Armchair Travel: Exploring Morocco's Mystique [Photos]

  • Dar Rhizlane, a small hotel in Marrakech, is a study in exotic allure with its softly lit pool and lush gardens.

    Enter the exotic

    Morocco is a vibrantly exotic country on the Mediterranean's north African coast. Mystique is in the air as a balmy night breeze rustles palm leaves; lanterns cast a soft glow. Twisting alleyways of medieval medinas in Fès and Marrakech lure travelers. Drive over the High Atlas Mountains to sub-Sahara's kasbahs, which look like movie sets and often are. The vast sweep of the Sahara is a wonder. Throughout Morocco, travelers delight in small hotels called riads, former villas and palaces. Now they welcome guests and retain a Moroccan decor, like Dar Rhizlane in Marrakech. 

    Photo courtesy of Hotels & Riads of Morocco

  • Tile set in geometric patterns is called zellij. Buildings both ancient and modern use zellij as flooring and as decorative accent.

    Poetry in tile

    Decorative ceramic tile is classic Morocco. Intricate patterns of geometric shapes are seen in Moorish-Islamic architecture of mosques, kasbahs and palaces.  

    Photo courtesy of Visit Morocco

  • Graceful entryways resemble keyholes in architecture ancient and modern in Morocco.

    Architectural greeting

    Keyhole-style entryways are a traditional architectural element, as seen throughout the lavish mosque and tomb of revered 17th century sultan, Moulay Ismail. Moulay Ismail built an imperial city, or kasbah, in the city of Meknès.

    Photo courtesy of Anne Chalfant

  • This guest room in luxury Amanjeena Resort in Marrakech is graced with keyhole doors looking out on a pool.

    Moroccan comfort zone

    Keyhole doorways also grace modern Moroccan buildings and resorts. Luxury Amanjena Resort in Marrakech uses keyhole doors throughout.

    Photo courtesy of Aman Resorts

  • An adept Berber waiter pours mint tea, the favored Moroccan drink either hot or iced.

    A spot of mint tea

    Mint tea–either hot or iced–is the favored drink in Morocco. Morocco's mixed population of Muslims and Berbers agree on that, usually in their common language of French.

    Photo courtesy of Anne Chalfant

  • The medina in Fès is tightly packed with residences and souks (shops). Medinas are walled cities that kept enemies out in medieval times.

    Lost and squashed

    Take along a local guide when exploring dense medinas of Fès or Marrakech. Bartering is hardcore. Plus, count on getting lost among wildly twisting alleys. 

    Photo courtesy of Joan Weber/Journeys International

  • Colorful vats of vegetable dyes create a rainbow of purses and satchels in Fès tanneries that are open to visitors.

    Pick a pack of purses

    Need a purse, briefcase or leather satchel? Fès is famed for tanneries. Vegetable and mineral dyes produce yellow, purple, orange, blue–a purse for every day of the week.

    Photo courtesy of Anne Chalfant

  • Jemaa el-Fna square is a Marrakech must, if only to buy fresh-squeezed orange juice and watch crazy acts drawing crowds.

    Snake charmers and tooth pullers

    Place Jemaa el-Fna is part circus, part shopping center–and completely astonishing to visitors. A man with a monkey places him on your head to draw a crowd. Spicy meat fills the air with aroma. The Marrakech Square is a UNESCO World Heritage site.

    Photo courtesy of Joan Weber/Journeys International

  • Palais Jebben's restful poolside setting combines old carved wood and tiles with new amenities.

    Home sweet riad

    Travelers seeking exotic atmosphere  find it in riads and dars. These small hotels were once palaces and villas. Palais Jebben in Marrakech was once a villa, but is now a riad inviting guests.

    Photo courtesy of Anne Chalfant

  • A balmy Mediterranean evening with cool drink in hand–life is good on the terrace of Dar Hanane in Marrakech.

    Marrakech by moonlight

    A rooftop terrace overlooking Marrakech looks like a setting for celebrities. But the moment is all yours at Dar Hanane, a six-room Marrakech hotel with gardens.  

    Photo courtesy of Hotels & Riads of Morocco

  • Chefchaouen's blue alleyways draw travelers to this tourist-friendly town in northern Morocco.

    Alleys of blue

    Chefchaouen in northern Morocco is famed for its blue-painted alleyways. Buy a blue glass evil eye key chain– you just never know.

    Photo courtesy of Sally Cardici

  • Men wearing traditional woven jellabas with pointed hoods, not visible here. stroll in  Chefchaouen.

    Robes of Winter

    Morocco's perch on the Mediterranean Sea delivers temperate winters. But Chefchaouen in the Rif Mountains gets chilly, so long robes called jellabas are worn. Jellabas make great souvenirs –wear them like a robe.

    Photo courtesy of Anne Chalfant

  • Jebel Toubkal is dusted with snow in the winter. A visit to the mountains sets up a nice contrast with the Sahara Desert.

    Mountains and desert

    Morocco plays a full hand in the geography game. Beaches on Mediterranean and Atlantic coasts, mountains and the ace card, the mighty Sahara Desert. Atlas Mountains also reign majestic, rising to 13,671 feet at Jebel Toubkal. 

    Photo courtesy of Joan Weber/Journeys International

  • This market in Essaouira, a pleasant seaside town on Morocco's Atlantic Coast, is loaded with fresh strawberries and veggies.

    Europe's fruit basket

    Morocco's sublime Mediterranean climate produces jumping-with-flavor fruits and vegetables. Morocco sells produce to European countries; Europe is only 7.7 nautical miles away.

    Photo courtesy of Anne Chalfant

  • Amanjena Resort uses local materials and Moroccan themes in its luxury resort in Marrakech.

    Not a bad hang out

    Resorts blossom in Morocco; they're popular with winter-struck Europeans. Europeans arrive by ferry from Gibraltar and from Spain. Luxury resorts such as Amanjena in Marrakech suit the yen for the exotic.

    Photo courtesy of Aman Resorts

  • Looks surreal– like a movie set, right? In fact Kasbah Ait Benhaddou provided the set for "Lawrence of Arabia."

    Take me to the kasbah

    The road through the High Atlas Mountains leads to the Sahara Desert. Kasbahs near Ouarzazate are old city fortifications that have become movie sets these days. This kasbah, Ait Benhaddou, was the set for the movie Lawrence of Arabia.

    Photo courtesy of Anne Chalfant

  • The moment of arrival in the Sahara is thrilling for those who have been learning about it since second grade.

    Surrender to the Mighty Sahara

    The Sahara Desert takes you back to second grade studies, but it's more vast than you ever imagined. Climb a dune to look out on the never-ending march of dunes. Ride a camel toward the endless horizon.

    Photo courtesy of Anne Chalfant

  • The sun has just set. Muted pink and purple sky beckon the moon to come out and have a look around.

    Sahara moonrise

    In the Sahara, light plays with shadows; the moon wears a face. Walking on sand has a welcoming feel.

    Photo courtesy of Anne Chalfant

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