Morocco has enjoyed one of the most successful tourism rejuvenations of our time. Under the rule of Mohammad VI the country has seen an increase in tourist numbers each year and its recent travel accolades include the 2012 World Travel Award for Best African Tourist Destination with Marrakech currently at number six on Trip Advisor's Best Tourist Destination.
Many of Morocco's visitors stay within the limits of Marrakesh, or the popular city of Casablanca, but there are many other cities and landscapes you can visit in Morocco that remind of you the country's ancient allure. From the cinematically impressive Ouarzazte to the museums in Fez here's how to make the most of an adventure in Morocco.
Known as the Door of the Desert, it is wise to use Ouarzazate as a base for exploring the surrounding area. You can soak up most of what the town has to offer simply by using it as a place to sleep and eat; it's the location and day trips that really make Ouarzazate special. If you only do one excursion from Ouarzazate, make sure it's to Ait Benhaddou. Lying on the old caravan route between Marrakesh and the Sahara, the city is a certified UNESCO World Heritage Site with one of the best preserved kasbahs. Prepare yourself for lots of steps when you visit, but the reward is well worth the effort. At the top is the city's Granary are impressive views sweeping over the Sahara; it's especially enchanting to look over the city in the evening at the sunset call to prayer.
The timeless landscape around Ouarzazate has made it a haven for filmmakers and there are two studios worth visiting for movie fans; Asterix & Obelix, Lawrence of Arabia, Cleopatra, Gladiator, Kingdom of Heaven, The Mummy Returns and Babel were all shot between CLA Studios and Atlas Studios. With a long list of directors shooting on location here, visitors can see the impressive abandoned sets and props from the films, eerily wasting in the desert sun.
Since the introduction of the Moroccan Grand Prix in the 1950s, the beaches of Agadir have been extremely popular with northern Europeans looking for winter sun. Unlike other North African coastlines the shores are generally well sheltered. The authorities keep the beaches well maintained, clean and safe and there is minimal hassle from hagglers due to the amicable police patrols. Swimming is advised against due to a strong undercurrent, however, with quad bikes, dune buggies, camel and horse rides available there's plenty to enjoy on dry land instead.
Djemaa el Fna market
Marrakech is one of Virtual Tourist's Top Ten Cities for Street Food and the best place to experience Moroccan's culinary delights is the Djemaa el Fna market. The street food stalls are a vibrant chaos, full of exciting smells and exotic spices. There's so much to learn about Moroccan cuisine and ingredients that walking tours of the street food stalls are available. Guides will talk you through traditional Moroccan cooking methods and ingredients and even show you delicacies such as cow's hoof and snail soup. If you're not feeling that brave there are plenty of gentler ways to introduce yourself to Moroccan cuisine, try a hot plate of grilled sausages or an authentic tagine at Stall 32, one of the most highly recommended food stalls from recent visitors.
Kasbahs Ait Benhaddou, a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1987
Fez was the principal city of Morocco in medieval times and is home to the world's oldest university. It's the largest car-free urban area in the world and a visit here, with donkeys, mules and handcarts filling the streets, will transport you back in time. Much less developed for tourists than other parts of Morocco (don't expect many English speakers), the beauty of Fez lies in how untouched it is.
For a cultural day in Fez visit the Dar-el-Batha museum. It boasts verdant gardens within its grounds, complete with a tiled Moroccan courtyard and fountain, and displays 11th century gold embossed books, Andalusian manuscripts and elegant examples of historical calligraphy. There are also works of Moroccan craftsmanship on display with jewellery, ceramics, candelabras and woodwork exhibitions. The Fondouk el-Nejjarine, close to the Henna Souk area is another great place to see spectacular Moroccan wood carvings; the arches of the building itself display exceptional craftsmanship, as does the pretty outdoor fountain.
Where to stay
For some celeb spotting stay at the iconic Amanjena in Marrakech; the resort was used as a film location for Sex and the City 2 and is nothing short of glamorous. On the outskirts of Marrakech the walled resort is beautifully styled to echo its Moorish heritage and includes luxury pavilions, a golf course, stunning courtyards, fountains and decadent suites.
For a more secluded adventure in Morocco, stay at the Dar Arbala villa, overlooking the Atlas Mountains. The views of the mountains are incredible all year around, whether they're frosted with winter snow or wreathed in a summer heat haze. The property includes a private pool, cook service, shared tennis court and fitness room and lush courtyards. Available through CV Villas, the villa is wonderfully located between the convenience of Marrakesh and the exciting destinations surrounding Ouarzazate.