Morocco | Moon Travel Guides https://moon.com Trip Ideas, Itineraries, Maps & Area Experts Wed, 22 Nov 2017 23:51:09 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=4.9 https://deathstar-650a.kxcdn.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/02/cropped-moon_logo_M-32x32.jpg Morocco | Moon Travel Guides https://moon.com 32 32 125073523 6 Reasons to Visit Morocco in the Winter https://moon.com/2017/11/reasons-to-visit-morocco-in-the-winter/ https://moon.com/2017/11/reasons-to-visit-morocco-in-the-winter/#respond Mon, 13 Nov 2017 19:40:08 +0000 https://moon.com/?p=61019 Whether you come for the sun, the shopping, the cuisine, or some out-of-the-ordinary adventure, there’s no doubt you will end up enjoying a little bit of everything! Here are six of the best reasons to visit Morocco over the winter holidays.

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Ever since the cast of Sex in the City touched down in Marrakesh in 2010, the city has seen a veritable explosion of trendy, cosmo-sipping travelers diving into Morocco for a winter holiday. Whether they come for the sun, the shopping, the cuisine, or some out-of-the-ordinary adventure, there’s no doubt they end up enjoying a little bit of everything! Here are six of the best reasons to visit Morocco over the winter holidays.

colorful array of ground cooking spices

Check off your holiday list at a souk, where you can shop for fresh spices, among other treasures. Photo © Lucas Peters.

The Shopping

The ancients markets (souks) of Morocco provide an unparalleled holiday shopping experience. In the old souks, you can pick up some fresh spices, including saffron, for your foodie friends. Haggle over the price of a hand woven Berber carpet for Mom. Pick up some silver earrings for your friend. Perhaps that hammered brass desk lamp is just the thing for your husband? And keep a look out for that perfect jacket or bag hand-made by the artisan leather workers.

When you’ve exhausted the souks, head out of the medina and into “modern” Morocco, where the high-end designer shops live. Browse around—maybe you’ll find that special something for that special someone.

The Spas

The Moroccan Spa (or “hammam”) is famed as one of the most luxurious bathing rituals in the world, and rightly so. Kick back, relax, and enjoy one of the greatest spa experiences of your life for less than the cost of your last Uber ride. Once your body is nice and toasty from the steam, you’ll be soaped down with 100% organic olive-based black soap, exfoliated, and then massaged into a blissful, limp noodle.

Keep in mind, these 100% natural bath products, like black soap, argan oil and rose water, make for perfect stocking stuffers and are easily found in any souk in Morocco.

The Sun

Have that winter itch for a little vitamin D? Morocco has great beaches where you can catch some rays and work on that tan, year-round! The beaches around Agadir and TanTan are some of the best. Even better, the Atlantic is still warm enough for a quick dip in some refreshing salt water.

a woman skiing in morocco

Hit the slopes in Oukaïmeden in the High Atlas region. Photo © Lucas Peters.

The Slopes

Skiers and snowboarders should check out Oukaïmeden in the High Atlas region. Though not as luxurious or challenging as the slopes in, say, Colorado, it is possible to slalom and surf some powder in Africa! (Plus, how many people can say they’ve been snowboarding in Morocco?) On a clear day, the views down over the plateau to Marrakesh are incredible. The ski season typically runs from December through March, and gear is available to rent on site.

The Snail Soup

Even in the desert, it gets cold at night. This is especially true in the winter. In some regions, you can even expect to see ice. If you find yourself a bit chilly in the beating heart of Marrakesh’s Djemma el-Fnaa square, grab a bowl of snail soup. This escargot-laden treat bathed in saffron broth will warm you from the inside out.

The Stress-free Supervision

Morocco is one of the most kid-friendly countries in the world. Most Moroccans have an extra warm spot in their heart for children. With the relatively low cost of help, it’s possible to bring your children along for vacation, and easily find an au pair when you need a little adult time to gallivant around town! Not only will the nanny ensure your child’s safety, she’ll likely teach your little one some French or Arabic while you’re out! Check out greataupair.com.

So, make your list. Check it twice. Don’t forget the sweaters and swimsuits. Happy holidays, indeed!

Looking to head out of town for a holiday vacation? There are probably a thousand reasons to travel to Morocco in the winter, but for the sake of time, here are six of the best.


Ready to head to Morocco? Order a copy of Moon Morocco and start planning!

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Sights in Chefchaouen, Morocco’s Blue City https://moon.com/2017/09/sights-in-chefchaouen-morocco-blue-city/ https://moon.com/2017/09/sights-in-chefchaouen-morocco-blue-city/#respond Fri, 29 Sep 2017 15:57:33 +0000 https://moon.com/?p=60045 Often regarded as one of the prettiest towns in Morocco, the blue city of Chefchaouen (sometimes shortened to “Chaouen” or “Xaouen”) doesn’t disappoint. The narrow blue passages give way to wide squares where the historic Andalusian influence on the town is easily notable in ornate archways, doorways (the most famous of which is a ruin at the entrance of town), and windows and the sprawl of red-tiled rooftops.

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Often regarded as one of the prettiest towns in Morocco, the blue city of Chefchaouen (sometimes shortened to “Chaouen” or “Xaouen”) doesn’t disappoint. The narrow blue passages give way to wide squares where the historic Andalusian influence on the town is easily notable in ornate archways, doorways (the most famous of which is a ruin at the entrance of town), and windows and the sprawl of red-tiled rooftops. Firmly entrenched on the backpacker circuit, presumably for the easily obtainable (and very illegal) kif and hash, Chefchaouen has long been hosting visitors. Though there are still hostels and pensiones, the recent spike in tourism has led to an increase in boutique hotels, riads, and dars.

For nature lovers, there are several day hikes and overnight hikes through the Rif Mountains and into nearby Talassemtane National Park that are easily accessible, making this a good home base for hikers, campers and backpackers. People here are usually very friendly, though conservative.

Even if it is a bit more touristed than in years past, with its pleasant medina and stunning hikes at its back door, Chefchaouen has retained its charms and continues to be a highlight for seasoned travelers and first-timers alike.

aerial view of Morocco's blue city of Chefchaouen with clouds overhead

Chefchaouen is often regarded as one of the prettiest towns in Morocco. Photo © Zzvet/iStock.

Sights in Chefchaouen

Medina

The ancient medina is nestled in a sharp valley between mountain peaks and is one of the more pleasurable medinas to visit in all of Morocco. It’s often painted by the locals in shades of blue that have been combined to make the stunning “Chefchaouen blue.”

It’s one of the cleanest medinas in the country, with comparatively little trash lying openly on the footpaths like in many other medinas. Plaques in Arabic, Spanish, and English explain the historical importance of some of the medina buildings. However, as is often the case, some things are lost in translation. For instance, at the Casa Banraisun near the kasbah, the trilingual plaque notes that the prince Moulay Ali Ben Rashid built Casa Banraisun for Al-Faqih Ali Ben Maimin, a writer under the prince’s patronage. In Arabic, it explains clearly that the prince had a secret passage built between the house and the kasbah. Mysteriously, this explanation does not exist in either the Spanish or English text that accompanies this plaque. What else has been lost in translation?

The oldest buildings in the Jewish mellah date from the 16th century, though most of the Jewish population didn’t move into the medina until the sultan’s command in the 18th century. Despite its advanced age, it is still known as Mellah el-Jedid (New Mellah), because the old mellah was outside of the medina walls and even older still, though nobody knows exactly how old. Today, there is just the one mellah in Chefchaouen.

The medina is more hassle-free than most others in Morocco. There are still a few touts and nagging store owners, but a firm “no, thank you” is generally sufficient to deter them. No doubt you will be asked many, many times to buy kif, a local specialty, often by young men passing by. Be wary. Kif is a derivative of the marijuana plant and is still very illegal in Morocco, though in Chefchaouen you will likely see people openly smoking in cafés, hostels, storefronts, and even in the streets.

a main in a cloak walks by a tree and a blue wall in Chefchaouen

Take a walk among shades of “Chefchaouen blue” in the medina. Photo © Pazhyna/iStock.

Grand Plaza

The main square, the cobblestoned Place Uta el-Hammam, is the public plaza in the middle of the medina. The plaza and the kasbah that towers over it date from the 15th century, when Moulay Rachid first constructed the kasbah as part of his war against the Portuguese.

