Here’s looking at you: Casablanca is the perfect place for winter sun, sea and shopping
Of all the cities in all the world, none have had such a great film named after them as Casablanca.
But Morocco’s biggest city is not just for fans of the 1942 Humphrey Bogart classic.
With temperatures hovering nicely in the mid-20s Casablanca – and its bustling cafes, markets and beaches – is catching up with Marrakech as one of our favourite winter sun destinations.
There’s even a real-life Rick’s Cafe for those who want to re-live those “Play it, Sam” and “Here’s looking at you, kid” moments from the film…
The best thing about Casablanca is that there is plenty to do without dipping into your spending money.
The central square, Place Mohammed V, is famous for its Art Deco architecture and the old Persian buildings that are traditional to the city. The main post office, law courts and police station were built back in the 1920s and 30s and feature huge stone columns and arches decorated with intricate mosaics.
The Villa des Artes on Blvd Brahim Roudani is a great stop for art lovers, featuring exhibitions of contemporary Moroccan and international art. These are held from Tuesday to Saturday in the very attractive converted Art Deco building.
Just a short walk away, the Parc de la Ligue Arabe is a shady walkway lined with palm trees and dotted with seats for those wanting to rest their weary feet and indulge in some people-watching.
Keep space in your suitcase for a visit to the Habous district souk, which offers streets crammed with stalls selling everything from crafts and jewellery (£4 for earrings) to elegant scarves and leather shoes (£6 a pair).
Casablanca’s souks, unlike those in Marrakech, are known for their calming atmosphere and a word or two of GCSE French will get you a long way with the haggling. But if bartering isn’t your bag, then head to the Exposition Nationale d’Artisanat on Avenue Hassan II, for three floors of fix-priced treats.
Worth paying for
The Hassan II Mosque, the tallest religious monument in the world, stands on a promontory facing the Atlantic, with the seabed visible through its glass floor.
The minaret is 210 metres high – that’s 60 storeys – and it’s only a short cab ride from Place Mohammed V.
A ticket costing £8 will cover a tour around the impressive building with an English-speaking guide and, if you’re feeling particularly brave, there’s even a Hammam (steam room) to try out. If you don’t fancy the architectural tour, you can just sit by the sea and take in the majestic view for free.
A short taxi ride away is Rick’s Cafe – a restaurant and bar recreated from the set in the movie. Sit back in comfy sofas and watch re-runs of the film with a traditional mint tea or grab a beer and play pool in the games room. They serve a good cocktail too.
Casablanca’s beaches are popular with the locals, so it’s worth heading to a local beach club to bag a spot on the sand. Miami Plage will set you back £5 for the day, but there’s access to a private pool and beach umbrellas, as well as a full restaurant and bar service. Children are welcome.
If the Hassan II Mosque Hammam wasn’t quite your thing, the one at Spa Ziani on Rue Abou Rakrak will do the trick with its Jacuzzi, scrubs and gym. It’s a local favourite and always pristine. Entry is £3.
Infrane on the corner of Rue Tata and Rue Mouftakar is a cool café, which serves up a choice of grilled dishes for under £5. Grab a seat outside for some people-watching.
Lunch in the flowery courtyard of Cafe Maure provides a perfect respite from the city. Try the selection of seafood dishes or their salads with a freshly-squeezed fruit juice.
Restaurant al-Mounia’s menu is all about the traditional lamb tagines and bowls of light, fluffy couscous. Feeling adventurous? Then try out the pigeon pastillas (pies). A main dish here will cost under a tenner.
The souks and medinas are easily reached on foot from the Place Mohammed V central square. A taxi to Hassan II Mosque or to the beach will set you back about £1.
Royal Air Maroc flies from Heathrow to Casablanca with return fares from £200.
BUDGET: Hotel Transatlantique is a tourist favourite, with bright but simple rooms, packed snack bar and outdoor seating area. Rooms start at £65 a night. The Piano Bar next door is on hand to supply a nightcap.
MID-PRICED: Charming Hotel Bellerive is the perfect stay for families with young children. There’s a pool and playground to keep the little ones busy, while you catch some sun. Family rooms start at £75 per night.
LUXURY: For a luxury hotel with spa services, check out Le Doge Hotel & Spa. This converted Art Deco townhouse has just 16 swish rooms and a basement spa, which offers great massages. Rooms from £250 a night.