Ancient cities, traditional souks, and dramatic landscapes — Morocco deserves to be travelled with a real sense of curiosity.
I have never felt quite so lost as I did in Morocco. The old cities can feel dizzying, the landscapes endless. But there is something quite magical about letting go of a plan in favour of simply discovering whatever the journey holds. For me, a trip to this North African gem began in lively Marrakesh and led to the ancient city of Fez, before turning into a road trip through the mountains and down to the Atlantic coast.
The Pink City
Marrakesh is a city so rich in colour and energy; you could spend days exploring its maze of souks, haggling for olives, sweet treats, lanterns and rugs, or simply sipping on mint tea at its countless cafés. Known as the Pink City, because of the colour of its ubiquitous clay walls, it’s located at the foothills of the Atlas Mountains — visit in the cool seasons and you’re likely to see them covered in snow.
When in Marrakesh, take time to walk its bustling alleys, but when you need a break from the hustle, the Jardin Majorelle is well worth a visit — the garden is full of striking desert plants and the blue villa, which was once home to artist Jacques Majorelle, was beautifully restored by fashion designers Yves Saint-Laurent and Pierre Berge in the ‘80s, and now houses a collection of jewellery and artefacts.
At dusk, you won’t want to miss a walk through the Djemaa el-Fna, the city’s main square. The energy is overwhelming, and you’ll see storytellers, henna artists and acrobats come out to entertain the crowds, in a tradition that has lasted over a thousand years. Grab an orange juice from one of the vendors (you’ll never taste sweeter) and find a seat at the string of outdoor grill restaurants for a night out with a difference.
That Ancient Life
From Marrakesh, we took the train north to Fez, the country’s second largest city and one that is surrounded completely by a wall dating back to the eighth century. The history is palpable in this city — its medinas are authentically preserved, you’ll find the world’s oldest university tucked away in an alley, and donkeys still pull carts through the maze of streets too narrow for cars. Forget about finding a map on your phone — the walls of the city are so thick, the alleys so like a labyrinth, there’s little chance of finding your way but to follow your own sense of direction. Embrace the feeling of being lost and find a rooftop restaurant where you can enjoy a traditional tagine — a slow-cooked stew prepared in a ceramic dish and served with couscous and warm, fresh bread.
An easy day trip from Fez, you’ll find the ancient Roman ruins of Volubilis. The site was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1997 and offers the chance to see a well-preserved basilica, beautiful floor mosaics and buildings dating as far back as the third century BC.
From the Mountains to the Sea
From Fez to the coast, the road winds down the middle of the country and into the dramatically beautiful Dadès Valley. On the way, you’ll find plenty of places to stop to simply soak up the landscape — the Dadès Gorge is made up of red rock formations and the occasional pretty, green oasis. It’s worth hiring a car for this stretch of the journey because you’ll want to take your time to really see the area. When you emerge from the series of canyons and hairpin bends, consider taking a break in Skoura. Here, it’s possible to stay in a mudbrick castle and stroll through the small town’s beautiful palm plantations.
Located on Morocco’s Atlantic coast, Essaouira is a seaside dream and the perfect place to relax after a long road trip — think white-walled medinas, sweet cafés, cobbled streets, bright blue fishing boats, and a laid-back atmosphere that’s truly contagious. For a taste of the local flavour, try the sea urchins, sardines, and fresh fish at the market. Thanks to the French influence in the country, you’ll also find plenty of opportunities to sample a crepe and coffee as you sit on the street and watch the world go by.