With its fusion of Arabic, Spanish, French and African culture, the kingdom of Morocco enthrals travellers from the moment they set foot on its dusty ground. There is simply nowhere like it. Travelling in Morocco is a sweaty, dusty, hectic, life-affirming experience….

On a packed train, I had dust in my hair, eyes and mouth, but loved the way passengers would share their food, and anyone would strike up a conversation with anyone, whether to pass the time or to learn more. Breathe deeply and you’ll find Morocco’s scents are a similarly cluttered palette of the nice and the not-so-nice. The spices stacked in baskets, the aroma of fresh cooking, and the sour stench of tanneries commingle, with incense, fragrant flowers, honey and mint to be smelled at every turn. Having woken up to the sound of prayer blearing from the minarets, you’ll find the streets are filled with the sounds of men haggling, children shouting, taxis honking and motorbikes whizzing past. Somehow, Morocco manages to resolve this vast confusion of sights, sounds and smells, skilfully bringing things together in harmony.

Play. Whichever city you are visiting, the most enjoyable pastime is wandering around the medina (the old town). Watch artisans craft their wares, haggle with merchants, dodge speeding motorbikes, squeeze through alleyways sideways, photograph a hundred doors, follow bees to bakeries brimming with honeyed sweets, and look on as men, women and children go about their daily lives. Taking a guided tour can be a good way to discover hidden gems. You might end up drinking mint tea in a store full of Berber blankets and enjoying the back-and-forth haggling that the Moroccan people excel at. Yes, the owner is probably friends with your guide, but this can be a great way to find better deals than what’s available on the main walkways of the souk.

If you take a cooking class, you’ll be lead through the markets by a local chef, picking up the freshest vegetables from boxes in alleyways, live poultry from hole-in-the-wall stores, and saffron from tiny shops the size of cupboards. Learning to cook a tagine the Moroccan way is a skill that will never go to waste, and if you’re lucky, the chef will give you a bunch of recipes to try at home.

 

In Fes, the tanneries are an exciting visual mosaic of pools, people and leather. You’ll be overwhelmed in the best way possible, but the smell of ammonia and curing leather is pungent, so a sprig of mint held to your nose goes a long way.

Bahia Palace is the jewel of Marrakesh, and an absolute feast for the eyes. Everything that is special about a riad (a traditional Moroccan house with an internal courtyard) is amplified a hundred times in this grand, sprawling compound.

If you want to spend a night or a week stargazing in the desert and witnessing inordinately beautiful sunrises and sunsets, you can book yourself on overnight or even week- long treks, where you’ll ride a camel into the Sahara, cook over an open camp fire and sleep in a nomad tent.

For anyone with eyes, the town of Chefchaouen, tucked away in the Rif mountains in north-west Morocco, should be on your list of must-sees. Settled by Jewish refugees in the 15th century, everything in Chefchaouen is painted a mesmerizing electric blue, to represent the heavens above and to encourage a life of spiritual awareness. Windows, doors, walls, lampposts and rubbish bins are all freshly painted blue every two years.
In Marrakesh, Majorelle Garden is a very beautiful site, formerly owned by the son of an esteemed French Art Nouveau cabinetmaker who designed the formal gardens here in the 1920s and 30s, using a vibrant cobalt blue that’s now known as bleu Majorelle. Yves St Laurent bought the gardens in the 1980s and had his ashes scattered here. Today, it houses a collection of Islamic art, as well as a

In Fes, the tanneries are an exciting visual mosaic of pools, people and leather. You’ll be overwhelmed in the best way possible, but the smell of ammonia and curing leather is pungent, so a sprig of mint held to your nose goes a long way.

Bahia Palace is the jewel of Marrakesh, and an absolute feast for the eyes. Everything that is special about a riad (a traditional Moroccan house with an internal courtyard) is amplified a hundred times in this grand, sprawling compound.

If you want to spend a night or a week stargazing in the desert and witnessing inordinately beautiful sunrises and sunsets, you can book yourself on overnight or even week- long treks, where you’ll ride a camel into the Sahara, cook over an open camp fire and sleep in a nomad tent.

For anyone with eyes, the town of Chefchaouen, tucked away in the Rif mountains in north-west Morocco, should be on your list of must-sees. Settled by Jewish refugees in the 15th century, everything in Chefchaouen is painted a mesmerizing electric blue, to represent the heavens above and to encourage a life of spiritual awareness. Windows, doors, walls, lampposts and rubbish bins are all freshly painted blue every two years.
In Marrakesh, Majorelle Garden is a very beautiful site, formerly owned by the son of an esteemed French Art Nouveau cabinetmaker who designed the formal gardens here in the 1920s and 30s, using a vibrant cobalt blue that’s now known as bleu Majorelle. Yves St Laurent bought the gardens in the 1980s and had his ashes scattered here. Today, it houses a collection of Islamic art, as well as a cactus collection and more than 15 species of indigenous North African birds.

Stay. Nothing compares to the experience of arriving at a fairly non-descript door in a narrow alleyway, and seeing it open into a breathtakingly beautiful courtyard. Riads are traditional houses, typically found inside the medina, and many have been converted into boutique hotels. They are bursting with ornate plastering, geometric tiles and colourful fabrics, and every detail is captivating. Soaking in the views from your rooftop at night is something you’ll never forget. To stay in a western style hotel would be a crime.

Eat. Moroccan hospitality is warm and intimate, and often the best place to eat is in your own riad, sharing mint tea and a meal with the staff and other guests.

In Marrakesh, head to Jemaa el-Fnaa, the main square, and buy a delicious tagine from one of the stalls. This simple Moroccan stew is a culinary delight made with local ingredients like olives, preserved lemon, eggplant, fig and almonds.

Street food is for the brave, so make sure you’ve got a supply of Immodium. But if you’re feeling adventurous, take a seat at one of the stalls selling snails, or try a pastilla, a sweet and salty pie traditionally made with pigeon. It’s a Moroccan specialty worth trying.

Words and Photography – Kate Wark Photographer