Morocco Feature


Top Experiences in Morocco

Trek the mountains of the High Atlas.

For spectacular vistas and fresh air, the High Atlas is a perfect getaway from the hustle and bustle of urban Morocco. Hiking North Africa's tallest peak, Djebel Toubkal, rising to nearly 14,000 feet, is only a two-day climb best done in late summer. Guides can lead amateur hikers through rural Berber villages and rocky paths less strenuous but equally rewarding. Head to the Ourika Valley for a variety of outdoor adventure—it's a justifiably popular region to hang-glide, ski, or ride mules to hidden waterfalls and tranquil hilltop gardens.

Bargain for babouches in the leather tanneries of Fez.

With the stench of animal skins curing in the hot sun and sounds of workmen laboring in the rainbow of dye vats beneath rows of open terraces, there is no better place to contribute to the artisanal cooperatives if you want to buy beautifully handmade leather house slippers, bags, belts, jackets, and poufs. Negotiating in one of the many shops claiming to be the best producer of leather goods guarantees a memorable experience as you haggle dirhams while sniffing a complimentary bunch of mint leaves to offset the strong acidic smell of natural curing ingredients in the medina air.

Dine on kebabs and harira from a street-market grill.

The intoxicating aromas of freshly grilled skewers of meat and simmering spicy soup in qissarias (open markets) and roadside stands tantalize even the most cautious traveler. Follow the rising smoke from burners and indulge in local cuisine ranging from beef brochettes and merguez sausages to fried calamari and whole fish caught fresh from the Atlantic and seared to perfection. For the more adventurous gourmand, snail soup and sheep's brains can be sampled. Sop it all up with freshly baked kesra (flatbread).

People-watch on the Djemaâ el-Fna in Marrakesh.

From morning to night, the historic square at the center of the medina guarantees to entertain and provide a glimpse into local living and the unusual. Surrounded by colorful dried fruit and juice carts scattered near terraced cafés and rows of shops brimming with activity, the carnival-like atmosphere of snake charmers, fortunetellers, monkey handlers, musicians, and costumed water sellers adds to the exotic flavor of what was once the principal meeting point for tradesmen and regional farmers, as well as gruesome site for public criminal beheadings in ancient times.

Appreciate Koranic scholarship in a historic medersa.

A quiet spot in front of the central marble ablutions pool is the perfect place to view masterpieces of Islamic architecture. Look for intricate zellij tilework along arched corridors, ornate wood carvings in domed ceilings, sculpted stone friezes bearing symbolic Arabic calligraphy, and beautifully detailed stained-glass windows in prayer halls and reflection rooms of these culturally rich buildings.

Savor the scents and sights of a food souk.

Weave through the labyrinth of open and covered streets to discover a feast for the senses. The indoor food souk of Meknès is a must. Along coastal towns, discover fish markets by the harbor. In rural villages, look for carts peddling freshly picked apricots and dates. From pyramids of marinated olives and preserved lemons to bulging sacks of finely milled grains and multicolored spices and nuts, the food souks reflect the wide range of aromatic ingredients used in traditional Moroccan cuisine. Follow your nose to sweet rosewater and honey-laden pastries flavored with cinnamon, saffron, and almonds.

Listen and learn at a local festival.

One of the best ways to experience the rich heritage is to participate in a local event. Head to Kelaa-des-Mgouna in the Dadès Valley in May; home to the country's largest rose water distillery plant, this small oasis village celebrates the flower harvest each spring. In early June, enjoy the chants, lyricism, and intellectual fervor of international musicians, Sufi scholars, and social activists at the World Sacred Music Festival in Fez. In late June, the traditions of Gnaoua music, a blend of African, Berber and African song and dance, are celebrated in the seaside resort village of Essaouira. Experience the Imilchil Berber marriage feast in autumn. In December, the Marrakech International Film Festival is the hottest spot for international celebrity sightings. The all-important Eid al-Fitr (Feast of the Fast Breaking) best showcases Moroccan tradition with three days of joyous celebration at the end of Ramadan.

Pamper yourself in a hammam.

Getting scrubbed and steamed at a local hammam can do wonders for the weary. Whether you choose a communal public bath or private room in an upscale riad, this traditional therapy of brisk exfoliation and bathing using natural cleansers has promoted physical and mental hygiene and restoration for centuries. Public hammams are clean and inexpensive. Le Royal Mansour and the Angasa Spa in Marrakesh are exceptionally luxurious spots to experience this unique cultural ritual.

Relax in a riad.

Forgo the standard setting of a modern hotel chain, and opt for a room with character in the heart of the medina. Former private homes, multistoried riads have been restored to their original beauty and authenticity, furnished with antiques and local crafts, and outfitted with latest technology for those who want to stay connected. Many are family owned and operated, providing guests with personalized service, generous breakfasts, and spacious accommodations overlooking lush inner courtyard gardens. More luxurious riads have full-scale spas, panoramic terrace bars, swimming pools, and world-class restaurants.

Soothe the eyes in the blue-washed town of Chefchaouen.

Founded in the 15th century by Spanish exiles, the village of Chefchaouen tucked in the foothills of the Rif Mountains, is widely considered to be one of Morocco's most picturesque places. Relax beneath verdant shade trees on the cobblestoned Plaza Uta el-Hamman. Wander the steep Andalusian passageways, where buildings bathed in cobalt and indigo hues blend with terracotta-tiled roofs, pink-scarved women, violet blossoms, and ochre-and-poppy red wool carpets to create an incredibly vibrant canvas of color.

Ride a camel to the dunes of the Sahara.

For an unforgettable adventure, mount a dromedary to experience the undulating orange dunes and abandoned kasbahs of the desert, a magical region immortalized in film and fiction. Select an overnight tour to stay in a Bedouin tent in the Erg Chebbi or Erg Chigaga desert wilderness.

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