A small kingdom in North Africa, Morocco is a patchwork of its different regions. Each region has its own style in architecture, food, dress, language, and even lifestyle. The landscape changes from high mountains to flat beaches and from thick forests to spacious deserts. There is no denying it: Morocco is small, but very rich in the sights it can offer.
I have been there many times and I promise: there is so much more to this country than the tourist hotspots marketed in travel literature. Here is my 2 week itinerary from the center of the country and back.
HOW TO GET THERE
There are regular flights from Paris on both standard and low cost airlines. A direct flight is around 3 hours. No visa is required for EU and Russian nationals.
WHEN TO GO
Each season has its pro’s and con’s. I warn you: summers are hot (35 to 40 degrees Celsius in the day) and city-wandering is out of the question. You can however spend your day at the beaches of the Atlantic coast or trek in the mountain. Other seasons greet visitors with decent temperatures in the day (long-sleeved shirts would be okay), but it will get chillier than usual after sunset.
Public transport is not as developed as it is in Europe. Airports are found only in the largest cities. To get to smaller towns you will have to take inter-city buses or taxis. Renting a car remains the most convenient option and you can do so directly in the airport, where all major brands like Hertz, Budget, and Europe Car have a stand.
WHERE TO STAY
I strongly recommend spending at least one night in a riyad. A riyad is a traditional Moroccan house, whose specificity is a large inner courtyard with a fountain or a garden. The major advantage: an authentic feel brought by the traditional furniture and ceramics as well as a central location. The disadvantage: very few have a parking for guests, which means you will have to park your car elsewhere.
Here are some top picks in Marrakech:
And our choice at Taroudant:
Hotels are another option (and typically come with parking), but due to limited city space, these are located further out. Expect to have to use public transports or taxis to get to sightseeing spots.
It took us 2 weeks to cover the following:
MARRAKECH – TAROUDANT – SIDI INFI – TAFRAOUTE – AIT BEN HADDU – MARRAKECH
If you do not have that many free days, this itinerary is easy to cover in 10 days. It took us on average around 3-4 hours to drive between one city to another. The only journey that took longer was the 6 hour drive from Tafraoute to Ait Ben Haddu.
The most convenient starting point, this city is also the heart of Morocco. Large, noisy and always busy, here you are thrown right into the local culture. On the way from the airport, you will be overtaken by carriages drawn by donkeys, other drivers will stop in the middle of the road for a chat, and you will realize that the concept of time here is much different to what most of us are used to. And that is the beauty of this trip: switch off the “fast life” mode, you are in Morocco!
While you’re there, make sure to check out the médina – the central market. Avoid buying souvenirs here and keep your money for smaller towns, which will be much cheaper. Navigate your way to the meat stands and try their beef, cooked in large circular ovens. Do not expect a side: the tender juicy pieces will be served to you with a traditional flatbread and salt.
With sunset, the main square of Place Jemâa el-Fna becomes the hotspot of cultural entertainment. Music (from traditional to reggae), henna painting, snake charming performances, street food tasting, and Moroccan tea ceremonies. You will be spoiled for choice!
Before moving on, I highly recommend visiting the gardens of Majorelle. What was originally the house and garden of the French painter Jacques Majorelle, is now better known as the former Moroccan residence of Yves Saint Laurent and Pierre Bergé. A place that breathes beauty and inspiration.
A city of feeling. From a traditional tourist perspective there is not much to see here, but that is the catch. You come here to experience a very different kind of Morocco – a proud and self-sustained community that lives for themselves.
We loved exploring the local market and shopping here (prices are way cheaper than Marrakech). Another highlight: a tasting menu at the Maryam Riyad. My advice: avoid eating in advance to make sure you can fit in all of the following taster menu. Traditional harira soup, 10 entrée varieties, a main dish, and dessert. We were alone that night and had a chance to chat with the owner. His family has been running the Riyad for over a century now and despite his elderly age, he still insists on going to the market to buy the freshest produce on a daily basis. The beauty of the house, the high quality food, and the old man’s charm added up to an unforgettable evening recipe.
