Morocco is a Country of Extreme Beauty and Dazzling Diversity
A gateway to Africa, Morocco is a country of dazzling diversity. You’ll find rugged mountain ranges, rolling deserts, ancient cities, deserted beaches and warm hospitality. Epic landscapes carpet this slice of North Africa like the richly patterned rugs you’ll lust after in the markets, and Morocco’s cities are some of the most exciting on the African continent.
Marrakesh knows how to put on a show. Its heady sights and sounds dazzle, frazzle and enchant, as they have done for almost a millennia. Circuses can’t compare to the mayhem of the Unesco-acclaimed halqa (street theatre) in Marrakesh’s main square, Djemaa El Fna. By day, Djemaa draws crowds with snake-charmers, acrobats and dentists with jars of pulled teeth. Around sunset, 100 restaurant stalls kick off the world’s most raucous grilling competition. After dinner, Djemaa music jam sessions get under way. Audience participation is always encouraged, and spare change ensures encores.
The Fez medina is the maze to end all mazes. The only way to experience it is to plunge in head first. Don’t be afraid of getting lost – follow the flow of people to take you back to one of the two main thoroughfares, or ask a shopkeeper to point you in the right direction. It’s an adventure into a medieval world of hidden squares, warrens of workshops and colorful markets. Remember to look up and see intricate plasterwork, ornately carved cedarwood, dazzling mosaic tiles and curly Arabic calligraphy.
- High Atlas Mountains
The High Atlas Mountains are North Africa’s tallest mountain range, a trekker’s paradise from spring to fall. The range runs diagonally across Morocco for almost 620 miles (1000km), encircling Marrakesh to the south and east from the Atlantic Coast just north of Agadir to Khenifra in the northeast. Its saw-toothed peaks act as a weather barrier between the mild, Mediterranean climate to the north and the Sahara to the south. In its highest reaches, snow falls from September to May, allowing for winter sports in Oukaimeden, while year-round rivers flow towards Marrakesh creating a network of fertile valleys.
Steep and cobbled, the infinitely Instagrammable blue-washed lanes of Chefchaouen’s medina tumble down the mountainside in a shower of red rooftops, wrought-iron balconies and vivid geraniums. You could be content for hours just people-watching over a mint tea in the cafe-packed main square, lorded over by a grand red-hued kasbah. Or amble down the riverside walk, shop the souqs (markets), stroll to the Spanish Mosque on the hill or even venture into the surrounding Talassemtane National Park to explore the Rif Mountains.
Like a carpet of green stretching across the Draa Valley, Skoura’s idyllic palmeraie (palm grove) is crisscrossed by a network of dirt tracks and an age-old khettara (underground irrigation system) that supports a surprising bounty of produce that has sustained generation after generation: tomatoes, mint, pomegranates, apricots, dates, figs, alfalfa and almonds. Studded with historic mud-brick kasbahs, labyrinthine ksour (fortified villages) and stylish guesthouses with farm-to-fork restaurants, it makes the perfect place to linger and experience unhurried oasis life, barely changed for centuries.
- Draa Valley
Roads now allow safe, speedy passage through the final stretches of ancient caravan routes from Mali to Marrakesh, but beyond the rocky gorges glimpsed through car windows lies the Draa Valley of desert traders’ dreams. The rustling date palms and cool mud-brick castles of Zagora, Tamnougalt, Timidarte and Agdz must once have seemed like mirages after two months in the Sahara. Fortifications that once welcomed gold-laden caravans are now open to overnight guests, who wake to fresh boufeggou dates, bread baked in earthen ovens and a slower pace of life.
Tafraoute is a jumble of pink houses and market streets with extraordinary surroundings. The Ameln Valley is dotted with palmeraies and villages, and the looming mountains stage a twice-daily, ocher-and-amber light show, while the Aït Mansour Gorge is a verdant respite from the red rock. It makes a wonderful base for activities including hiking, mountain biking and seeking out prehistoric rock carvings. If the granite cliffs and oases weren’t scenic enough, a Belgian artist applied his paint brush to some local boulders with surreal results.
Source: Lonely Planet