels so secluded and hidden by the looming forest. These communities and their livestock live and farm in close proximity to the forest.
Also known as Casa or Dar el Baida, Casablanca is essentially the capital of Morocco, a vibrant, busy city where there is always something happening. Take a trip to the stunning Boulaouane Kasbah which is located just south of the city. A Kasbah is basically the Moroccan equivalent of a castle and this sturdy building was built as a fortress that overlooked the Wadi Oum er-Rbia river.
One of the best parts of visiting the Boulaouane Kasbah is the fact that a long, winding climb to the top of the ten meter high tower will afford you with one of the most breathtaking views of the area imaginable. Of course the view is not the only interesting aspect of the Boulaouane Kasbah. The Kasbah itself is very interesting to see. Built with thick, protective walls and yet beautiful and skillfully decorative architecture, it is a very interesting attraction. Inside the castle in the central courtyard you will find the Sultans Palace which is where this monarch would have been housed, should he choose to visit the Kasbah.
It seems that the city of Fez still lingers in the Middle Ages. As you arrive in the city and begin to walk around your senses are torn between beautiful sights, intricate sounds and colourful smells. Much of the city is still holding on to its French roots.
Asilah is a small fishing village and one of the most picturesque and historic attractions in Morocco and approximately 50 km from the city of Tangier. Tourists and visitors flock to this magnificent seaside resort to marvel at its buildings, especially the 15th century Andalusian Medina, homes and outlay - all of which appears completely untouched. The beautiful, quaint harbour of Asilah still bustles with fishermen busy with their trade and the teeming market is an experience on its own. The Raissouni Palace was built by the pirate Pasha Raissouni, serving as a base for pirates in the 19th and 20th century.
Chefchaouen is a small fortress medieval town that has become a popular destination for tourists. Situated in the northwest of Morocco, near the RIF Mountains, and inland from Tangier and Tetouan, Chefchaouen has a distinctive Spanish character, having been settled by Spanish refugees in the middle ages. The Medina of the town has been renowned for being one of the most charming in Morocco. The town is easily recognisable by its unique blue-rinsed buildings and houses.
The town is well known for a number of products that are made locally and many are found nowhere else in Morocco. People come to buy woven blankets and woollen garments as well as exceptional goats cheese, and is one of the main producers of marijuana, cannabis and Hashish, which are used mainly by the local Chaouenis. Hiding in the hills outside the already tranquil town of Chefchaouen is the rarely reached village of Kalaa. From here one can relax in the remote serenity of rural Moroccan life that has changed little over the centuries.
The city of Tangier is situated on the western entrance to the Strait of Gibraltar on the North African coast. Between 1920 and the late 1950's Tangier was a playground for adventure seekers and the rich and famous, attracting all those seeking a tax haven or a mystic destination, from authors to artists and spies to aristocrats. Regular visitors included the likes of Truman Capote, Tennessee Williams, and Woolworth heiress Barbara Hutton. When Spain relinquished Tangier back to Morocco in 1960 its duty-free status went with it, and the city lost a great deal of its flair.
Tourism is slowly increasing once more, though visitors succumbing to the city's proximity to Europe are discovering that its decayed grandeur still has much to offer, from its palm-treed promenade and sandy beach to the old town section, and the outlying villages and resorts. A stylish cafe society has once again begun to build up in modern day Tangier's boulevards, and the merchants in the Medina are doing good trade with tourists exploring the maze of narrow streets, all within sight of the Spanish coast across the Straits of Gibraltar.
Tangier boasts many beautiful palatial residences of varying styles in its Marshan villa district, about 15 minutes walk from the Medina. The former Sultan's palace, dating from the 17th century, has a collection of art from all over Morocco, and Tangier's 17th century fortified residential quarter or Kasbah, is a place of arcades, winding alleys and hidden terraces, where it is possible to wander among the wealthy homes and sometimes manage a peep behind the unprepossessing facades, enjoying views of the Medina.
Visitors to the Tetouan Medina will come across the 17th century Khalifa Palace which was built during the reign of Moulay Ismael, a member of the Alaouite Dynasty. The Khalifa Palace is designed along the Hispano-Moorish architectural style based on 15th century Moorish buildings in the Iberian Peninsula. The palace was renovated in 1948, serving as the residence of his Majesty's representative when Morocco was a protectorate, and today it is a popular tourist attraction not to be missed when visiting Tetouan.
The Grottoes of Hercules are situated 14 km west of the city of Tangier. The caves are of archaeological, historical and mythological significance, as well as great beauty and a major tourist attraction.
Marrakesh is Morocco's second largest city and the name alone brings to mind many exotic features of Morocco. Marrakesh does not have historical monuments and buildings but its beauty lies in the atmosphere and the spectacular location. With the outstanding peaks of the Atlas expanding behind the city, Marrakesh has very warm and humid summers, and shimmering white snowy winter.
In the centre of Marrakesh is Djemaa el Fna, the main square. At night you can hardly move for the amount of people and the number of tightly crammed stalls and entertainers such as acrobats, drummers, dancers, pipe musicians, comedians, snake charmers and storytellers.
