Morocco, the country on the northwest corner of Africa, separated from Spain by only the seven-mile width of the Strait of Gibraltar, is one of the most fascinating, colorful and mysterious countries in the world. Morocco is a delicious and spicy blend of many of the world’s great cultures and religions, with a sultry, languid tropical climate. It has an affinity with Africa because it is an African country. It is both a Mediterranean country and an Atlantic West African country. It has an affinity with Spain, not only because it is Spain’s next door neighbor, but because was ruled by the Moors for 700 years ending in 1492, and Spain still has such a pronounced Moorish and Islamic influence it’s sometimes difficult to distinguish southern Spain from northern Morocco. The Alhambra in Granada, one of the most popular tourist sights in Spain, was the headquarters of the Moors during their domination of Spain, and when you’re there, you might think you’re in Morocco.
Morocco, in turn, was later colonized by the Portuguese, French and Spanish, and they all left their marks. French is the dominant language of Morocco other than Arabic. Casablanca, the legendary port city on the Atlantic, still carries its Portuguese name. Some parts of Morocco’s Mediterranean coast are still under Spanish control. Morocco is primarily an Islamic country, but a tolerant place where Muslims, Jews and Christians live harmoniously side by side. Morocco is approximately the size of California, and similarly long and narrow, stretching along northwest coast of Africa. Its Atlantic coastline is about a thousand miles long, and east of Gibraltar, Morocco’s coastline stretches another 300 miles along the Mediterranean.
The essential points on an itinerary for an exploration of Morocco are the Imperial cities, Rabat, Fez and Marrakech, as well as Casablanca, Meknes and the Atlas Mountains. More adventurous travelers explore the Sahara Desert. The Roman ruins of Volubilis show the outlines of an amazingly well preserved Roman provincial town. It’s also possible to set up cultural encounters with visits to modern-day Berber villages. Morocco has beautiful hotels and inns, but even more uniquely Moroccan are its riads, which are hotels created from what had previously been beautiful homes.
Also worth seeing is Hassan II Mosque. Built between 1986 and 1993 at a cost of $850 million, it’s the largest mosque in Africa, the third-largest in the world. Its giant tower stands over the Atlantic Ocean at a 45 degree angle to the main horizontal structure. The Fez Festival of Sacred Music is also an event that draws thousands from around the world. Authentic cultural experiences are at the top of Moroccan visitors’ lists of priorities, but adventure travel is gaining in popularity.
Moroccan cuisine is diverse and reflects the rich cultural blend of Morocco’s history, with strong Berber, Moorish, Arab and Mediterranean influences. But in Marrakech, you can also find a variety of international cuisines with local Moroccan accents, including French, Italian and Asian restaurants.
Flights are plentiful. Many major carriers fly from the US to Marrakech, including Delta, Virgin, British Airways. Air France, Lufthansa and of course Royal Air Maroc, the country’s national carrier, which is excellent and gives you the added advantage of allowing you to immediately immerse yourself in Moroccan culture the moment you board your plane.
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