[As written for Travel Eye, hosted by The Huffington Post UK, October 2012]
If I can give you one tip, it’s leave plenty of room in your suitcase for shopping because Rabat’s souks are home to a wealth of bargain buys. Leather shoes and handbags, patterned scarves, clay gifts and a whole range of olives and spices all occupy stalls across the narrow undercover paths.
The salesmen let you take your pick of the goods without feeling pressure (a world away from the hopeful cries of ‘Bonjour monsieur? Madame?’ as soon as you step into the souks in Marrakech). Here, there’s a quiet, slowly-slowly movement around the busy market; it’s quite extraordinary.
Piles of fresh; fluffy couscous with honey-coated pumpkin and squash; tender melt-in-your-mouth lamb tagine; juicy chicken in a caramelised gravy – you won’t go hungry here. Was it down with a café au lait or glass of the Moroccan red wine, it’s distinct and great.
We found local eatery Le Ziryab, by trailing through the quiet Medina streets after-hours. Identified by a lonely doorway, you only have to tap the huge wooden door once to be allowed in and following a short walk through a secret corridor, you’ll arrive in the most beautiful traditionally-decorated room. The lights are dim to set the mood and three musicians sit low against the pillars playing Moroccan folk tunes. The round tables sit in little coves, surrounded by soft velvet stools and candles; the perfect setting.
Indulge in some R&R
Just 25 minutes down the road sits Rabat’s sister city, Salé – and it’s here you’ll find the luxurious L’Amphitrite Palace hotel. The Spa here invites day guests and locals in for couple’s massages, as well as body scrub treatments, a Hammam and saunas – while the delicious infinity pool delicately lies in front of the ocean.
Where to stay
The L’Alcazar Riad in the centre of the city blew me away with its incredibly compact, but luxurious rooms. Perfect for everyone from honeymooners to friends to solo travellers, this type of hotel is traditional to Morocco; with an inner enclosed courtyard set up perfectly for sitting around reading or sipping mint teas, and a roof terrace where you can contemplate your day with a beer while looking over the Rabat rooftops.
If there’s one thing to remember about travelling to Morocco, it would be please don’t bypass Rabat. Marrakesh may have the bustling bazaars and tourist comforts, while Casa’ fame through Humphrey Bogart’s 1940s movie draws in the millions; but Rabat’s charm is its silence – this is a home to great history, eye-opening beauty, fresh produce and sense of strength and pride… but no one shouts about it. And that’s what makes this place all the more special.
Flights from London Heathrow to Casablanca take three hours. Prices currently start from £217 on Royal Air Maroc. The train from Casablanca to Rabat will set you back 10 Euros.
Rooms at the L’Alcazar Riad start at 225 Euros per night.
Spa treatments at L’Amphitrite Palace can be booked online here.
Check out Visit Morocco for more information (http://www.visitmorocco.com/index.php/eng/)
PICTURE CREDIT: KAREN EDWARDS