Kasbah

The red-walled kasbah (Pl. Uta el-Hammam, Wed.-Mon. 9am-1pm and 3pm-6:30pm, Fri. 9am-12pm, closed Tues., 10Dh), built in 1471, has been renovated and houses a small Ethnography Museum. Moulay Ali Ben Rachid continued his cousin’s declared war against the Portuguese, who had seized control of Tangier, Asilah, and other port towns. Moulay Rachid was concerned with the defensive nature of his war, which was the chief reason he built his fort in Chefchaouen. The graffiti-strewn walls of the small prison still have the chains that once held the inmates. Most information is in Arabic, French, and Spanish.

Grand Mosque

Just next to the looming kasbah, the delicate Grand Mosque (Jamaa Kbeer) (Pl. Uta el-Hammam) rises, calling the faithful to prayer five times a day. Though non-Muslims are not permitted entrance, its architectural uniqueness can be observed from the outside. The mosque was built by Moulay Mohamed, the son of Moulay Rachid, in 1560, but its minaret, inspired by the Torre de Oro in Sevilla, was built much later, in the 18th century. The octagonal minaret features three tiers of blind arches that wrap around the tower, with each tier of arches being distinctive.

view of the Grand Mosque from the ground

The Grand Mosque was built by Moulay Mohamed in 1560, and the minaret was added in the 18th century. Photo © boggy22/iStock.

Fonduq Chfichu

At one time, there were four or five major fonduqs—open courtyards surrounded by stables and shops—that served as hubs for traders, artisans, and shopkeepers in the medina. Today, the only one remaining is Fonduq Chfichu (Zanka Targhi, 20ft from the main square). This 16th-century fonduq just off Place Uta el-Hammam is a reminder of this era of Andalusian-influenced architecture. Currently, wood and iron workers are making use of the fonduq, and usually a distinct odor of kif will accompany your visit.

Ras El-Ma Waterfalls

The Ras el-Ma waterfalls are just beyond Place Sebanin through Bab Ras el-Ma. There are usually ladies who will dress you like a local (jeblia for girls, jebli for boys) for 5Dh. This is a fantastic photo op and should be taken advantage of. This area makes for a nice morning or afternoon stroll with plenty to see and do. The municipality has built wood shacks where the local women often take their laundry to scrub, and just a short hike along the hillside will bring you to the recently renovated, though unused, Spanish Mosque overlooking the city.

Travel map of Chefchaouen

Map of Chefchaouen


If you're traveling to Morocco, consider a visit to the blue city of Chefchaouen. Tucked into the folds of the Rif mountains, this beautiful town is a backpacker's paradise due to its proximity to Talassemtane National Park. Author Lucas Peters shares the best sights in the city to catch during your visit.


Excerpted from the First Edition of Moon Morocco.

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UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Morocco https://moon.com/2017/09/unesco-world-heritage-sites-morocco/ https://moon.com/2017/09/unesco-world-heritage-sites-morocco/#respond Tue, 26 Sep 2017 15:19:42 +0000 https://moon.com/?p=60043 Morocco is home to nine UNESCO World Heritage Sites, which make for a spectacular tour for archaeologists and Indiana Jones wannabes. Explore them all with this two week travel itinerary.

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Morocco is home to nine UNESCO World Heritage Sites, which make for a spectacular tour for archaeologists and Indiana Jones wannabes. Explore the maze of Fez’s medina and discover the Roman ruins of Volubilis before heading north to the medina of Tetouan. Then it’s back south, down the coast, to the Portuguese Cistern of El Jedida and medina of Essaouira before tucking inland to the Red City of Marrakech and over the High Atlas to the living Ait Ben Haddou kasbah on the edge of the Sahara.

skyline view of Ait Ben Haddou ksar

If you can see only one ksar in Morocco, Ait Ben Haddou is the one. Photo © Amina Lahbabi.

This tour is best divided in two parts: north and south, with the order being interchangeable.

Northern Leg

Day 1

After landing in Casablanca, catch the next train for Fez. Spend 3-4 nights in the middle of the medieval city of Fez, where donkeys and horses trod alongside pedestrians.

a man works in a tannery in Morocco

Visit the Chouwara tanneries in Fez to witness a process that hasn’t changed much since the 16th century. Photo © Amina Lahbabi.

Day 2

Spend the day exploring the nooks and crannies of Fez’s medina, paying special attention to sites such as the beautifully restored 14th-century Medersa Bouanania as well as the smelly but rewarding Chouwara tanneries, where leather is being cured as it has for centuries, with pigeon excrement and cow urine.

Day 3

Take a grand taxi to the Roman ruins of Volubilis and spend the morning walking through Roman forums and examining the water irrigation system, the different stone and marble used for construction, and some of the mosaics still lying about. Couple this with an afternoon in the historic city of Meknes looking at the unrestored yet exquisite Medersa Bouanania there, as well as the Mausoleum of Moulay Ismail and the granaries (Heri es Souani), for an idea of the technological advancement of Moulay Ismail’s empire.

Day 4

Catch the 8am bus for the mountain town of Chefchaouen, tucked into the folds of the Rif, and cool off while you have lunch and explore one of Morocco’s more pleasant medinas. Before sunset, catch a cab onto Tetouan and spend two nights in one of the medina lodgings here, such as Dar Rehla.

skyline of Tetouan

The medina of Tetouan. Photo © Lucas Peters.

Day 5

Spend the day in Tetouan exploring the most lived-in medina in Morocco, and make sure to spend an hour or two at the Archaeology Museum of Tetouan. The collection of Roman-era mosaics is unmatched. If you have time, consider taking a walk out to Tamuda—the site is little more than rubble, but it is all that remains of one of the oldest cities in Morocco.

front entrance stairs leading up to the Oudaias Kasbah

Outside the Oudaïas Kasbah in Rabat. Photo © Lucas Peters.

Day 6

In the morning, catch a taxi for Lixus and spend the first half of the day exploring this little-visited Roman ruin just off National Road 1 north of Larache. Have a picnic in the amphitheater overlooking the Loukkos River while contemplating life in this city 3,000 years ago. In the afternoon, make your way by bus to Rabat and check in for two nights. If you want to continue the medina-living experience, check into Le Repose in Salé, just across the river from Rabat.

Day 7

Spend the day exploring the Oudaïas Kasbah in Rabat and duck into the souvenir shops along the Rue des Conseils before making your way to the Chellah Necropolis, where you will see the Roman-era city alongside the more recent ruins of the Almohad and Merenid dynasties of the 12th and 14th centuries. If you have time, consider adding a day to explore the other Roman ruins in this region, Banasa and Thamusida.

Southern Leg

Day 8

Portguese architecture reflected in the water of a cistern in Morocco

Inside the Portuguese cistern in El Jedida. Photo © javarman3/iStock.

From Rabat, take the train to El Jedida, south of Casablanca, to begin the second half of the tour that will take you south. In El Jedida, check into the Dar Al Manar, just north of the city, for eco-friendly lodgings with Fatima for a night, or save a few bucks at the Dar el Breija. Spend the afternoon touring the Portuguese Cistern and ramparts of the city before calling it a day.

Day 9

Take a bus along the coastal road on a beautiful ride south to Essaouira. This region is home to the argan tree, the oil of which is a specialty of Morocco. Here, you can take a walk on the ramparts at sunset and eat off some of the most diverse menus in all of Morocco. Plan on spending two nights in one of the friendly restored riads or hostels.

birds flying over the buildings and boats at the port in Essaouira

The bustling port of Eassaouira. Photo © Amina Lababi.

Day 10

Spend the early morning hours exploring Essaouira’s medina while keeping an eye out for the Jewish Star of David. You’ll see plenty of these above the doors in the mellah. Spend the afternoon shopping in the friendly souks, book a cooking class to make your own Morocco tajines, or bum around for a day on the long strip of beach just south of the medina.

Day 11

Catch the morning bus for Marrakech and keep an eye out for goats munching on the argan nuts in the trees. Plan for two nights in Marrakech, ideally in the medina to experience that last World Heritage medina on your tour. Be sure to reserve dinner in your riad ahead of time. If you’re feeling up to it, make your way to the Jemaa el-Fnaa, the carnivalesque main square, for a night you won’t forget.

tile detail in a doorway of Bahia Palace

Don’t strain your neck looking up at the ornate ceilings at the Bahia Palace! Photo © Lucas Peters.

