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10 reasons why this enthralling country just four hours from Britain should be your next holiday

The Telegraph logo The Telegraph 30/08/2022 Tara Stevens
Morocco holiday sunshine - Getty © Getty Morocco holiday sunshine - Getty

Jetting off to Morocco in the early autumn means two things: you will get all the thrills of a long-haul destination on a short-haul flight (under four hours), and guaranteed sunshine. With its previously strict Covid rules now significantly eased – you must show proof of either vaccination (including a booster) or a recent negative PCR test – it’s a no-brainer, ahead of a long, gloomy winter, to escape to this exotic (and relatively affordable) land.

Think candy-coloured towns and cities of Marrakech (pink), Fez (ochre) and Chefchaouen (blue), honey-coloured dunes and terracotta-topped mountain peaks, ancient cedar forests and silvery olive groves, crashing Atlantic waves and pine-scented Mediterranean breezes.

This is a country where the food delights in great bursts of cumin, cinnamon and saffron, and small-scale riads adorned with carved plaster and jewel-coloured tiles feel like miniature palaces; where a steam and a scrub down at a local hammam will leave you feeling shiny and new, and the people welcome you like family. 

Little wonder it’s one of Telegraph Travel readers’ favourite countries, while Zina Bencheikh, managing director of Intrepid Travel, concurred it is one of the small group adventure travel company’s top-selling destinations. 

Craving adventure-lite in somewhere that’s big on excitement but low on admin and flight time? Morocco nails it. 

Historically, it’s always been a melting pot of cultures – Amazigh, Arab, Jewish and French – all come together in a heady medley of architectural design and ancient crafts, urban style and off-road adventures. Soak up the atmosphere in the country’s maze-like medinas, where sunbeams rain down into shadowy alleyways spotlighting all sorts of treasure. From beaded Senegalese heads to copper bathtubs, custom-made rugs, hand-cut tiles and couture kaftans, it’s heaven for shoppers. 

But don’t miss its cultural side. As well as heritage museums that outline the kingdom’s past and the savoir-faire of its artisans, it’s now become a hub of the African art scene, with the Festival of Sacred Music every spring in Fez, the annual 1-54 contemporary Art Fair in Marrakech and a literary festival due to launch in the same city in November 2022. 

Drive south across the lunar landscape of the Atlas – about eight hours from either Fez or Marrakech – and you’ll eventually hit the frontier towns that give to the sandy seas of the Sahara. Head west and wind-sculpted Argan forests point to the wilderness beaches of the African Atlantic. To the north, Tangier sparkles white in the Mediterranean light, thrumming with the energy that so captivated the Beat poets and innumerable writers and artists ever since. 

With huge investments in infrastructure – better roads, high-speed trains, regular internal flights – and ever more lovely accommodation, here are 10 reasons why there’s never been a better time to pack your bags, hit the road and get Morocco under your skin.

Imperial cities

Spinning through the warren of Fez’s mind-bending medina uncovering architectural treasures such as the 14th-century Madrasa Bou Inania, with its horseshoe arches and marble courtyard, or the ninth-century Al-Karaouine University, feels like stepping back 500 years in time. In Meknes, the 40km-long pink ramparts that contain the former palaces of Sultan Moulay Ismail give some sense of his megalomania, while the peaceful, blue-trimmed Kasbah Oudaia of Rabat, festooned with flowers and waterfront views, seems a world away from the frenzy of life outside. Abercrombie and Kent (abercrombiekent.co.uk) offers an eight-night Classic Morocco trip taking in all of these, and adding fun extras such as vintage sidecar transfers and hot air balloon rides, for £3,795pp. 

