Alyssa Writes

Countdown to My Favourite City in Morocco, Part II

Women taking selfies in Meknes, Morocco

On Saturday night I was out watching the Six Nations finals and a friend-of-a-friend asked me: What was the best experience you had in Morocco?

It’s a tough question! I had so many different experiences in those six weeks of solo travelling around Morocco that it’s really hard to say. I met fabulous people, ate great food, and saw spectacular things—all of which have a special place in my heart.

So how did I decide which place was the one? It’s the same thing people say about relationships: I just know.

There’s no reasoning behind it, just a feeling. That’s how I feel when I find a place I love. There’s a feeling of anticipation and just walking around the city makes me happy, even if I can’t really explain why. I can count on one hand the number of places I’ve had that feeling in: Dublin, Barcelona, and the top two of my favourite places to visit in Morocco!

Read on to find on which ones made it to the top of the list (and head here if you haven’t read my top 5-8 places to visit in Morocco yet!):

4. Agadir

The beach in Agadir as seen from the ruined kasbah

When my partner came to visit me, he pointed out that there isn’t much history in Agadir. To be fair, all of the historical stuff got destroyed in an earthquake in 1960, so cut the city some slack! I didn’t realize it before because it was the first place I stayed in when I arrived in Morocco. I was a little sad that he didn’t share my enthusiasm for the place but eventually I came to agree. It was the only place (besides Taghazout) I visited that didn’t have a proper medina and that had resorts.

What I liked about Agadir is that it still seemed like a community to me. Even though a part of the city is catered towards tourists, the rest of it seems quite unfazed by tourism. No one really tries to hassle you in the souk and none of the taxi drivers try to pull one over on you. Agadir was also one of the two places where I consistently saw restaurant owners give food to the homeless.

I think I can also say that I made the most friends here—most of the people I still talk to I met in Agadir. I would love to go back, especially to see more of the Grand Sur like Sidi Ifni and Taroudannt!

Where I stayed: Airbnb

Must-do: Go to the beach!

3. Chefchaouen

The walls of the blue medina, Chefchaouen

I was most looking forward to visiting Chefchaouen throughout my whole trip—I changed my screensaver to a photo of the blue medina before I even decided to go on this trip! This town in the Rif did not disappoint.

Chefchaouen was the most breathtaking place I visited during my whole trip. Every time I left the medina or did a little hike, I could see the hills, valleys, and surrounding villages…it was just spectacular. I was just in awe all the time.

Chefchaouen was this close to tying with the final two, but I was disappointed with the food options. It was the same price as other cities but I got a lot less for my money, even when I ventured outside the medina. But it’s such a minor detail I feel silly even mentioning it.

I met some awesome travellers in Chefchaouen as well—a student from Oxford who ditched school without permission for his birthday (did you know Oxbridge students need permission to leave campus? What is this?!), students from France, and a group that met randomly on the boat to Tangier a few days earlier and decided travel around the country together.

More blue!

Chefchaouen was so chill—except for when Grammy-winning producer RedOne was hanging out in the medina! We exchanged some hellos at the point when I had no idea who he was…so later on I asked a server at a restaurant why people were yelling for him. He was like “You don’t know who that is?”

Also, TOP MARKS for the hostel I stayed in: Casa Amina. It was hands down the cleanest hostel I stayed in the whole trip. It was also the cheapest. I paid about £8 a night for a two person room (I had to pay for both places) and then 70dh (£5) a night for a single room. The sheets were clean, the room had a heater, there were hot showers, and the WiFi actually worked everywhere (unlike in other hostels who are like “WiFi at reception only” – Boo). The family that ran it were especially hospitable, the dad was so calm and always saying “You are welcome, yes, you are welcome”.

Go to Chefchaouen, people! You won’t be disappointed.

Where I stayed: Casa Amina

Must do: Hike up the Spanish mosque; day trip to Cascades d’Akchour

2. Meknes

More Meknes Yellow (and some red!)

Why aren’t more people going to Meknes?! It’s a 20-minute train ride away from Fez and maybe that doesn’t do Meknes any favours…but this place should be on the top of your list. There are very few foreign tourists but that doesn’t mean there isn’t tourism. The area making up Meknes and the nearby towns of Moulay Idriss and Volubilis (all UNESCO Heritage Sites) is essentially the mecca of Morocco.