Day 12

Spend the morning touring the medina sites, including the Bahia Palace, Saadian Tombs, and Marrakech Museum before plunging into the famed Marrakech souks, where sights, sounds, and smells will be sure to dazzle you. Haggle with a shop owner or two to complete the experience.

Day 13

Wake up bright and early to take a bus over the Tizi n’Tichka pass to Ouarzazate, where you will spend the afternoon at the wonderful Ait Ben Haddou kasbah, a real living kasbah with a few families still dwelling in mudbrick. This is one of the most striking examples of the architecture of southern Morocco. From here, if you have time, head out to explore the desert at Erg Chigaga or Erg Chebbi.

Morocco is home to nine UNESCO World Heritage Sites, which make for a spectacular tour for archaeologists and Indiana Jones wannabes. With this 2-week travel itinerary, explore the maze of Fez’s medina and discover the Roman ruins of Volubilis before heading north to the medina of Tetouan. Then it’s back south, down the coast, to the Portuguese Cistern of El Jedida and medina of Essaouira before tucking inland to the Red City of Marrakech and over the High Atlas to the living Ait Ben Haddou kasbah on the edge of the Sahara.


Excerpted from the First Edition of Moon Morocco.

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Road Trip Morocco’s Mediterranean Coast https://moon.com/2017/09/road-trip-morocco-mediterranean-coast/ https://moon.com/2017/09/road-trip-morocco-mediterranean-coast/#respond Wed, 13 Sep 2017 12:08:11 +0000 https://moon.com/?p=60041 If you love a good road trip, consider a drive along the newly paved National Road 16 (N16), which runs along the north Mediterranean Coast, and take the six-hour drive from Tetouan to the Spanish city of Melilla.

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If you love a good road trip, consider a drive along the newly paved National Road 16 (N16), which runs along the north Mediterranean Coast, and take the six-hour drive (350km/218mi) from Tetouan to the Spanish city of Melilla. This drive features majestic cliffs plunging into the blue-green sea below, long stretches of seldom-visited beaches, the occasional national park, and a few protected lagoons that dot the way. Every 20 or 30 kilometers there is a small village, though unfortunately most of these are being developed with the square brick and cement structures common in the villes nouvelles in all Moroccan cities. This strip is popular with Moroccan tourists in the summer, and the more popular beaches are often strewn with trash, though if you keep an eye out, you might run across one of the more secluded beaches between Martil and Al-Hoceima.

From Tetouan, you can follow the N16 directly from town, following signs to Oued Laou (48km/30mi, 1hr). From Chefchaouen, you can either backtrack to Tetouan or take the newly repaved P4105, which twists through the Rif, past the dam at Barrage Oued Laou and a couple of picturesque Moroccan villages, before joining up with the N16 in Oued Laou (56km/35mi, 1.5hr). Here are a few of the highlights east from Oued Laou.

road curving along the coast of the Mediterranean in Morocco

The drive along the Mediterranean Coast is breathtaking. Photo © Lucas Peters.

Oued Laou

As in most of this region, the high tourist season runs July-August, when Moroccans from around the country flock to the north to enjoy the beaches, but outside of the peak season, Oued Laou is a laid-back fishing town. Along the coastline, a few restaurants serve grilled sardines, tajines, and anchovies cured with lemon juice and a mix of parsley, thyme, and garlic. Starting in mid-September, the beaches just outside of the main town are relaxed, with kids occasionally playing soccer on the beach and few sunbathers.

Leaving Oued Laou, the road immediately begins to climb the steep cliffs of the northern point of the Rif Mountains, where they plunge into the sea below. Amazingly, these are part of the same mountain system that gave rise to the Sierra Nevada of Spain just across the strait. The road climbs back and forth through green pine-studded hills and red cliffs.

Targha

From Oued Laou, Targha (17km/11mi, 20min) is the first of many small towns you will reach. Note the small fort atop a huge rock along the coastline. Built during the Spanish protectorate, this crumbling fort was once a base for Spanish dominance in the region. Because of its strategic location, this rock also has a long history of pirates using it as a hidden outpost. Today it is rarely visited, except by shepherds with their goat flocks, which graze along the steep rock.

Stehat

Farther along, after another climb up the Rif, is another, more ruined fort in the valley at Stehat (12km/7mi, 20min from Targha). This is a good place to stop if you need a break after the winding mountain road or want to relax for a few days. The Nazl Stehat (Rue Principale, tel. 0539/884 061, 200Dh) has simple, clean rooms, Wi-Fi, and a restaurant. The rooms are a bit spartan, though they will do in a pinch. The hotel can arrange cycling, fishing, and personal watercraft rentals.

East from Stehat, the drive is less green, though not less interesting. The rock formations of this part of the Rif are picturesque and provide a stunning contrast to the Mediterranean. From here, the transformation from the mountainous region to a more arid, high-desert Mediterranean region is apparent. Rocky mountains give way to oasis-like valleys.

Jebha

Jebha (55km/35mi, 1hr from Stehat) is a small village with an exceptional stretch of beach over a small mountain to the east of town, though it is accessible only by foot, which makes it a real joy to get to. The town offers a few hotels and beachfront grills. Sardines, bissara, and fish tajines are the order of the day. Tuesday is the weekly souk in Jebha, one of the biggest and liveliest around.

highway snaking along the Mediterranean coast

N16 winds its way along the Mediterranean Coast to Al-Hoceima. Photo © dschreiber29/iStock.

Al-Hoceima National Park

Just before the city of Al-Hoceima is Al-Hoceima National Park (Parc National d’Al-Hoceima). This is likely the least-visited national park in all of Morocco and, because of that, a bit of an undiscovered gem that stretches for 485 square kilometers (187 square miles). You won’t find the hordes of backpackers along well-trod paths that you’ll find during the high travel season in other parks. Instead, the many dirt paths that crisscross through the park, from the coastline into the mountains, serve as main thoroughfares for the people of the local Rifi tribes who still live in small villages scattered throughout the park. This is an idyllic spot for hikers and mountain bikers. The park serves as a refuge for many species of flora and fauna, including the endangered thuya wood.

Be on the lookout for signs to Plage de Torres, a beautiful beach a few kilometers off the N16. Campers might consider moving on to Cala Iris, farther down the beach, where there is Camping Amis de Cala Iris (80Dh), which has hot showers for 10Dh and beautiful views over the rest of the national park. From Cala Iris, you can take the 1.5-hour coastal hike to Peñón de Velez de la Gomera, one of the small territories still controlled by Spain in this region.

Plage Sfiha

Immediately after Al-Hoceima, make way for Plage Sfiha. This is one of the more interesting beaches along the strip, though a bit popular. Many tourists and people from Al-Hoceima make their way to picnic on this beach, and they often overwhelm it with the trash they leave behind. From the beach, you can look on at Peñón de Alhucemas, just off the Moroccan coast about 300 meters or so away depending on the tides. This Spanish military base serves as one of the many outlying plazas de sobaranía, or sovereign strongholds, that Spain keeps along this coastline.

After Al-Hoceima, the drive becomes more arid. The landscape features rust-colored cliffs that seemingly drop into the turquoise abyss below. There are several viewpoints along this part of the drive, as well as snack restaurants on the side of the road every few miles, though restrooms can be hard to find. For several stretches the road follows alongside the Mediterranean, in particular at Plage Sidi Driss, where a straightaway across a shallow plain offers a few turnoffs for relaxing.

Cap des Trois Fourches

Along this stretch, one of the more interesting diversions is the Cape of Three Forks (Cap des Trois Fourches). To get there, take the Bni Chiker/Iazzanen exit about 100 kilometers east of Al-Hoceima, on the left. From here, the road is a bit more rocky, though you won’t need a four-wheel drive. The road winds through a few villages. There are two turnoffs, but signs for Cap des Trois Fourches point the way (always, it seems, to the left). The last part of the drive continues up, over a mountainous road that drops straight down into the water, before ending at the Cap des Trois Fourches lighthouse. This is the easternmost tine of the three-pronged fork. The middle prong is the stunning Wali Sidi Amar, a mausoleum for the local saint, and the westernmost prong is an uninhabited crop of rocks. This is a wonderful area to hike to seldom-visited beaches, though the winds are often strong.

