Does your ideal vacation prioritize art galleries and architecture over adventure? Would you rather sip cocktails than scale sand dunes? Does your travel itinerary look better with art deco-style buildings, museums and discos? Then Morocco is calling you.
Travelers have long ignored Casablanca in favor of more exotic locales, but what the city lacks in Islamic monuments and labyrinthine souks, it makes up for in its dizzying nightlife, a burgeoning art scene and a hodgepodge of architectural styles. Casablanca’s inhabitants, known as Casablancais, are known for being more Western in their attitudes. You can find men and women together in restaurants and bars dressed up in the latest global trends.
In the 1930s, art deco style was all the rage in Paris and New York, famously represented by the Paris Métro and New York’s Chrysler Building. The style caught on in Casablanca, and you can see some of the many art deco buildings in the Place Mohammed V and Place 16 Novembre. Galleries abound, featuring both Moroccan and international artists, including Le Studio des Arts Vivants, Galerie Atelier 21 and Loft Gallery, along with Amber Gallery, located in the high-end suburb of Mohammedia. The non-profit group Casamémoire runs a variety of projects including an exhibition space housed in an abandoned slaughterhouse on the edge of town.
While nightclubs and lounges such as Arts Club Lounge, Le Carré and L’Empire are perennially popular for dancing and people watching, Casablanca also stands out for its private beach clubs, such as Tahiti Beach and Atlantic Beach.
As the capital city, Rabat is home to government officials, foreign diplomats and university students, which give the city’s orderly and tree-lined streets a staunchly conservative feel. Gone are Casablanca’s traffic jams or Fez´s people jams. Instead, Rabat boasts a state-of-the-art tram system and an overall relaxed vibe.
Galerie CMOOA is an obvious stop for art lovers, as are Le Cube and the Espace Expressions CDG. The Fondation ONA oversees the Villa d’Art, a complex dedicated to contemporary art. It is composed of several buildings that each focus on a particular artistic discipline, such as sculpture, theatre and painting.
Rabat also has two botanical gardens: the Jardins d’Essais, located in the middle of the city and a welcome respite to the summer’s heat (currently under renovation), and the stunning Jardins exotiques de Bouknade, about 12 km outside of the city.
Marrakesh can easily claim the title of Morocco’s most cosmopolitan city. Movie stars routinely pop up into the city’s numerous luxury hotels, including the Four Seasons, W, La Mamounia and the Riad El Fenn, owned by the wife of Richard Branson. Fans of the Sex and the City franchise can stay at the Taj Palace Marrakesh, featured in SATC 2.
The city’s nightlife can give most Western cities a run for its money (with prices to match). Asian-inspired Bo-zin is popular right now, but rooftop bars like Skybab at the Bab Hotel and SkyLounge at the Delano Hotel, offer stunning views of the city and the nearby Atlas Mountains. You can end your night at Pachá Marrakech or you can party all day at Nikki Beach.
Along with beautiful people, Marrakesh is also full of beautiful art. Matisse Gallery is widely regarded as the city’s most established gallery, but those interested in local artists should check out La Galerie Bleu and Galerie 127.
Written by Silvia McCallister-Castillo.
Photo by oeilevenement.
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Imperial Cities Tour – Hit the highlights in Morocco’s greatest cities.