By Rupert Parker | October 2016 | 10 minute read
The spiced air of exotic Morocco is enticingly close and, lying outside the Eurozone, it’s a great place to spend the pounds. Recommend for clients looking for culture and history, relaxation and shopping or outdoor adventures – you just need the right itinerary.
“It’s easy to get to Morocco. There are direct flights from the UK to many Moroccan cities and flying time is around three hours. Transfers are usually short and there’s a good rail network connecting the major cities”
NICKY SHAFE, MARKETING MANAGER, PRESTIGE HOLIDAYS
The most-visited country in Africa
And that title is “for good reason,” says Terhi Miller, Product Manager at Great Rail Journeys. “Agents should recommend Morocco for clients looking for a combination of culture, history and adventure.”
Just over three hours’ flying time from the UK, Marrakech is Morocco’s main destination and rivals Paris or Rome for city breaks. It’s one of four Imperial Cities, along with seaside Art Deco Rabat, medieval Fes and Meknes, with it’s lavish Sultan’s palace – all capitals of Morocco during different eras and recognised as World Heritage sites by UNESCO.
Many operators offer linked tours to all these cities, along with stays in Morocco’s unique riads – traditional homes and palaces of the wealthy but now converted into hotels. “It’s fascinating to take a journey through history in this way, combining boutique riads with a wealth of cultural sights,” says Michael Fleetwood, Middle East Product Manager for Cox and Kings.
Morocco is a land of huge geographical contrasts, which makes it perfect for all kinds of outdoor adventures. From the Mediterranean the coastal plains rise through four mountain ranges to the peaks of the High Atlas before descending to the great empty sands of the Sahara Dessert.
The mountains offer trekking, mountain biking and even skiing. Ourouzatate is the perfect base to explore the dramatic desert scenery of the abandoned Kasbahs (fortified towns) of the Dades Valley, or follow a circuit of the oasis towns of the Sahara.
Agadir, in the south, has safe sandy beaches great for surfing and more than 300 days of sunshine.
Snakes and monkeys: The great Djemaa el Fna Square in Marrakech is home to snake charmers and monkeys during the day but at night musicians, acrobats and storytellers take over and food stalls turn it into a giant open-air restaurant.
Medieval mysteries: Fes is the most complete medieval city in the Arab world, and everyone gets lost in its back alleys, but there’s always a friendly local to show you the way. No cars are allowed so you’ll have to make way for donkeys, carts, and motorbikes.
Wind up: The breezy Atlantic coast around Essaouira is one of the world’s great destinations for windsurfing, kitesurfing and parasailing. The walled town’s narrow streets are filled with red-and-blue painted houses and were once a favourite haunt of Bob Marley and Jimi Hendrix.
Play it again, Sam: In Casablanca, Morocco’s largest city, have a drink at the bar in the reconstructed Rick’s Club – and send your requests to the piano player.
Fortify yourself: The Dadés Valley is known as ‘the Valley of the Kasbahs’, and dozens of deserted fortified citadels line its sides, evidence of a long vanished civilisation.
On location: Ouarzazate has been welcoming Hollywood directors since the 1960s. You can take tours around the sets and locations of famous blockbuster hits like Cleopatra, Kingdom of Heaven, Sahara, Lawrence of Arabia and even Game of Thrones.
Mountain highs: The Atlas Mountains offer fantastic trekking opportunities. It’s a challenging climb to reach the snow-covered summit of Jebel Toubkal, North Africa’s highest peak at 4,167 metres, but the spectacular views are well worth the effort.
Riads: Marrakech has over 800 on offer and you’re guaranteed an historic and atmospheric stay. They range from chic luxury to simple B&Bs.
Get the hump: The Erg Chebbi dunes in the Sahara rise to over 150 metres. Take a camel to the Berber camp, sleep under the stars and watch the sunrise.
Spa time: Fes is reputed to have over 250 Hammans but you’ll find them all over the country. Join the locals for a long, relaxing hot soak and a good scrubbing. Don’t miss a massage with the famous argan oil.
Operators: Cox & Kings has a new seven-night private journey, Riads of Imperial Morocco, priced from £1,795pp. It takes in Rabat, Meknes, Fez and Marrakech..
Accommodation: Four Seasons opened in Casablanca in January and Banyan Tree opened in September in Tamouda Bay. Future openings in 2017 include a 181-room Park Hyatt in Marrakech and a 186-room Marriot in Rabat.
What the experts say
“Morocco is a very stable and safe destination and just three hours away from the UK. The Imperial Cities tour really represents one of the best ways to experience the country. It offers a unique experience of Morocco’s history, style of life, architecture and heritage.
“Three other cities that should be discovered for culture are the amazing city of Tangier, the Moorish city of Tetouan and the beautiful Chefchaouen. One of the newest developments in Morocco, Tamuda Bay on the Mediterranean coast has golden sand, crystal-clear waters and high- quality hotels with golf, watersports, shopping and scuba diving. After Brexit we believe that Morocco represents a genuine value destination.”
FAICAL ALAOUI, INFORMATION OFFICER, MOROCCO TOURISM
“The souks in Marrakech are a shopper’s paradise with gorgeous rugs, embroidery, brassware, ceramics, leather and exotic spices. Government shops even have fixed prices.”
NICKY SHAFE, MARKETING MANAGER PRESTIGE HOLIDAYS
Where to book it
A 10-day Imperial Cities of Morocco tour from Great Rail Journeys is from £1,495pp, with two departures between March to September 2017. If you book before October 31 2016 there’s a saving of up to £40pp.
Prestige Holidays offers seven nights’ B&B at Ksar Anika in Marrakech starts from £433pp, including Easyjet flights.
A seven-night Classic Morocco tour with Abercrombie & Kent which includes Casablanca, Fes, Rabat, the Atlas Mountains and Marrakech is from £2,295pp, including international flights.
The Flavours of Morocco is a seven-night walking holiday with Inntravel, visiting Marrakech and Tizouit, is from £955pp including a private Berber guide.