On our Insider's Guide series so far, we’ve brought you Morocco’s best beaches, Marrakech's best hammams and the best things to do in Marrakech. So we thought it was about time we took you off the beaten track and showed you some of Morocco’s best kept secrets beyond the cities.
As Morocco’s popularity increases, its big cities get a lot of the focus – and the crowds. As much as we love the bustle of these places, sometimes it's good to move from Marrakech and escape from Essaouira. For a break that’s a little quieter, with fresh mountain air and empty beaches, we’ve got the definitive list for going off the beaten track in Morocco.
Image: Morocco World News
Known as the ‘grandmother of Marrakech’ because of its resemblance to the great city, Taroudant is the gateway to the lush Souss valley. With a picturesque backdrop of the Atlas mountains, it’s a perfect place to stop for a few days to unwind in the laid back atmosphere.
The fortifications that surround the city date from the 1500s and glow brilliantly as the sun sinks towards the horizon, making them an attraction for tourists to wander alongside on a warm evening. Inside the city walls you can explore Taroudant’s two souks either side of the main square. Wander through the Berber Souk to marvel at the colours and scents of the dried spices piled high into pyramid form. Across the square, the Arab market sells local handicrafts such as ceramics and leather goods. For a truly authentic and slightly fragrant Moroccan experience, check out the local tannery just outside Bab Taghrount. A must-see is Palais Claudio Bravo Camus, a museum and hotel housing the works of Claudio Bravo Camus, a Chilean hyperrealist painter who made Morocco his home in the early 70s.
In the less travelled Anti Atlas region is the tranquil Tafraoute. Surrounded by hilltop kasbahs, picturesque villages and palm-filled oases, it’s the ideal launch pad for hikers and climbers keen to explore the rugged beauty of the mountains and its ancient Berber routes. This is where you can get really close to the Berber culture and traditions.
Tafraoute’s souk is small and relaxed, and a good place to find beautifully carved woodwork, good quality silver jewellery and babouche slippers in every hue imaginable. If you visit in the spring, a must-see is the Almond Blossom Festival – Tafraoute is the biggest producer of almonds in Morocco. 7km south of Tafraoute lies the Ait Mansour Gorge and its faded yet striking Painted Rocks, one of the region’s most iconic sights. Painted in vibrant blues and reds by Belgian artist Jean Verame in 1984, the rocks may be worn but they remain magically surreal.
If you want to laze on Morocco’s untouched beaches, Mirleft is the place to be. Where the mountains and the Atlantic Ocean meet, Mirleft’s climate is mild and dry year round and far less windy than Essaouira. It’s a laid back hub for artists, musicians and surfers. Despite its relaxed reputation there is plenty to do including horse back riding, paragliding and trekking. The beaches are truly spectacular and often totally deserted outside of the high tourist season. Legzira – famous for its rocky arch – is a wonder, and Imin Tourga is perennially popular.
The town of Mirleft itself is small, but has everything you need for a relaxed break including a handful of shops and cafés, and a small fish market flanked by stalls offering the freshest grilled sardines. For a truly memorable sunset, it’s well worth the climb up to the former Spanish fort to see the town and the ocean awash with colour at the end of the day.
On the northern coast of Morocco, lies the colourful, pretty seaside town of Asilah. A main trading port for centuries, Asilah exudes a Mediterranean charm due to its rich and varied heritage. The 15th century medina is a hub for murals and street art. The walls are covered with beautiful, vibrant creations that draw artists and street art fans from all over the world. Shopping in the charming, small souk is a joy on any day, but Thursday is particularly fun and lively as it's market day. And don't forget to take in the spectacular views from the ramparts of the Portuguese fortress perched on the cliffs.
In southern Morocco lies the Valley of One Thousand Kasbahs which was traversed by tradesmen and adventurers on ancient caravan routes for centuries. During their journeys, these brave and hardy souls sought shelter within the safety of many kasbahs that are dotted throughout the region. Skoura is one of these way-points. A lush, green oasis of palm groves, it is the perfect place to unwind and get close to nature. Head out to discover Kasbah Amridil – a 17th century kasbah showing the fascinating ancient traditions of kasbah life.