Nador

On the doorstep to Melilla lies Nador (126km/78mi, 2.5hr after Al-Hoceima), a grungy border town with little of interest for most travelers. Birders and nature lovers could make an afternoon on the salt lagoon that borders the northeastern part of the city from the Mediterranean, a haven for migratory species such as the greater pink flamingo and kingfisher. Like most other cities in this region, the city swells in the peak summer travel months with tourists from around Morocco flocking to the northern shores of Morocco. The main boulevard along the waterfront offers a chance at numerous cafés for a quick bite to eat and perhaps a seaside stroll before attempting the hectic crossing into Melilla.

Travel map of Tangier, the Mediterranean Coast and the Rif

Tangier, the Mediterranean Coast and the Rif

If you love a good road trip, consider a drive along the newly paved National Road 16 (N16), which runs along the north Mediterranean Coast, and take the six-hour drive from Tetouan to the Spanish city of Melilla. This drive features majestic cliffs plunging into the blue-green sea below, long stretches of seldom-visited beaches, the occasional national park, and a few protected lagoons that dot the way.


Excerpted from the First Edition of Moon Morocco.

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Morocco’s Best Beaches https://moon.com/2017/09/moroccos-best-beaches/ https://moon.com/2017/09/moroccos-best-beaches/#respond Thu, 07 Sep 2017 21:57:34 +0000 https://moon.com/?p=59138 Discover the tranquility of Mediterranean and Atlantic beaches, great for surfers, swimmers, and sunbathers alike. Windsurf in Essaouira, snag a wave in Agadir, and find yourself secluded in the aptly named Paradise Beach in Asilah. For calmer beaches, visit in September, just after the August crowds have subsided and while the water is still at its warmest.

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Discover the tranquility of Mediterranean and Atlantic beaches, great for surfers, swimmers, and sunbathers alike. Windsurf in Essaouira, snag a wave in Agadir, and find yourself secluded in the aptly named Paradise Beach in Asilah. For calmer beaches, visit in September, just after the August crowds have subsided and while the water is still at its warmest.

Agadir

The beach features one of the most pleasant corniche walks, plenty of lounge chairs, and many Europeans who flock here throughout the year for the sun and sand. Just north of Agadir is the friendly enclave of Taghazoute, where good surfing can be had October-April.

sunny day at Agadir beach in Morocco

The enclave near Taghazoute is great for surfing. Photo © Jaques8425/iStock.

Essaouira

Essaouira beaches are welcoming to women travelers and offer plenty of activities, including bird-watching on the Îles Purpuraires. The wind makes it popular with kitesurfers and windsurfers.

Mirleft

This distant beach is a favorite with Europeans looking for something a bit more out of the way. There are some water sports and deep-sea fishing possibilities, but most people come here to get away from the crowds.

Dakhla

The heavy winds that tear across the Sahara and through the distant Western Sahara city of Dakhla have made this beach a favorite with kitesurfers and windsurfers, with paragliding and fishing also favorite pastimes.

seafoam on the shore of Dakhla Beach in Morocco

Kitesurfers, windsurfers, and paragliders will love the beach in Dakhla. Photo © flyingrussian/iStock.

Rabat

Next to Kenitra, just north of Rabat, is the friendly sunbathing Plage des Nations. With the Exotic Gardens of Sidi Bouknadel nearby, there is plenty to do for a day.

Asilah

The aptly named Paradise Beach is generally deserted outside of the busy summer months, making this a romantic daytime getaway for couples looking to spend a little alone time on a beach.

waves crash on the shore of the beach in Asilah, Morocco

Head to Paradise Beach in Asilah during the off-season for a romantic escape. Photo © typhoonski/iStock.

Tangier

Tangier has beaches on the Mediterranean and Atlantic. The popular beaches on the Mediterranean are good for families and small children, while the Atlantic is where the trendy go to catch some rays away from the crowds.

Cabo Negro

Just a short drive from Tetouan are the clean, warm private beaches of Cabo Negro. They’re impossibly busy during the summer months, but in early fall the crowds subside, making this a go-to destination for sun worshippers.

Plage de Torres

Hidden in the middle of Al-Hoceima National Park, the little-visited Plage de Torres is a gem along this stretch of the Mediterranean and one of the few public beaches not strewn with garbage.

Sit back and relax on Morocco's best and most beautiful beaches from the Atlantic to the Mediterranean.


Excerpted from the First Edition of Moon Morocco.

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Three Week Best of Morocco Itinerary https://moon.com/2017/08/three-week-best-of-morocco-itinerary/ https://moon.com/2017/08/three-week-best-of-morocco-itinerary/#respond Thu, 17 Aug 2017 22:40:52 +0000 https://moon.com/?p=59123 With this perfect 20-day itinerary you can see everything Morocco has to offer, from the great imperial cities of Marrakech, Fez, Meknes, and Rabat to the calm oases of the desert. Relax on the beaches along the Atlantic Coast and literally walk through Roman history in Volubilis. If you have less time, prioritize Marrakech, Essaouira, and the desert excursion. This can be done in as little as 10 days.

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With this perfect 20-day Morocco itinerary you can see everything the country has to offer, from the great imperial cities of Marrakech, Fez, Meknes, and Rabat to the calm oases of the desert. Relax on the beaches along the Atlantic Coast and walk through Roman history in Volubilis. If you have less time, prioritize Marrakech, Essaouira, and the desert excursion. This can be done in as little as 10 days.

birds flock around the Koutoubia Mosque

Koutoubia Mosque in Marrakech. Photo © mmeee/iStock.

Marrakech

Day 1

Arrive in the afternoon at the Mohammed V International Airport outside of Casablanca and take the train into town. Get cozy in a beachfront hotel, or a boutique hotel like Le Doge. Treat yourself to a night out at one of the myriad five-star dining options, such as Brasserie la Bavaroise, and sleep off any jet lag.

Day 2

In the morning, take a tour of the Hassan II Mosque and catch an afternoon train for Marrakech. Check into a restored riad, such as Dar Najat or the friendly hostel Hotel Central Palace in the old medina for a three-night stay. Spend the night walking around the giant plaza Jemaa el-Fnaa, taking in the circus-like atmosphere with monkey handlers and snake charmers, and eat dinner back at your road.

Day 3

After breakfast and a fresh orange juice, take a tour of the sights, including the Saadian Tombs, Bahia Palace, and Marrakech Museum, before lunch. Spend the afternoon walking around the souks and getting lost. For dinner, experiment with Moroccan fusion cuisine in a restored riad like Pepe Nero.

Day 4

Tour some of the famed gardens of Marrakech, such as the Menara Gardens, perhaps by horse-drawn carriage, and have lunch in the Ville Nouvelle, Marrakech’s new town, on the hipster strip of Rue de la Liberté. Spend the afternoon in the Ville Nouvelle exploring some of the shops and cafés, but be sure to purchase your bus ticket for the following day to Essaouira. As darkness falls, head back to the Koutoubia Mosque, which comes alive when lit up at night, and have dinner at one of the food stalls on the Jemaa el-Fnaa. Spend a last night in your riad or hostel.

female surfer holding a surf board while looking at camels on the beach

Essaouia Beach. Photo © kasto80/iStock.

Essaouira

Day 5

In the morning, take the two-hour bus trip to Essaouira and look out for goats eating argan nuts from the trees. Settle in for three nights in the old medina at Riad Malaïka or the Atlantic Hostel Woodstock. Have lunch at one of the more eclectic restaurants, such as the eco-friendly Shyadma’s Vegan Food. Explore the medina and start souvenir shopping and getting to know a few of the artists, like the metal sculptor Rachid Mourabit. Catch the sunset from the ramparts, and for dinner treat yourself to a night at the funkily delicious Elixir.

Day 6

Pack your swimsuits and towels for a day on the beach. Consider taking a windsurfing class or taking a boat out to the Îles Purpuraires for some bird-watching. For lunch, head to the port and order some fresh grilled fish at the stand there or duck into Chez Sam for some simple, fresh seafood. In the afternoon, hike down the beach for a bit more privacy, or consider taking a beachside gallop with one of the horses or camels available.

Day 7

Get ready to go to cooking class. Spend the day preparing your own tajines, salads, and desserts at La Table Madada, where chef Mouna will have you slicing, dicing, and simmering your way to a delicious Moroccan meal. Enjoy the fruits of your labors and your last night in this magical coastal retreat.

If you want to trek to the summit of Jbel Toubkal in the High Atlas, go to Day 8. If you want to continue on, go to Day 13.

aerial view of the high atlas mountains from Toubkal

Summiting Jbel Toubkal is one of the peak moments of an adventure through the High Atlas. Photo © Phil MacD Photography/iStock.