Heri el Souani granary, Meknes – One of  the pieces Moulay Ismail was most proud of

The one-time ruler of Morocco, Moulay Ismail, had two loves: war and architecture. During his reign in the 17th and 18th centuries, he liberated Tangier from the British, subdued Berber rebellions, reclaimed a lot of land from the Spanish, and built some of Morocco’s most majestic buildings. In fact, a lot of pieces were taken from Meknes in order to contribute to buildings in parts of Morocco more well-known for its architecture!

Bab el-Mansour is one of the most elaborate gates I saw in Morocco and Place el-Hedim used to rival Marrakech’s Djemaa el Fna square. The medina has a qissaria, a covered market, and there was NO hassle from the sellers. Meknes goes down in my book for having the coolest calèches as well. I loved the yellow medina walls and well, everything! I felt so good there I decided to skip Rabat and extended my stay by 3 days!

I stayed in what was hands down the best accommodation I stayed in during my whole trip, Riad Bab Berdaine—it was newly renovated, clean, had hot water, and they had pet budgies that chirped and took baths in the fountains at breakfast. It was like a little slice of paradise. I loved Meknes for its “Moroccan-ness” but I felt like I missed out on a lot not truly understanding what that means (in terms of the historical and cultural importance of the city–I’m not Moroccan and I’m not Muslim!).

Moulay Idriss

Mausoleum of Moulay Idriss, closed to non-Muslims. It’s said that six pilgrimages to this mausoleum is equivalent to one haj to Mecca.

Moulay Idriss is one of Morocco’s most beloved saints (it’s said that five centuries after his death people found his body fully intact) and many Moroccans make perform a pilgrimage to visit his mausoleum. I did make it to Moulay Idriss but not the old Roman ruins in Volubilis—I was “abducted” by a Moroccan family who didn’t want me to leave.

A day trip to Moulay Idriss & Volubilis from Meknes is super easy. You take the number 15 bus for 7dh. It drops you off in Moulay Idriss and from there you can walk to Volubilis, which is about 3km away.

Where I stayed: Riad Bab Berdaine

Must do: Day trip to Moulay Idriss & Volubilis; explore the medina; Jardin Lahboul

1. Tangier!

Cinema Rif, Tangier

Truthfully, Tangier and Meknes are a tie. I loved both of them so much that I would have a hard time choosing which one to go back to. The only reason I put Tangier first is because of its location—if you wanted to be close to Europe, well, you can see it from the old kasbah.

I was only going to stay in Tangier for 4 days but I ended up staying for a week–and even then I didn’t want to leave! I was tired of all the moving around and I was so comfortable I could have set up camp at the Hotel Mauritania for the rest of my trip. I had a regular café that I went to every morning where I did plenty of people watching. I went to the American Legation Museum, I chatted to random travellers and dragged them on adventures with me… I just dug every moment.

I also had the craziest experience meeting this crazy named Rachid (or Richard), but that is a story for another time…

This is Richard…

Tangier is very lively but unfortunately doesn’t quite have that Moroccan essence that Meknes does. There’s a lot of history but still a very western conception of culture: museums, art galleries, cinemas, festivals, and so on. Of course, I liked that cosmopolitan mix! Another thing that worked really well is that the tourists go home in the evenings (back to Tarifa on the ferry!) and the city is at its most exciting at night time. Tangier seems to be full of young, liberal Moroccans who like to have a good time.

There are plenty of restaurants to keep a foodie like me happy and very little hassle in the medina. From my first full day there I just got that heartwarming feeling I’ve only felt twice before. That’s how I knew Tangier was the one.

Where I stayed: Hotel Mauritania

Must do: Cinema Rif; Café de Paris; Librairie des Colonnes; Spanish Cathedral; American Legation Museum; hike to the Kasbah

I think I’m still digesting my experience–6 weeks is a long time! What do you think? Have I piqued your interest in some Moroccan cities you hadn’t considered visiting before? Let me know in the comments!