Morocco: A vast cornucopia of charm and intrigue

By Tara Stevens

This North African country is a vast cornucopia of charm and intrigue, discovers Tara Stevens.

Bargain at the souks in Moroccan medinas. Photo / 123RF
Bargain at the souks in Moroccan medinas. Photo / 123RF

FEZ

As the most traditional imperial city in Morocco, Fez can be difficult to penetrate. The maze-like streets and dark alleyways can have you spinning like a top, but it rewards like nowhere else. Souk aficionados love getting lost here — and get lost you will.

In so doing, you'll discover the hole-in-the-wall ateliers of master craftsmen creating beautiful things the way they always have: exquisite carved plaster and intricately painted wood, prettily glazed, hand-cut tiles (zellije) and delicate, pierced-brass lanterns, as well as brightly coloured woven textiles, high-quality pottery and natty basketware.

It's a place to find eclectic home furnishings, but it's also a place to eat. The markets are resplendent with fresh produce and the cooks here — particularly in the riads — are some of the best in the country, which makes it all the more extraordinary that this still feels like one of the world's great undiscovered secrets.

ESSAOUIRA

The grooviest of Morocco's cities has long been a favourite among hippy revellers (Jimi Hendrix and Cat Stevens both hung out here in the 60s), but these days it's catering to well-heeled urbanites looking for a hot spot to chill out and do nothing.

Today, cosmopolitan cafes and stylish eateries spill out of every square, smart bars and restaurants are de rigueur and beach clubs rule the golden strand that was once the preserve of touts and camels.

The gloriously hassle-free souks are a great source of cotton blankets, carved wooden boxes and psychedelic native art paintings. You can easily explore the whole town in a morning or afternoon, but combine this with a few long, lazy lunches, a trip out to the excellent Val d'Argan winery (run by a winemaker from Chateauneuf-du-Pape), and a visit to an argan oil co-operative, and it's easy to see why the foodies claim Essaouira as their own.

TANGIER

Tangier has come a long way since its days as an International Zone.

Its naughty golden age may have been peopled by the likes of American heiress Barbara Hutton and writers Allen Ginsberg and Paul Bowles, when a whole lot of bad behaviour went on, but a recent influx of writers and artists, interior designers and antiques dealers is breathing a classy, upwardly mobile life into the city.

Money is being poured into a smart new port area and there's a general vamping up of the centre to make way for high-fashion boutiques, bookshops and galleries.

There's always been a dash of the jet-setter about the place, thanks to its privileged position on the mouth of the Mediterranean, winking back across the strait to Spain — and these days it's being hailed as the St Tropez of North Africa.

Newly tidy boulevards encase a gleaming whitewashed medina crowned by the streets of the Kasbah at the top.

The corniche is now brimming with fashionable beach clubs serving a glass of crisp Moroccan white and a platter of seafood, and there is a growing roster of important festivals such as TanJazz in September and the Literary Arts Festival in May.

This is Morocco at its most sophisticated.

CHECKLIST

Details: House of Travel and Globus are offering a 17-day tour that takes in Spain, Portugal and Morocco.

- Daily Telegraph UK

Get the news delivered straight to your inbox

Receive the day’s news, sport and entertainment in our daily email newsletter

SIGN UP NOW

© Copyright 2017, NZME. Publishing Limited

Assembled by: (static) on production apcf05 at 30 May 2017 02:17:20 Processing Time: 1663ms