Reed Travel Features
RABAT, Morocco -- To those whose impressions of Morocco owe more
to Humphrey Bogart than to first-hand experience, Morocco is
pitching itself as an affordable destination within easy reach of
the U.S. With the addition of a fourth weekly flight from New York
via Royal Air Maroc in November, Casablanca will be more accessible
to those who want to experience the real thing rather than the
Under a new tourism director in New York, Benjafaar Marrakshi,
Morocco is hoping to lure Americans to the desert kingdom with a
variety of tour packages that offer everything from golfing
excursions to self-drive tours of desert oases. Although Marrakshi
observed that Morocco is still a mystery to many Americans, he said
that this gives the country an opening to promote itself as a
relatively undiscovered destination with enough diverse attractions
to appeal to any interest.
Compressed into this land the size of Sweden are the Sahara
desert, the snowcapped Atlas mountains, Roman ruins, medieval
cities and colorful casbahs. Visitors easily can take in these
varied sights, via Morocco's well-maintained roads and
comprehensive domestic airline network. Indeed, one of the fastest
growing markets is the fly-drive segment, according to tour
operators specializing in the destination.
And although the kingdom is best known for its historical,
centuries-old cities and its dramatic scenery, it also offers a
surprising profusion of modern amenities -- beach and ski resorts,
world class golf courses and a wide selection of international
class hotels and gourmet restaurants.
In recent years, U.S. tour operators have shifted from promoting
Morocco as a mere side trip from Spain (a quick ferry trip across
the Strait of Gibraltar) to emphasizing Morocco's unique
Morocco's location, where Europe meets North Africa, accounts
for its unique mix of cultural influences; over the centuries, the
Berber stock of the original inhabitants of this region has been
mingled with European, Arab and African strains. The cities, too,
reflect this diverse heritage: Casablanca and Tangier in the north
are, naturally, more European, while the influence of the Moorish
Empire is more evident in places like Fez and Meknes.
The French colonial period left its mark, with French commonly
spoken in most major centers. The country also offers visitors a
chance to tour Roman ruins, hike in mountains and shop till they
drop in the country's famous souks or markets.
Many international hotel chains have properties in Morocco,
including Hyatt, Sheraton and Westin -- which recently opened the
Westin Mansour in Marrakesh.
The Imperial Cities, this fabled quartet of cities top any
must-see list for visitors. Fez, a three-hour trip by car from
Casablanca, has a 1,000-year history as Morocco's intellectual,
religious and artistic capital. Fez is home to one of the largest
mosques in Africa, the Andalusian-style Kairouan mosque; the city
also is known for its large medina, or old quarter, with narrow
winding streets with shops displaying wares of local artisans.
Near Fez are two other important imperial cities, Rabat, the
county's capital on the coast, and Meknes, a walled city whose
arched gates open to stately squares and bustling markets. Outside
Meknes are the well-preserved ruins of the ancient Roman city of
Marrakesh is a quick flight or three-hour car ride from
Casablanca but it seems centuries removed. This 11th century city
is a top tourist draw, with its elegant palaces, palm fringed
resorts and its colorful street scene -- best experienced in the
sweeping Djemma el-Fna square, which is transformed every afternoon
into a circus-like assembly of acrobats, musicians, soothsayers,
snake charmers and peddlers.
Agadir is the leading seaside resort on the Atlantic coast, a
favorite watering hole of European sunseekers. Essaouira, also on
the Atlantic, is a charming fishing village with a historical
fortress overlooking the sea. The north coast has numerous beaches
and sophisticated resorts, with Tangier the main center.
The South and Casbah Trail is one of the more popular
itineraries for Americans. This fabled route takes visitors through
the southern portion of the country, which is dotted with imposing
casbahs, castles and fortresses that guarded this trading and
caravan trail. Among the main cities are Taroudant, a red-earth
town encircled by three miles of crenelated walls; Ouarzazate,
known for its casbahs, and Zagora, the last major outpost of the
French Foreign Legion. Merzouga is where the Sahara truly begins,
marked by steep sand dunes.
For information, contact the Morocco National Tourist Office at
(212) 557-2520 or Royal Air Maroc at (800) 344-6726.