Morocco is a land of cultural and scenic diversity, from the bustling souks of Marrakech to the spectacular Atlas Mountains reaching over 4,000 metres high. In the foothills find the Valley of the Roses as well as countless fascinating Berber villages and the picturesque Ait Benhaddou Kasbah.
What to seeThe cities of Fez, Meknes, Marrakech and Rabat are collectively known as the Imperial Cities and have all been the capital of Morocco at some point during its history.
Home to one of the oldest universities in the world, Fez is considered to be the intellectual capital and the most imperial of Morocco’s cities. The ‘Old City’ and its medina are famed for their architecture. The labyrinthine souks, where traditional craft techniques are still practised, remain magnificently unchanged while the Royal Palace and Jewish quarter of the ‘New City’ are also worthy of a visit. Fez is only a short drive from Casablanca and a train connects the city with Marrakech. Alternatively, the 500 km can be covered by car in approximately seven hours.
The smallest of the Imperial Cities, Meknes is a more relaxed city than its better known counterparts. Moulay Ismail dreamed of building a vast, extravagant city here and his legacy can still be seen today. Meknes has a wealth of well-preserved monuments and highlights include the Moulay Ismail Mausoleum, the Bab Al Mansour gate and the remains of the imperial palace. Meknes lies approximately 60 km from Fez and can be visited as a day trip or combined with the ruined Roman city of Volubilus and visited en route between Casablanca and Fez.
Marrakech marks the crossroads of the ancient caravan routes from Timbuktu. The main square, the ‘Djemma el Fna’, is the heart of the city, and the souks that surround it are tribute to this city’s history as a centre for trade. Full of story-tellers, musicians and food stalls, this bustling and exciting open air market is a highlight of any visit. The peaceful gardens of Yves St Laurent, the ‘Jardin Majorelle’, are perfect for those looking for more tranquil surroundings. Other important sights include the Saadien Tombs, the Badi Palace and the Bahia Palace.
The capital of Morocco, Rabat, is situated on the Atlantic coastal plain at the mouth of the river Bou Regreg and is located approximately 100 km from Casablanca. Modern Rabat is a planned city of wide boulevards and handsome public buildings and gardens, while the ‘Old City’ is home to the ruined mosque that was designed to be the largest in the world. However, this dream was never realised and all that remains today is a large, squat tower and numerous pillars.
Surrounded by Portuguese fortifications, Essaouira is a delightful fishing town with fine sandy beaches. Less than two hours’ drive from Marrakesh, Essaouira is popular with those who want to relax in beautiful calm surroundings. Many of the boutique properties are located within the old city ramparts, and the small narrow streets are filled with artisans and craft shops. In the mornings, the harbour is a hive of activity, with fishing boats unloading their catches.
The biggest mountain range in North Africa, the High Atlas has many fertile valleys, rivers and waterfalls. Approximately one hour’s drive from Marrakech, the Atlas can be visited as a day trip or as part of a longer itinerary. Accommodation includes the stunningly located Kasbah du Toubkal and the luxurious Kasbah Tamadot, managed by Virgin.