If you are planning to visit Morocco, you could be overwhelmed by the variety of places that can be explored — each with its share of wonder, drama, and the promise to provide you with a memorable holiday. Marrakesh will always top the list of the most beautiful places in Morocco but today, I will be your guide to lesser known cities with hidden gems that are waiting to be discovered.
Fez | City of tanneries
Fez is one of Morocco's Four Cities of Kings, and is listed on Unesco's World Heritage List. It is by far my favourite city in Morocco because it represents the 'real Morocco' — a medieval labyrinthine Medina with a distinctive Arabesque architecture that exists alongside a modern and vibrant city. Fez is the home of the oldest continuously functioning university that was founded in 850 — Al Quaraouiyine. The city has been called the "Mecca of the West" and the "Athens of Africa".
Around 200,000 Fassi still live within the walls of the medieval area of Fez El-Bali. Most of them work in traditional commerce or trade using medieval production methods to create beautiful decorative arts. Fez is also where you can find some of the most romantic riads — the scent of rosewater and the cool touch of marble provides the ultimate Arabian Nights-esque experience where you can sit on the roof terrace and enjoy a glass of Moroccan wine.
Tetouan | The white dove
Tetouan, in the North of Morocco, is a jewel of a town that is located at the foot of the Rif Mountains. There are few places in the world that does such an amazing job at preserving life as it was hundreds of years ago — Fez, Tetouan are two of them. My dad's family is from Tetouan and it is a family tradition to go visit them each time I am in Morocco.
Tetouan is home to one of the world's greatest and most diverse cuisine, with ancient roots, that dates back to the arrival of the Andalusians in Morocco after the capture of Granada by the Catholic Monarchs in 1492. The Andalusians had already established a refined and radiant civilisation in several fields — science, medicine, mathematics, astronomy, music and of course cooking. My favourite Tetouanese dishes are bisara and sardines. Bisara is a thick soup made from dried and peeled fava beans, served with a generous drizzle of olive oil, red-hot chilli powder, salt and cumin on top. Sardines are a classic in this part of Morocco and they are usually stuffed with tangy chermoula paste, a mix of spices, fresh coriander and lemon juice, dusted with flour and deep fried.
Agadir | The Miami of Morocco
Agadir is a city that rose from the ashes like a Phoenix. The city was completely rebuilt following an apocalyptic earthquake in 1960 that destroyed it completely. With 340 days of sunshine a year and 10 kilometres of soft sand beaches, Agadir is now the premier beach destination of Morocco. You can enjoy a good Moroccan meal by the seaside of Agadir, take a tour of the souk al-Had, or dance the night away with party beats from Moroccan DJs.
High Atlas | The mountains of mountains
The High Atlas is North Africa's greatest mountain range and is easily accessed from Marrakesh by a 40-minute drive. These mountains are a historical and physical barrier between the plains in the North and the Sahara in the South. The Berber-populated valleys in this region feel very remote from the rest of mainstream country and contain some of the most intriguing and beautiful scenery in all of Morocco.
The landscape varies with the seasons, and snow falls regularly between September and May —allowing for winter sports in Oukaimeden, Morocco's most established ski resort. Trekking is very popular in the region and you can hire muleteers (and their mules) and mountain guides if you are heading off the main routes.
Morocco is a country of immense diversity, that has, over the centuries, created bonds to Europe, Sub-Saharan Africa and the Middle East. The country has a hundred faces, sounds and colours, all ready to take you off the tourist trail.
About Mehdi Elaichouni Always ready for his next adventure, Mehdi took his first flight to Sudan when he was three years old and stayed there for seven years with his family. Mehdi is now based in Singapore where he founded ANIA, a skincare company inspired by his childhood in Africa, with a focus to bring the highest quality natural and organic formulations from Africa. Follow his adventures with ANIA on Facebook and Instagram.