Mediterranean Coast & the Rif Mountains
Caught between the crashing waves of the Mediterranean and the rough crags of the Rif Mountains, northern Morocco is one of the most charming parts of the country. Tangier, the faded libertine of a port that links Africa and Europe, has shed its shady past to enjoy a rebirth as fashionable Moroccan riviera. To the east, the coast is dotted with high cliffs and sandy coves; the area booms as a Moroccan holiday destination.
The charming pastel blue medina of Chefchaouen deserves its reputation as a magnet for travellers, while Tetouan boasts the food and architecture of the Spanish protectorate era. Echoes of Spain continue with the medieval fortresses and modernist architectural treasures of the enclaves of Ceuta and Melilla.
Inland, you can get away from everything with treks in the Rif and walking in the little-visited remote Beni-Snassen 'national park'.
These are our favorite local haunts, touristy spots, and hidden gems throughout Mediterranean Coast & the Rif Mountains.
This recently refurbished museum is housed in the former sultan's palace of Dar El Makhzen. The focus is on the history of the area from prehistoric times to the 19th century. Exhibits are well-presented in French and Arabic only. Work your way anticlockwise around the first courtyard before heading inside to the rest of the displays, followed by a walk in the charming Andalusian garden.
This museum, in an elegant five-storey mansion, is a must-see: Morocco was the first country to recognise the United States by opening its ports to the fledgling nation in 1777, and this was the first piece of American real estate abroad, as well as the only US National Historic Landmark on foreign soil.
St Andrew's Church is one of the more charming oddities of Tangier. Completed in 1894 on land granted by Sultan Hassan, the interior of this Anglican church is decorated in high Fassi style, with the Lord’s Prayer in Arabic over the altar. Behind the altar is a cleft that indicates the direction of Mecca, with carved quotes from the Quran.
The Grand Socco is the romantic entrance to the medina, a large, sloping, palm-ringed plaza with a central fountain that stands before the keyhole gate, Bab Fass. Once a major market, its cobblestone circle is now the end of the line for taxis, the point at which the modern streets narrow into the past.
Winding alleyways, cute doorways and charming plazas all in many shades of blue – this is what has attracted millions to this tiny village in the Rif Mountains, and there's no sign tourism will let up. Despite overcrowding, Chefchaouen's medina is still well worth the visit.
The medina, the top attraction of Tangier, is a labyrinth of alleyways both commercial and residential. It's contained by the walls of a 15th-century Portuguese fortress, although most buildings are actually relatively new for a Moroccan medina. The place is full of travellers' treasures and offers glimpses of traditional living. Sadly, local touts can be more of a bother here than nearly anywhere else in Morocco.
This was once the most notorious crossroads of Tangier, the site of drug deals and all forms of prostitution. Today the facades are freshly painted, tourists abound, and it’s a wonderful square for people watching over a mint tea.
About 45 minutes from Akchour (1.5km), a huge reddish-brown stone arch towers 25m above the river Oued Farda. Unbelievably, the bridge wasn't carved by human hand, but rather by the river's flow over countless millennia. As the river carved a path deeper and deeper, it left the bridge high and dry.
This is the charming heart of Ceuta, with manicured tropical plantings, a square of freshly renovated cobblestone pathways and some of the city’s finest architecture.