Excursion: Trekking the High Atlas

Day 8

Catch the morning bus for Marrakech. Think about spending the night at one of the palatial hotels, like the Es Saadi Gardens and Resort, and pamper yourself in the spa service there or at the Baan Thai Institute as preparation for the hard days ahead.

Day 9

Meet your mountain guide at the hotel. Take the two-hour drive to Imlil. Have lunch and spend the afternoon gearing up for the two-day trek to summit Jbel Toubkal, then have a good night of sleep at the Imlil Lodge.

Day 10

After a hearty mountain breakfast, trek up through Tizi n’Mazik pass to the village of Tamsoult, where dinner and a comfortable bed await your arrival.

Day 11

From Tamsoult, hike to the stunning Irhoulidene Waterfalls, break for lunch, and then take mules to Aguelzim before continuing a trek to the mountain base camp to spend the night at the foot of the summit.

Day 12

After breakfast, ascend Jbel Toubkal. Have a picnic atop the summit or descend and have lunch at the base camp before continuing back to Imlil or Armed for a well-earned night of sleep.

aerial view of ait ben haddou in Ouazazate

If you can see only one ksar in Morocco, Ait Ben Haddou is the one. Photo © Amina Lahbabi.

Ouarzazate and the Southern Oases

Day 13

Be prepared for a long day of travel. Catch the morning bus to Marrakech, and then catch the first bus to Ouarzazate. Have dinner at French bistro Accord Majeur and tour the Hotel Le Berbere Palace next door, keeping an eye out for visiting movie stars. Check in for two nights at the budget-friendly Hotel Atlas or the charming Le Petit Riad.

Day 14

Spend the morning touring the Atlas and CLA movie studios and in the afternoon make your way to the impressive, still functioning, kasbah of Ait Ben Haddou. Have dinner back in your riad or make it a real kasbah day and dine at La Kasbah des Sables.

Day 15

Catch the bus or drive through the oasis of Skoura, along the “Road of 1,000 Kasbahs,” taking in the date palm valleys and crumbling kasbahs set against the snowcapped peaks of the High Atlas. End the drive or get off the bus in the Dades Gorge at Auberge Chez Pierre and enjoy one of the best meals this side of the mountains.

Day 16

Take a morning stroll through the mountain villages of the gorge, perhaps all the way to the Monkey Fingers, before heading back to the car for an afternoon drive (or taking a bus) through Tinghir to Merzouga. Climb on a camel and make your way into the desert for a night under the stars at Erg Chebbi.

Day 17

Wake up to watch the sunrise over the Saharan dunes. After breakfast, climb back on your camel and head back to civilization. Check into the Hotel Tizimi in Erfoud or the Hotel Yasmina in Merzouga and relax for a day next to the pool, sip on a fresh juice, and get a good night of sleep.

Moroccan wall in Fez layered with tile

The blue gate of Bab Boujeloud in Fez. Photo © Anibal Trejo/123rf.

Fez and Meknes

Day 18

After breakfast, make the long drive through Errachidia and the Ziz Valley to the medieval city of Fez. If traveling by bus, you’ll have to wait for the Supratours night bus, which leaves Merzouga at 7pm. In Fez, check into one of the restored riads that have been converted into boutique hotels, such as Riad Laaroussa, or the Funky Fes hostel for two nights.

Day 19

Spend the day getting lost in the labyrinthine medina of Fez or take a guided tour of the museums and sights, such as the breathtaking Batha Museum and the majestic Medersa Bouanania, a restored 14th-century Quranic school. Explore the Chouwara tanneries (after plugging your nose with mint) and tuck in for a quick bowl of bissara at the Elminchaoui soup stand.

Day 20

Take a drive or catch a grand taxi out to the old Roman ruins of Volubilis. Spend the morning walking through history and then have a simple lunch in Meknes, on the Place el-Hedim looking at the impressive Bab Mansour gate. Consider shopping for souvenirs in the medieval (though easy to navigate) medina, and check into a luxury riad near the train station in Rabat for your last night in Morocco.

If You Have More Time …

Think about heading up to Asilah to start a one-week tour that includes Tangier and Chefchaouen.


Excerpted from the First Edition of Moon Morocco.

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From Markets to Museums: The Best Things Do in Marrakech https://moon.com/2017/04/markets-museums-best-things-to-do-marrakech/ https://moon.com/2017/04/markets-museums-best-things-to-do-marrakech/#respond Thu, 13 Apr 2017 15:13:11 +0000 https://moon.com/?p=53988 Author Lucas Peters shares the best things to do and see in Morocco's great city of Marrakech, from visiting the bustling souks to relaxing at a traditional hammam.

The post From Markets to Museums: The Best Things Do in Marrakech appeared first on Moon Travel Guides.

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Modern-day Marrakech is made up of ancient bamboo-covered souks, an endless array of bazaars, lush palm groves, five-star restaurants, snake charmers, fortune tellers, and characters of all shapes and sizes. With the snowcapped peaks of the High Atlas serving as a backdrop, it often feels as though Marrakech has sprung out from the famous tales of Scheherazade. With its myriad activities, sights, foods, and accommodations to fit nearly every budget and interest, it should come as no surprise that Marrakech is one of the most popular destinations in the world.

Most travelers will find that Marrakech’s famed medina is more of a felt experience than a sightseeing stop. Somewhat surprisingly, there are only a few attractions and museums to tour in the area. Most sights can be visited between breakfast and lunch, leaving plenty of time to wander through the souks and bazaars, which is the real pastime in Marrakech. But be warned: if it’s your first experience in a Moroccan medina, the vast bustling streets of Marrakech can be stressful to navigate, and it’s easy to become disoriented. Streets are usually unnamed and there are plenty of confusing, often frustrating, dead ends. Thankfully, the lack of pressure to check off a list of sights makes it easier to stop in at a café or dawdle a bit longer over lunch (or perhaps reserve that much-needed massage), all in the name of relaxation—particularly after an adventure in getting lost. Don’t worry: it’s bound to happen, and is all part of the experience.

A water seller on the Jemma el-Fnaa. Photo © Lucas Peters.

A water seller on the Jemma el-Fnaa. Photo © Lucas Peters.

A stay in Marrakech wouldn’t be complete without a night out on the Jemaa el-Fnaa, the giant plaza that is the carnival heart of the city. Fortune tellers, jugglers, medicine men, musicians, henna artists, storytellers and snake charmers gather to entertain the crowds as they have for a millennium. Sip on fresh-squeezed orange juice from one of the twenty or so local sellers (prices run about 4 dirhams) and peer through the veil of smoke from lamb, chicken, and beef brochettes being grilled up at the numerous food stands, while the Gnawa drumbeat rhythmically draws you further into the festivities. This is a quintessential Marrakechi scene and truly something to behold.

The Ville Nouvelle offers some of the best restaurants in town, some of the best parks in Morocco, and some of the best nightclubs in Africa. Though lacking in major sightseeing attractions, a trip through the palm groves should be on your itinerary, as well as an early morning at the Majorelle Gardens.

Evening at Jemaa el-Fnaa, where visitors can find all manner of food stands and local culture.

Evening at Jemaa el-Fnaa, where visitors can find all manner of food stands and local culture. Photo © Simon Hack/Dreamstime.

Best Things to Do in Marrakech

Shopping the Souks

Chunky silver jewelry, hand-woven carpets, artisanal soaps, and hand-spun and painted ceramics are just a few of the goodies waiting for you in the labyrinthine souks of Marrakech. Of course, one of the charms (and one of the hassles) of Morocco is bartering. Prices are nearly always negotiable. The entire interaction is an intricate dance, with partners taking turns with the lead, spinning one another around until a final price is agreed upon. Moroccan dancing partners, at least when it comes to shopping, are notoriously aggressive and demanding, and you are expected to be equally aggressive and demanding. Don’t be rude, but be firm with a price you think is fair.

Moroccan Spas

There are still a number of traditional hammams (Moroccan spas) running throughout the medina of Marrakech. These are simple affairs with a steam room and scrubbing available for 10-20Dh. Though intended for locals, many travelers find a visit to a genuine Moroccan hammam to be a memorable experience. You can ask your accommodations for directions to the closest one.

