Morocco Travel Guide – part III
Essaouira. An ancient sea-side town newly (re)discovered by tourists. From mid june to august the beaches are packed but any other time and youll be the only person there. Good music and great people.
The beach dominates the Essaouirans’ leisure time. Although the strong wind and currents makes relaxed tanning and swimming a little difficult at times, it is perfect for windsurfing. With good winds for most days of the year, Essaouira is a windsurfer’s paradise. The best spots are reported to be Essaouira Bay, Sidi Kaouki, Cape Sim and Mouley Bouzertoune. Equipment can be hired from the Windsurfing Club on the beach front.
The nearby town of Diabat and its beach is allegedly where Jimi Hendrix once spent some time. Even if the stories aren’t true, this long, windswept beach with its ruined fort, about 5km from Essaouira, is a lovely place to walk to. Diabat is an empty, concrete Berber village that is practically devoid of attractions except the Hendrix ruin and a Hendrix Cafe. It’s best visted in the early morning via taxi and then return to Essouiara via a short and very romantic walk on the beach past the castle in the sand of Hendrix fame.
Essaouira’s craftsmen are renowned for their woodwork and lacquerware. Intricately inlaid boxes, chessboards and curios can be found for good prices in the city’s hundreds of shops; however, beware that extensive deforestation is taking place in the area due to these woods not being replanted. Artwork of all kinds can be had here.
Meknes. A modern, laid back city that offers welcome break from the tourist crush of neighbouring Fez.
The main attractions here are:
– Bab Mansour: Bab means “gate” or “door” in Arabic, and Bab Mansour is the largest and most striking of Meknes’ many gates. It’s directly across from Place Hedim, the medina’s main square.
– Place Hedim: Currently “under construction,” this square once rivaled Djemaa el Fna in Marrakech but is now significantly less exciting (though there are a few nice cafes and snack spots in which to people-watch).
– Heri es-Souani: You can catch a glimpse of the grandeur of Moulay Ismail at these granaries, and sit beside the enormous Agdal Basin.
– Meknes Royal Golf Course: Although it is rumored that you must be a member of an affiliated club to play here, it seems that with money, your lack of membership is overlooked.
– Medersa Bou Inania: A beautiful Qur’anic school.
– Dar Jamai: Now a museum (MusÃ¨e Dar Jamai in French), this old palace is located at the back of Place Hedim. It now houses the Museum of Moroccan Arts, which is currently exhibiting antique rugs.
Around Meknes you will find the Roman ruins of Volubilis (Oualili in Arabic and Berber): This UNESCO World Heritage Site is a short trip from Meknes. It is possible to go cheaply by grand taxi (via the town of Moulay Idriss, also worth a visit).
Taza is the provincial capital of the region (“wilaya”) Taza-Al Hoceima-Taounate. Taza is divided into two parts: the Medina (Taza-Haut), built on a plateau, and the Ville Nouvelle(Taza-Bas) in the valley, set up by the French after the occupation in 1914.
At the Medina the more “touristic” sights of Taza are located: the Great Mosque (“Jemaa el-Khebir”), the Medersa Bou Abul Hassan, the Andalusian Mosque and the souks with the “Jemaa es-Souk”, the Market Mosque.
The heart of the Ville Nouvelle (Taza-Bas) is the Place de l’Indépendance. From there you can easily access the two main shopping streets, the Avenue Mohammed V and the Rue Allal Ben Abdullah. Here you find all sorts of shops and cafés. Most of the cafés are only visited by men, but there are some where you can feel comfortable as a woman. In the morning and at noon you will meet the Tazi women, who do their shopping and errands. In the evening the streets of the city are left to the men. The young Tazi you will meet at the cinema or in one of the local internet-cafés, where they enjoy an evening out to chat and meet their friends.
Ouarzazate. Considered the Capital of the South, Ouarzazate is a great example of preservation and tourism that hasn’t destroyed the feel of a fantastic and ancient city. Ait Bennodhou is one of the best preserved kasbahs (a unique kind of medina, or Islamic city). Taxi can take you there for 300 dirhams(probably possible to haggle cheaper prize) and the driver will wait couple of hours. It is a very picturesque place and lots of movies were shot there(Lawrence of Arabia, The Jewel of the Nile, Gladiator, Alexander). You don’t need a guide to visit kasbahs, but locals will follow you pretending to help and at the end will ask for money.
Tetouan – Capital of the North of Morocco, has very beautiful beaches and is the gateway to the Rif Mountains.
The medina of Tetouan is on the World Heritage List of the UNESCO. The inner city is very characteristic and traditional. One can find many white houses there, especially low houses. Everywhere in the city there are people performing their craftsmanship, like weavers, jewellers, leather workers. Street sellers often try to sell carpets to tourists as well.
The royal palace in Tetouan is situated just outside and by one of the entrances to the medina.
Rissani. This small oasis town lies near the northwest edge of the Sahara. It has gained popularity, not only as the Tafilalet capital, but as a destination where visitors can still experience the true mystique of Morocco. It looks like a forgotten city at the edge of the unforgiving desert, almost as if it is stuck in an era of powerful dynasties, conquering rulers and warlords. There are a lot of things to see and to enjoy your time too and many surprises waiting for you and many questions come to your mind. If you visit Rissani, you’ll see traditional ksars outside of town and Ksar El Fida, this is one of the oldest and the most famous. The mausoleum of Moulay Ali Cherif, third great-grandfather of Moulay Cherif, founder of the Alaouite Dynasty of Morocco, is located on the southern edge of town.