Morocco city break - Izzet Keribar/The Image Bank Unreleased © Provided by The Telegraph Morocco city break - Izzet Keribar/The Image Bank Unreleased

Far-away flavours

You’ll have heard of its fragrant tagines and sumptuous Friday couscous, but Morocco has plenty more to savour, from sugar-drenched pigeon pastilla to chermoula-laced fish stews and slow-cooked lamb mechouia. At the night food market on the Jemma al Fna, Tasting Marrakech (tasting-marrakech.com) helps you graze through the best stalls for £75pp, while Annie B Spain (anniebspain.com) offers a 10-day gourmet tour of the imperial cities, including three cooking classes and wine tastings for £3,320pp. Or, Peggy Markel’s Culinary Adventures (peggymarkel.com) roams Marrakech, Imlil and Essaouira over 10 days in search culinary know-how including wood-fired bread baking, and learning about medicinal plants, for £4,800pp.

Food sellers in Djemma el fna square - iStock Unreleased © Provided by The Telegraph Food sellers in Djemma el fna square - iStock Unreleased

Coastal chic 

Direct flights to Agadir from London, Manchester and Birmingham make it easy to dose up on vitamin D, but the new hot spot is a few miles north in the Amazigh fishing village of Taghazout. A Grandest Sensations wellness weekend at the Fairmont Taghazout (fairmont.com/taghazout) is all about lazy days by the pool, and serious self-care in the hammam and spa, where traditional beauty rituals rule. Prices start at £260 for a sea-facing double. If you want something more active, Wow Surfhouse (wow-surfhouse.com) offers week-long surf courses and daily yoga from its boho beachside perch for £525pp.

Fairmont Taghazout - Jean Francois Guggenheim © Provided by The Telegraph Fairmont Taghazout - Jean Francois Guggenheim

Starry desert nights

The desert is the best place to see the Milky Way, and while big tour groups head for Merzouga, Erg Chigaga has the highest dunes and more exclusive camps. Azalai Desert Camp (azalailifeexperience.com) offers gourmet dinners, campfires and four-poster beds under the stars for £240, all-inclusive. Journey Beyond Travel (journeybeyondtravel.com) offers a seven-day, Golden Sahara experience from £2,795pp that digs deep into desert culture, ending up at a remote beach town in the South. If you’re short of time, Scarabeo Camp (scarabeocamp.com) in the Agafay Desert is just 45 minutes from Marrakech. Here, the ever-shifting light paints its stone dunes all the shades of pink and purple, and a local astronomer will guide you through the constellations at night. It’s a great overnighter, starting at £175 in a deluxe tent, half board.

Sahara star gazing - Ruben Earth/Moment RF © Provided by The Telegraph Sahara star gazing - Ruben Earth/Moment RF

African art and design

Thanks to the arrival of the Museum of African Contemporary Art Al Maaden and the YSL Museum in Marrakech, alongside a growing number of riveting galleries in the Red City’s fashionable Gueliz district, Marrakech is a hot spot for art lovers, but there’s plenty more to explore beyond. Next spring, Art Travel Adventures (arttraveladventures.com.au) offers a 17-day painting and sketching journey from £4,525pp, based on two sharing. Accompanied by celebrated British artist Noel Bensted, who fell in love with the light, colour, and energy of Morocco, and made it his home, the route takes you from the dusky pink streets of Marrakech to the peaceful ksars of the Todra Gorge, a secluded artists’ residence on the edge of the Sahara, to the hidden splendours of Fez and the blue-washed charm of Chefchaouen.

YSL Museum, Marrakech © Provided by The Telegraph YSL Museum, Marrakech

Beach retreats

The Moroccan Mediterranean combines glitzy resorts such as the Sofitel, Banyan Tree and Ritz Carlton on Tamouda Bay with secret coves and salt-sprayed fishing villages that cluster along the bay from Tetouan to Al Hoceima. Whereas the Atlantic seaboard, which runs like a gilded ribbon almost without stopping from Tangier to Dahkla, is a kind of Moroccan Montauk with better weather, lively Essaouira has a laid-back, artsy vibe, while sleepy Oualidia is blessedly quiet outside of high summer, with little to do but feast on local seafood or putter up and down the lagoon in search of migrating storks and flamingos. Fleewinter (fleewinter.com) offers a six-day ‘Sea and Souks’ trip combining Essaouira and Marrakech for £395pp. Abercrombie & Kent (abercrombiekent.co.uk) will tailor-make luxury Atlantic Coast holidays; prices on enquiry.

