It is said that in order for a nation to develop a great cuisine, it must have four prerequisites: a rich land from which to draw upon an abundant range of ingredients; a variety of foreign cultural influences; a great civilization; and lastly, a refined palace with royal kitchens to inspire the nation’s cooks. Morocco has it all, and is home to some of the most tantalizing food imaginable. From robust roasts to rich aromatic stews, spiced or sweetened salads to savoury pastries and fragrant mounds of couscous, there is such a wide variety to choose from. One great example of the country’s cuisine is bastilla, an exquisite blend of shredded pigeon and spiced onion sauce with saffron and herbs encased in a flaky, filo-like pastry, topped with cinnamon and sugar – an intricate dish that epitomises everything that is grand and extravagant in Moroccan cooking.
One of the most interesting ways to absorb the delights and diversity of the country’s cuisine is to visit the souks (markets) and where better than Fés, often regarded as Morocco’s culinary capital. To wander through the myriad of laneways that make up the medina of Fés el Bali (old Fés) sampling the food on offer, is to take a gastronomic journey through Morocco itself.
Early morning is a wonderful time to be out and about and I set off to get thoroughly lost. Sunlight streams in slanted rays through the woven bamboo shades covering the narrow alleyways, catching the steam rising from the many cookers. Street vendors are preparing for the day’s trade and already the air is awash with all manner of exotic- aromas, the hustle and bustle as stalls are set up and neighbours greet one another.
Great crusty rounds of warm khboz (bread) are on display at the feet of an old man crouching behind his produce. Munching on this doughy aniseed-flavoured bread is perfect for strolling the medina. In most Moroccan homes bread is prepared every morning, kneaded in unglazed red clay pans and sent to the community bakery on the heads of children on their way to school.
Close to the city gate of Bab Bou Jaloud one stallholder is already busy at trade cooking and selling one the most common forms of Moroccan breakfasts, miklee. With deft handwork he pinches small balls of dough and presses them into a paper-thin squares covered with oil. Folded, then folded again he slips them onto a skillet sizzling with oil where they materialise into flaky pancakes and are served to eagerly waiting customers with butter and honey.
In a fruit and vegetable souk, produce of every kind lines the street. There are juicy oranges, lemons and grapefruits from the sun-drenched groves of Agadir, golden melons, vine-ripened tomatoes, clementines, crisp celery and plump mounds of grapes, preserved fruits and nuts. Entire shops are jam-packed with nothing but olives – of every flavour, size, quality and colour or bunch of fresh mint displayed in baskets and hanging from ceilings.
The ruggedly charming seaside town has fortified walls, crumbling ramparts and a unique quality of light that has long attracted artists. Its labyrinthine medina is home to souqs, art galleries and wood-carving workshops.
Why Le Jardin Des Douars?
Set just inland from the wind-battered coast, amid hills of gnarly argan trees (the oil from the nuts is prized), Le Jardin des Douars is a true retreat. The villas’ sun-baked domes peek out above palms and bougainvillea alive with butterflies. There are two outdoor pools and a resident peacock who struts about the grounds.
Essaouira enjoys year-round sunshine but is at its loveliest in the autumn when the heat is less intense. The annual Atlantic Andalucía festival, a celebration of the fusion of cultures in Morocco, with live music and dance performances, and exhibitions of Judeo-Moroccan art, runs from 27-30 October.
What Can I Expect?
To relax. With no televisions, telephones or mini bars in the rooms, you’ll spend days reading on your terrace or by the pool (books can be borrowed from the library), wandering the botanical gardens and being pummelled in the onsite spa and hammam. Cocktails are served on the terrace at sunset.
What’s My Room Like?
What Am I Eating?
The seasonal menu is a mix of traditional Moroccan dishes, such as tajines and couscous, and French cuisine, all which you can see being prepared in the open kitchen. A weekly highlight is the Sunday barbecue, where fish, lamb chops and ribs of beef are grilled, and platters of salads and rice are brought to the tables.
Good to Know
Le Jardin des Douars is a 20-minute drive from Essaouira, so you have to book a taxi into town or the hotel’s shuttle bus service.