A historical headquarter during the Spanish rule, the town has inherited Andalusian style gardens, art deco mansions, and street names that sound a lot like Spanish. Mass tourism has not yet reached Sidi Ifni, which means you should not expect a lot of locals to speak any foreign language. The main source of income is fishing, most women wear a regional dress in the style of a sari, and no one pays much attention to you. It was an interesting experience: instead of being seen as a source of touristic income, we were left alone to observe someone else’s daily life, and we loved every second of it.
The main reason to drop by here is the nearby Lezgira beach. Tall red cliffs, whose arcs sink into the seabed, create an ouf of this world view.
Travelling in Morocco by car means following steep mountain roads, whose curves climb and fall at high angles, revealing a unique natural beauty around. The Atlas mountains we crossed on our way touched me with their array of colours. Shades of grey turn to red then to green and end up violet – a sight worth seeing.
Tafraoute is down south and is the perfect stop-over to enjoy the mountain views. It resembles a toy city, nestled between rising hills. It also happens to be the country’s almond capital. On its outskirts lie numerous almond fields as well as argan gardens. You can benefit from the active trade and visit numerous cooperatives, where you can witness the production of one of the world’s most precious oils and also purchase some bottles at very reasonable prices.
A final place of interest in this area is the valley of the blue rocks. In 1984 a Belgian artist painter Jean Verame decided to create an installation here. With the permission of the Moroccan king, he painted a rock chain with blue, white, violet, and pink paints. It took him three months and the help of a fire brigade. Highly recommended!
AIT BEN HADDU
The town has an interesting structure with houses built in a tight knit, forming a wall. As we drove up closer, we were convinced that the GPS made a mistake: all we saw in front of us was a mountain, surrounded by stretches of the desert. It took us some minutes before we managed to distinguish little windows in the mountain, indicating a sign of town life.
Only a couple of families live here today. Many houses are abandoned, but there are plans to turn the town into a cultural center with cafes, galleries, and the like.
We had to drop our car and make our way up to the city on foot, crossing a river, that gave birth to this oasis-like settling. In summer, the river dries up and poses no problem to travelers. Since we were there in winter, we had to carefully trace the line of rocks that was put in place to avoid getting our feet wet in the resurrected water stream.
Why come here? To climb high up on the city walls and take in the view: blue skies and endless yellow dunes. A view that makes you forget the notion of time.
WHAT TO TASTE
- Tajine: this is actually the name of the cone-like pottery dish in which this meal is cooked.The older it is, the tastier is the food – that is why Moroccan wives pass this item on from generation to generation. A classical recipe: a mix of chopped meat and vegetables, or chopped meat with dried fruits and nuts. Each region has reinterpreted this dish in its own manner, and my favourites are beef with prunes or chicken with olives. Vegetarian options also available.
- Couscous: a Moroccan classic, which is traditionally served on Fridays. It is composed of three elements: steamed grains, a mix of meat, vegetables, and spices, plus a sweetened sauce made with onion and dried grapes.
- Harira: a traditional soup made out of vegetables, that many Moroccans have for breakfast. It is prepared with tomatoes, onions, lentils, and a large selection of herbs (parsley, coriander, celery).
- Crepes: unlike their skinny French counterpart, the Moroccan crepe is thick and filling. Served with butter and melted honey.
- Orange juice: the tastiest juice I have ever tried is here! Always fresh and never with any added sugar.
- Tea: a true ritual here, with fresh mint leaves and a good dose of sugar. For those looking for something more exciting, try their offer of tea+absinth.
- Wine: local wineries were established during the Roman rule and exist up to this day. The Moroccan varieties are worth a try, but keep in mind that Morocco is a Muslim country and wine tasting is reserved to high-class restaurants in big cities. Do not expect to be able to buy local wine in supermarkets.
WHAT TO BRING BACK
- Amlou: the Moroccan Nutella made out of crushed almond, argan oil and honey.
- Argan oil: exists in two varieties. One for cooking and one for cosmetic purposes.
- Dry herb mixes: with mint leaves, verwen, sage, and others. Ideal for homemade hot drinks to calm stressed nerves. The advantages: most are grown in the wild, with no pesticides, which makes them incredibly aromatic.
Text: Katerina Grekhova