Morocco is the perfect place to escape the UK if you want a bit of winter warmth.
The temperature in the daytime is typically 18 - 25 degrees and although you will need a jumper or jacket in the evenings, the night time temperatures are generally above 14 degrees. I have spent two winters there, and I love it for many reasons.
One reason is that I feel very safe there. Moroccans are immensely respectful, tolerant and welcoming, and as a single woman I have never worried about my safety. Those who fly into Marrakesh for a short visit might beg to differ – everybody has a story about being over-charged or taken to ‘my brother’s shop’.
But away from the tourist areas, it’s a different story. If I need help for anything, I ask the first Moroccan near to me and, as long as I can communicate my problem, I know they will go out of their way to sort the issue for me or find me the right person to do so.
Moroccans are immensely respectful, tolerant and welcoming, and as a single woman I have never worried about my safety.
Another main reason is that it’s possible to get there without flying. Having a background in energy, and being aware of aviation’s contribution to climate change, I stopped flying for holidays around 2013, and stopped all air travel in 2015 when work and family commitments no longer obliged me to fly.
I have taken several long-distance train travel holidays in Europe since, and having taken the boat to Santander for a Spanish holiday, travelling a bit further down to Morocco didn’t hold any particular worries for me.
The first time I did the journey, I took the train through France to Montpellier and spent a few weeks there practising my French. Morocco was divided between the Spanish and the French for much of its recent history, so in the north (around Tangier) you are likely to be greeted with “Hola!”. But every person who has been to school has received the basics of French, and it’s the easiest language to communicate with if you don't speak Arabic. Many people do speak English, particularly younger Moroccans, but life will be easier if you can make yourself understood in French. In Morocco, everything is eased with smiles and a hand on your heart.
From Montpellier I took a Flixbus over the Spanish border to Barcelona, and then a train to Algeciras on the south coast where I would catch the ferry. I prefer buses to trains in Spain as you need to go through airport-style security at train stations, arriving more than an hour in advance. Buses are really simple!
I prefer buses to trains in Spain as you need to go through airport-style security at train stations. Buses are really simple!
There are many options for crossing from Europe to Morocco, including from France, Italy and Spain, and most ferries go to Tangier Med, which is the tanker port about 50km east of Tangier. I chose the ferry that goes to Ceuta, the Spanish enclave on the North African coast. It’s very quick and it’s easy crossing over the land border to Morocco from there.
The second time, I took the ferry from Portsmouth to Santander before travelling down to Tarifa on the south coast. The ferry to Santander takes about 30 hours and between November and March, I’ve found it to be uncrowded and comfortable. You can book a cabin or just a sleeper-seat. I’ve done both, and the latter certainly saves a bit of money. But if you suffer from seasickness, having a cabin to retreat to makes the expense worth it. One thing I would recommend is taking a very good book, and possibly some cards and dice. Everyone is a bit bored, so you will have no shortage of players for any games you set up.
Santander is a particularly good stopping-off point. The ferry comes right into the heart of the city and the bus and train stations are just five minutes' walk away. There’s plenty of budget accommodation right there, and it has wonderful beaches – a few hours of walking the city beaches after 30 hours on the boat is really welcome.
Each time I go to Morocco I stay for a couple of months, so I have travelled far and wide, through the iconic big cities to the sand-dune desert of the far south, the rocky valleys of Tafroute, and many less-well-known cities and towns in between. Travelling in Morocco is easy and not expensive. Every town has a ‘Gare Routiere’ with buses and shared taxis that operate on fixed price systems. The longest I’ve ever had to wait for a taxi was about an hour, but usually they’re ready to go within a few minutes.
The good thing about travelling in the winter is that you don’t need to plan in advance. Just work out the night before where you want to go, then maybe check out the range of accommodation on Booking.com. I prefer to book accommodation if I’m going to a busy city such as Fes or Rabat, just so that I know where I’m heading, but this isn’t necessary in smaller towns.
Tourism is around 40% of Morocco's GDP, so everything stays open and tourists are welcomed throughout the year. For some reason, it seems that most Europeans prefer to go there in summer, when actually, winter makes much more sense!
Even on the ‘beaten track’ I rarely see other European travellers or tourists apart from French caravanners and the occasional cyclist. This makes travelling very easy in the winter months – there is always space in your chosen riad (a traditional house converted into a guesthouse) or on your chosen train or bus. And it means that everyone is glad to see you, and you are treated with great care.
In the winter months there is always space in your chosen riad or on your chosen train or bus. And it means that everyone is glad to see you, and you are treated with great care.
Morocco really is a place that you can fall in love with. I find the colours, the street scenes, the faces, the landscapes, truly exciting. Sometimes it feels like spending the whole day in an art gallery, with exciting visual stimuli all around.
It is a really good option for anyone with the time to travel overland. Coaches through Spain are not expensive, and nor is the crossing to Santander. If you feel that winter in the UK has something missing, check out Morocco!