Exotic without the long-haul travel? Escape to Morocco

12 February 2018

Hop on a plane for a mere three and a half hours and you’re transported to rustic Morocco.

Picture soaring, rugged mountains and the rolling, orange-hued sand dunes of the Sahara Desert. Imagine ornate buildings, exquisitely carved and twinkling with tiles of turquoise, red, emerald and yellow, the sparkling blue waters lapping against golden beaches, and a riot of scents, aromatic spices mingling with rich notes of leather.

This is Morocco in a nutshell. A wonderful blend of history and culture, with bustling cities nestled against a sweeping coastline, mountains and desert, and all with 300 days of sunshine each year.

While Morocco is renowned for its vibrant souks and the dazzling city of Marrakech, what you might not know is that it also has a spectacular coastline. Reaching from the Mediterranean into the Atlantic Ocean, Morocco is a great spot a beach holiday and for anyone keen to explore its rich heritage.

And, as Morocco runs on Greenwich Meantime (GMT), it’s the same time as it is in the UK– and that means no jetlag!

Read on to discover some of the things you’ll find when you explore Morocco.

Adventures for intrepid explorers

The sand dunes of the desert in Ouarzazate, Morocco

The incredible and mesmerising Sahara desert offers adrenaline-seekers the chance to explore to their heart’s content. Trek it on foot from Dakhla, or ride the sands in a quad bike or a 4x4. Discover the world’s tallest sand dunes at Erg Chebbi or hop onto a camel or horse to trek through the golden mounds of Ouarzazate.

Hiking in the snow-capped Atlas Mountains

If you’re in Marrakech, take a moment to explore the nearby Atlas Mountains where you’ll find North Africa’s tallest mountain, Toubkal. Daredevils might also want to try rafting the white water found in the gorges an hour’s drive away from the bustling city.

Searching for a secluded beach? Head to Plage-Blanche, south of Agadir. Nestled inside a 96 square mile (250 square kilometres) ecological park, this remote, 25-mile beach (40km) is mile upon mile of sand dune. It’s a wild, isolated spot ideal for adventures searching for pristine sands!

Cities, UNESCO World Heritage Sites and history for culture connoisseurs

Jardin Majorelle in Marrakech, Morocco

Marrakech is a truly unmissable city, from the bright blue buildings and cacti of the tranquil Majorelle Gardens (Jardin Majorelle) to the whirlwind market place Jemma El-Fnaa, filled with an array of stalls. The architecture of Marrakech is utterly beautiful, with ancient riads, mosques, and meandering alleyways.

Fez is one of the Arab world’s best-preserved medieval cities and the fascinating medina (old city) is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. You’ll also find the world’s oldest library here, the Al Qarawiyyin, filled with centuries old manuscripts and texts. Fez is also home to Morocco’s biggest souk, and famed for its leather work, delighting architecture fans, history buffs and shoppers alike.

Grande Mosque Hassan II in Casablanca, Morocco

Morocco has a long and varied past and this is reflected in its culture, in the food and buildings of the towns and cities, and the festivals held throughout the year. Visiting the beaches of Agadir? Head to nearby Argana for the Honey Festival in May, and don’t miss the Sahraoui Festival in June with camel races, performances, and the Laayoune warriors’ famous dance.

While you won’t be able to visit the location of the classic film, Casablanca (it was filmed in California, on a set), Morocco’s largest city is a delight to visit. ‘Jazzablanca’ festival of jazz is held between April and May, and attracts some of the world’s best jazz musicians.  

Love art? Escape to eclectic Tangier, on the Strait of Gibraltar. Loved by artists from Matisse to the writer Paul Bowles, the city is filled with galleries to explore, as well as beaches that make the most of the sparkling Mediterranean.

Spices, tagines, and mint tea for foodies

Spices at Fez market, Morocco

A heady blend of aromatic spices and herbs, sweet pastries and fresh, local ingredients, Morocco’s cuisine owes its flavours to the many people who have lived in the country over the centuries. African, Mediterranean, Jewish and Arabic heritage have all contributed to the fusion, and foodies will be delighted at the tastes they can explore.

Traditional Moroccan food features lots of spices, both sweet and savoury, including turmeric, paprika and cumin. You’ll find lots of these in a traditional tagine - a glorious, simmering stew of meat and vegetables in tall, conical cooking dishes.

A traditional Moroccan tagine

Other delicious dishes to try include bastilla (a meat pie with apricots, cinnamon and a sugared crust), couscous with meat and vegetables, harira (a chickpea and lentil soup) and msemmen (little, flat pancake-style pastries that are delicious with mint tea!) If you’re heading to the seaside the towns nestled on the Atlantic Ocean are famed for their seafood, with prawns, seabass and calamari topping daily menus.

If you have a sweet tooth add ktefa, ghoriba and makrout to your list of foods to try. Ktefa is layers of round, crispy pastry, with a moreish filling of sweetened almonds and custard scented with orange flower water. Ghoriba are chewy biscuits similar to macaroons and have a delicious almond flavour. Makrout are scrumptious fried pastries that are filled with date paste and dipped in honey.

Don’t forget to try mint tea on your Moroccan holiday! Mint tea is a ritual in Morocco and you’ll spot exquisite tea sets everywhere you venture, with people sitting down to enjoy their tea and socialise. Moroccan mint tea is a blend of green tea, mint and sugar, and it’s a delightfully sweet, soothing drink.

Golden sands and crystal clear waters for sunseekers (and surfers!)

Agadir Beach in Agadir, Morocco

Morocco’s incredible, sweeping coastline edges the Mediterranean Sea and Atlantic Ocean for almost 3,500km. While you might picture Morocco as the bustling markets of Marrakesh or the towering Atlas Mountains, don’t forget to add in the breathtaking beaches.

For turquoise seas and golden sands, try Saïdia in the north of Morocco. This picture-perfect location is popular with families and locals. The beach is one of the longest in Morocco and the eucalyptus-covered sand dunes are incredibly pretty.

Another great place for the family to explore is Tamouda Bay. This hidden gem of a destination close to Tetouan and Chaouen is up and coming and combines a beautiful beach resort with plenty of authentic culture. Discover the UNESCO World Heritage city of Tetouan, the ‘blue town’ of Chefchaouen nestled in the mountains and the art deco jewels and literary cafes of Tangier.

Kite surfing in Dakhla, Morocco

For pretty architecture and a sleepy seaside feel, try Essaouira. This laid-back fishing town is ideal for anyone hoping to combine culture, boutiques and seaside walks.

Searching for waves? Grab your wetsuit and surfboard and head to the beach at Taghazout. North of Agadir, this small town is famed for drawing surfers from all over the word. Water sports fans should also explore the beaches in Essaouira to try kite surfing or wind surfing.

Intrigued to find out where else you could explore in Morocco? Get in touch with your Travel Counsellor to plan your escape to these beautiful shores!

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