North African festivals – 08 Aug 2007

North Africa’s festivals are one of the best ways to explore the history, art and local customs of the region.

An increasing number of travellers are getting wise to events like Morocco’s Erfoud Date Festival, the South Sinai Camel Festival in Sharm el-Sheikh, or the Carthage International Arts Festival in Tunisia.

Moroccan National Tourist Office trade officer Aziz Mnii said: “Festivals are not the only reason to visit, but attending one will enrich your experience of the country.”

Each year North African countries play host to hundreds of celebrations and festivals. Here are a few to whet your appetite.


Morocco: Fes Festival of World Sacred Music (June)

Musicians from around the world gather in Morocco’s ancient, holy city for this festival of devotional music, which including everything from Spanish gypsy music to Sufi chanting.

Last year’s programme included music from France, India, Pakistan, England, Japan, Argentina and Mali.

Venues range from the intimate gardens of the Batha Museum to the vast Bab Boujeloud Square.

Other attractions: Go for a steam in one of the local hammams or stroll along the outside wall of Fes’s Royal Palace, Dar el Makhzen. The shady oasis of the souk is a good place to stock up on spices, nuts and other exotic delights.

Sample product:Cadogan Holidays offers three nights’ bed and breakfast at the five-star Jnan Palace from £484 per person, including return Royal Air Maroc flights from Heathrow and private transfers.



Tunisia: The International Festival of the Sahara, Douz (December)

Originally a Bedouin marriage market, the Sahara Douz Festival now attracts over 50,000 people who come to celebrate Saharan culture.

Held in an enormous grandstand at the edge of Douz, the festival features camel and greyhound racing, poetry recitals and belly dancing.

Other attractions: Visit Douz Museum, which houses an exhibition of the history and culture of the Tunisian desert, or Douz’s Thursday market, where nomads sell everything from spices to sheep.

Sample product:Tunisia First can arrange holidays based in Douz with flights from Heathrow into Djerba or Tozeur via Tunis. Seven nights’ half- board at the four-star Hotel El Mouradi leads in at £849 per person, including flights and transfers.


Egypt: Cairo International Film Festival (November–December)

The annual film festival, established in 1976, is a major event for the global film industry – and has the red carpets, press and international movie stars to prove it.

Films are screened in most large cinemas in Cairo.

Other attractions: Visit the Egyptian Museum, view the pyramids of Giza or sample sweet tobacco in one of Cairo’s hookah cafes. For baskets and Egyptian jewellery, head to Cairo’s oldest bazaar, Khan Al-Khalili.

Sample product: Discover Egypt offers three nights’ bed and breakfast at the four-star Sofitel Le Sphinx from £499 per person, including scheduled flights and transfers.


Morocco: Essaouira Festival of Gnawa and World Music (June)

The four-day festival celebrates Gnawa music, which has its origins in the slaves of sub-Saharan Africa.

More than 50,000 people descend on the blue-and-white painted port of Essaouira for trance-like music and healing rituals.

Stages are set up in the square medina, on several stretches of beach and in some more intimate venues.

Other attractions: Head to the beaches at Essaouira Bay, Sidi Kaouki or Cape Sim. Or stroll through Essaouira’s fish market – you can pick out a fish and have it barbecued at one of the kitchens next door.

Sample product: Classic Collection offers seven nights’ bed and breakfast at the five-star Sofitel Thalassa Mogador, including flights from London (via Marrakesh) plus transfers, from £809 per person.

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