It used to be necessary to transit through Casablanca — an undistinguished city alluring only in the minds of Bogie and Bergman fans — in order to connect to Marrakech and Fes, but those cities are increasingly accessible from major European gateways. And in November 2018, a high-speed rail line opened, reducing the journey between Tangier and Casablanca from five to about two hours. Most Moroccans see themselves as quite separate from the Middle East and practice moderate, tolerant forms of Islam. Berbers, the indigenous inhabitants of the country, regard Arabs as colonists as much as they do the French. The geographic diversity of Morocco might also come as a surprise, considering it encompasses sandy beaches, lush palm and olive groves, snowy alpine mountains and the sand sea of the Sahara. Marrakech sees millions of tourists each year, but much of Morocco remains unspoiled. When we visited the old ksar of Ait Semgane, for example, we felt like the first travelers to see the ruins. Time in the countryside is well-spent.
Lines to clear immigration can be lengthy; a VIP transfer from the airport is well worth the expense, including access to the fast-track passport line (necessary even for domestic flights arriving in Marrakech). Ask your travel agent or concierge to make the arrangements.
Delightful Dining in Marrakech
In addition to the restaurants in my three favorite hotels in Marrakech, I recommend Al Fassia (55 Boulevard Zerktouni. Tel.  524-434-060), a Guéliz restaurant owned and run by women serving superb traditional cuisine; the colonial-style Grand Café de la Poste (Boulevard El Mansour Eddahbi and Avenue Imam Malik Guéliz. Tel.  524-433-038), also in Guéliz, for gracious French lunches; Nomad (1 Derb Aarjane. Tel.  524-381-609), a stylish choice for a rooftop lunch in the medina’s heart; and the restaurant of the Villa des Orangers (6 Rue Sidi Mimoun. Tel.  524-384-638) near the Djemaa el-Fna, which serves beautifully presented cuisine from Moroccan and French menus.
It amazes me how far the local wine industry has come in the past 10 to 15 years. Two successive kings have encouraged outside investment in vineyards and wineries, and that encouragement is paying off. White wines tend to be inconsistent. But if you keep to vin gris, rosé and red and watch for AOC-designated options, you’ll likely have some surprisingly pleasant experiences with Moroccan wine.
The Best Shopping in Marrakech
If you visit only one shop in Marrakech, make it Mustapha Blaoui (144 Arset Aouzal, Bab Doukkala, Marrakech. Tel.  524-385-240). Located on an appealing street leading from the Bab Doukkala neighborhood past the Dar el Bacha Palace into the souks, this Marrakech institution has no sign on its old wooden door (look for “144” in metal studs on the lintel above). Push the door open, and you’ll discover a sprawling, rambling warehouse with all manner of tempting goods, ranging from Berber rugs and hand-painted ceramics to brass lamps and antiques.
The Atlas Mountains by Hot Air Balloon
Though the snowcapped Atlas Mountains are often visible from Marrakech, the best way to survey the beauty of the landscape is to take a flight by hot air balloon above the city at sunrise. Ciel d’Afrique, a reputable local firm, picks you up at your hotel and drives you to a village where the balloon is prepared for its ascent.
A Mosque For All
One of Morocco’s only mosques open to non-Muslims is Tin Mal, en route to the Tizi n’Test Pass. Though roofless, the evocative ruin retains numerous graceful arabesque arches.
To phone hotels in Morocco, dial 011 (international access) + 212 (Morocco code) + city code and local numbers in listings.
Five hours ahead of New York (EST).
Spring (March-April) and fall (October-November) are the ideal seasons for a visit. Winter (December-February) can bring cold nights, and during the summer (May-September), daytime temperatures routinely climb to over 100 F. Places such as the unspoiled town of Taroudant that lie to the south of the Atlas Mountains are appreciably warmer in winter.
Moroccan dirham (MAD). Fluctuating rate valued at MAD9.67 = US$1.00 as of April 2019. Note: Some of our suggested hotels quote rates in euros (€); €1.00 = US$1.12 as of April 2019.
Rabat, Tel. (212) 537-637-200. Consulate: Casablanca, Tel. (212) 522-642-000.