“Morocco? Really?”... was the usual response when I told family and friends that I was heading off for my next solo travel trip.
Especially when I clarified that I’d be train-hopping from one spot to another, no clear itinerary in mind. But no amount of warnings could dent my enthusiasm about finally taking a trip to this vividly-toned country with its golden sand dunes, richly tiled madrasas and exotic gardens.
The plan? To start at the bottom and work my way up the country via train.
I’d spend a few weeks checking out the sights of Marrakech, Fes and Tangier while also train-hopping my way into a few of the lesser-visited parts of the country if and when they piqued my interests. I deliberately kept it vague, simply allowing the recommendations and feelings along the way to guide my route.
Starting in Marrakech was the perfect way to throw myself in at the deep end.
“A feast for the senses” may be an overused travel term, but it’s never seemed more fitting than in Marrakech’s spice-scented, brightly-coloured, lute-chanting centre. From the moment I stepped out of my taxi, I was bombarded with juices to sip, scarves to wear, snakes to hold, and food to sample.
I watched groups of men play card games in Jemaa el-Fna, snapped hundreds of photos of the cacti and Cubist architecture at Jardin Majorelle and sipped on sunset cocktails at Nomad’s rooftop bar.
Contrary to (some people’s) expectations, Morocco’s public transport system was safe, clean and comfortable. A few days later, I arrived at Marrakech train station an hour ahead of departure time, convinced there’d be some kind of hassle and that my school-level French wouldn’t hold up.
In reality, I collected my ticket with a quick “merci” and spent the next 45 minutes drinking iced tea and staring in wonder at the intricately tiled ceiling. Next up, eight hours of admiring golden dunes and countryside views as the train headed up north.
Each Harry Potter-esque cabin featured chairs more akin to armchairs than anything I’d experienced on public transport before, which meant an easy morning spent interchangeably reading a new book and staring out the window. I ate sweet, crumbly biscuits with a tiny Moroccan girl who kept patting my shoulder and insisting on offering me her snacks as the hours passed by.
Where Marrakech was busy and bustling, Fes was far more relaxed. While I adored the sound-turned-up nature of Marrakech with a cup of freshly squeezed pomegranate juice in hand, I preferred the cool, shaded back streets of Fes’ Medina with its 9000 alleys of hand-carved chess sets, sugary mint tea and fresh pastries.
Here, I took to following locals for new recommendations: out of the city and up a steep hill filled with crumbling ruins for a captivating sunset from a historic viewpoint. Away from the crowds into the depths of the Medina for lunch of “Moroccan tacos” using a combination of fumbled gestures and Google Translate.
I started each morning eating khobz and apricot jam from cafe overlooking a different bab on the outskirts of the Medina and the days following my feet through leather shops to the tanneries, down past a river into a densely-packed rug shop and, at the end of the day, back to my hotel with its stained-glass windows.
I took a quick break from trains to buses as I drove through the mountains to the blue city of Chefchaouen. Perched high towards the north of the country, this majestic blue and white spot swaps French for Spanish and throws in a little Jewish influence for good measure.
I discovered that Morocco’s wine region, Meknes, was only a 30-minute train journey from Fes. So off I went to sip sparkling wine overlooking the lavender fields at Château Roslane.
My drink of choice throughout the rest of the trip had firmly been in the heavily-sugared mint tea category, served piping hot and delicately handled from the bottom to avoid burns. But it seemed almost rude not to try the vineyard’s rich red, crisp white and characteristically sweet wines while taking a tour under the sunshine.
The initial plan was to head straight to Tangier, before catching the ferry across to Spain and continuing my travels from there. But another spontaneous look at the train routes led me to Oujda: the capital city of the Oriental region of northeastern Morocco that’s adored for its Grand Mosque.
Often confused as part of Algeria, Oujda used to be a thriving tourist hotspot, famed for its trading route and the freshly caught/crafted/created wares that followed. When the land border closed in 1995, Oujda fell off the traditional tourist map.
An unexpected favourite, life seemed far more peaceful in Oujda. As a solo female traveller, I anticipated a similar frenzy of attention like throughout the rest of Morocco. But its Medina was far more laid back than elsewhere in the country without all of the electric energy I’d experienced in Marrakech and Fes.
This unexpected detour meant passing back through Fes and Rabat to reach my final Moroccan destination, Tangier. Widely known as a launching point for those exploring Morocco from north to south, Tangier brings together a unique blend of North African, Spanish, Portuguese and French culture with the cuisine, architecture and language to match.
Highlights included the white-and-blue side streets with their rainbow-hued tapestries lining the walls. And the awe-inspiring Kasbah, home to some of the city’s tiniest side streets where simply getting lost is the end goal.
The Phoenician tombs, past the top entrance of the Kasbah, were wonderous in their own right. From here, on a clear day, you can gaze at Tarifa in Spain before watching the sunset.
In short, I adored the no-rules-necessary contrasts of Tangier: the perfect concluding spot after a few weeks of Morocco’s mish-mash of colours, cultures, languages, and backdrops.
Last Updated 16 October 2023