Feeling like riding a camel and sleeping under the stars in the Sahara? Would you rather surf in the Atlantic Ocean after a walk in the narrow alleys of an 800-years-old Kasbah? And what about visiting the third biggest mosque and the oldest university of the world? In Morocco all this is possible
Morocco is one of the most diverse and exciting countries of North Africa: a place where colourful medinas and the desert are just a few hours away from the Atlantic Ocean or from the slopes of the Atlas.
These are my top picks if you have 7 to 10 days fi al-Maghrib:
– A walk in the past. The vibe of Fes ancient medina is something indescribable, and maybe this is one of the reasons Fes el Bali is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. As soon as you enter the narrow alleys from Bab Boujloud (the Blue Gate) you feel brought back into the past. When wandering around the small streets be aware! At the sound of ‘Baalek! Baalek!’ make sure you don’t find yourself in the way a donkey! Fes el Bali is indeed the biggest car-free zone of the world and locals still use donkeys as a means of transport. Enter the medina’s two Quranic schools (Medersa Bou Inania and Madrasa Al Attarine) – the breathtaking zellij are definitely worth the 10dirham fee – after enjoying a cup of mint tea on one of the city’s terraces while listening to the call of the muezzin (if you fancy a camel burger Café Clock is the right place for you). Al Karaouiyne is the oldest university of the world, at the very heart of the old city, the mosque is (unfortunately for me) open only to Muslims, but you can always take a look from one of its 14 doors. The tanneries are must: a bit hard to find, but following the smell of leather it’s impossible to miss them! The view from the terraces of the leather shops is something unique that I doubt you will see elsewhere in the world. It is extremely easy to get lost but… that’s part of the fun! Moreover, the locals are always willing to help you find your way out of this noisy and colourful labyrinth. P.S. the souq of Fes is the place to make the best bargains! 😉
– 50 shades of blue. Chefchaouene, best known as ‘al madina al azraq’ or ‘the blue city’, makes undoubtedly one of the most fascinating places I have ever seen. The houses’ walls are all painted in countless tonalities of blue which create an almost surreal atmosphere. Make sure you take a walk in the medina before the city wakes up and the shops open (usually before 10am) in order to make the most of its magical alleys! If you are spending the weekend make sure to hike up to the waterfalls of Akchour, just half-an-hour drive from the city centre!
-Magical chaos. I am not the biggest fan of Marrakech since it has become highly touristic during the last few years, but if this is your first time in Morocco you can’t miss it! The spectacle of Djemaa el Fnaa is something that should be witnessed at least once in a lifetime: live music, the smell of grilled shish-kebab raising from the food stalls and the sound of the flute of the snake charmers make of the square’s vibe something unique. But Marrakech is not just about fancy resorts and clubs: the city’s must-see are Madrasa Ben Youssef, Jardine Majorelle and Palace Bahia. Hot-tip: do never go during the summer, you’d rather avoid the 50degrees Moroccan summer heat!
-A white fortress by the sea. Roughly three hours away from the craziness of Marrakech, Essaouira makes the perfect day escape. A small town by the Atlantic Ocean, S-swira and its fortress look like a painting. A real island of peace where you can enjoy walks by the beach, fine art and amazing fish. Tip: don’t miss the Gnaoua music festival in May, which calls together musicians from all over the world!
-Masjid al-Hassan at-Thani. A trip to Casablanca is worth beyond doubt to see this overwhelmingly huge mosque by the sea. The Mosque of Hassan II is the third biggest mosque of the Arab world and one of the most beautiful pieces of architecture I have even entered. Partially built over the ocean, it’s a work of art that will take your breath away.
-The secret capital. Rabat is often underestimated as a touristic attraction, but it actually makes the perfect city to live a ‘true Moroccan experience’. Very few tourists come to Rabat and this makes the city an affordable and relaxing option for a couple days after the overcrowded Fez and Marrakech. Wander around the souq, drink tea at the Kasbah of the Oudayas while watching the sun setting over the ocean, enjoy the local cousine at outstanding traditional restaurants and visit the Roman ruins of the Chellah just a few minutes walk away from the Mausoleum of Mohammed V, and end your day surfing at La Plage.
-Shooting stars and dunes. Endless dunes, incredible sunsets and dawns and a sky full of stars: this is the desert. Going to the Sahara is a once-in-a-lifetime experience beyond doubts! A thirty minutes 4×4 speed drive on the dunes and a two hours camel ride from Merzouga stand the Sahara desert camps. Spending a night in the desert and sleeping under a blanket of stars is an unforgettable experience. Believe me: you will never see the sky as from the Sahara…