Beyond the Front Door
Head to Essaouira to walk the ramparts and enjoy a bird’s eye view of the souqs, before heading down to browse the jewellery, art and woodwork for sale, and to watch the fishermen haul in the day’s catch. The hotel also offers guided hikes i n the countryside.
Population: 33 million
Foreign visitors per year: 10 million
Languages: Moroccan Arabic (Darija), Berber (main dialects Tashelhit, Tamazight and Tarifit), French
Major industry: phosphate rock mining and processing
Unit of currency :dirham (Dh)
Cost index: glass of beer Dh25 (US$3), two-hour surf lesson Dh300 (US$36); tourist hammam visit and scrub from Dh200 (US$24); tagine in budget restaurant Dh50 (US$6)
Recognising the spell Morocco’s winding medina lanes, carpet-piled souks and High Atlas peaks have cast on travellers since the hippy-trail days, the country’s tourist industry aimed to attract 10 million visitors annually by 2010. Five years later, the industry is halfway to its next staging post of 2020, hoping to double tourist arrivals to 20 million and become a top-20 destination.
Developments such as budget flights are certainly bringing Morocco’s surf beaches, mountain valleys and palm groves closer to Europe. On the ground, travellers can also enjoy increasingly chic accommodation, from medina hideaways to hilltop kasbahs ¬notably the riad hotels fit for glossy magazines. None of the country’s Maghrebi mystique is gone, but travellers can now explore the stirring landscapes and Berber culture in comfort and style. Equally, immersive, community-run tours and homestays offer opportunities to meet Moroccans and learn about their daily lives.
In June, Fez Festival of World Sacred Music stages performances by tariqas (Sufi orders) and World Music stars.
During July’s Festival of Popular Arts, the scrum of storytellers, snake-charmers, acrobats and astrologers on Marrakesh’s carnivalesque square, Djemaa el-Fna, reaches fever pitch.
One of the year-round religious festivals known as moussems, lmilchil Marriage Moussem in September pairs young Berber shepherds with wives.
Historic riads with hammams, zellij tiles and tadelakt walls.
Hotels where Hendrix/ Jagger/Burroughs supposedly stayed with squat toilets and crumbling walls.
Get lost in the medina. These labyrinthine old quarters, where mopeds and donkeys navigate alleyways and date vendors juggle mobile phones and sales patter, are Morocco’s chaotic heart and soul. Brave the Tizi n’Test pass. Cross one of the notoriously tortuous mountain passes to the snowy peaks of the High Atlas. Mountains such as Jebel Toubkal, North Africa’s highest at 4167m, are famous for trekking and climbing, with more opportunities for hiking and village stays in the Middle Atlas, Anti Atlas and Rif ranges.
Go in search of white Saharan sands. In Merzouga or M’Hamid, hire a turban-wrapped guide and head between the dunes by camel or 4WD to a nomad camp for a night under the stars.
Alternatively, find a shady spot in a date-farming oasis village, or generate more static than a worn carpet when you try sand boarding.
Having graced Hollywood movies, Morocco’s varied landscapes and atmospheric cities have recently appeared in TV series. In the third season of Game of Thrones, Essaouira medina features as Astapor, where Daenerys acquires an army and her dragons fry the city’s cruel rulers. Rabat stood in for Tehran in the third season of Homeland, and the first season of Atlantis was shot around Ouarzazate ¬already nicknamed `Ouallywood’ for its film studio.
Casablanca’s Hassan II Mosque, one of the world’s largest, has a glass floor overlooking the Atlantic waters beneath its rocky perch.
Fez medina, a millennium-old maze of souks and tanneries, is the world’s largest living Islamic medieval city and most populous car-free urban area.
On the Mediterranean coast, Ceuta and Melilla are Spanish-owned enclaves, with plazas, tapas bars and Gaudi-influenced architecture.
Goats climbing frizzy argan trees in the Souss Valley to munch on the nuts.
Even 25 years after the fall of the Berlin Wall, eastern Germany is a relatively cheap place to travel. Leipzig retains reminders of that era, from the Stasi Museum, with its exhibits on the communist state’s secret police, to the beautiful Nikolaikirche, the church at the centre of the revolt in 1989. The once-shabby city is now better known for bar-lined streets such as Karl-Liebknecht-Strasse, and art venues that include Galerie fur Zeitgenössische Kunst, showcasing contemporary post- World-War-II artworks.