Oualidia, Morocco - LUKASZ-NOWAK1/iStockphoto © Provided by The Telegraph Oualidia, Morocco - LUKASZ-NOWAK1/iStockphoto

Mountains high, valleys low

Divided by the mighty Atlas, with the Rif to the North and the Anti Atlas to the south, Morocco is a walker’s dream. There’s something for all, from easy day hikes along dry river beds fringed by date and banana palms in the aptly named Paradise Valley, to demanding multi-day treks to Toubkal (the highest peak in North Africa) or overnight trails through the Rif taking in natural phenomenon such as Gods Bridge, which connects two waterfalls. The Natural Adventure (thenaturaladventure.com) offers two- to nine-day, fully customised, hikes to the top of Toubkal with guide, cook and muleteer from £245pp. Seven-day trips into the Rif national parks with Toubkal Adventures (toubkaladventures.com) include secret swimming holes and tea stops in remote Amazigh villages, from £650pp.

Morocco hiking holidays - El Mehdi El Haydi/iStockphoto © Provided by The Telegraph Morocco hiking holidays - El Mehdi El Haydi/iStockphoto

Rock the Kasbah

The Dades Valley is the main route connecting the desert with ancient trade routes dotted with steep, terracotta-hued gorges and ksars (walled villages) crafted from mud built for its various feudal lords. The most spectacular of these is at Ait Ben Haddou kasbah, a Unesco World Heritage Site that is the former mountain residence of Thami El Glaoui, Pasha of Marrakech from 1912 to 1956. The Draa Valley by contrast traverses 1,100km of the Dades and Imini rivers, flanked by lush palm groves and oases at Skoura and Zagora, which make for excellent jumping-off points into the desert camps. Intrepid Travel (intrepidtravel.com) offers a Premium Morocco Explorer, which takes in imperial cities, desert camps and palatial kasbahs over 12 days, from £1,640pp. Cox & Kings’ (coxandkings.co.uk) luxurious seven-night Oases and Kasbahs trip goes more remote and includes highlights such as the spectacular formations of the Todgha Canyon for £1,695pp.

Morocco kasbah - FADEL SENNA/AFP © Provided by The Telegraph Morocco kasbah - FADEL SENNA/AFP

Glorious gardens

Moroccans place great importance on their gardens, incorporating Islamic and Andalusian styles – symmetry, art, water features, edible and medicinal plants – to spectacular effect. From the eye-popping colours of the Jardins Majorelle in Marrakech to the exotic blooms of the Sidi Bouknadal gardens in Salé, saffron fields of Ourika and the rosariums of Ouirgane, the kingdom is a veritable verdant paradise. Travel Exploration (travel-exploration.com) offers a 10-day Gardens of Morocco tour from £3,700pp led by garden designers, botanists and herbalists, liberally sprinkled with sunset cocktails and gourmet meals in some of the country’s most palatial surrounds.  

Rose garden, Morocco - Alamy © Provided by The Telegraph Rose garden, Morocco - Alamy

Cool for kids

Moroccans adore children and wherever you go they’ll be spoiled and indulged while treated to life-changing adventures: scooped onto the back of a donkey in the Fez medina, dune surfing in the desert, whisked into the kitchens of local restaurants to sample homemade sweets – there are even children’s workshops at Marrakech’s Museum of African Contemporary Art (macaal.org). Plan It Morocco (plan-it-morocco.com) offers tailor-made family holidays that can include anything from pottery classes to treasure hunts through the souks and camel treks. There’s something to suit every age and interest, from £5,000 for a family of four over five days.

For more on Morocco see visitmorocco.com/en, and read Telegraph Travel's guide to the best hotels in Morocco.

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