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Mystical, Magical, Morocco


Morocco as a popular tourist destination

Morocco is fast becoming one of the most fashionable places in the world to visit and is even a popular destination with the rich and famous. Marrakesh, one of Morocco's four imperial cities has recently been voted as tripadvisor's number one destination worldwide. Investors too are eager to purchase in Morocoo which is always a positive sign. Prices for accommodation are generally more competitive than in Spain but are still of a high standard. If it is a value for money holiday you are searching for then Morocco is a destination worthy of consideration.

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Vision 2010 and "The Plan Azur"

In 2001 the Moroccan Government announced a plan to boost the country's tourist industry. This is known as Vision 2010. Tourism is currently viewed as the way ahead for future prosperity. Morocco does not have reserves of oil and gas like other North African countries such as Algeria and Libya and it is impossible for the growing population to thrive on more traditional ways of making a living.

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Within the foreseeable future Moroccan shores will see the influx of many more tourists now that a proposed undersea tunnel link is well on its way to becoming reality. Morocco will be far more accessible to Europeans once the two continents of Europe and Africa are joined by road, just as France became easier to reach for the English when the Channel Tunnel was first constructed. New air routes are being negotiated and a whole new port is under construction on the Mediterranean coast.

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Saidia is perhaps the part of Morocco that is seeing the most development and this is due to "The Plan Azur" (the part of Vision 2010 which pertains to coastal development). This is the King of Morocco's way forward to boost tourism and improve the infrastructure of the country. On Morocco's Mediterranean seaboard, Spanish developers are making this plan a reality and foreign investment in this region is now at an all time high.

Typical tourist attractions and places of interest

Whether you chose to visit the coastal resorts or venture further inland there are no lack of attractions. Points of interest are made accessible by an impressive rail network and car hire is readily available for those who do not wish to be tied to the restrictions of a package holiday.

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Marrakesh, deep in Morocco's interior with the snow-capped Atlas Mountains for a backdrop, has attracted names such as John Paul Gaultier, Yves Saint-Laurent, The Rolling Stones and Kate Moss. Colourful markets beckon from within the ancient red walls of the Medina, protecting a way of life practically unchanged for a thousand years but away from the bustling city are exclusive purpose-built developments with luxury health spas and golf and ski resorts. This traditional and modern mix is part of the appeal. Constantly bathed in cooling sprays of water to protect from oppressive temperatures, these oases of the wealthy are springing up like mirages in the desert to tempt tourists and investors alike.

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The mystical, magical feel to places like Fez and Rabat, the capital, make the country attractive to creative and bohemian types as they filter in from mainland Spain. Fez is unique in that it has one of the finest examples of a medieval Medina in the world and also boasts gaily decorated houses that appeal to artists and photographers. The city was once the capital and offers an abundance of archaeological sites and museums for those who wish to rediscover a fascinating past. Terracotta houses tumble down the hillsides to form an idyllic setting for rural retreats.

Away from it all long term stays can easily be arranged for those with plenty of time to spare but if you happen to be an ordinary run-of the-mill sun-worshipper in search of a two week break then Morocco is definitely the place to visit; here you have the choice of both the Atlantic seaboard and the calmer Mediterranean coastline to indulge in your favourite pastime.

Agadir to the south on Morocco's Atlantic coast lies almost opposite the Canary Islands and offers the ideal location for a memorable holiday. Hotels are modern and low rise and provide a wealth of leisure activities and every convenience for the discerning tourist. Daily excursions to a variety of locations is possible from here and your coach will deposit you back at your hotel in plenty time for your evening meal. Not to be missed is a day trip into the Anti-Atlas Mountains, an exciting journey through almond growing regions where precipitous winding roads give you remarkable views over palm-fringed valleys. You will spot whitewashed villages, perched high up in these remote regions, too inaccessible ever to be affected by tourism.

From a base in Agadir it is possible to visit Taroudannt, the oldest fortified town in Morocco and Tiznit where you can see silver jewellery still handcrafted in the traditional way. In order to see the edge of the Sahara, it is necessary to travel to the deep south of Morocco where the ancient camel trail to Timbuktu still departs from Goulimine, known as the "Gateway to the Desert." Here camels are laden with rare spices and commodities in preparation for their unenviable trek to the little known country of Mali. You can mingle with The Touareg, a people more commonly known as "The Blue men of the desert," so named because of the unique indigo colour of their garments which affords some protection from the intense ultra violet light.

