Activities and sports
The range of activities available in Morocco might just surprise you. There’s world-class windsurfing in the waters around Essaouira, a fine collection of golf courses, excellent fishing off the country’s huge coastline – as well as in the many lakes and rivers of the Atlas mountains – and even established ski resorts. Not to mention a well-developed spa culture that uses indigenous ingredients like argan oil, black soap and olives.
Golf: the game, but not as you know it
Imagine striking the ball through clusters of palm trees, flocks of pink flamingos and bunkers filled with Saharan sand. It’s golf, but not as you know it.
Golf came to Morocco as early as the beginning of the 20th century, and the country has come to offer a compelling alternative to the established European golf destinations. Morocco’s excellent climate creates particularly lush, green courses, while its beautiful scenery, from imposing mountains to banks of colourful, exotic flowers, makes every course a pleasure to play on.
There are now some twenty or so clubs throughout the country, some of which have become legends in their own right. At Marrakech Royal Golf Club you will play in the footsteps of Churchill; in Rabat in those of Payne Stewart, Colin Montgomerie or Santiago Luna, winners of the prestigious Hassan II trophy. Real aficionados will be itching to play at The Palmeraie Golf Palace in Marrakech and the Royal Dar Es-Salam in Rabat, both designed by the legendary Robert Trent Jones.
Elsewhere, in Agadir or El Jadida, golfers can enjoy greens that are just steps from dream beaches on the Atlantic coast.
Royal Dar Es-Salam, RabatAll golfers dream of practising their swing on the 18 holes of the Dar Es-Salam red course, which hosts the annual Hassan II trophy and was designed by the great Robert Trent Jones. It is a par 73 course covering 6,702 m, with water features prominent in the layout. Few professionals have managed to complete it in fewer than 70 strokes. Hole number 9, 172 metres of which stretch over lily-covered water, is one of the great attractions of this course. Roman columns taken from the ruins of Volubilis fringe the 12th hole.
Next to the famous red course, the 18-hole blue course (par 72, 6,205 m) and 9-hole green course offer more accessible play. Throughout the club, the fairways cross a wide variety of plants and trees: cypress, palm, eucalyptus, banana, cork oak, ficus, papyrus, mimosa, rose, hyacinths, hibiscus and narcissi.
Marrakech Royal Golf ClubThe Marrakech Royal Golf Club was created by the Pasha of Marrakech in the 1920s, making it one of Morocco’s oldest courses. It is now said to be among the late King Hassan II’s favourites. Situated at the foot of the Atlas mountains, it is a 5,888m, par 72 course that has challenged Winston Churchill, David Lloyd George and Ike Eisenhower as well as countless seasoned professionals.
The Palmeraie Golf Club, MarrakechMarrakech’s 6,200m, Par 72 Trent Jones masterpiece lies in a landscaped valley filled with palm trees and lakes. Golfers face 18 unforgettable holes against the backdrop of the Atlas mountains and distant white medinas. A Moorish-style club house and a lawn imported directly from the US complete the picture.
CyclingWhether you’re cruising along the Atlantic coast or taking on the steep inclines of the Atlas, there are few better ways to see Morocco than to explore it on two wheels. Travelling by bike gives you the same freedom and the same closeness to the landscape as hiking does – and you can travel further! Best of all, Morocco has a variety of terrains that will satisfy every kind of cyclist, from novice to hardened pro.
Where to cycleThe Atlantic coast offers the easiest cycling, with plenty of good roads, fine scenery and an abundance of developed places to stop and rest. While far tougher to ride, the Atlas mountains offer amazing views and some truly exciting tracks – guides are recommended, and remember that fog often reduces visibility on the higher trails (some are above 2,000m).
SkiingIf you were asked to list the sports that you associate with Morocco, skiing might not be the first to come into your head. But away from the desert, beaches and medinas, several mountain towns offer great winter sports in season. In fact, it is possible to travel from deep snow in the Atlas mountains to the baking sands of the Sahara in a single day! Snow is most reliable between January and April in the High Atlas mountains.
IfraneBuilt in 1929 as a holiday village for the rich families of the Kingdom, Ifrane’s European landscapes and red-tiled villas give it a resemblance to a Swiss Alpine village.
Perched 1,650 metres up, it lies among the regularly snow-covered peaks of the Middle Atlas and has become the Mecca of Moroccan skiing – Ifrane’s first ski club was founded in the early nineteen-thirties, just a few years after the resort was established. The town is also known for the quality of its air and its invigorating climate, and is home to the prestigious Al Akhawayn university.
Other ski locationsIn winter, the resort of Michlifen, virtually next door to Ifrane, is also extremely popular, with conditions that are ideal for alpine and cross-country skiing and tobogganing. There are also skiing facilities at Oukaimeden in the High Atlas (70km/44 miles from Marrakech).
Cross-country skiers will enjoy the Toubkal and Mgoun massifs, whose wild landscapes and picturesque mountainsides make for some unforgettable courses, as well as Mount Tidiquin in the Ketama district and Djebel Bou Volane in the Middle Atlas (which have fewer amenities).
Aerial sportsThe Atlas mountains provide the perfect terrain and environment for aerial sports. Marrakech’s microlight school offers several tours of the surrounding area, from short introductory flights to dramatic hour-long ones – you’ll even have the chance to take the controls yourself. Alternatively hang-gliding, paragliding and hot-air ballooning are available in many locations, and provide a unique and unforgettable view of the Moroccan landscape. With cities that are as visually fascinating as the country that surrounds them, Morocco is a place where there’s no excuse not to take to the skies!
