Looking for an affordable break this Easter? How about Morocco? Forget about jet lag and those flights that last more than eight hours and include interminable stopovers at airports in the middle of the desert. With just a two-hour flight you can be in a completely different world.
We travel to distant lands in search of different paradises, new horizons, enigmatic cities and cultures, and yet not so far away - just at the end of the street, in fact - is that country you've heard so much about. Even if you've already visited it, you probably still find it mysterious. Yes, we're talking about Morocco. A country of senses. A country of dreams. A country that can make even the most seasoned traveller feel lost.
North of Africa, south of Europe
Tangier, international city, crossroads between two continents. Until a few years ago, Tangier was an international city, a "protected" zone in the hands of several countries. That legacy lives on today in its streets, making it a kind of "non-place" with room for everything and everyone. Such is the mystery of Tangier that it looks like the setting for a noir novel or classic film. So it's hardly surprising that Bogart's Casablanca was actually Tangier.
You'll find the French influence in places like Place de France (naturally!), where the Gran Café de Paris still stands, and traces of the Spanish tradition in iconic places like the old and decadent yet still beautiful Teatro Cervantes, once the largest theatre in Africa.
Cross the medina and Grand Souk and climb up to one of the cafes in the upper part of the city. Some of these clifftop cafes afford magnificent views over the Strait of Gibraltar, and on a clear day you can make out the coast of Andalucia.
Maze-like medinas and blue cities
Any idea where you'd find the world's largest pedestrian area? Fez! Over half a million people live in the tangle of souks and more than 9,000 alleyways. Here, in ancient Fez, you'll probably need a guide so you don't get lost. Fez is widely regarded as the spiritual and cultural centre of the country, and on your strolls through the vast old quarter (“Fez-el-Bali”) you'll come across mosques, craft areas and lots of tradition.
May be you're looking for a quieter place to disconnect. Fine, let's find a counterpoint. We're going to head north to Chefchaouen, the magical blue city in the Rif mountains. For many people, there's no question that this is the most beautiful city in Morocco. Those blue streets and fantastic mountain enclave, so unlike any other city in Morocco, make it truly unique. With its charming atmosphere and that constant sensation of time standing still, Chefchaouen is one of the most spectacular secrets of North Africa.
The Atlantic as a destination
We turn south again now towards the sea, but first we'll stop in Marrakech, probably the most emblematic city in Morocco. This is the destination that attracts the most tourists, many of them drawn by the historic quarter but also by the most elegant part of the city, where western glamour and luxury hotels sit easily alongside traditional riads. The city is home to a modern museum dedicated to Yves Saint-Laurent, who lived here for several years, and influential magazines have cited Marrakech as boasting one of the finest dining scenes in the world.
On leaving Marrakech we head to the sea, the last place on our route. Located on the Atlantic coast is one of the jewels of Morocco: Essaouira. In this city, home to one of the country's most famous medinas, the colour of the fortifications contrasts with the blue sea and long sandy beaches, a paradise for windsurfers and kitesurfers. The city is the ideal destination for travellers looking for relaxation by the sea and good weather. It offers a quiet retreat away from the hustle and bustle of the bigger cities while still preserving the essence of this North African country.
Photos by © ONMT - Hope Production