ARRIVE: Ryanair flies to Leipzig from Stansted.
STAY: Pension SchlafGut has bright and modern room sand apartment rentals.
Although a walk in the medina brings constant entreaties to part you from your dirhams, Fez is a great budget city. Its riads are good value and Moroccan design can transform even modest digs into escapist spaces. The city’s Ville Nouvelle has rationally laid-out streets and the best hotel deals, but it’s the medina, or Fes el-Bali, that captures the imagination. Here, you’ll find lanes crowded with donkeys ferrying cargo, leather-dying pits, ornate fountains, shops selling slippers in every colour and glorious examples of Islamic architecture.
ARRIVE: Ryanair flies to Fez from Stansted.
STAY: DarEl Hanaisa cosy riad in the medina.
There are few European capitals more affordable than this proud city on the Danube. Restaurants are reasonable and, in a city where it’s usual to hit the town every night, there are clubs and bars to suit all budgets. The techy Dorćol neighbourhood is good for kafanas (cafes) serving Balkan dishes such as ćevapcići (mincemeat kebabs), while cobblestoned Skadarska has a bohemian charm. The signature drink in Serbia is rakija – a brandy calculated to knock the stuffing out of first-time drinkers.
ARRIVE: Air Serbia flies to Belgrade from Heathrow, and Wizz Air from Luton.
STAY: Travelling Actor is a boutique pension.
WHAT’S THE STORY BEHIND THE LOOK? Tucked away in the Kasbahof Marrakesh, this mansion is the culmination of over 300 years’ worth of expert craftsmanship. Rooms, strewn with berber carpets, feature hand-cut mosaic tiles, painted cedar wood and carved plasterwork.
WHICH ROOM IS MOST MEMORABLE? The roof terrace at the top of the house has views over the Atlas Mountains.
The brilliant Amazon Kindle might just be the ultimate travel companion, and here’s why. Plus, a few more of our favourite ways to make your next holiday a winner.
When it comes to holiday reading, you simply can’t beat an Amazon Kindle. Not only can you carry thousands of books in one compact device, but features including an anti-glare screen and the ability to last for weeks without a charge mean there’s no better way to read and transport your books when you’re going away. Plus, Kindles are dedicated e-readers, unlike tablets, so you won’t be disturbed by emails, messages and notifications. From the best-selling Kindle Paperwhite to the all-new, lightest-ever Kindle Oasis, there’s a device to suit all tastes, requirements and budgets, so you’re guaranteed to find a Kindle that will become your perfect travel companion.
“Kindles are dedicated e-readers, unlike tablets, so you won’t be disturbed by emails, messages and notifications “
Roll, don’t fold, people. Endless numbers of YouTube videos will teach you how to roll your clothes into compact bundles that are easier to pack tightly together, so you’ll save valuable space. With most of us going hand-luggage-only these days on short-haul flights, that’s essential – particularly if you’re travelling with kids (and all their associated clobber) in tow.
We don’t mean stashing money in a holiday fund, though you can do that too – we’re talking about saving lots of little amounts wherever you can. Start with your flights – flying midweek can save you a packet over weekends, while signing up for airlines’ alerts mean you’ll be the first to know when there’s a flight sale. You can also save by organising a few essentials before you get to the airport – order your currency in advance and book airport parking as soon as you know your flight times to make small but helpful savings. Use it to pick up a Kindle in duty free, and make your holiday even more of a winner.
Bagan – Mandalay, Burma (Myanmar)
Visitors Per Year: Around 2.1 million
Among the plains of central Burma lies ancient Bagan, the remains of a kingdom comprising some 2,000 Buddhist temples. Until recently, visitors were scarce but now the secret’s out…
Front Door: A fee (25,000MMK/£14.44) is charged upon entering the Bagan Archaeological Zone. Most visitors arrive via a short-hop flight at Bagan Nyaung U Airport. From there, the town of Nyaung U is a ten-minute taxi away, but the majority stay in the resorts scattered among the temples of Old Bagan.