FishingMoroccan valleys have countless rivers and lakes full of fish, including trout, perch, carp and many more; the area around Ifrane, also a popular ski destination (see above) is also renowned for the quality of its pike fishing. As you’d expect from a county with such an extensive coastline, Morocco is excellent for sea fishing too. Whether from the beach or off the deck of a boat hired from a small Mediterranean port, you are guaranteed a great experience and a good catch. Barracuda, tuna and marlin are among the species to be found off the coast. In addition, many ports are equipped for deep-sea fishing, including Dakhla in the Sahara and Mohammedia near Casablanca.
PermitsFishing permits are necessary for trout streams, lakes and pike lakes, and are issued by the Waters and Forests Department or by local clubs.
WatersportsMorocco has a thriving watersport culture, with surfing, windsurfing, jet-ski and even kitesurfing all widely available and increasingly popular with younger generations of Moroccans. The Atlantic coast’s warm climate and strong winds are ideal for taking to the waves, as Essaouira proved when it hosted the Kitesurfing World Championship in 2006. For more details of watersports and where to practice them, see the Beach holidays module.
Hiking and trekkingMorocco’s unique landscapes, from the Rif to the Sahara, have made it increasingly popular among hikers and trekkers. We will look at hiking and trekking in more detail in the next module: Wild Morocco.
SpaMorocco is the ideal place to get away from it all and relax. The country’s many ‘wellness centres’ combine traditional Moroccan beauty and hammam treatments with the best modern technology has to offer, including seawater therapy, balneotherapy, hydrotherapy and spa treatments. Often available in large hotels, these centres are pinnacles of luxury, comfort and well-being. With the popularity of wellness breaks increasing year on year, Morocco offers a unique, colourful and inexpensive alternative to mainstream spa destinations.
Several cities – notably Agadir, Marrakech, Essaouira and Fez – now cater to this kind of tourism. Agadir, Essaouira and Casablanca make the most of their Atlantic coast location, providing excellent seawater therapy; Marrakech specialises in the indulgent pleasures of balneotherapy, spa or hammam; and Fez’s principal spa resort is in Moulay Yaacoub, a centre renowned for the quality of its sulphurous waters.
Argan oilArgan oil is produced from the nut of the argan tree, one of Morocco’s most distinctive indigenous plants and a favourite haunt of the famous climbing goats. It is traditionally made by removing the seeds from the argan nut, grinding them into paste and squeezing it to extract the oil (though some oil produced for sale is now dry-pressed).
It is recognised as a luxury item in the cosmetic and wellness industries, and is often used for the treatment of skin diseases. Because argan trees only grow in Morocco, you can be assured that you’ll find the best quality product here – and at a fraction of the price you’d pay for imported oil at home.
HammamsHammams (public baths) can be found all over the country. They are a real institution in Morocco, and their tradition dates back to Roman times. Often richly decorated, with separate buildings or specific times for men and women, hammams offer an ideal atmosphere in which to relax. Exfoliation with black soap, henna or ghasoul wrap and massage with essential oils are just some of the treatments available.
The hospitality for which Moroccans are justly renowned is a major part of the wellness culture here, and the combination of unique, relaxing treatments and genuine care and attention ensures that visitors end their break feeling relaxed and replenished.
The warm summer nights of Marrakech, Tangiers or Agadir are suffused with good humour, relaxation and spontaneity, setting you up for a great evening out. The large cities offer a wealth of bars, restaurants, pubs, cabarets, casinos and nightclubs that will satisfy the most demanding of partygoers, but even the biggest venues retain an authentically Moroccan feel.
Some night-clubs have become legendary in their own right, with breathtaking decoration, an electric atmosphere and world-famous DJs. Marrakech is arguably the country’s clubbing capital, and nightlife aficionados will be pleased to find an outpost of Pacha, one of the most popular and stylish nightclub franchises in the world, here.
Fancy something more understated? Find a late-opening cafe or bar and sit on their patio listening to traditional Arabo-Andalusian music, or enjoy the rich atmosphere of an oriental cabaret. Casablanca’s coastal Boulevard de la Corniche or Tangier’s Grand Socco Square are both good for bars and cafes.
In addition, the bars, clubs and cabarets in most luxury hotels are open to the public – in Agadir in particular, you’ll find that these offer some of the best nightlife.
A land of hospitality and surprises, Morocco promises nights as warm and intoxicating as its days.
At the heart of every Moroccan town there is a souk. In these extraordinary environments, composed of small, winding streets covered with plaited reeds, you will find traders and craftsmen grouped by district. The cobblers and jewellers, apothecaries and leather makers, carpet and fabric sellers, potters and weavers all have their own neighbourhoods – but no law enforces the arrangement. It is simply how souks grow.
The souks of Marrakech, Fez and Meknès in particular are legendary for their scale and variety. Committed shopaholics could quite literally spend days exploring them; shopping, too often predictable on modern high streets, here acquires a sense of the magical and unexpected. To get a real feeling that you’re in another world head to Marrakech’s Sebbaghine (dyer’s souk) where huge skeins of coloured wool hang down from above, or visit the hectic ‘criée berbere’ (Berber auction) and marvel at the bright, intricate carpets that hang on every wall.
Alternatively, Casablanca’s Habbous district, built at the beginning of the 20th century, offers a slightly more modern (but no less intoxicating) souk experience. The area is dotted with small shaded squares, from which narrow streets and arcades lead off to a number of specialist souks – among others you’ll find districts for olive merchants, pastry sellers, coppersmiths and weavers.
More familiar shopping experiences can also be found in the larger cities, in particular Casablanca. But it is the souks, a universal and long-established aspect of Moroccan life, that will remain with you long after your visit.
Now try answering the following questions. Good luck!
For more information or to request promotional material for your agency, contact the Moroccan National Tourist Office.
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