Getting more from Morocco is as easy as ABC, reports Katie McGonagle
Mention Morocco and most people think of the snake charmers, spice stalls and labyrinthine souks of Marrakech.
It’s no wonder this first-timers’ favourite tends to steal the limelight: flights are frequent and fares good value, there is accommodation to suit any pocket, and it boasts an exotic appeal rarely found in other short haul destinations.
But as enchanting as it is, there’s much more to Morocco than Marrakech, and demand for alternatives is growing. Adventure operators Exodus and Intrepid Travel are reporting 15% and 16% increases in interest since last year, while Anatolian Sky Holidays says it has seen a 40% jump in bookings compared with mid-2012, particularly for tailor made and beach holidays.
Whether your customers want to trek up mountains and over deserts, surf the crest of an Atlantic wave, or explore ancient medinas, there are plenty of options on offer.
ADVENTURE: PEAKS AND PLAINS
From climbing the tallest mountain in North Africa to voyaging across vast desert plains, Morocco is ripe with opportunities for adventure. Exodus has seen a rise in trekking enquiries – its Mount Toubkal Climb is up 50% year-on-year – and Responsible Tourism trips. Its Get Involved: Morocco Volunteer itinerary includes two days’ project work in remote village Tijhza, a day at Toubkal National Park, and a coastal project in Tafedna (from £999 for 10 days, including flights).
The local way of life is also the focus of On The Go Tours’ 11-day Migration of the Berbers trek, departing in May and September, and following nomadic Berber tribes as they bring goats and sheep from the High Atlas Mountains to the lower Dades Valley. The trip includes seven nights’ camping, three nights in a Marrakech riad, and a tour leader, from £799 without flights.Bedouin camps, a hike through Todra Gorge and a visit to Ait Benhaddou kasbah feature in G Adventures’ eight-day Moroccan Desert Adventure, part of its 18-30s range You Only Live Once (from £399 excluding flights).
Those who prefer to travel in style can opt for the 12-day comfort-level alternative, Moroccan Dreams, which includes an off-road drive through the desert, a night in a luxury tented camp and a visit to the natural rock formations at Tafraoute (from £1,399 land-only).
Morocco’s soft adventure also makes it a hit with younger explorers: it’s one of family specialist The Adventure Company’s top-sellers, and has continued to sell well while other North African destinations have slowed. Kids in the Kasbahs is one of the operator’s most popular itineraries: ride donkeys through the Atlas Mountains, drink mint tea in traditional Berber villages, and stay in beachside Essaouira (eight days, from £759 per child over five, £799 for adults, including flights).
For older children, Atlas Trails is a more challenging trip, with four days’ hiking in the Atlas Mountains, staying in Berber villages, plus a stop at Ait Benhaddou kasbah (eight days from £689 with flights; minimum age 12).
Fair-weather explorers can tag on a shorter dose of adventure to a more relaxing itinerary, with a bolt-on such as Anatolian Sky Holidays’ two-day Desert Adventure. A five-night trip combining the Atlas Mountains, Marrakech and a desert camel trek with a Berber guide starts at £755 with flights, transfers and excursions.
BEACH: SURF’S UP
Morocco boasts an enviable Atlantic coastline, with hotspots such as Agadir and Essaouira growing their hotel product and smaller beach towns starting to attract attention.
The former is a modern resort town – it was rebuilt after an earthquake in 1960 – with a host of hotels lining up along its golden sands. Popular options include the Sofitel Agadir Thalassa Sea & Spa, which opened last year and has its own private beach, and the sizeable Royal Atlas & Spa.
Next door is Club Med Agadir, where group lessons in golf, tennis, pilates and archery come as part of the all-inclusive package. For a more traditional feel, Anatolian Sky – which is beefing up its Agadir offering for next year – recommends the Riad Villa Blanche, a luxurious 28-room riad-style property (from £540 with flights and B&B in May half-term).There’s no excuse for lying on the beach all day: it’s a watersports haven, with windy conditions perfect for surfing and kiteboarding, while golfers can play a few rounds on its four courses.
Add a day trip to Taroudant, known as ‘Little Marrakech’, or to the Souss Estuary to see its staggering variety of bird species. Do Something Different has a half-day trip to the latter from £22 or £11 for under-sevens, with pick ups from Agadir hotels.
Windy conditions also make Essaouira a good spot for windsurfing and kitesurfing, and proximity to Marrakech means it’s an easy twin-centre. The laidback coastal town was the setting for Orson Welles’ film Othello, and hosts a jazz and world music festival each June.
Accommodation is a mix of traditional riads and international chains. Mosaic Holidays recommends the Sofitel Essaouira Mogador Golf & Spa for a relaxing break: tee off on its 18-hole golf course, relax in the spa and hammam, or enjoy French-inspired cuisine (from £859 per adult, £399 per child, for seven nights’ B&B, flying from Gatwick in July).
Travellers keen to get outside the main tourist resorts can try one of the smaller fishing villages along this coastal stretch. On The Go Tours includes surf lessons and a stay in Taghazoute in its 11-day Marrakech, Sahara and Surf tour.
CITY: URBAN CRAWL
They’ve ticked off Marrakech, so where’s next in the tour of Morocco’s historic cities?
Second-largest city Fes boasts more than just a natty line of hats: this medieval metropolis has a huge medina full of twisting alleyways where you have to dodge donkeys and overladen carts as you peer into stalls selling spices, slippers and cobalt-blue ceramics.
Next comes Meknes. The imperial capital, known as the ‘city of a hundred minarets’, retains a modern feel. Don’t miss the Roman ruins at Volubilis to the north, and nearby Islamic holy site Moulay Idriss Zerhoun.
The capital, Rabat, is a modern city with wide boulevards and a medina which feels less chaotic than the one in Marrakech. Be sure to drop by the National Archaeological Museum to see artefacts from Roman, Phoenician and Carthaginian sites.
Explore’s Imperial Cities and Desert is a 15-day route around these cities with a camel trek and overnight camp in the Sahara Desert plus a chance to relax in Essaouira at the end, and starts at £798 including flights and B&B.
Some journeys – such as Intrepid Travel’s nine-day North Morocco Adventure, and Cosmos Tours and Cruises’ Highlights of Morocco – also add in the iconic industrial city of Casablanca. Sightseeing is rather limited to the Hassan II Mosque, but it’s a must for movie fans.
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