Back Door: Stay in Nyaung U for more of a local feel; it’s also not far from the Irrawaddy River, so end your day with a quiet cruise. Rent an E-bike to explore the temples of Old Bagan away from the tours, while hot-air balloon flights are also a good way to skip the crowds. Be sure to book at least a month in advance; it’s also worth paying extra for the smallest (four-person) basket. Bear in mind also that access to the upper levels of temples is now banned in all but five pagodas.
For the most popular temples (Dhammayangyi, Shwesandaw, Ananda), arrive just after sunrise. The tours leave shortly after the sun comes up and the touts are too drowsy to bother you. After, rent an E-bike and head into the plains to discover smaller sites such as the Nandapyinnya, near Minanthu village, which has some of the best-preserved wall paintings in Bagan and is usually empty.
Head down to the jetty in Nyaung U and hire a boat (from 150,000MMK/£9) to take you up the river to a pair of temples (Thetkyamuni and Kondawgyi) not easily accessed by land. Plan this as an afternoon excursion and you can spend the sunset on the Irrawaddy as well.
“Thisawadi (near New Bagan) is a quiet alternative to catch sunrise/sunset. There are several levels on the way up it, but the highest offers the best shots. This is also one of the few temples still open for visitors to ascend, but less popular than the likes of Shwesandaw.”
Brilliant beaches, colorful culture, dramatic scenery and fascinating history – the Mediterranean has it all. Here’s our pick of the best itineraries for the year ahead.
Viking Ocean Cruises’ brand new ship Viking Sea will leave its native Norwegian waters for an epic Bergen to the Bosphorus trip in July. There are just five ports on the journey to Istanbul – all with included guided tours – so it is perfect for those who love sea days and with the added bonus of a new ship to explore. In the Mediterranean it will stop at Valletta on the garden island of Malta, where UNESCO-listed Grand Master’s Palace of the Knights of St John is remarkable.
Istanbul is one of the most dramatic ports to arrive or depart from, with its ancient walls clearly visible and a forest of minarets soaring into the sky over this incredible city. Regent Seven Seas Cruises’ brand new luxury ship Seven Seas Explorer leaves from Istanbul for Venice after a day enjoying the city then sails to Kusadasi in Turkey where you can visit the ancient Greek ruins of Ephesus or jump on a bus to the nearby beaches. The Greek islands of Rhodes, Santorini, Zakynthos and Corfu offer idyllic taverns, bars and small beaches while there is more sights for sore eyes during the overnight stop in Venice.
Mooring in the center of Seville in the River Guadalquivir is a highlight on Swan Hellenic’s A Maritime History of Iberia cruise. Included excursions such as the Seville City Tour will take you to the largest Gothic Cathedral in the world, which houses Christopher Columbus’ tomb, and the stunning Alcázar Palace, where the gardens are like an oasis (Game of Thrones was filmed here). From Seville there is also an included excursion to Cordoba, once a Moorish capital where the 8th century Mezquita – a former mosque – is unforgettable. Http://swanhellenic.com
Tunisia’s capital is a rare highlight of Mediterranean Getaway, Viking Ocean Cruises’ eight-day exploration of classic Mediterranean cities such as Rome, Naples and Barcelona onboard Viking Sky. More unusual is Trapani on Sicily’s rugged coast, home of the fortified wine Marsala – as well as a timeless Mediterranean mix of Greek, Gothic and Medieval architecture. http://vikingcruises.co.uk
Norwegian Jade, which will homeport in Southampton in 2017, is in the Mediterranean this summer and has a fabulous Adriatic and Greece round trip from Venice that will suit lotus eaters as much as culture vultures. The Greek islands of Corfu, Santorini and Mykonos offer sunny beaches with the ancient ruins of Olympia accessible from Katakolon and Athens’ ancient ruins near its port of Piraeus. Medieval Dubrovnik and Split in Croatia have both beaches and medieval streets. http://ncl.co.uk
There are maiden calls to the Greek fortress town of Monemvasia and Croatia’s Rijeka on Voyages of Discovery’s Dalmatian, Venetian & Greek Wonders cruise. Starting with an overnight in Dubrovnik, Voyager sails along the Croatian coast to Split and Rejika, where the Austro-Hungarian Empire architecture dominates. Kopor in Slovenia is a charming terracotta roofed historic town, while Monemvasia is a rock-like island with a medieval village enclosed within the castle walls. http://voyagesofdiscovery.co.uk
