Morocco Feature

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Beaches

With coasts on both the Mediterranean Sea and the Atlantic Ocean, Morocco has hundreds of miles of sandy beaches, many of them little developed. Dangerous currents and national-park preservation explain why some beaches are unused, but gems abound. Surfing the Atlantic beaches has become popular, and surfing schools are increasingly easy to find along the beaches between Rabat and Essaouira. The port towns of Essaouira, Sidi Ifni, Asilah, and Al Hoceima make peaceful, low-key coastal getaways. Those familiar with Tunisia's topless beaches may be struck by the modesty that reigns on Moroccan public beaches, where picnicking local families spend their holidays.

Agadir. Agadir is a major destination for the high-density European package-tour tanning crowd. For families looking for safe beaches and bathing with plenty of activities for the young, this is the spot.

Oualidia. With a first-class beach often compared to those of the French Riviera, and a surfing and windsurfing scene as hot as any in Europe, this is an important beach destination just 90 minutes southeast of Casablanca.

Plage Robinson. Just west of Tangier, this much-visited beach offers sun and sand, the Caves of Hercules where mythology has Hercules resting up after separating Africa from Europe, and a lively café and restaurant scene.

Sidi Ifni and Essaouira. Well off the beaten beach paths, Sidi Ifni and Essaouira offer, respectively, burgundy rock formations and some of the strongest windsurfing breezes in all of Africa.

People-Watching

Morocco is a visual spectacle in every sense, and the human fauna are beyond a doubt the runaway stars of the show. French painters such as Delacroix and Matisse and the great Spanish colorist Marià Fortuny all found the souks, fondouks, and street scenes of Marrakesh, Fez, and Tangier irresistible. Today's visitors to this eye-popping North African brouhaha are well advised to simply pull up a chair and take in some of the most exotic natural street theater in the world.

Djemaâ el-Fna, Marrakesh. This cacophonous market square is unlike anything else on earth. Settle into a rooftop café for an unobstructed view of the acrobats, storytellers, musicians, dancers, fortune-tellers, juice carts, and general organized chaos.

Fez el-Bali. The to-and-fro pulsing of Fez's medina makes it the perfect place to watch Moroccans doing what Moroccans do. Great spots include the cafés around Bab Boujeloud and Bab Fteuh, though the latter is much less amenable to travelers.

Place Moulay Hassan, Essaouira. Locals, temporary locals, and fishermen are all welcome to linger in this laid-back plaza, watching the world go by from an outdoor café. Try a cup of louiza—warm milk with fresh verbena leaves.

Grand Socco, Tangier. Every conceivable manifestation of Old Testament–looking humanity seems to have found its way to Tangier's Grand Socco from the Rif Mountains and the interior. A stroll down Rue de la Liberté into the food souk will put you in the middle of it all.

The Outdoors

A range of spectacular landscapes has made Morocco a major destination for rugged outdoor sporting challenges and adventure travel. Much of Morocco's natural beauty lies in its mountains, where the famous Berber hospitality can make hiking an unforgettable experience. You can arrange most outdoor excursions yourself or with the help of tourist offices and hotels in the larger cities. Rock climbing is possible in the Todra and Dadès gorges and the mountains outside Chefchaouen. Oukaïmeden has facilities for skiing, and a few other long, liftless runs await the more athletic. Golf is available in Rabat, Casablanca, Marrakesh, and Agadir. Several High Atlas rivers are suitable for fishing.

High Atlas. People come from around the world to trek in these mountains, drawn by the rugged scenery, bracing air, and rural Berber (Imazighen) culture. Hiking is easily combined with mule riding, trout fishing, and vertiginous alpine drives.

Merzouga dunes. Southeast of Erfoud, beyond Morocco's great oasis valleys, these waves of sand mark the beginning of the Sahara. Brilliantly orange in the late-afternoon sun, they can be gloriously desolate at sunrise.

Palm groves and villages, Tafraoute. A striking tropical contrast to the barren Anti-Atlas Mountains and the agricultural plains farther north, the oases are scattered with massive, pink cement houses built by wealthy urban merchants native to this area.

Architecture

Refined Islamic architecture graces the imperial cities of Fez, Meknès, Marrakesh, and Rabat. Mosques and medersas (schools of Koranic studies) dating from the Middle Ages, as well as 19th-century palaces, are decorated with colorful geometric tiles, bands of Koranic verses in marble or plaster, stalactite crevices, and carved wooden ceilings. The mellahs built by Morocco's Jews with glassed-in balconies contrast with the Islamic emphasis on turning inward. French colonial architecture prevails in the Art Deco and neo-Mauresque streets of Casablanca's Quartier des Habous. Outside these strongholds of Arab influence are the pisé (rammed earth) kasbahs in the Ouarzazate–Er-Rachidia region, where structures built with local mud and clay range from deep pink to burgundy to shades of brown.

Aït-Benhaddou, near Ouarzazate. Strewn across a hillside, the red-pisé towers of this village fortress resemble a melting sand castle. Crenellated and topped with blocky towers, it's one of the most sumptuous sights in the Atlas Mountains.

La Bahia Palace, Marrakesh. Built as a harem's residence, and interspersed with cypress-filled courtyards, La Bahia has the key Moroccan architectural elements—light, symmetry, decoration, and water.

Bou Inania medersa, Fez. The most celebrated of the Kairaouine University's 14th-century residential colleges, Bou Inania has a roof of green tile, a ceiling of carved cedar, stalactites of white marble, and ribbons of Arabic inscription.

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