Essouria also on the Atlantic seaboard, as is Agadir, is a picturesque fishing town which too is rapidly embracing tourism. The art scene has made its presence felt here and was the film industry's chosen location for such star-studded productions as "The kingdom of Heaven" and "Alexander."

Tangier is the Northernmost city and perhaps the most popular because of its proximity to Spain which lies only a short distance away across the Straits of Gibraltar. Here you will find a glorious sandy beach which is clean and well-appointed. Day-trippers from Spain are so intrigued by the unique atmosphere which Tangier has to offer that they are often tempted back for a longer stay. The superfast ferries whisk you across the narrow channel between Europe and North Africa in less than an hour so you can easily sample another culture and still have time to buy souvenirs. The delights of the Kasbah can be yours and you will have ample opportunity to haggle for inexpensive bargains and visit places of interest - all in the space of an afternoon before returning to Spain.

East of Tangier, it is possible to drive along the rocky Atlantic coastal route which eventually veers towards the calmer Mediterranean seaboard. On a clear day from vantage points along the route you can see the Costas of southern Spain which are located only nine miles distant. There is Mount Moses which is reputedly the other half of the rock of Gibraltar. This area is a haven for photographers and naturalists, offering the peace and tranquillity that Southern Spain has now lost due to years of over development. Several new towns are being built here and not just for the tourist but for the general populous who have been lured to the coast with the promise of higher wages.

As you journey further east you will arrive at the Spanish Port of Ceuta which is a duty free haven. Ceuta belongs to Spain just as Gibraltar belongs to the British and it is said that if Britain returns Gibraltar to the Spanish then Spain will give Ceuta back to the Moroccans!

Almost ninety kilometres from Tangier you will find Marina Smir which is the Moroccan equivalent to the fashionable marinas of Spain's Puerto Banus. Here you can go scuba diving, deep sea fishing or just lounge around on the quayside envying the pleasure craft of the rich. The sands here are golden and easily rival that of the Caribbean. It is rumoured that the King of Morocco likes to go jet skiing here and has one of his seven palaces nearby.

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Further east is the quaint fishing town of M'diq and Tetouan which has a Medina high in the mountains just as inviting as the one in Tangier. Here you can stroll through ancient cobbled streets and admire the architecture if bargain hunting is not your aim, although canny shopkeepers will try to tempt you into their shops with the promise of refreshing mint tea. There is no obligation to buy but it is hard to resist when you are treated like a celebrity and are shown a colourful selection of hand-made carpets for your individual appraisal.

This article highlights but few of Morocco's places of interest; there are many other exciting places to visit which are within daily travelling distance of the main tourist destinations. You can travel by air to Marrakesh and experience the country's interior or fly to Agadir to discover the south but arriving by ferry from Spain or by air to Tangier is perhaps the best way to discover the north of the country if you are coming from Europe.

Experience culture and diversity

The Moroccan people are friendly and helpful but are perhaps not quite as geared up to tourism on a grand scale compared to other largely Islamic countries such as Turkey or Tunisia. Poverty is still a huge problem but tourism seems to be providing a partial solution at least in those regions that appeal to the tourist. Morocco's currency is the Dirham and as this is a closed currency, you will not be able to buy before you travel. At time of writing there are 16.5 Dirhams to the UK pound or 8.4 Dirhams to the US Dollar. Trade links are excellent and the exchange rates are good so Morocco is embracing tourism as the way ahead.

Morocco offers a unique holiday experience which promises not to cost a fortune. Hotels and apartments are plentiful and travel between points of interest is efficient and reliable. Taxis are abundant and car hire easily found. Tour guides and taxi drivers are generally reliable and crime is almost unheard of. Souvenirs such as inexpensive leather goods of all descriptions from shoes, handbags and wallets can be found on every street market and items such as ornate jewel boxes and beautifully woven carpets in every design and colour can be bought in the more exclusive boutiques. A wide variety of food is available prepared mainly from locally produced ingredients and the national dish of couscous is served often with a simple accompaniment of lamb and vegetables. All in all it is easy to see why Morocco is such a popular destination.

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