From the markets to the mountains
Separating the coastline from the Sahara desert, the Atlas Mountains span more than 2500km, passing through Morocco, Tunisia and Algeria and home to a number of Berber villages.
The Moroccan Sahara, located in the southeast of the country runs along the border to Algeria, with sand dunes reaching as high as 150metres. The largest hot desert in the world.
Based on Morocco's Atlantic Coast, and historically a main trade route, Essaouira is a laid back seaside town popular for surfing and its music scene, hosting the annual Gnaoua Festival of World Music.
Also known as the ‘Red City’ due to the striking clay walls and sandstone buildings that line the streets, Marrakech is both vibrant and enchanting, exhibiting some of the world's most spectacular architecture. Inside the medina, you’ll wind your way through its bustling streets, past a number of unassuming doorways, which hide behind it the luxurious and traditional Moroccan riads. Traditionally built for privacy, most riads are formed around an internal courtyard, often centred with a fountain, to which the internal windows overlook. Expect lavish interiors, from the intricately carved wooden doors, to the mosaic tiles, handwoven Berber rugs, patterned archways and more.
Drive just an hour outside of Marrakech and you’ll find yourself in a land rich with culture, embedded with ancient traditions and the most stunning scenery you could ever imagine. Snow-capped peaks, lush valleys, towering canyons and olive groves are just some of the sights you can expect to see. At an elevation of 4,167m, Mount Toubkal is the highest peak in the mountains and popular amongst experienced hikers, whilst others may prefer to relax in one of the luxurious Kasbah’s overlooking the valleys.
Despite the harsh environment, and staying true to their traditions, which for many will feel like a step back in time, the Berber people, or Amazigh (“free people”) as they refer to themselves, are the original inhabitants of the Atlas Mountains. You'll find no better guide on the mountain than the 'Amazingh', who know the terrain like the back of their hand. Incredibly hospitable and keen to teach their way of life, the Berber community are very welcoming to visitors. It is even possible to organise a visit to a local family, and immerse yourself in their culture - perhaps enjoying their home cooking or sharing a Moroccan mint tea with them.
A little piece of paradise benefiting from 320 days of sunshine per year - Essaouira or “Swerah,” as locals call it, is a charming coastal town made unique by its port, ramparts, enchanting medina, endless dunes and beaches, world-famous Mogador golf course designed by Gary Player, windy conditions that are perfect for kitesurfing and windsurfing, and diverse range of activities (four-wheeling, horseback riding, mountain biking, hikes, etc.). Whilst it is possible to do a day trip from Marrakech (4 hours) we’d recommend spending at least a few nights here, to unwind and enjoy the fabulous activities it has on offer.
As you wind your way through the town, you may notice the Portuguese, French and Berber inspired architecture - an exceptional example of a late 18th-century fortified town, whose medina has been accredited as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It is a far more relaxed atmosphere than that of Marrakech, however, there is still plenty of activity to intrigue you, particularly down at the port, where you will find local fishermen hard at work, hauling in their fresh catch, mending boats and haggling with local buyers. You certainly can't leave Essaouira without enjoying some freshly caught fish at the port as the sea breeze carries the gentle aroma of spices from the medina.
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