away for a while
Opposite page: photo by Christopher Rose; this page: photo by Liam Moloney
hen a couple from New York went on a camel ride through the Sahara Desert of Morocco, a sandstorm hit. They couldn’t see where they were going, and during the night their tents were completely flattened by the wind. This wasn’t exactly the trip they had dreamed of. As the couple awoke in the morning, covered in sand, their tour guide, Mark Willenbrock, expected them to say, “Get me out of here and to a five-star hotel—now.” But no. Instead, the man responded in amazement, “I never, ever thought I’d get to witness a real sandstorm!” These tourists could have easily found a luxurious place to stay: Morocco has recently received media coverage about its high-end hotels. The Royal Mansour in Marrakech, for example, has been proclaimed one of the most expensive hotels in the world at $2,060 a night. Most of us probably can’t afford such luxury, but that doesn’t mean we have to miss the chance to go to Morocco. While the rich stay in their $2,060-a-night hotel, the rest of us can get a cheap room elsewhere and check out some incredible destinations. Known more for its bustling marketplaces than for its luxury destinations, Morocco nonetheless offers a striking mix of the regal, the historic, and the everyday. That’s part of the charm of the place: it’s accessible for everyday tourists as well as for those who are more affluent. Visitors can take their pick of the awe-inspiring and the ordinary—which, for the foreigner, is not very ordinary. In fact, all of Morocco’s main cities, including Casablanca and Tangier, contain two distinct sections: the modern city, and the old town or medina. Going from one to the other, travelers can freely explore both the modernized and the historic. In the city of Marrakech, for example, you can tour the Bahia Palace with its extensive gardens as well as the Koutoubia Mosque with an impressive 221-foot tower that looms over the landscape. The
heavily decorated Saadian tombs also provide a glimpse of the royal, with their intricate work in stucco, wood, and gold. Yet within the same city, you’ll have the chance to get lost in the narrow, winding streets—appropriately referred to as labyrinths—where you are free to be entertained by snake charmers, haggle with shopkeepers, and get your fill of carpets that you can buy to take home as souvenirs. But Morocco also offers sites outside the bustle of the city. Not too far from Marrakech is the High Atlas mountain range, many parts of which have gone undiscovered by other civilizations throughout history. The French occupied the country from 1912 to 1956, but this area remained largely unaffected. Willenbrock, who works as a tour guide, once spoke to the mayor of one of the villages about the French military presence there: “They had seen a Frenchman—once,” the mayor told him. “What was this lone Frenchman doing? A survey or census? No, he was fishing. So one lost fisherman was the sole extent of the French occupation in this remote area.” Clearly, forging into the untouched High Atlas is not for the casual traveler, but those who are up for it are not likely to forget mingling with local Berber goatherds 9,000 feet up. It can prove to be one of the more organic experiences to be found in the country. “Whatever your preconceptions are about Morocco,” says Willenbrock, “you are almost inevitably going to be surprised.” While you may still be flabbergasted at the $2,060 price tag of Morocco’s most expensive hotel, take a minute to breathe because there is much more to Morocco than price tags. After taking a peek at the lap of luxury in these modern hotels, explore the rest of what Morocco has to offer, from its old palaces and bustling markets to its stormy deserts and remote mountain ranges. ▶▶
Left: The Bou Inania Madrasa in Fes is a classic example of Islamic architecture. Above: Don’t miss haggling with Moroccan vendors for beautiful street art.
here’s looking at you, kıd The country of Morocco is located in northwest Africa. It is not to be confused with Monaco, the sovereign citystate bordering France that attracted the attention of many Americans when the actress Grace Kelly married the country’s prince in 1956. Casablanca, Morocco’s capital city, was made famous by the 1942 Humphrey Bogart film named after it. But don’t go looking for any movie scenes here— no part of the film was actually shot in Casablanca. It is, however, home to art deco buildings and the Hassan II Mosque, the largest mosque in Morocco and the third-largest in the world.
—Dana Kendall www.stowawaymag.com ◀ 17