In the south, between Agadir and Tiznif, you will see goats clambering about the branches of knotted argan trees - a tree similar to the olive tree but which is found only in this region. The argan nuts are harvested in May, not from the trees but from the goat dung, having passed through the gut of the goat. Argan-oil has a sweet and rich taste, and is more expensive than olive-oil; Moroccans love both, and you will see boys at the roadside selling olive- and argan-oil in plastic bottles.
With 500km of Mediterranean coast, and 2,900km of Atlantic coast, it is not surprising that there are many beautiful stretches of beach, most of them undeveloped and many of the best scarcely known. Near Al Hoceima on the Mediterranean, there are the low-key beach resorts of Torres de Alcala and Kalah Iris.
Torres de Alcala is a simple, whitewashed fishing village, 250m from a small, pebbly beach. Cliffs frame beach and village, and on the western headland is a deserted fort, possibly Spanish. Along a rocky cliff-path, 5km to the east, are the ruins of Badis which, from the 14th to the early 16th century, was the main port of Fes.
At Kalah Iris, 4km east of Torres de Alcala along a paved road, there is a longer beach with a natural break- water formed by a sandspit which runs out to one of two islets in the bay. There is no village as such here, but a small campsite and a few modest bungalows.
I remember the Fes el Bali as a small village on the way north from the medieval city of Fes towards the Rif mountains and across them to the Mediterranean. It was an important trade route, and, more recently, a busy interchange for long-distance buses.
Imagine my surprise when, approaching the village, I found a landscape of utter devastation: trees felled, buildings rased to the ground and no signs of life. Had a latter-day Genghis Khan passed this way?
The mystery was solved as we drove west and turned a bend in the broad river valley to find a nearly complete dam of huge proportions. When full, the lake will be 35km long; it will irrigate the coastal plain between here and the Atlantic, and add 10 per cent to the national electricity grid.
In the 16th century, Sultan Ahmen el Mansour, victor of the momentous Battle of the Three Kings, invaded the Sahara and took control of the salt-mines of Timbuktu and the gold- and slave-routes from Senegal. These sources of phenomenal wealth dried up when the Portuguese and others opened up the coastal routes off West Africa.
Thus, there is in Zagora, on the ancient "salt road", a sign: "Tomboctou: 52 days". Today, it takes an hour to reach the real Sahara, 60km to the south of Zagora. Here you will see another sign: "Tomboctou: 50 days".
Roger Mimo is Spanish, but went native years ago. First, he developed the Hotel de l'Avenir, alongside the town market in Tinerhir, gateway to the magnificent Todra Gorge. Then, he bought a casbah on the outskirts of Tinerhir. He has converted this into the first-class Hotel Tomboctou. Furthermore, he is very knowledgeable about southern Morocco and Mauritania beyond.
In the Middle Atlas, between El Hajeb and Azrou, is the remarkable Paysage d' Ito - a natural roadside balcony on the edge of a volcanic plateau, with a hair-raising view, stretching for perhaps 70km. The landscape is bizarre, with outcrops of extinct volcanoes. At dusk, it looks like the surface of the moon and it is not surprising to learn that it was used as the backdrop for the early science-fiction films of the 1950s and 60s. The Apollo landing in 1969 was, for those who saw those films, deja vu.
British Airways (0345 2221111) do daily flights from Gatwick to Casablanca. BA World Offers see prices dip to around pounds 200. Royal Air Maroc (0171-439 4361) do daily flights from Heathrow to Casablanca. Sunworld (0113 2555222) who have package holidays based on Agadir, also do flight-only for below pounds 200. It can be even cheaper to take a charter to Malaga and then a ferry from Algeciras or Gibraltar to Tangier.
ONCF national railways operates from Tangier south-east to Meknes and Fes, south-west to Rabat and Casablanca, and then south to Marrakesh. Supratours coaches owned by ONCF run from Marrakesh to Essaouira and Agadir. CTM runs long-distance coaches, and private buses provide a network linking all the major towns and cities.
"Grands taxis" also connect major cities, leaving when full. Cost is divided between five or six passengers. Uncomfortable, but cheaper and faster than buses."Petits taxis" operate in towns. You hail the taxi and, if there is room, it stops. A flat rate is charged.
Keep up with the latest developments in travel by subscribing to the free newsletter 'Rough News', published three times yearly. Write to Rough Guides, IoS offer, 1 Mercer Street, London WC2H 9QJ. A free Rough Guide to the first three subscribers each week.Reuse content