Insider's guide to... Rabat
Sunday 28 January 2001
What's the weather like?
What's the weather like?
Fabulous. Blue skies, warm and windless. Sitting out in the evening you almost have to use a knife to cut your way through the blossom-scent wafting up from the gardens.
What are the locals complaining about?
Morocco is free, fair and democratic but no one would be stupid enough to put these liberties to the test by blabbing to a foreigner about politics or the police.
Who's the talk of the town?
Everyone is still madly in love with the young King. Where he is, whom he talks to, who has access to him, does he now prefer Tangier to Marrakesh? First-hand stories about Mohammed VI can reduce a room to silence, while everyone else has to fight for air space in the rumour factory. No one seems impressed by the story that the prime minister may have been aware of the 1972 coup before it happened, or concerned that the energy minister should have been sacked weeks after Morocco discovered oil, or that one of the leading firebrand socialists was all along in the pocket of the ex-minister of the interior.
What's the cool drink to order?
In the early evening you should pop into the restored La Tour Hassan hotel, now the grandest and most central of all the big hotels. Avoid ordering wine or local beers - the waiters always give an approving nod to a large Johnnie Walker Red Label on the rocks, or a Ricard.
What are people eating?
Couscous, you fool; what else in this country? The expatriate white settlers pretend to like fish in a French sauce, but rumour has it that, having pushed something small around a large plate in a public space, they sneak back home and guzzle couscous too.
What's the latest outrageous stuff on TV?
Outrage happens every five minutes on those interminable Egyptian soap operas that still dominate Channel 1. Channel 2 has some very good chatshows dealing with beaten wives, corrupt lawyers and sorcerers - subjects of enduring interest over here. The truly outrageous stuff is on Al Jazeera (the closest the Arab world gets to a free-spoken news channel) from Qatar. Al Jazeera is especially free about Moroccan affairs because of an old feud between the two dynasties, heated up by accusations that Qatar is currently running guns into the Sahara.
Where won't the locals dream of going?
One of the charms of Rabat is that the city's major sites - the vast ruined mosque of Hassan, the Oudaia museum, the kasbah and the walled Chellah - are as crisscrossed with locals on a gentle stroll as with tourists. You will, however, be quite assuredly alone in the echoing walls of the archaeological museum or the colonial cathedral of St Pierre.
Where are the locals going that tourists don't know about?
The lagoon at Moulay-Bousselham, surrounded by dunes, saints' tombs and unspoilt countryside, is a world away from tourist Morocco. A scattering of family-run pensions provide the backdrop to holidays of boat trips, fishing expeditions and bird-watching.
What's the trendy place to escape to for the weekend?
For a day out of town, the beautiful sands of the Plage des Nations, topped up by lunch at the Firdaous hotel, cannot be equalled by anything along the Chaouia coast. For the whole weekend, you sidestep the rival city of Casablanca and head south to wallow in the sea lagoon at Oualidia. The Hotel Hippocampe (owned by a fellow Rabati and his Lebanese wife) is your evening base.
Where are the chic doing their shopping
Mega-chic Moroccans go to Paris, while their more earth-bound contemporaries and foreign ambassadors stop off at the riverside galleries beside the Dawliz hotel. Or they often like to head out of town to the Belghazi private museum where many of the finer exhibits come with a price tag attached.
Barnaby Rogerson is the author of the 'Cadogan Guide to Morocco'.
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