Viking Ocean Cruises’ Secrets of the Southern Mediterranean not only takes you to Tunisia, where you can see the ruins of Carthage just outside Tunis, but also to Algeria for a day in the North African country’s Algiers. Both are former French colonies and the French influence remains, for instance at Algiers’ Notre Dame d’Afrique Catholic basilica. Also on the itinerary is Valencia in Spain, which boasts one of Spain’s most modern City of Arts and Sciences complexes. http://vikingcruises.co.uk
There are few places more romantic than Italy’s Amalfi coast, and Azamara Club Cruises’ Sicily & Malta Voyage on Azamara Journey offers the very unusual opportunity to be moored off the beautiful town of Sorrento in the Bay of Naples for two full days. That gives you time to drink limoncello in the stylish bars of Capri, like Liz Taylor and Richard Burton once did, as well as visit Sophia Loren’s Naples, pop into Pompeii or explore pastel-coloured fishing villages along the Sorrentine Peninsula. http://azamaraclubcruises.co.uk
Get the best of the Caribbean and Mediterranean with this Atlantic crossing from Puerto Rico to Barcelona. There’s a day in the Caribbean’s St Martin, where you can explore the Dutch capital Philipsburg, or cross the island to the French capital Marigot, then you can enjoy the luxury of six days at sea with nothing to do but relax and enjoy the onboard facilities. The first European landing is Madeira, then there is a day in Morocco’s Casablanca before visiting the old naval city of Cadiz and on to Valencia before arriving in Barcelona. http://vikingcruises.co.uk
A ‘refreshed’ Norwegian Epic has a Western Mediterranean mini cruise from Barcelona to Rome (Civitavecchia), which would be a great taster cruise for anybody wanting to experience a classic Mediterranean sailing in the relative calm of spring. During the stop in Naples you can see its palaces and museums, take the train to Pompeii or a boat trip to Capri off the romantic Amalfi Coast. http://ncl.co.uk).
Deservedly famous as one of the most exclusive and opulent retreats in northern Africa, this former hunting lodge is surrounded by its own luxurious oasis in the middle of the desert. Snuggled amid the jasmine, rose bushes, and towering lilies and hibiscus are thirty flower-covered stone cottages in as many acres.
Beyond them stretches a citrus plantation thick with gnarled olive trees. Beyond that lies the desert, and on the horizon, the snowcapped Atlas Mountains. There is a riding stable on the grounds for sunset forays, but most of the well-heeled British and French guests luxuriate in doing nothing.
A famous poolside lunch buffet of numerous Moroccan salads and specialties draws nonhotel visitors. The dining hall is an opulent Moorish tentlike space, where a five-course Moroccan-European dinner is served by gracious waiters exotically dressed as if for some royal feast.
The hotel is a ten-minute drive from the ancient market town of Taroudant, once magnificent enough to be called “Little Marrakech.” Hidden behind 4 miles of red, crenellated, 20-foot-high walls, the town has an excellent souk for some animated bargaining and trinket shopping.
The colorful little port town of Essaouira is a stone’s throw from Morocco’s best beach, a wonderful swath that curves for miles to the south. When you’re souked out from visits to Marrakech, Fez, and Tangier, this is the place to park your bag for some R and R, Moroccan style.
Within Essaouira’s walled fortifications, designed by a French architect for Sultan Sidi Mohammed in the 18th century, is the central medina, a hurly-burly whose narrow lanes teem with the craft shops and artisans for which this city is known, as well as friendly cafes in a relaxed atmosphere of a small-town neighborhood.
Since the 1980s Essaouira has been a secret (on everybody’s lips) as an excellent surfing and windsurfing destination because of the strong Atlantic winds, so its image as a hassle-free tourist-friendly town may soon be a thing of the past. Go now and check into the simple, serene, and stylish Villa Maroc.
The renovated hotel has twenty-two rooms with blue-painted balconies and shutters wrapped around an open courtyard filled with jasmine and bougainvillea. Some have fireplaces, others have antique canopied beds. The best part is breakfast on the open-air roof terrace, and dinner featuring aromatic spices from the local markets and served indoors by the soft light of wrought-iron chandeliers.