Take a journey to North Africa to discover Morocco and Tunisia on a voyage deep into their colorful cultures, captivating cities, and sweeping deserts.
By Rina Chandarana for Quest Magazine
From mountains to deserts and sea, Morocco’s geography is blessed with diversity. Its cities entice with modern museums, flavor-packed cuisine, and maze-like medinas.
Start your journey to North Africa in Casablanca, made famous by the film of the same name in which Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman left an indelible mark on our imaginations. Today the city is a modern commercial center, yet a stroll along downtown’s Rue Mohammed V will lead you to a world of Art Deco colonial-era buildings. The seaside Hassan II Mosque, which can accommodate 25,000 worshipers, is worth a visit for its soaring minaret and grandeur.
The legendary city of Marrakesh is known for its bold colors and boisterous markets. Get lost in technicolor lanes chock-full of tiny shops selling everything from rugs to bulbous brass lanterns that glimmer in dust-speckled light. Tall wicker baskets overflow with dried cactus flowers in shades of turquoise, yellow, and red. Have your hands adorned in swirling henna at a local party, where artists will tell you the patterns are symbols of good luck for your journey onward.
Tucked in the palm-fringed Skoura oasis between the Atlas Mountains and the southern desert, the 19th-century kasbah-turned-luxury hotel Dar Ahlam is just the spot for escaping the modern world. Five acres of Edenic gardens entice you to take a stroll, or indulge in a leisurely picnic fit for a sultan. Once Morocco has whetted your appetite, move on to Tunisia.
Tunisia has a split personality, but in the best of ways. Culturally, this nation has one foot in Europe and the other in the Maghreb, and a coveted spot between the Saharan sands and the Mediterranean Sea.
Present Meets Past
Gazing at the grandeur of Tunisia’s Art Deco buildings, you’ll feel like you’re in France — the country was a French protectorate in the first half of the 20th century — but wandering the UNESCO-listed medina transports you into an alluring world of Islamic architecture and culture. This combination makes the capital city of Tunis a feast for the senses.
Banter in French and Arabic, and search the fragrant souks for decanters of jasmine oil and babouches, the traditional leather shoes with pointed, curved toes. Follow the tantalizing scent of shisha wafting from tiny cafes, where pine nuts and sprigs of fresh mint bob on the surface of piping hot cups of tea served on arabesque trays. Dare yourself to eat just one almond-stuffed baklava. Find the studded arched doors and the angular minaret of the eighth-century Ez-Zitouna Mosque within the labyrinth of twisted streets.
History buffs will make a beeline for the Bardo National Museum in the suburbs of Le Bardo, home to one of the world’s largest collections of Roman mosaics. Just outside the city is Carthage, an ancient seaside city on a hilly peninsula and the former capital of a powerful trading empire. Established by Phoenicians and revived by Romans under Julius Caesar after its destruction in the Punic wars, the crumbling ruins offer views fit for a king.
Tunisia’s compact size makes it easy to shift from sea to sand. The dunes of the Sahara undulate across a large expanse of the country. As the sun sets, the rippling sands transform into an endless canvas of varying shades of apricot. The best way to witness this glorious display is from a desert tent under a blanket of twinkling stars. It may be difficult to get your bearings in the endless Sahara, but the desert nomads seem to have an internal compass embedded in their DNA.
Tiny towns sprout up in the oases. Freshwater springs trickle from canyons. Crack open a freshly plucked pomegranate in Touzeur, a green jewel of fig trees and banana groves. Thousands of palm trees form a natural shield against the scorching sun. Painted ceramics dry on red rugs. Leaves are crushed into thick henna paste. Life is beautiful, even in harsh places.
The country’s postcard-perfect coast is hard to ignore. You’ll want to quickly free your feet from shoes and frolic in the gentle surf. The town of Sidi Bou Said in northern Tunisia is an idyllic haven of blue shutters, azulejo-tiled restaurants, and bright bougainvillea climbing whitewashed walls, all with dazzling seascapes. The clifftop village, arguably one of Tunisia’s most beautiful, still bears the influence of Moors who fled from Andalusia between the 15th and early 17th centuries. When you arrive, you’ll never want to leave.
Pro Tip: For at least one meal, ask your guide to take you to a truly local place in Marrakesh. It’s a completely different experience from what any tourist restaurant will provide. – Tiffany Dunn, Sales Manager
Contact your Ker & Downey designer to start planning your journey to North Africa.