While Rabat, Morocco’s political and administrative capital since independence in 1956, has not established itself as a tourist destination, visitors who do go find a gem of a city. The colonial architecture is stunning, the palm-lined boulevards are well kept and relatively free of traffic, and the atmosphere is as cosmopolitan as its economic big brother down the coast.
An industrial centre and thriving port, Safi is a lot less picturesque than neighbouring coastal towns, but it offers an insight into the day-to-day life of a Moroccan city. Most tourists stop here en route to or from Essaouira to visit the giant pottery works that produce the typical brightly coloured Safi pottery.
The drive from El-Jadida to Oualidia along the coastal road, where the fields come down to the wild shore of the ocean, is spectacular enough, but the view upon arrival is more than pleasing. The delightful small-scale resort of Oualidia spreads around a gorgeous crescent-shaped lagoon fringed with golden sands and protected from the wild surf by a rocky breakwater.
The sleepy Berber village of Diabat, just south of Essaouira, was once a dope-smoking colony popular with hippies. Today it is the site of a major new tourist development, Golf Mogador, not fully completed at the time of research. Comprising three luxury hotels and villas, the resort has a golf course designed by Gary Player.
The idyllic fishing village of Moulay Bousselham is a tranquil place, protected by the shrines of two local saints. The village is slowly expanding, as retired Europeans are starting to buy homes here. There is a sweeping beach (empty for most of the year), friendly people, good fish restaurants and an impressive, internationally important wildfowl reserve.
El-Amine, one of Azemmour’s most successful painters, got it right describing his favourite view of town from his roof terrace, which he has painted numerous times: the old walled medina squeezed in between the Oum er-Rbia (Mother of Spring) river and the ocean, with the fields spread beyond. The picturesque town has inspired many artists, who have come to live here.
Set on a hill overlooking the Loukos Estuary are the Carthaginian and Roman ruins of Lixus, a rather mysterious and neglected site that is one of the oldest inhabited places in the country. Only about a quarter of the ancient city has been excavated but the visible ruins, though badly damaged and overgrown, are impressive.