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Morocco is a wonderful assault on the senses

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Alison Godfrey 11 September 2018

From the twisting, bustling alleyways of the Medina to the fresh sweet taste of mint tea - Morocco is a wonderful assault on the senses.  These are the five things you must do in this incredible country. 

Morocco. Picture: Bethany Plint

1. Shopping

If you love delicate glass tea sets, intricately-woven carpets and expertly-made leather handbags - you will love shopping in Morocco.

Sharpen your bargaining skills and head to the markets for the most authentic experience. The Souk Market in Marrakech is the one most often featured in films. Wander through the vast twisting alleys and you will find anything your heart desires from spices and perfumes to leather goods and souvenirs. Be prepared. This is a wonderful assault on the senses. Take good shoes, a bottle of water and a secure bag.

Picture: Bethany Plint

Many Morocco tours also take some time to visit a tannery. Here you can see exactly how leather goods are made. To counter what may be an overpowering smell, the owners hand out sprigs of mint. Hold one to your nose as you listen to the workers detail the process of tanning a hide and turning it into luxury goods.

Make sure you also seek out a carpet-maker, particularly in Fez. Colourful threads hang from the walls and the intricate Moroccan carpets are woven on-site.

Moroccan argan oil is world-famous for making hair shine and heal. The best place to buy it is in Marrakesh. Speak with your tour operator to make sure the oil you find is authentic.

2. Ancient Ruins

The empire of Rome once stretched all the way to Morocco. The best-preserved example of the ancient Roman ruins can be found at Volubilis, between Rabat and Fez.

The ruins at Volubilis Morocco. Picture: Shutterstock

Volubilis was founded in the 3rd Century BC and was once the capital of the kingdom of Mauretania. The Romans saw this isolated city as a strategic outpost for their empire. It grew into a vast city under their occupation from the 1st century AD. Volubilis lies on a fertile plain surrounded by wheat fields. The city's wealth came from olive production. Grand residences were decorated with beautiful mosaic tiles, marble and bronze. It once had terraced gardens and a triumphal arch. The 42-hectare site is UNESCO-listed.

Volubilis Morocco. Picture: Shutterstock 

"It is one of the richest sites of this period in North Africa, not only for its ruins but also for the great wealth of its epigraphic evidence," UNESCO says.

Local tribes overtook the city in 285AD. Rome never re-took it.

3. Food

Moroccan food is influenced by Berber, Jewish, Arab and French cultures. The result? It is delicious.

Morocco's most famous dish, couscous, is made from small steamed balls of crushed duram wheel semolina. The word couscous is derived from the Arabic word Kaskasa which means "to pound small". In Morocco, the dish is often called seksu or kesksu. It's served with chicken, lamb or mutton and vegetables cooked in a spicy broth or stew.

When in Morocco, you need to try the sweet version, called Stouff - steamed couscous served with almonds, cinnamon and sugar.

Tagine is another must-try Moroccan dish. Tagine is served everywhere, from roadside stalls to fancy restaurants. This delicious meat stew is slow-cooked inside a cone-shaped clay pot.

Khobz, a crusty break braked in communal wood-fired ovens is another delicious Moroccan staple. You can buy it fresh from street vendors all over Morocco.

Typical traditional Moroccan flatbread on street food stall, Marrakesh, Morocco. Picture: Shutterstock

The one Moroccan staple you can expect to have every day is mint tea. Simple, fresh leaves steeped in water and served in glass teacups. It's a ritual you will take home with you. No more mint tea-bags. Fresh is the way to go.

4. Fez

Fez is Morocco's oldest imperial city. Less crowded than Marrakesh, Fez is known as a centre for traditional art and artisans. Fez's old town, or Medina, is UNESCO World Heritage listed. It's a maze of narrow streets, bustling souks and shopfronts selling traditional food and crafts.

Fez is home to the world's oldest university - the University of Al Quaraouiyine, founded in 859. The mosque and university are off-limits to tourists. But you can visit the public library, also one of the oldest in the world.

Madrasa Bou Inania interior in Meknes, Morocco. Madrasa Bou Inania is acknowledged as an excellent example of Marinid architecture in Meknes. Picture: Shutterstock

If you love Moroccan tiles, head to Medersa Bou Inania. This building was once a theological college. It is the only religious building in Fez open to non-Muslims. Inside you will find breathtaking mosaics, fine lattice screens and incredible stucco-work.

Gardeners should check out Jnan Sbil Gardens, just outside the Medina walls. Sultan Moulay Hassan donated the gardens to the people in the 19th century. Wander along the pathways and breathe in the scent of citrus and eucalyptus.

5. Hammam scrubs

Just as you need to do Turkish baths in Turkey, in Morocco, you need to do a hamman scrub.

Casablanca, Morocco - 3 October 2017 - The hammam (Moroccan Bath) at Hassan II Mosque. Picture: Shutterstock

The traditional bathhouse is quite the experience. The first step is to steam and soak. Guests split off by gender, remove their clothes and head to the steam rooms. Take some water from the buckets inside the room and pour it over your head. Or soak in wonderful pools like the one above. 

Next comes the scrub. The masseuse will scrub every inch of your body, delighting in the removal of dead skin cells. Once you've been scrubbed, head back to the steam room to relax. Our top tip - make sure you pay to have your own scrubbing mat, otherwise, they will recycle. 

You will never view a massage in the same way again.