Morocco and its Imperial Cities, Part 1
Updated: Jan 26, 2022
The Imperial Cities of Morocco are the four historical capital cities: Rabat, Fez, Meknes and Marrakesh.
We flew from the US, had a stopover in Paris and landed in Casablanca, the largest city and the main business center of Morocco. After picking up our rental car we drove to the city center. We stayed at Le Casablanca Hotel, a very elegant property with a pool and two award winning restaurants. We had dinner there during our stay.
Our day in Casablanca started with a guided tour of the Hassan II Mosque, the second largest functioning mosque in Africa and is the 7th largest in the world. The mosque is beautiful and is located on the coast of the Atlantic Ocean. We had lunch at Rick’s Café, a very nice replica of the café you see in the famous Casablanca movie. The food and the service were excellent. The manager let us visit the other floors and told us about the history of the restaurant. We spent the rest of the afternoon driving around the city.
The next day we drove to Rabat, the capital of Morocco. It’s a short drive and we reached our destination in less than two hours. We stayed in the Old Town, known as the Medina. Medina also means no car, no parking and narrow streets, so there is no hotel parking and you have to walk from a nearby parking to your destination. Speaking French was a big help and we were able to find a “secure” parking for our car near the entrance of the Medina. A local helped us with our luggage and showed us directions to our hotel. The hotels in the Medina are called “riads” in Morocco. They are boutique hotels with a few rooms. This is an experience you cannot miss when visiting the country. The name of our riad in Rabat was Euphoriad. The place was gorgeous. You really think you are staying inside a private palace. We were the only guests that night and we had great service.
We visited the Oudaias Kasbah, the Hassan Tower and the Mausoleum of Mohamed V, which was closed, but at least we saw it from the outside. We went back to the city for dinner and dined on the terrace of the Cosmopolitan restaurant.
Our next stop was in Chefchaouen, a city in northern Morocco known for its blue buildings. We left the coast and drove to the mountains for a few hours. It’s a long drive and I don’t know if I would do it again that way. The city is blue and it is very nice to wander up and down the streets of the old city. Again, we were staying in a riad and we had to find a nearby parking and walk with our suitcase to the riad. A friendly local helped us with our luggage to climb the hill up to our hotel. We stayed at the Lina Ryad & Spa. The room was a little bit small and there is no elevator. Besides that, they have a very nice indoor swimming pool. We decided to have dinner at the riad. We ate special couscous and tagine prepared just for us. The food was excellent. One of the best chicken tagines we had during our trip.
We stayed at the Riad Mayfez Suites & Spa, a ten-minute walk from the parking. We spent three nights there. That place is a hidden gem. This is one of the most beautiful rooms we have ever stayed in. Once again, we were the only guests there, which was wonderful for us. They have a great staff including a cook. We had dinner there two nights. Everything about this riad is wonderful. Beautiful rooms, nice pool, a rooftop, a bar, a restaurant, a spa and a hammam.
We hired a guide for our first day in Fes. He picked us up at our riad. The driver took us to fort Borj, which overlooks the old city of Fes. Afterwards we went to a nearby ceramic factory where we had a complete tour. Fes is known for the mastery in the art of ceramics, wood and leather. Our next part of the trip was on foot and we spent hours in the Medina visiting shops and the Chouara tannery. The Fes Medina is one of the best preserved in the world. A couple of weeks after our trip Harrison Ford was in town to film scenes of the fifth and last chapter of the Indiana Jones saga. During our visit of the city, we also stopped by the Blue Gate and the Dar al-Makhzen Royal Palace, one of the royal palaces of the King of Morocco.
The following day we drove first to Volubilis, a partly excavated Berber-Roman city situated near the city of Meknes. It is a UNESCO World Heritage site. It is a ninety-minute drive from Fes. Afterwards we stopped in Meknes (another Imperial City) to visit the Mansour Gate and the Royal Stables. The stables were built under Moulay Ismail (born in 1645, known as one of the more ruthless leaders of Morocco). They were built by slaves and were large enough to house twelve thousand royal horses.