The oldest and largest medieval city in the world, Fes is a bustling hive of activity. The medina is a must – a heady mix of aromas, sounds and sights from the tanneries, spice tubs, carpets, pottery and leather goods. To navigate, follow the tourist circuits. There are 5 circuits, each with a different colour, each with a different theme, such as palaces and gardens, traditional crafts etc. There are plenty of mosques and palaces to visit, but be aware that only Muslims can enter Mosques (as is the case in all of Morocco).
High up in the Rif Mountains, Chefchaouen is a beautiful blue door and white-walled medina that was originally a Berber post. The main square is the heart of Chefchaouen, with the Kasbah (built back in the 18th century), central mosque and cafes with authentic Moroccan style menus. The market is a mix of traditional Moroccan items and tourist souvenirs, and very busy but worth a visit for the bargains on killims.
Sultan Moulay Ismail made Meknes the capital of Morocco and the centre of his empire. Although the Sultan was a tyrant, he is revered – the mausoleum has a shrine inside which can be visited; other rooms inside the mausoleum are only for Muslims or the Royal family. Meknes medina is smaller than Fes and Marrakech but no less difficult to navigate! Make sure you buy some olives, the choice is amazing. Visit Nejjarin Mosque from the 10th century, Dar el Beida palace and don’t miss the impressive monumental gates.
One of the first sights you will see is the Koutoubia Mosque, with its 230 foot high minaret, dating back to the 12th century. Djemaa el Fna, the central square, is best seen in the evening when its overflowing with food stalls, dancers, acrobats, fortune tellers, musicians and henna artists. The souks have a variety of goods for sale and bargaining is expected. Try a traditional hamman, a steam bath followed by an exfoliating massage, after a day’s sightseeing of palaces and monuments.
Essaouira Originally encircled by the old walls, the town of Essaouira has now extended beyond the walls, but the town is still small enough to explore on foot. Any city gate leads to the Medina, so you’re unlikely to get lost. The beach is in front of the Medina and there are plenty of cafés with terraces, both ideal for relaxing for a few hours. Blue doors and window frames abound as do the artists shops – buy a carpet or Thuya wood carving or sit on the beach sipping a mint tea as the sun sets, an antidote to the bustle of the Imperial cities.
Stretching 2,400kms through Morocco to Tunisia, the range includes the Rock of Gibraltar. The trekking ranges from a stroll to a strenuous trek to the highest summit in North Africa, Jebel Toubkal. The Moroccan Grand Atlas includes the Middle Atlas, High Atlas and Anti-Atlas. Its easy to take a one day trek, so you don’t have to be super fit. Mountain villages of Berber people still exist today, living a simple life and it’s a way to experience a side of Morocco that many travellers don’t see.
Ait Benhaddou is a ‘fortified city’ situated along the former caravan route between the Sahara and Marrakech. It is situated on a hill along the Ouarzazate River and boasts some beautiful examples of kasbahs, some of which remain inhabited. Granted UNESCO World Heritage listing, the site had been the setting for many films including Lawrence of Arabia and Gladiator.