Today’s Travel Tuesday destination is Morocco, courtesy of the 1,000 Places to See Before You Die Page-A-Day calendar.
1. Essaouira: The walled port of Essaouira is perched above some of Morocco’s finest beaches, with dunes that unfurl for miles to the south. The city’s relaxed atmosphere—along with its exotic medina and stalwart stone ramparts—first attached backpackers and hippies here in the 1960s (Jimi Hendrix and Cat Stevens each came to drop out). Today’s young visitors come for some of Africa’s best wind and kite surfing.
- Where: 100 miles/161 km west of Marrakech.
- Best Times: March-May and September-December for nicest weather; late June for Gnaoua and World Music Festival.
2. Fès el Bali: The intellectual, cultural, and religious center of Morocco for 1,200 years, Fès (or Fez) is Morocco’s oldest imperial capital and is known for the Fès el Bali, its large, sprawling, walled medina. With 9,500 streets and by some accounts over 180 miles of alleys, it is crammed with every conceivable sort of workshop, market, and restaurant.
- Where: 155 miles/249 km east of Casablanca.
- Best Times: September-November and April-June for pleasant weather; early June for Sacred Music Festival; late October for Fès Culinary Festival.
3. The Great Sahara: The Sahara Desert is easy to reach in Morocco, and once you’re there, you’ll find mountains of sand, vibrant green oases, miles of barren scrub and stone that the Berbers call hammada, turbaned nomads astride camels, ancient mud-walled casbahs, and, at night, an ocean of stars, uncannily clear and bright. The road trip from Marrakech into the Sahara brings you across the Atlas Mountains (see below) and into barren desert basins where underground rivers sustain oases of date palms and almond, citrus, and olive trees.
- Where: Ouarzazate is 125 miles/200 km southeast of Marrakech.
- How: U.S.-based Overseas Adventure Travel offers a 16-day Morocco Sahara Odyssey that includes 2 nights camping in the Sahara. Tel: 800-221-0814 or 617-350-7500; www.oattravel.com
4. Trekking and Romance in the Atlas Mountains: The Moroccans believe that the High Atlas Mountains are as close as you can get to heaven without leaving earth. You can glimpse these majestic snow-capped mountains from as far away as Marrakech, and they lure an increasing number of hikers who wish to experience the fascination culture and friendly hospitality of Berber villagers while staying in restored casbahs, or walled fortresses.
- Where: The Imlil Valley is 40 miles/65 km south of Marrakech.
- Best Times: April-May for warm spring weather and snow on the peaks; June and September-October for ideal trekking.
5. Place Djemaa el-Fna and the Medina: This is where it all happens, an impromptu medieval circus enacted around the clock. During the day, snack charmers, performing monkeys, and souvenir sellers lure the tourists, while dentists, barbers, and scribes serve the locals. Later, the square fills with food vendors selling everything from lamb couscous to orange juice, and the air is filled with the smoke and sizzle of grilled kebabs. When Djemaa el-Fna echoes with the muezzin call to evening prayer and lights flood the towering minaret of the Koutoubia Mosque, the impact is magical.
- Where: 149 miles/240 km south of Casablanca.
- Best Times: March-May and September-November for most clement weather; mid-July for the Popular Arts Festival.
Read more on 1,000 Places to See Before You Die and the calendar line here.