Morocco, the Maghreb, or Land of the Furthest West, is indeed a paradox. It is a land apart, nestled on the great north western shoulder of Africa, separated from the rest of its African neighbours by imposing mountain ranges and the vast Saharan desert. And yet, the country is also a melting pot of African, Islamic, European and indigenous Berber influences, reaching back millennia.
It shares borders with Western Sahara to the south, Algeria to the east and the Spanish North African territories of Ceuta and Melilla on the Mediterranean coast in the north. It is just across the Strait of Gibraltar from Gibraltar.
It was the first Islamic kingdom, part of the larger dar-al-Islam, a vast stretch of Islamic countries stretching across the northern part of the African continent. And it remains one of the most culturally diverse Islamic nations, with centuries-old Jewish enclaves.
Within Morocco’s boundaries, simple Berber villages, their ways untouched for hundreds of years, coexist with the most sophisticated Imperial cities. The kingdom is home to the starkly beautiful minimalism of the desert, and the constant bustle of the cosmopolitan medina. The West is here, too, in the legacy of post-colonial French and in more contemporary influences, like the ring of world-class golf courses the country is increasingly known for. In fact, it’s possible, in a city like Fez, to see ancient, medieval and contemporary cultures coexisting side-by-side. Morocco has become a famous holiday destination in the last few years with all countries travellers looking for a new, more adventurous destination.
In the consumer-driven culture of the West, Morocco is often known for the quality of crafts from her souks. These are indeed some of the most remarkable expressions of human creativity, made all the more powerful by the desert that serves as backdrop to their creation.
Yet what is often missed in the West is to see how all of these elements come together: art, architecture, music, cuisine, and craft all blend with history, cultural and social values to profoundly give shape to life in this extraordinary place.
Morocco is the ideal African starting point for the traveller. An easy hop from Europe, it is hectic but friendly and stimulating as well. Open-air markets throughout the country are piled high with rugs, woodwork, jewellery and leather - said to be the softest in the world.
Agadir is all about the beach. The town is a nice example of modern Moroccan design, but not much in the way of history or culture. Take the local bus for a few cents and go 2 or 3 villages North. The beaches are much better there and there are no burglars at all.
As the result of an earthquake in 1960, Agadir is a completely modern city, which reminded me of towns in Northern Germany. It is also permanently full of tourists, especially German tourists.
It does have excellent luxury hotels, where activities are organized and there is some form of night-life. In addition, there are some beautiful golf courses.
It represents a useful transport hub and an easy point of access if you are coming by plane. Cheap flights from Europe often go to Agadir.
Agadir is also a good place to take daytrips from to the nearby Massa Lagoon and Paradise Valley.
Marrakech is the jewel of the south, one of the four Imperial cities of Morocco, and an important cultural and commercial centre set at the foot of the High Atlas Mountains.
Marrakech is a city of vibrancy and solemnity, souk and square, palace and riad, mosque and garden. It is a city wrapped in faded red, ochre walls, and dominated by the Koutoubia mosque, visible from throughout the city. It is also a crossroads - where ancient Arab culture of the valley and the Berber culture of the mountains meet. At its centre is the deservedly famous Djemaa el Fna - a public space unlike any found in any city in Morocco, or the world. In the evenings, as dusk approaches, the square hums with the activity of musicians, food vendors, storytellers, snake charmers, the curious, and the odd. The spirit in the square is one of mystery, magic and possibility.
The Jma-l-Fna is an unbelievable experience. It is a market scene straight out of the movies with snake charmers, musicians, dancing bears, acrobats and storytellers. Around the square there are numbered stalls that sell very cheap freshly-squeezed orange juice in the morning and afternoon. At night there are tables set up that you can eat at for a very reasonable price. Other sights include the impressive Koutoubia minaret and the Ben Youssef Medersa and the Saadian Dynasty tombs, the ruined 16th-century El Badi Palace the Dar Si Said Museum.
Marrakech is a perfect combination of old and new Morocco. Plan to spend at least a few days wandering the huge maze of souqs and ruins in the medina. The great plaza of Djeema El Fna at dusk is not to be missed.
The completely modern city of Casablanca, Moroccos industrial centre, bears little resemblance to its famous movie namesake. (No scenes for the famous film were even filmed here!) Like any other major city in the world, Casablanca is filled with bustle and energy, and most flights in and out of Morocco travel through its busy airport. Casablanca is deservedly famous for the Hassan II Mosque, one of the largest in the world, and one of the few mosques open to non-Muslims in the country. It is one of Moroccos most extraordinarily beautiful statements to faith.
This modern city by the sea is a common starting point for visitors flying into the country. If you have the time, both the historical medina and the contemporary mosque (the second largest in the world) are well worth an afternoon.
Any European citizen or traveller will feel immediately at home here and will have an almost instinctive understanding of the life here. There are plenty of hotels in and around Casablanca. Regardless of the size of your budget, you can find a superb place to enjoy a meal in Casablanca. Entertain your wildest holiday fantasies in Casablanca!
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