Most tourists in Marrakech concentrate on the souks around Djemaa el-Fna, the medina’s central square bustling with food stalls come dusk. That leaves blissfully deserted grand 16th-century monuments, like the ruined El Badi palace of pink sandstone and the Saadian tombs, a burial complex covered in blindingly colorful tiles.
The same goes for another former imperial capital, Meknes, less than 50 miles from Fez. I skipped the medina and wandered through the eerily empty, gigantic late 17th-century royal granaries and stables.
KSARS AND DUNES
To head from Marrakech along the fabled former trade route to Timbuktu, I relied on a guide and driver for a three-day personalized tour of sheer desert magic.
As the temperature rose to 118 degrees, we wove through ancient fortified adobe villages baked in the salmon-colored hills, hidden valleys bursting with date palms, and lulling Saharan dunes. My qualms about sleeping alone in a tent evaporated by the time I reached it on the back of my camel, led by a Bedouin guide who walked through the moonlit desert with unerring mental GPS, and a functioning iPhone.
RABAT AND CASABLANCA
Most trips to Morocco begin or end in the modern political and business capitals, Rabat and Casablanca, where the suffused ocean light and white art-deco districts recall, improbably, the architecture of South Beach.
In Casa, I admit my highlight was a fake: Rick’s Cafe, which opened in 2004 to recreate the locale of the 1942 classic movie “Casablanca.” Channeling Ingrid Bergman, I requested “As Time Goes By,” but was told it’s only played at night. Here’s looking at superb shrimp pasta and olive bread, instead.
In Rabat, the historic sites line the Bou Regreg river. Just outside the city center is Chellah, a Roman ruin, once a necropolis and later an Islamic religious center, and now the rare green space without ogling hassles.