From the labyrinthine souks of Fes to the history and romance of Meknes, Casablanca and Tangier, and the dramatic blue hues of Chefchaouen, northern Morocco has much to offer on a holiday in north Africa.
Ten thousand labyrinthine alleys make up an impenetrable, medieval Medina in fascinating Fes. In many ways, Fes is like a mini Marrakech, with an equally heady mix of sights, sounds and scents; but for locals it is the spiritual heart of Morocco and the city with the strongest Arabic flavour. A visit to the leather tanneries is a real experience (and you’ll soon discover why they give you a sprig of mint to hold to your nose!).
Lying less than an hour to the west of Fes, Meknes is often overshadowed by its more famous neighbour, but all that really means is fewer tourists. Another of Morocco’s four imperial cities, along with Fes, Marrakesh and Rabat, Meknes is home to significant historical sites, including Roman ruins at Volubilis and the mausoleum of the 17th-century sultan, Moulay Ismail.
The very name Casablanca stirs romantic visions in Western minds, such that visitors are often surprised to find it a modern, thriving business city with a distinctly European feel. Morocco’s largest city, this is a glimpse into the country’s future but is by no means detached from its past. The impressive Hassan II Mosque, the third-largest in the world, sits on a rocky outcrop above the ocean and has a space age laser beam pointing the way to Mecca. Casablanca’s Jewish Museum is the only one of its type in the Muslim world.
The gateway to Africa for so many European travellers, Tangier has a long and colourful history which marks it as something of an anomaly in the Arab world. During the Cold War it was a safehouse for international spies; hippies flocked there in the wake of subversive figures like William Burroughs; and around the same time it became the site of the world’s first gay resort. Today, Tangier is a favoured beach resort of Moroccans and Spaniards, and is as eccentric as ever in the winding alleyways of its medieval medina, separated from the new part of town by the beautiful Grand Socco square.
The most visually arresting of Morocco’s cities must be Chefchaouen, a vision in blue in the shadows of the Rif Mountains. Separate from the rest of the country until the 1920s, and retaining a distinct identity, the city is famous for its powder blue traditional houses, with cheerful debate about their origin a popular pastime among locals. A walk around Chefchaouen’s lovely medina is a great way to spend an afternoon; the kasbah contains a nice garden and an ethnographic museum.