Giant lanterns, bright rugs, dimly lit restaurants with low tables and belly dancers, candles, snake-charmers, mountainous sand dunes shaded burning orange and dusty hairpin roads stretching as far as the eye can see: Morocco is an experience not to be missed.
TRAVEL: Morocco is cheap and easy to get to. From London, easyJet operates cheap flights most days to Marrakech. My personal favourite though, depending on what end of the Morocco you’re planning on starting your trip from, is to fly to Madrid for a cheeky tapas-infused stopover and then hop over to Tangier and from there an a short plane ride. Once in the country, you can hire a car (the roads are generally very good but beware crazy drivers in Marrakech) or take trains and buses throughout the country; check out this site for brilliant travel logistics. The transport infrastructure is impressive and the trains are wonderful. Book your own carriage for the ultimate experience.
WEATHER: In the summer months (July to September) Morocco gets very hot but the temperature varies widely from place to place. Essaouira tends to be cool and windy at 18 -20 degrees C and the Atlas Mountains are cooler too, whereas Marrakech gets up to 50 degrees. If you want to ensure you’re not sweltering it’s worth going in March/ April where the weather is pretty much perfect.
CASH: the currency is Moroccan Dirham and you can get cash from the airport on arrival. Essaouira and Marrakech have cash machines but if you’re heading into the mountains or the desert it’s wise to get cash before you go. Many guesthouses accept cash only so check before you arrive.
PACKING: as a Muslim country women are expected to dress modestly. While many parts of Morocco are used to seeing western tourists it’s still wise for women to cover their arms and legs. I tend to take strapped tops and a shawl to keep cool but covered at the same time. For the mountains you’ll want walking boots to enjoy the spectacular hikes, and for the city go for Solillas – super pretty and comfy at the same time.
Food, to my mind, is one of the most wonderful ways we can experience a country and its culture. My highlights from eating and drinking my way around Morocco:
KOSYBAR, MARRAKECH: Expect dimmed lights, wicker chairs with comfy cushions, candles and giant hanging lamps at this cool Marrakech bar. Head there after a hot day in the old town around 7pm to get a table before the crowds arrive and catch the sunset from the roof terraces. Alcohol is available.
TAROS, ESSAOUIRA: This place makes you feel like a model breezing through in a photo shoot with its blue terraces, live band playing chilled house music and shades swaying in the wind. There’s a beautiful view over the beach to one side and the sea and sunset to the right.
DOUAR SAMRA, IMLIL: This cute and rustic guesthouse on the mountain slopes near Imlil offers some of the best Moroccan vegetarian food I’ve had. Delicious tomatoey tagines and aubergine salsa awaits.
CHEFCHAOUEN: Some of my favourite restaurants in Morocco are tucked down little lanes leading off of the small and pretty blue square in Chefchaouen. Be sure to explore the different corners and nooks and head up to the terraces overlooking the square for a meal with a view.
DOLCE FREDDO, ESSAOUIRA: One of my favourite things about going to Essaouira is this ice cream café. They offer delicious Italian flavours and spectacular hot chocolates that will probably give you a heart attack, all served on pretty tables overlooking the port and square.
CAFÉ CLOCK, FEZ: A quirky and fun restaurant in Fez media, this restaurant is situated above the ancient water clock in the rickety streets of Fez. They often have local music playing and there’s a wide and varied menu to choose from.
Morocco abounds with beautiful riads, quirky guesthouses and luxurious hotels to rest your head at, but the volume can be intimidating. These are my favourites to get you started:
DAR HABIBA, MARRAKECH: A haven away from the bustling heat of the souks and Jemaa El Fna square, Dar Habiba riad is tranquil and peaceful. The staff are helpful and welcoming and the breakfast on the roof terrace is delicious.
DAR L’OUSSIA, ESSAOUIRA: Built in 1954, this riad is tucked inside the media walls just moments from the beach with a roof terrace to rival any Santorini property. Visit in the summer months when the rooms are off peak (but Essaouira is still wonderfully sunny yet cool) to sample their luxurious rooms for just £50 per night.
DAR ECHCHAOUEN, CHEFCHAOUEN: hidden behind a wall on the hill overlooking colourful Chefchaouen is the beautiful Dar Echchaouen guesthouse. Highlights include a breakfast of fresh orange juice, olive tapenade and breads and the pool with spectacular views of the valley and sunset.
DOUAR SAMRA, ATLAS MOUNTAINS: This guesthouse has a fabulous location overlooking Imlil and the surrounding mountains. It is run by a charismatic Swiss woman who nurtures the colourful gardens and has made a rustic haven with hammocks, terraces and cushions, and you can look forward to meeting the ducks, the donkey, the cat and her 4 dogs.
On my trips to Morocco I have been amazed by the variety of landscapes, the differences and similarities both in colours, traditions and temperatures and the plentiful activities to arouse your interest. These are some of my all time favourite things to do:
EXPERIENCE MOUNTAIN BIKING: Biking down the narrow passes on the mountains of Imlil in the High Atlas has got to be one of the best days of my life. You can hire a bike from Imlil and at the top of the mountain whizz off for hours arriving in Asni later. You’ll want a local area map so you can head off without a guide.
RIDE A CAMEL IN THE SAHARA: For the ultimate Arabian nights experience book onto a camel trip through the desert. I stayed overnight and camped at a Berber tent in the middle of the Sahara – the stars are enough to make you weep they’re so beautiful.
PHOTOGRAPH CHEFCHAOUEN: The city of blue is one of my favourite places in the world. It’s combination of colours and bright, friendly individuals make it a perfect place to photograph whether you’re a pro or newbie.
BUY ART IN ESSAOUIRA: Essaouira is littered with art galleries sporting brightly-coloured, modern pieces at hugely reasonable prices. Go ready to barter and while away the hours ambling between shops choosing some pieces.
GET LOST IN FEZ: Fez is known for it’s complex souks and streets but that is the beauty of this historic city. Inside the patterned walls you can walk for hours sampling foods, buying goodies and visiting the spectacular palaces and mosques.