The Royal fortified district of Marrakesh's ancient Medina offers a microcosm of all that the city has to offer, from authentic riads, a contemporary arts and music scene, storybook architecture and plenty of chic luxury. The souks are interesting places in alleys and small squares that are dedicated to specific crafts, and it is here that you can often watch part of the making process. The most appealing time to visit the souks is early morning and late evening when they auction off merchandise to the public. There's plenty of choice for meals, including the Djemaa el Fna food stalls, many inexpensive cafe-restaurants and a number of up-market palace-restaurants that offer Morocco's traditional cuisine at its very best.
The midday dhuhur call to prayers amplified by speakers on the surrounding mosques. The Kasbah, the fortified district within the UNESCO recognised old town was once the home of the sultans and is still where one can find the Royal Palace and other notable architecture that will fill your imagination with tales of Arabia. The ruins of El Badi Palace to the romantic Bahia Palace with its beautiful Fez craftsman, shops and peaceful gardens, there are plenty of opportunities for combining some culture with moments to escape the noise and bustle of the Medina.
Taking the highway south west from Marrakesh towards the desert through the countryside and one experiences plenty of scenes of a timeless Morocco. Youngsters herding sheep beside the road, women leading donkeys laden with firewood and harvested flowering herbs. Tableaux of rural life that doesn't seem to have changed much in decades.
In early spring the journey offers a beautiful fascinating perspective of Morocco, passing fields of henna, through valleys filled with lush groves of date palms climbing the dramatic landscape of the High Atlas mountain passes, and experiencing the rich colours of the flowering plants where clusters of beehives are almost hidden by the abundance of wild flowers.
The route takes one through the Rose Valley, which from late March begins to live up to its name with bursts of colour from thousands of small fields planted with roses, later to be harvested and used for cosmetics, oil, fragrances, teas and decoration.
The camp Madu Bivouac is an intimate glamping resort of just ten private tents in small groups of two, three and five. Traditional Berber carpets are laid out, lined with classic Moroccan lamps, creating walkways across the sand. Expansive views reach huge dunes raising up in the distance and as the sun begins to fall casting a long shadow across the orange red land. Pushing up through the ground are wild flowers, adding subtle colour and texture to the waves of sand.
This is the land of the Touareg nomads, travelling tribes that would once have navigated this seemingly endless sea of sand. Now those days are pretty much gone but the beauty of the sand dunes remain. Morning sunrise over the sand as it ignites the landscape with intense colours and a welcoming warmth is a sight you will never forget.
Return to Marrakesh via a different route the Road of a Thousand Kasbahs. This valley is renowned for its fortified homes, known as Kasbahs. These were the residence of wealthy landowners or local leaders, whilst in cities Kasbahs were the home of Royal Palace. Here they are made from earth and straw adobe, many are now romantic ruins, but the UNESCO Ait Ben Haddou Kashah has been preserved for visitors and is popular with filmmakers.
The High Atlas is the biggest mountain range in North Africa and has many fertile valleys surrounded by rivers and waterfalls, it is a breathtaking sight not to be missed. The High Atlas has walks to suit all abilities and horses are available, if riding suits you better than walking.
These striking mountains offer extremely impressive mountain biking trails, walking, hiking trails and mountain photography and the villages in the High Atlas are small but thriving, and are home to the Berbers who are enduring, hospitable and very friendly people.
Taking a car from Marrakesh across the Atlas Mountains to the Sahara desert is an unforgettable experience. The formidable barricade that separates the coast from Morocco's interior. The range stretches for 1,900 km across the country with only a handful of practicable ways through. About 50 km from the city walls the road starts to climb gradually, at first through avenues of eucalyptus and olive groves. At Ait-Ourir the great Plain of Hercules ends and the route rears up into the mountains. Orchards and fields give way to small terraces of quince and walnut, fringed with oleander bushes. The road to Tichka was completed in 1936 by the French Foreign Legion, before this was built the High Atlas divided the country in every sense.
The Tichka Pass, 2,206 m, perched on an outcrop of rock beneath the beautiful blue sky is a crumbling Kasbah made of sun-dried mud bricks. The Route of The Kasbash starts here. There are dozens of these ruined forts and castellated houses on the road south, legacies of a time when belligerent, Berber families inhabited the savage territories of the High Atlas, every tribe has its enemies, so a fortified home was a must.
Ait-Benhaddou is a traditional mud brick city which is on the UNESCO heritage list and has been featured in a number of films, often as Jerusalem. Amizmiz is often used as the starting point for exploring the High Atlas and this traditional Berber village is the venue for one of the region's largest Berber souks. Oukaimeden is the best snow skiing resort and Tinerhir is a small town with access point to the Todra Gore of the High Atlas. Le Haouz located at an altitude of 1200 meters is a family orientated community and is virtually self sufficient and is an outstanding example of a Moroccan village which has been unaffected by modern living.
Morocco certainly has plenty to offer travellers and residents alike who take time to explore all its historical, cultural and natural treasures. Visiting some of the palaces in Morocco will give visitors a glimpse of the past that will enrich their Moroccan experience.