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Summer 2013: Make it Morocco

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If you’ve been saving that last batch of student loan for a special summer trip, TNS can vouch first-hand for Morocco as the alternative to overcrowded party coastlines. Read on for your one-stop guide to the African country.

Getting there

Flights from the UK can be found for under £150, and by flying to Fes you can save yourself a few quid while finding yourself in beautiful surroundings. Alternatively, if you’re looking to tag Morocco on to a longer trip around Europe, ferries are inexpensive and go regularly along the southern coastlines of Spain, France and Italy (though the latter two make for a long and frankly unenjoyable ride!).

Travelling within Morocco

CTM buses are considered the safest and most affordable way to get around, though trains are quicker and easier to find. If you take the train you’re advised to travel during the day, which is actually a fantastic opportunity to take in the diverse scenery of Morocco that you may not otherwise see. Some of the best views are seen from the passenger window (or open door of a moving train…) from rolling, flower-scattered hills with snowy mountains as backdrop, to stretches of field that could almost belong to the British countryside if it wasn’t for the glorious weather.

Where to stay

Hotels and hostels tend to be known as ‘riads’ in Morocco. For as little as £5 a night for a dorm you’ll be set up very comfortably indeed. Most will come with a free breakfast, and we’re not talking soggy cereal. You’ll most likely wake up to a full-on spread of eggs, pancakes, breads and freshly-squeezed orange juice, with as much tea and coffee as your heart desires. Mint green tea is a favourite in Morocco and is often free all day. The riad will also be your opportunity for a cool beer in the non-alcoholic country.

Hostels with the TNS seal of approval: Equity Point, Marrakech; Riad Mama, Marrakech; Riad Verus, Fes; Dar Rabha, Fes.

Which city to pick?

If you’re pushed for time, general opinion among budding travellers is that Casablanca isn’t worth the trip compared to Fes and Marrakech. Fes is one of the oldest medieval cities of Africa, let alone Morocco, and is full of stunning mosaics, narrow dusty paths and the pungent odour of pigeon poo at the tannery. The hills just beyond the city walls offer the most incredible panorama over the entire city and greenery beyond.

Marrakech is livelier and more ‘proactively’ tourist-driven, but unmissable. The large Djemaa-El-Fna square is home to monkeys, snake-charming and back-flipping boys by day, but at night it truly comes alive. Never-ending rows of food stalls fill the air with heady spices, while women trace out henna under electric light and the souks call from the edges of the square.

Finally, the coastal town Essaouira is worth a day trip from Marrakech. It’s a laid-back haven compared to the city, with the opportunity to stroll along the cliffs and visit the fishing ports.

Don’t miss the desert

If there’s one activity that will make your friends jealous, it’ll be your photos of camel-riding in the High Atlas Mountains. This is one of those moments you’ll be glad to have picked a holiday with a little more depth: who needs a booze cruise when you could be seeing every star in the sky above untouched stretches of sand? Those exam papers have never seemed so far away. It’s a good idea to book the trip at your hostel or riad: prices tend to be around 500 dirham (approximately £40) for one night, and 800 dirham (approximately £60) for two nights, with all travel, accommodation and two meals per day included. You’ll also visit some of the smaller villages on the way home, allowing for a much more authentic experience.

Bargain hunting

The souks: aka, the never-ending labyrinth of market stalls which sell all manner of exotic goods and the more-than-occasional piece of tat. Bustling and at times chaotic, the souks are exciting and a chance to banter with the locals. You’ll pass a shop brimming with sparkling lanterns one moment and a ‘butcher’s’ marked out by hanging pig carcasses the next: your senses will be swimming.

Have fun with haggling, as well. Far from being offended, the shop-owners are impressed by headstrong customers, as long as you close a fair deal at the end of it.

Treat yourself

You’ve been working hard all year (for the most part); it’s about time you treated yourself to a good massage. It’s not hard to find the hammams: in Marrakech you have only to touch the border of the Djemaa-El-Fna square to find three business cards in your hand.

Prices start from a fiver to get a good hose down, steam room and jacuzzi experience finishing lashings of essential oils. Further quality treatments, from exfoliation to manicures, start from under £20, and for a decent massage expect to pay around £25.




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