It’s hot, there are riads with gorgeous pools, kasbahs that are like something out of a fairy tale, snake charmers in the souks, snowmelt rivers to raft down, an ocean to surf in, dunes to climb and clamber over on camels, and enough pretty things to buy to keep any teenage girl happy for hours on end. If your kids aren’t excited by these, stick to Center Parcs.
This has been on the expert explorers’ radar for a long time, but lovers of Moroccan souks and seaside are now starting to embark on journeys up to its magnificent peaks. Hardcore hikers head for the High Atlas’ Mount Toubkal but there is superb walking to be had in the lower Atlas range too, with welcoming Berber people at remote mountain villages along the way.
Dirt roads, mountains and plenty of heat to tan those MAMIL waxed legs, Morocco has breathtaking biking. You can go mountain biking from the Atlas to the desert, with the omnipresent snowcapped mountains an exhilarating backdrop as you take on the ups and downs of Atlas ascents and desert descents. With an ever expanding network of quiet tarmac roads, road cycling is growing in the Morocco too.
If Marrakech is the lion, Fez is the tiger. The one that doesn’t need to roar about how beautiful it is, and long admired for its innate elegance. It has a superbly preserved ancient Islamic heritage, with Attarine Madrassa, Moulay Idriss mausoleum and Karaouine Mosque as highlights. Its heart is the labyrinthine, car-free Fez el-Bali medina. The Fez Festival of Sacred Music in June is a fab event too.
The indigenous people of Morocco, and traditionally nomadic, most are now in settled communities around the lower and High Atlas Mountains, and Rif Mountains. Stay with a Berber family in the Sahara, trek with them into the High Atlas as they bring their livestock up to summer pastures, or take a traditional guided trek into the mountains with donkeys or camels.
This beautiful blue painted town appears in the slopes of the Rif Mountains like a sapphire glinting through a rock face. Perhaps inspired by its aesthetic, it has also become a centre for quality artists and artisan crafts people. And with the mountains and Talassemtane National Park as a backdrop, the artist’s palette is replete.
Not only does it make negotiating your way around the souks, Sahara, mountains or medinas much easier, but it’s also a vital source of income in a country that is very dependent on tourism. Moroccans have a great sense of humour, are beyond welcoming and very proud of their country. Responsible tour operators always engage a local guide to accompany you – meaning your trip will be made all the more memorable and fun.
The highest peak in North Africa at 4,167m, Toubkal is to be trained for, the challenges increasing with each contour change. Most treks start in the village of Imlil in the heart of Toubkal National Park, where the smell of juniper, cedar and Aleppo pine abound. Then you hit the colder arid steppe, where nature turns a little more hostile to hikers. A serious trek, so only do it with an expert mountain guide. But do it.
In 1960 the city was hit by an earthquake which destroyed everything including the ancient Kasbah. And now tourism seems intent on destroying the new city. With all-inclusive resorts, bars and casinos standing alongside mosques, a seedy nightlife scene in some parts, and tacky tourist tat, it is an all-round beacon of irresponsible tourism really. Agadir? More Aggy Aggy Aggy, Oi Oi Oi
Coachloads of tourists are shipped out of Marrakech to experience the dinner spectacular at Chez Ali and eat mountainous tajines and couscous at large round tables in a huge Caidal Tent. With displays of regional costumes, dance and fantasia horsemanship. Get a good local guide and seek out the real spectacles instead. Morocco is falling down with moussems, or festivals, that honour marabouts, or local saints.
There are over twenty golf courses in Morocco, with development of new ones happening as quickly as you can say ‘fore!’ The plan is to double this number by 2015, so that’s double the infrastructure, double the water usage, and so on. And with only two courses GEO certified, the international standard for eco courses, golf really is becoming the bogey man of Moroccan tourism.
It has been like the Arab Spring of tourism in Morocco. A revolution of revellers as hordes of holidaymakers are dropped in by budget airlines. With 5.5 million visitors in 2005 and 10.5 in 2013, the development of multinational golf, hotel and ski resorts has gone ballistic. So, little of the money stays with local people, who have to put up with congestion, water shortages and social unrest.