Characterised by the rocky coasts of Atlantic and Mediterranean, Morocco offers its visitors with assorted mountainous and desert landscapes fuelled with its rich traditions.
Over the past decade or so, Northern Morocco has grown as a tourism destination, encouraged by a proactive tourism development policy and yet without losing any charm of its atypical landscapes. From Tangier to Oujda, one constantly discovers the wonders of nature and the warmth of people known for their hospitality. In Northern Morocco, the terrain and the Mediterranean coast come together to form a harmonious blend and allow visitors the pleasure of going from one surprise to another.
Whether a trek in the low mountains of Rif or drive along the coast in a car, your eyes would always grow at the exploration of the completely unexpected views that come before you. In spring, the greenery makes you wonder about where exactly you are, with all that vegetation? A dense forest makes you wonder if you really are in North Africa, at the edge of the world’s largest desert, the Sahara. This, however, is the natural wealth of the region stretching from Al Hoceima to Nador, where the mountains, covered with rain forests, offer breath-taking landscapes. Tourists can come here to contemplate the mysteries of nature, from the camel cave at Oujda to the famous cave of Hercules in Tangier, go to touristic places for a picnic or enjoy a glass of the traditional mint tea, while giving a free rein to the imagination.
Where to Stay?
If you want to stay in this northern region of the kingdom, you can be spoilt for choice whether to stay in the heart of large cities like Tangier, Al Hoceima, Nador or in the mountains near these cities. From the 4-star downtown hotel to the guest house in the heart of the mountains, there is something for everyone. Although tourist offices are non-existent, popular visitor sites are well marked and the advantage of the warm people of this country is that wherever you may be, you can solicit any passer-by for help who will gladly show you the most interesting sites. It would help, of course, if you could master a few words in Arabic or French!
The architecture of the houses on the Mediterranean coast remains faithful to the style of Maghreb. Terraced houses or stately villas, the speciality lies in the walls that are mainly painted in white and sky-blue as in Chefchaouen. Inside homes are found the trademark mosaics of Moroccan craftsmanship. Most of the homes have a rooftop terrace, called “stah”, where the Moroccans refresh after a long, hot day, with culinary specialties prepared by the most experienced members of the family.
At breakfast, two elements are essential and present on all tables, olive oil – Morocco is the biggest producer of olive oil after Spain and Italy – and freshly baked bread, downed with a mint tea. At lunch, the food preferred in this region is fish fried in tagine stew accompanied with seasonal vegetables.
If you stay or go near the port cities, you can buy your fresh fish from the fisherman and ask the chef of the best restaurant in the port to cook it for you! Giving the entire list of dishes would be long because Moroccan cuisine remains one of the most diversified and rich traditions in the world. At dinner, the dishes are more “light” such as Moroccan soup called harira that is often served as an appetiser even if it is copious! And of course, when feel like a small bite, you can enjoy the famous pastries, stuffed with peanuts or almonds and soaked in honey. Depending on the season, the choices of fruits and vegetables are in abundance as the land is very fertile. In summer, in the heart of the Rif Mountains, it is heavenly to just reach out to enjoy tasty figs and grapes. Around Tangier are found pomegranates and oranges, ripened under full sun.
Restaurants are plentiful and accessible to all budgets. While Bocadillo, a traditional sandwich tuna salad, is a popular snack amongst the people of the Rif, fish and fruit platters of seafood are the specialties of Tangier, Tetouan and Al Hoceima.
What’s better than hiking for digestion?
The local authorities here quickly realised the importance of protecting flora and fauna and established several protected natural sites, following the example of France and Spain. These sites have been equipped with properly earmarked trekking routes, traversing large plains and low mountains. Although the Atlas mountains remain the preferred location for trekking in Morocco, exploring forests and reliefs of this region will surprise you with its rich vegetation.
If you are driving, the discovery of the coast is facilitated by the new road, La Méditérranéenne, that has some scenic spots especially developed for the delight of motorists. Travelling to the heart of this region is also an occasion to meet Berbers, the original inhabitants of the Rif. It is an autonomous region with several Berber tribes that speak Amazigh dialect, different from the Berbers in Agadir and Marrakech.
You can also meet shepherds, artisans and fishermen and discover lifestyle of people who remain attached to the traditional and austere life. A majority of the population works in agriculture, with a very strong attachment to the land – growing vegetables, olive trees and raising livestock.
Outdoor activities are often restricted to men, women are very protected in this region of Morocco. However, the women participate in agriculture, especially during the harvest and focus on activities like threshing the grain, drying the figs, salting the olives, in addition to their daily tasks of preparing traditional bread, cooked in a clay oven called aghloum in the local Tamazigh dialect. Of course, the urban population is a reflection of people in any big city around the world, immensely inspired by the Western model. If you like beaches, you’ll be spoilt for choices! The numerous beaches of the mediterranean Moroccan coast are very different from each other. If you have a preference for very popular touristic beaches, head to those in Tangier and Tetouan. If, instead, you prefer peace and want to relax while enjoying swimming, ideal are the beaches of the Rif, far from Al Hoceima.
The walks for exploring the monuments will help you better understand the history of the country and the region, the walls of Taroudant and Tetouan, to the Gates of Medina, the Kasbah of Chefchaouen, the palace of Akkaboune Tangier and the Nekor island near Al Hoceima, that remains under Spanish rule.
Northern Morocco fascinates people with its diversity that may be because of its natural surrounding or human construction. Sports lovers, adventurers or tourists who like to wander around the streets find their happiness here. One thing is certain, when you meet people who are far removed from our modern world, it is then that true traditions are learnt and you discover the hidden treasures of nature and humans.
Close to Europe, in the heart of the Maghreb and at the gates of Africa, Morocco is a must visit place. So pack your suitcase or backpack!