Shimmering desert sand stretches as far as the eye can see. It rolls and undulates into wind-shaped arcs and sculpted peaks and coffee-colored valleys. It’s hard to believe that it stretches thousands of miles across the Sahara. Utterly beautiful and mysterious, this endless view thrills you with a sense of possibility. And so, it turns out, does the rest of this magnificent and fabled country.
Despite its epic sweep, the Sahara only tells a fraction of Morocco’s story. Indeed, there are as many reasons to visit this enchanting land with Gate 1 Travel as there are 1,001 Nights. Imperial cities of grand architecture whisper the secrets of sultans. Berber tribes live amidst High Atlas Ranges as they have for centuries. Labyrinthine souks bustle with dizzying commerce and medieval pageantry. Earth-toned medinas rise from the sands like mirages. Varied landscapes mesmerize – from desert to high mountains to Atlantic beaches. And locals extend a warm “la baraka,” or “blessings and goodness,” at every turn. It is an achingly romantic and intriguing place that no serious traveler should miss.
Three Imperial Cities
Of Morocco’s four historic imperial capitals, Gate 1 Travel visits three: Fez, Marrakesh and Rabat.
For its sophistication and amazing history, Fez has been called the Athens of Africa. This intoxicating city was founded around the turn of the 9th century and served as the country’s capital several times over its long history. There are countless highlights, the University of Al Karaouine, the oldest university in the world; the splendid Royal Palace; and a richly traditional Jewish Quarter among them. But for many, the highlight of this remarkable city is the Fes el Bali medina, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. This sprawling marketplace is thought to be one of the largest car-free urban areas in the world, on par with Venice, making it a delight to stroll and explore. Its labyrinthine warrens brim with brass and leather goods, lush carpets, and handmade slippers, and so much more that embodies the spirit of Morocco, including the famous leather tanneries. Just outside Fez, the magnificent ruins of Volubilis reveal the ancient streets where Romans and Berbers once traded goods. A triumphal arch, modest homes with olive presses, and remarkably preserved mosaics give a glimpse of the Roman Empire’s reach.
The carnival-like Djemaa El Fna Square of Marrakesh is synonymous with all things Moroccan. As evening sets in, it becomes an intoxicating blend of snake charmers, fire eaters, kebab stalls and much more. Many people come to Morocco just to experience this feast for the senses. However, there’s lots more to see here, from the glittering Bahia Palace and Gardens – the greatest palace of its day in the 19th century – to the slender Koutoubia Minaret that punctuates the elegant mosque of the same name.
Today’s capital, Rabat, has often been cited as one of the most invigorating travel destinations in the world. A stroll through the Oudaya Kasbah reveals exactly why. This walled UNESCO World Heritage Site was built by the Almohad reign in the 12th and 13th centuries and houses a palace and mosque and cobbled lanes wending their way through a maze of colorful houses. Nearby, the unfinished mosque of an Almohad caliph has as its centerpiece the Hassan Tower. The mosque and its tower were intended to be the largest of their kind in the world when they were begun in 1195. The impressive ruins of the Chellah necropolis stretch even further back in time, to the days of the Phoenicians, Carthaginians and even Romans.
Desert Outposts Amidst Legendary Beauty
The Sahara Desert most often comes to the mind of travelers dreaming of Morocco. Of course, Gate 1 introduces you to this spellbinding region where the Atlas Mountains unfurl into flowing sand dunes. Visiting this starkly beautiful place – and even exploring on camelback, if you’d like – is a travel experience unlike any other. But there is more magnificent and diverse beauty away from these legendary desert sands, where modest villages and their natural surroundings seamlessly blend together.
The road from Fez to Erfoud slices through some of Morocco’s most dramatic scenery. Montane cedar woods lead into the Middle Atlas Mountains and the lush Ziz Valley, passing the ski resort of Ifrane (at 5,460 feet) and the Berber handicraft town of Azrou along the way. Rissani has long straddled mountains and desert. It was a busy caravan town during the days of long desert treks. The souk here still bustles with the calls of vendors and a rich array of local goods. The former Berber city of Sijilmasa, however, lost its luster as a trading town of the past. Stretching for five miles along the River Ziz, it fell to nomadic tribes in 1818 and has stood dormant since, providing a remarkable glimpse into a former desert trading post.
Some of the world’s most dramatic canyons slice through these Middle Atlas Mountains. The Todra Palmeraie Gorge towers to 985 feet. It once guided a raging river through its rocky passage but has since dried up. The Dades Gorges, too, add unspeakable, lunar-like beauty to this spectacular corner of Morocco.
The medieval desert village of Ouarzazate is so well preserved that it has been used to film many movies set in ancient times. Also a former trading town, it is home to a 12th-century Taourirt village that is still inhabited today. Nearby, the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Ait Benhaddou comprises six kasbahs and fifty ksars. It is heralded as one of the world’s finest examples of earthen clay architecture, and has also seen its share of film crews scouring its streets for the perfect shot.
Morocco’s Coastal Gems
Speaking of films, Casablanca is one of Morocco’s most visited cities because of its setting for the classic movie. The country’s main port, it enjoys a stunning locale on the Atlantic, with a beautiful, palm-lined corniche. The city’s cathedral is a splendid example of Moorish Revival architecture, but no building compares to the scope and breadth of the Hassan II Mosque, the world’s third largest. Located on a promontory jutting into the Atlantic Ocean, it can accommodate 25,000 worshippers inside and 80,000 in its vast courtyard. Its minaret is the world’s tallest at 689 feet.
Further south, Agadir hugs a crescent bay, a stunning sight to behold from the hilltop Kasbah, the city’s oldest district. The slope of the hill upon which the Kasbah rests bears an Arabic inscription that can be seen from across the bay: It reads “God, Country, King.” But Essaouira is perhaps Morocco’s most scenic coastal city. This UNESCO World Heritage Site is a perfect example of a typical North African fortified town, with its cannons pointing out to sea, preserved ramparts and brightly hued fishing boats. The Skala de la Ville once defended the city from sea attacks. The town has attracted artists and craftspeople from all over the world who have created a thriving community all their own. Thanks to their unbridled creativity, the souks within the medina seem the perfect marriage of traditional and modern trades, offering everything from sea-inspired jewelry to original paintings.
Experience Morocco, Gate 1 Style!
Quality and value go hand in hand in Gate 1 Travel’s Morocco. Our travel planners have reserved some of the country’s finest hotels. And you’ll enjoy restaurants that introduce you to a newly refined take on Moroccan cuisine, and savor the generous bounty of home-made meals and mint tea prepared by hosts. What’s more, our Tour Managers are among the most experienced and insightful around, with a boundless national pride that you’ll find contagious. Simply put, there is no other way to experience Morocco to its fullest than with Gate 1 Travel!