The bohemian coastal resort of Essaouira has made waves as a creative hotbed since the 18th century, but it was during the 20th century that it cemented its status, with Orson Welles shooting “Othello” in the city in the ’50s and musicians like Cat Stevens and Jimi Hendrix frequenting the resorts during the late ’60s and early ’70s. Today, the town retains a thriving local art scene, and there’s plenty of interest in Essaouira for art lovers, with a surprising variety of art galleries and craftsmen’s workshops hiding behind the white-painted, blue-shuttered buildings.
I was told by a Moroccan friend that if I wanted to find the true Moroccan flavor, I needed to leave restaurants behind, and go cook with the locals. This is why I decided to book the Experience Morocco: Visit a Souq and Cook a Tagine in Marrakech Tour.
From luxurious hotels to budget backpacker digs, Marrakech has a huge selection of accommodation to suit all tastes and price ranges, but the most atmospheric choice is a traditional riad. Moroccan-style houses converted into guesthouses, riads are often small and family-run, with rooms looking down on a central courtyard and open-air roof terraces overlooking the surrounding streets. With an intimate, homely vibe and home cooked cuisine, riads offer a tranquil retreat from the bustle of the city, but with hundreds to choose from, you might need a little help to choose a riad in Morocco.
With a maze of handicrafts stalls, makeshift shops and workshops snaking through the Old Medina, exploring the famous souks of Fez is an unmissable experience and the sprawling bazaar forms the focal point of the historic center. Fez is arguably most renowned for its traditional Tanner’s Quarter – where leather hides and textiles are soaked in huge vats of multi-colored dye – but there are also worker’s quarters where it’s possible to see wood-carving, metal work and textile production in action, as well as a myriad of goods on sale.
We were on our way to Ouarzazate and Ait Benhaddou, two sites made popular thanks to films and television shows like Gladiator, Lawrence of Arabia, and of course, Game of Thrones. I was looking forward to seeing the well-preserved ksar in Ait Benhaddou and confluence of the Dra and Dadès Valleys in Ouarzazate; what I wasn’t expecting was to feel the wonder of recognizing that I was but a tiny speck among the layers of snow-capped mountain ranges and vast valleys of the High Atlas.
A tranquil beach town located around 2 hours south of the city; visiting Oualidia from Casablanca makes an easy choice for a day trip, as well as a popular holiday destination for locals. Oualidia’s ample beaches are its biggest draw and the town is set around a strikingly beautiful coastal lagoon, featuring a sandy central island encircled by long, golden-sand beaches and inhabited by a vast array of birdlife.
You’d be forgiven for thinking Marrakech was all mountains and desert, but the vibrant city is also blessed with an abundance of green spaces. Pack a picnic and escape the bustling medina to explore some of Marrakech’s best parks and gardens.
Drawing more than 6,000 competitors from around the globe, the annual Marrakech Marathon has long been acclaimed as one of the world’s best marathons and with average temperatures hovering around 20°C it’s the ideal spot for winter racing. Renowned for its flat, easy terrain, the Marrakech Marathon is known as one of the world’s fastest marathon routes making it a popular choice for international competitors and those looking to beat their personal best.
With a wide selection of stylish bars, restaurants and dance clubs, the nightlife in Casablanca is second only to Marrakech and you’ll find plenty of spots to hit the dancefloor along the coast. Start your evening on the central Boulevard Mohammed V, where the most popular destination is the famous Rick’s Café, an elegant bar-restaurant inspired by the 1942 movie Casablanca and known for its belly dancing shows. Other top spots in the city center include the hip La Bodéga, a live music club and tapas bar; the glamorous Black House cocktail bar at Casablanca’s Hyatt Regency Hotel; the dazzling Sky 28 cocktail bar, which offers unbeatable views from the 28th floor of the Kenzi Tower; and the lively Cabaret Embassy, a hugely popular local haunt.
Morocco’s warm Mediterranean climate means the sun will be shining all year-round, but the breezy winter weather is ideal for sightseeing and visiting in the off-season can mean reduced rates on flights and accommodations. Whether you want to surf and sunbathe on the southern coast, or party in Marrakech, if you want to escape the cold, here are some of Morocco’s best winter destinations.