A considerably less traditional, though completely luxurious, spa experience can be had at almost any of the palatial hotels in Hivernage. The cream of the crop is the Es Saadi Palace Spa (Rue Ibrahim el Mazini, tel. 0524/337 400). The enormous spa grounds feature a thermal spa, high-tech swimming pool with multiple water pathways, thermal heat baths, massage rooms, open terraces for yoga, a complete gym, and a mirrored room for indoor yoga or dance. This is holistic body care at its finest.

Storytelling at Café Clock

Every Thursday night at 7pm, Café Clock (224 Derb Chtouka, tel. 0655/210 172, free) hosts one of the most culturally interesting events in town. Professional storytellers from the Jemaa el-Fnaa come and weave their tales for audiences in English and Moroccan Arabic. Other weekly events include traditional music on Sundays (6pm), jam sessions on Wednesdays—where you can bring your own instrument and play with a cast of characters from around the world—(7pm), and live local music on Saturdays (6pm).

colorful array of ground cooking spices

Take a cooking class in Marrakech to learn how to utilize Moroccan spices. Photo © Lucas Peters.

Cooking Classes

Check in with the dada (a woman who manages the cooking and children of a house) at the chic La Maison Arabe (1 Derb Assehbé, near Bab Doukkala, tel. 0524/387 010, 600Dh). Geared toward both amateurs and professionals, classes work with translators and use modern equipment. Classes begin with an explanation of the seasonal menu, typically with a Moroccan salad as well as a tajine of your choice (you can also forgo the salad and make a dessert instead). Then you’ll take a tour of the local market to pick fresh ingredients, make a quick stop at the spice market, and then get to work. After class, enjoy the fruits of your labor poolside in in this elaborate, upmarket riad.

Things to See

Marrakech Museum

The restored Dar Menebhi Palace houses the Marrakech Museum (Musée de Marrakech) (Pl. Ben Youssef, tel. 0524/441 893, daily 9am-6pm, 50Dh). Though there is plenty to see on display, half of the fun of this museum is walking around the restored palace and taking in the attention to detail, the zellij tile work, enormous carved wood doors, and fine stucco work.

If you are touring the Medersa Ben Youssef and the Marrakech Museum, buy the combined visit ticket for 60 dirhams.

Medersa Ben Yousseff

The Medersa Ben Yousseff (Kaat Benahid, tel. 0632/251 164, daily 8am-5pm, 50Dh) was a functioning Quranic school built during the Almoravid period in the 12th century, and was in continual use until the 19th century. It has recently been restored. Throughout the medersa, you’ll find photos of the recent restoration as well as beautiful woodwork carved from the cedar trees of the Atlas Mountains throughout the vestibules, cupolas and main prayer room. Marble imported from Italy, combined with the local stucco work, provide most of the decoration alongside complex zellij work of various shapes, techniques and arrangements.

Photography Museum

Following the Zaouiate Lahdar from the Dar Bellarj west, toward Place du Maoukef, will bring you to the Photography Museum (46 Rue Bin Lafnadek, tel. 0524/385 721, daily 9:30am-7pm, 40Dh). Photographers and those interested in Moroccan history will enjoy the collection of black and white photos dating from 1870 to 1950. There is a short documentary from 1957 about the Amazigh, Chez les Berbères du Haut-Atlas, by Daniel Chicault that screens every hour. This is the first time that the Amazigh were ever filmed in color and the scenes, even if you don’t understand the French narration, are breathtaking. The rooftop terrace has gorgeous views of Marrakech and the distant peaks of the High Atlas.

Tanneries

Further west along the same road that led from the Place de la Kisseria, past the shops selling everything from bottled water to recycled metal sculptures, and all the way to the exit of the medina near Bab Debbaugh, you’ll find the tanneries of Marrakech. The tanners of Marrakech have been working leather hides traditionally for almost a thousand years with little change to the process. Hides are first left to soak in a vat of quicklime, salt, water and cow urine to make hair and fat easier to remove. Tanners then leave the hides out to dry. Once dry, they are transferred to a vat of pigeon excrement, which makes the leather softer, before being dipped into a final vat of colored dye. The hides are left to dry in the sun once more and then cut and sold to leatherworkers who make slippers, bags, purses, belts, wallets and other products with them. With all the bodily fluids, bloody animal hides, and hot sun, it’s no wonder that they tanneries smell as rank as they do—and obvious why they are so far away from the rest of the medina. You’ll likely be given a mint leaf cluster to shove up your nose, which will make the smell more bearable. It’s an impressive sight, all the same, and a truly medieval experience.

tile detail in a doorway of Bahia Palace

Don’t strain your neck looking up at the ornate ceilings at the Bahia Palace! Photo © Lucas Peters.

Bahia Palace

You’ll find the Bahia Palace (5 Rue Riad Zitoun el Jdid, tel. 0524/389 511, daily 9am-4:30pm, 10Dh) just off the Rue Riad Zitoun el Jdid that leads to the Jemaa el-Fnaa. This ornate palace was given to the concubine Bahia, a favorite of the wealthy vizier Si Moussa, a former slave who rose to become the grand vizier to Moulay Hassan. Be prepared to strain your neck looking up at the beautifully maintained woodcarving, geometric painting, and stucco work covering the ceilings of the palace.

The palace is still used by the government, with the current Minister of Culture Affairs residing in a small section of it. A few scenes from Alfred Hitchcock’s The Man Who Knew Too Much were filmed on the palace grounds. Get here early to avoid the crowds and enjoy a more tranquil stroll through the palace and its gardens.

Saadian Tombs

Originally walled in by Moulay Ismail in the late 17th century and then “rediscovered” by the French in 1917, the Saadian Tombs (Rue de la Kasbah, daily 8am-4pm, 10Dh) are some of the most ornate tombs in all of Morocco. It is the sheer beauty—or, some might argue, audacity—of their decoration that drives so many tourists here to gape at the gaudy mesh of stucco work, zellij tiles, inlaid gold and Italian marble. The mausoleum consists of three rooms and the elaborate gravestones spill out into the courtyard and its gardens. About 60 members of the Saadi dynasty (1554-1659) are buried inside the mausoleum. The most famous room is the Room of the Twelve Columns, which houses the grave of Ahmed al-Mansur, the best known of the Saadi rulers. He ruled from 1578 to1603 and built the nearby Badi Palace. It is rumored that French authorities found the tombs while conducting an aerial survey of Marrakech, though the locals say otherwise, maintaining that they have always known of their existence.

Badi Palace

The Badi Palace (Ksibat Nhass, tel. 0661/350 878, daily 8:30am-12:30pm and 2:30pm-4:30pm, 10Dh) is the ruined palace of the Saadian Sultan Ahmed al-Mansur. Al-Mansur began construction of the palace in 1578 to celebrate his victory over the Portuguese at the famous “Battle of the Three Kings” in the town of Ksar el-Kbeer near Tangier. The empty grounds are a bit more interesting after a tour of the Bahia Palace, where you will catch a glimpse of the history that has been preserved and then, at the Badi Palace, see that which has been left to ruin. The ramparts are excellent spots to photograph Marrakech, and the general lack of crowds will grant you a little peace and quiet after the busy medina.

The palace has a long history of being looted and sacked. In the 17th century, after the fall of the Saadian Dynasty, it was stripped of materials and marble was taken, perhaps to Moulay Ismail’s palace in Meknes. Today, the coos of pigeons and clacking bills of mating storks enliven the grounds. There are projects under way now to renovate certain areas and develop gardens.

Admission price does not include access to the small museum (10Dh) and the excellent minbar (a type of pulpit sometimes used by imams to deliver their Friday sermons) housed there. The minbar is a great example of 12th century artistry and has been faithfully restored. The museum is the best-preserved indoor area of the expansive palace grounds, and the admission fee is well worth it.

view of cactus surrounding a bright blue building in Marrakech

The Majorelle Gardens are the loving creation of French painter Jacques Majorelle, who began working on the gardens in the 1920s. Photo © Tudor Antonel Adrian/123rf.

Majorelle Gardens

The wonderfully art deco Majorelle Gardens (Rue Yves Saint Laurent, tel. 0524/313 047, Oct.-Apr. daily 8am-5:30pm, May-Sept. daily 8am-6pm, Ramadan 9am-5pm, 50Dh for gardens, additional 25Dh for Berber Museum) is the loving creation of French painter Jacques Majorelle, who began working on the gardens in the 1920s. Majorelle cultivated this garden over 40 years, first opening it to the public in 1947. However, because of health issues, he had to abandon the gardens. They suffered without a caretaker—the gardens were nearly destroyed and, at one point, almost mowed over to make room for a hotel. Luckily, in 1980, fashion designer Yves Saint Laurent and his partner Pierre Bergé purchased the gardens and set about a restoration effort.

Today, the intense cobalt blue walls (incidentally, this particularly intense shade of blue is called “Majorelle blue” after the French painter), water lilies, lotus flowers, and numerous cacti tucked beneath the shade of the towering palm trees make this a heaven for people and birds alike. Due to its popularity, however, the garden isn’t quite as relaxing as one might imagine (particularly when a bus full of tourists descend onto the property). It’s best to go early in the morning, when the crowds are away, the air is fresh, and the blackbirds, house sparrows, warblers and turtledoves who call these gardens home are at their most active.

There is a small café with a terrace inside the gardens, but it’s expensive for what it is. There is also the small Berber Museum that provides an interesting look at the neighboring culture of the High Atlas mountains, including its textiles and jewelry. The gift shop has original period photographs for sale, some of them decades old and all of them fascinating, though not cheap.

Planning Your Time

Most people spend at least three days in Marrakech. Three days is just enough time to see the sights, absorb the life of the medina, make a trip or two into the Ville Nouvelle to see the Majorelle Gardens, Palmerie (Palm Groves) and a few of the other attractions, while also leaving enough time to lounge for an afternoon or two in your luxurious medina riad. The wide variety of restaurants on offer, as well as abundant entertainment, make longer stays easily feasible.

Travel to Morocco, and see some of what makes this African country so vibrant. With the best of Marrakech, from museums to markets, there's never a dull moment!

Travel to Morocco, and see some of what makes this African country so vibrant. With the best of Marrakech, from museums and markets to beautiful art tiles, there's never a dull moment!

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Moroccan Baths: Visiting a Hammam Spa https://moon.com/2017/04/moroccan-baths-visiting-hammam-spa/ https://moon.com/2017/04/moroccan-baths-visiting-hammam-spa/#respond Mon, 03 Apr 2017 18:25:27 +0000 https://moon.com/?p=54427 The Moroccan spa, or hammam, is known worldwide as a luxurious experience, though the exact ritual of the hammam remains a mystery to many. Lost somewhere in billowing clouds of steam, hand-crafted argan soaps, healing clay masks, exfoliating scrubs and intense massages, is the humble purpose of these public baths: to get clean.

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The Moroccan hammam, (or spa) is known worldwide as a luxurious experience, though the exact ritual of the hammam remains a mystery to many. Lost somewhere in billowing clouds of steam, hand-crafted argan soaps, healing clay masks, exfoliating scrubs and intense massages, is the humble purpose of these public baths: to get clean.

You’ll find local hammams in pretty much every city in Morocco. A visit costs about a dollar (10 Moroccan dirhams), with different operating hours for men and women. For the uninitiated, the experience can be a bit confusing. Typically, you’ll navigate four rooms (changing room, cool room, warm room and hot room) in your bathing suit or underwear, first soaping yourself with savon bildi (black soap) in the warm room. Next up is the hot room, where you rinse, scrub, and breathe in the steam, before heading back to the warm room for a final soap-down (and maybe a massage). The final stop is the cool room, where the thing to do is sit for a little while, chat with a friend, and snack on a fresh mandarin or orange.

lowlit pool in a traditional Moroccan bath (or hammam)

A traditional Moroccan hammam. Photo © Typhoonski.

A note on etiquette: women can sometimes go totally nude (just look around to see if anyone else is stripping down to their birthday suits). Without exception, men are expected to keep their bathing suits on at all times. It might seem strange to keep your bathing suit or underwear on while washing, but this is the norm. You’ll also find that the local hammams can be pretty loud. Keep in mind, for many people, this is the place to go to gossip and share news with friends.

Couples or travelers looking for a quieter experience should prioritize one of the mid-range or high-end hammams found throughout Morocco. For 25 dollars on up (250 Moroccan dirhams) you can have an intimate, relaxing experience as attendants scrub, exfoliate and massage you for an hour. You’ll leave feeling fresh and invigorated—and at the same time, feeling a little like you could plop down for a really good nap.

For the local hammams, you’ll be expected to bring everything, which gives you a good excuse to go shopping for all the Moroccan bath treats you’ll want to take home! The most important are savon bildi and ghassoul (clay). Savon bildi is available in different scents, with eucalyptus, wild mint, orange blossom and argan oil being the most popular. Argan oil, in particular, has numerous benefits: it makes hair shine and reduces inflammation and scarring in the skin. Many men and women use argan oil to help with acne and stretch marks.

Moroccan soap, henna, and clay.

Henna, savon bildi, and ghassoul. Photo © Pauliene Wessel/123rf.

What to Bring

  • Flipflops or sandals
  • A plastic bucket
  • A cup (traditionally this would be brass, but any cup will do)
  • A towel
  • A kis (the scrubbing glove)
  • Savon bildi (black soap)
  • Ghassoul (clay)
  • Shampoo
  • Conditioner
  • Shower gel or soap bar
  • Something to cover your lower half (bathing suit or underwear, though keep in mind they might get stained if you’re going to have henna applied or might get stretched out because of the steam)
  • A clean change of clothes
  • An orange to eat while you are relaxing in the cooling room before you change into fresh clothes

Whether you dive in for the local hammam experience or opt for one of the trendy, high-end spas, the end result will be the same: you’ll be the cleanest you’ve ever been.

Some of the finest Turkish baths are in Morocco. With these tips and tricks, you'll be able to see the Hammam spas and all of their beautiful tiles like a pro.

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Guide to Sahara Desert Tours from Car to Camel https://moon.com/2017/03/guide-sahara-desert-tours-car-to-camel/ https://moon.com/2017/03/guide-sahara-desert-tours-car-to-camel/#respond Mon, 27 Mar 2017 23:37:49 +0000 https://moon.com/?p=54425 A trip to Morocco feels somehow incomplete without spending at least one night in a desert oasis. Moroccans and foreigners alike come to take in the great expanse of the Sahara and experience the warm hospitality that this region is known for.

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A trip to Morocco feels somehow incomplete without spending at least one night in a desert oasis. Ouarzazate and its surroundings are chockfull of them, some more explored than others. Here, paved roads give way to packed dirt and sand. If you’re lucky, just over the next dune is a fresh, quiet palm grove. Moroccans and foreigners alike come to take in the great expanse of the Sahara and experience the warm hospitality that this region is known for.

Snug against the edge of the vast Sahara Desert, Merzouga was little more than a collection of a few Bedouin tents a few short years ago. The irresistible draw of the desert is evident in the number of hotels and specialty riads that have recently sprung up, as well as the new paved road from Er-Rissani.

Desert accommodations. Photo © Lucas Peters.

Desert accommodations in Merzouga. Photo © Lucas Peters.

Merzouga is one of the more accessible portals to the desert. Trekking into the desert on camelback for a quiet night in a Bedouin tent, sipping mint tea on the great Erg Chebbi, enjoying a wood-fired tajine, stargazing late into the night and waking early to watch the pink and crimson sunrise is something of a quotidian affair.

From a great distance, the ochre brilliance of Erg Chebbi rises high above Merzouga, a stunning reminder of the sheer awesomeness of the Sahara. Throughout the day, the sands here shift in shades of red and pink, making for breathtaking pictures and ever-changing scenery. Antoine de Saint-Exupéry described this experience best when he wrote: “One sits down on a desert sand dune, sees nothing, hears nothing. Yet through the silence something throbs, and gleams.”

A vast hamada (barren, rocky plateau) separates this piece of the Sahara from the rest of the desert, rendering it an especially curious sight in this otherwise rocky region. The dunes rise to heights of nearly 500 feet (150m) and spread out over an expanse of 200 square miles. Even with the rise in tourism, it’s still very possible to enjoy a quiet night beneath the stars in the hush of the desert.

There are several ways to tour Erg Chebbi. The easiest is to walk, though trekking through the dunes is tough work. Still, many people make it out on foot to the tallest sand dune to take in a sunset. ATVs are another possibility, are generally discouraged due to noise and pollution. The most natural method of transportation is by camel—specifically, dromedary.

There are numerous guides with their dromedaries hanging out at the beginning of Erg Chebbi. In the offseason, some deals can be found if you bargain hard. The typical rates are 100Dh for a ride out to enjoy the sunset, 200-500Dh for an overnight stay with dinner and breakfast in a Bedouin tent, or 700-1000Dh for a “luxury stay” overnight, complete with en suite toilets. You’ve come all this way…it would be shame not to ride that dromedary out into that wonderful Saharan sand and experience a taste of life in the desert.

The seasonal lake of Erg Chabbi. Photo © Lucas Peters.

The seasonal lake of Erg Chabbi. Photo © Lucas Peters.

When to Go

The spring and fall are generally considered the best months to visit. Temperatures can be hot during the day and cool at night, but the weather is generally fair. Winter can be an excellent time to visit, though rain storms and flooding can be a concern and temperatures will dip below freezing at night in some parts.

Planning Your Time

For those on a tight schedule, be aware that travel times will be long. The roads are slow and generally not well-maintained. From Marrakech, you most likely come via the N9 through Ouarzazate. From Fez or Meknes, you will arrive from the north via the N13 by way of Midelt and through the Ziz Valley. It’s best to traverse this region with a map, as roads are often unmarked and sometimes marked only in Arabic. Before setting out, have an idea of the roads you’ll take and possible circuits. Roads are all two-lanes, meaning that traffic can get backed up because of farm equipment and herding animals.

From Marrakech, it’s possible to take a three-day trip into the Sahara via Ouarzazate, though this will mean a lot of travel time per day. Four days is preferable: one day to get to Ouarzazate, another half day to explore one or two of the kasbahs around Ouarzazate (such as the famed Ait Ben Haddouh), and then a half day to continue to the first erg of the Sahara outside of Zagora (or to Erg Chebbi at Merzouga). Plan for one day in the Sahara and then another for the return trip. It’s possible to continue from Marrakech all the way to Zagora in one day, though this is a lot of driving.

From Fez or Meknes, it will take a full day of driving to get to Merzouga. If you leave early enough, it’s possible to take a camel or 4×4 out to a bedouin tent and then return the next day, but three or four days is a more relaxing pace.

Agencies and Guides

The region is best explored with a guide for those who don’t have much time and want to do more than just a night in the desert. The most dependable, honest guide in the region is Abdelkarim Tata (tel. 0662/294 386). Tata can arrange for day trips in the region, including the nearby Ziz Valley, 4x4s into the desert, overnight trips into reputable Bedouin nomad camps, and meals with a nomad locally famous for his madfouna—a local specialty of ground camel, chicken or cow and onion, seasoned, spiced and folded, slow cooked beneath hot desert sands (a non-traditional, but equally delicious, vegetarian option is available).

If you’d like to include a trip to Merzouga as part of your Moroccan vacation, consider contacting Journey Beyond Travel (tel. 0610/414 573 in Morocco, U.S. toll-free tel. 855/687-6676), one of the best travel companies in Morocco. They create custom packages and tours while working to maintain an eco-friendly, socially sustainable business model. They can arrange for trips throughout this region with reliable, friendly drivers and the best accommodation in the area.

Taha pouring tea in the Moroccan desert. Photo © Lucas Peters.

Taha pouring tea in the Moroccan desert. Photo © Lucas Peters.

Getting There

Getting to the edge of nowhere can be a little tricky without a car, and even with a car you will likely want to rent a 4×4 vehicle to further explore this edge of the Sahara. The national road (N13) stops in Merzouga. It is possible to take this road from Fez (292mi/470km, 9hr), following the N8 into the Middle Atlas, past the towns of Imouzzer, Ifrane and Azrou before joining the N13 and following the road signs to Midelt and Errachidia (83mi/133km, 2hr). From Meknes (287mi/462km, 9hr), the route is a bit more straightforward, taking you directly through El Hajeb and Azrou on the N13.

From Ouarzazate (229mi/368km, 8hr), follow the N10 through the North Draa Valley, past the Dades and Todra Gorges. At Tinejdad (91mi/146km, 2.5hr), turn off the N10 and follow the R702 (Route de Jorf) to Erfoud (37mi/60km, 1hr).

There is convenient free parking at the end of the main road, where the pavement meets the desert at the base of Erg Chebbi, the largest single erg in the region.

The Supratours (tel. 0524/888 566 or 0524/885 632) bus runs all the way to Merzouga from Fez (11hr, 1 daily, 190Dh) and Marrakech (12.5hr, 1 daily, 200Dh). You can also catch this bus in Errachidia (2.5hr, 2 daily, 60Dh), Ouarzazate (8hr, 1 daily 130Dh), Boulmane Dades (6hr, 1 daily, 90Dh) or Tinghir (5hr, 1 daily, 80Dh). Buy tickets a few days in advance to guarantee seating.

If arriving via CTM (Call Center: tel. 0800 0900 30), the bus only runs up to Rissani; after that, you’ll have to get a grand taxi (42km, 45min, 10Dh).

The Supratours buses leave Merzouga at 8am and 7pm. Travelers heading south will want to take the morning bus that passes through Rissani and Errachidia before turning south on the N10 and stopping at Tinghir (4.5hr, 1 daily, 80Dh), Boulmane Dades (6.5hr, 1 daily, 100Dh), Ouarzazate (8hr, 1 daily, 120Dh), and Marrakech (12hr, 1 daily, 175Dh). The 7pm bus runs through Errachidia before continuing overnight until Fez (11hr, 1 daily, 160Dh).

If you're traveling to Marrakesh, you're going to want to take a trip into the Sahara Desert. And with these tips, you can tour Morocco's enchanted land by car or camel.

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Street Food in Morocco https://moon.com/2017/03/street-food-in-morocco/ https://moon.com/2017/03/street-food-in-morocco/#respond Fri, 17 Mar 2017 19:55:24 +0000 https://moon.com/?p=54255 Grabbing a bite at one of the seemingly infinite snack carts in Morocco’s medinas is a wonderful way to interact with locals and indulge in some fast food, Morocco-style. For a true taste of local flavor, it doesn’t get any better (or cheaper)!

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Grabbing a bite at one of the seemingly infinite snack carts in Morocco’s medinas is a wonderful way to interact with locals and indulge in some fast food, Morocco-style. For a true taste of local flavor, it doesn’t get any better (or cheaper)! Street food in Morocco generally ranges between 1-10Dh per serving, making this ideal for those traveling on a shoe-string budget.

Evening at Jemaa el-Fnaa, where visitors can find all manner of food stands and local culture.

Evening at Jemaa el-Fnaa, where visitors can find all manner of food stands and local culture. Photo © Simon Hack/Dreamstime.

One of the more common street foods you’ll find is a steaming bowl of snail soup – a brothy treat perfect for the escargot lover. The snails are typically seasoned with a warm mix of spices such as licorice, cinnamon, bay leaves, and the eponymous ras el-hanoot.

In the north, you’ll likely see street vendors with large, round pies on hot plates. These are caliniti, derived from the Spanish caliente: a savory, flan-like treat made of chickpeas. It’s almost always generously seasoned with cumin and har (a spicy chili pepper), but if you’re up for it, dial up the heat by asking for more spices to shake on yourself.

Another chickpea treat is hoomus (from hummus). This steamed snack of whole chickpeas is generously seasoned with salt and cumin. It’s something akin to popcorn, usually served in a paper cone and made to be eaten on the go.

Street food in Morocco includes Bissara soup in the Fez medina. Photo © Lucas Peters.

Bissara soup in the Fez medina. Photo © Lucas Peters.

A more filling indulgence is bissara, generally made with fava beans, though sometimes with split peas. This is a thick, hearty soup, popular with sailors for its rumored ability to heal rheumatism and pulmonary disease. This staple is usually served with a generous half loaf of round bread, plenty of olive oil, and chili pepper.

Barbecues are also immensely popular, offering brochettes of seasoned chicken and beef, as are the fruit vendors, with tropical delicacies sold by the slice. For some energy on the go, consider the local nutjob who’ll be selling a variety of roasted nuts – such as walnuts, almonds, and cashews – that can be had for peanuts…horrible puns fully intended.

To wash it all down, consider grabbing a refreshing, energizing sugar cane juice — these are surprisingly full of proteins and minerals like calcium, phosphorus, iron, zinc, and potassium, as well as vitamins A, B-complex, and C. Of course, if sugar cane juice isn’t your thing, fresh-squeezed orange juice or a free public water fountain are never far away. Whatever you guzzle, you’ll want to pack your own bottle to wash and refill as the alternatives are plastic cups or glasses that are not always thoroughly cleaned.

Tips and tricks about street food while traveling the world in Morocco, Africa.

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