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Discovering Casablanca
by Jerry W. Bird

As originator of a travel series called Railways of the World, going to Casablanca, Morocco's largest city, by rail on our personal version of the Marrakech Express was a wonderful way to start off the week and celebrate the new year. We enjoyed the journey so completely that the route from Marrakech (3 hours in total) seemed far too short. However, as we soon learned from the staff on board, visitors can travel between many of Morocco's principal cities by rail. That includes the Northern port of Tangier, a few miles from Spain with its famous Talgo Train service (see notes below). We were on our way to visit Benachir Akli (right) of Olive Branch tours who worked with ATA on the last two great events hosted by Morocco National tourism Board.

As our friend will agree, Rail Travel is still one of the most practical, inexpensive and relaxing of all modes on transportation, and this route to Casablanca was a shining example of price plus convenience. We traveled in a modern, first class coach, enjoying the privacy of a 6-seat compartment all to ourselves, with ample overhead storage for luggage and carry-ons. The one way tickets purchased at the counter without reservations were less than $15 in U.S. currency.

A simple lunch was served on board, and the price was nominal. I settled back in the sofa-like seating determined to savor every moment and take in the scenery like a passing parade, which is exactly what it was. The views were varied and unforgettable, from scenes of shepherds and flocks that seemed right out of the bible's Old Testament, to multi-layered desert vistas, lush grassy plains in the foothills country and modern city scapes as we approached our destination. Cattle, sheep and camels grazing side by side was quite different than your typical pastoral scene. Both the Marrakech and Casablanca terminals are clean, well maintained and convenient to taxis and other transportation from the heart of the city (this keeps the stress level low and the pleasure scale high). We were in and out of the railway terminal and on our way by Petite Taxi to the Residence Casablanca Apart'Hotel within a very few minutes of arrival. Quite a change from the average plane trip, where it would takes us that long just to reach the arrivals area to retrieve our luggage. Above photo: Friendly staff to greet you at the Casablanca Appart'Hotel

Getting Around: It is now close to a month that we have been visiting Morocco and I am amazed at how easy it is to get around in a city the size of Casablanca. We have found the taxi drivers courteous and knowledgeable, and the prices affordable. I will comment on this aspect later in this series because I had the same impression on my first visit to Casablanca in 2001, when we saw and photographed many of the city's main attractions in a very short time. Much more to come regarding our latest visit to Casablanca.

Background info courtesy of the Morrocan Tourist Office
Morocco's largest city, Casablanca has a population of over 3 million and is the nation's commercial hub.
Being Morocco's hub, it is also the largest port of the Maghreb, a facility that authorities claim has more activity than Marseilles, the French Mediterranean port city on which Casablanca was modeled many years ago. The historic architecture, known as "Moresque," after the Moors, is a combination of traditional Moroccan design with what were at the time the very latest in Parisian styles.

Visitors to Casablanca will enjoy the seacoast area with its fine dining spots, the famous Hassan II Mosque, the bustling central market area, the Habous district, the Royal Palace, the Mohamed V square, and the residential area of Anfa. Located near the capital city of Rabat, Casablanca is also the site of Hassan II University. The above photo was taken by Africa Travel Magazine's Editor Jerry W. Bird in 2001 during his first stay in Casablanca.

 Where to stay in Casablanca? ..Here is an excellent recommendation ...

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NOTES: About Morocco by Rail
ONCF -- l'Office National des Chemins de Fer du Maroc
Morocco National Railway Rabat
Marrakech Express: "Plus Classe" Casablanca-Marrakech service is AC-cooled, meal-inclusive and takes only 3 hours. Morocco's moden rail system supplements national services with the Al Bidaoui Airport Shuttle to Casablanca's Mohammed V Airport and Extended European Rail Plans for ONCF passengers.

Discovering Marrakech

by Jerry W. Bird

 A destination where one may enjoy the customs, culture and pleasures of laid back tourism, Marrakech is loaded with outstanding attractions, events and accommodation. Its conference facilities are a magnet for international events, trade missions and summits, such as our ATA Ecotourism Symposium at Le Palais d'Congrès. Where else are all the walls and buildings tinted in a rich pastel peach, the broad avenues and promenades lined with rows and rows of orange trees, with ripe fruit dangling from their branches like holiday ornaments? In five days of discovery, we managed to visit a wide cross section of hotel facilities, in order to give our readers an idea of the choice available for all price ranges. During a week long escorted tour, we had the good fortune of selecting a guide, who has become a good friend and ambassador for Morocco in general and Marrakech in particular.

Chafiq Bahra speaks French, English and Italian, as well as Morocco's native languages, and is a member of Morocco's Professional Tour Guide's Association. Since our meeting, Chafiq has given me a solid grounding and understanding of the country and its people, including the basics of Islam. While I've much more to learn in the months ahead, our readers will benefit from his fountain of information in our coming issues. We had the opportunity to visit the elegant Hotel Mansour Eddahbi (right) where we were warmly received. Many of the staff remembered Muguette from her last visit when the Africa Travel Association brought a large contingent of delegates here for an Ecotourism Symposium in 1996. Watch for new items on this web site featuring hotels, resorts and guest houses in Marrakech as this series develops.

Hotel Tichka: This morning's weather reports from Western Europe and North America's east coast were frightening, but here we are basking in the sun as we enjoy breakfast on the spacious patio by the emerald pool (left). We had the pleasure of staying in this fine member of the Salam Hotel group on the post ATA Ecotourism Symposium tour provided by the Morocco National Tourist Office, and liked it so much we chose to stay a second time on our own. The architecture and interior design are exceptional, with high ceilings and large, ornate metal chandeliers. The interior walls are a gallery of Moroccan art, and the corner fireplace makes you want to stay the entire evening. We discovered the unique history of the hotel, its designers, and other reasons why our hosts recommended it to the Africa Travel Association for our media tour. More to come ....

Imperial Borj: While in Marrakech, we had the pleasure of a chance meeting with a familiar friend, Marie-Elyse Gbedo, former Tourism Minister of Benin. Later that day we met her at this great hotel for an interview session regarding her visions for West Africa in the coming decade. This meeting was timely, since Ms Gbedo was in the city for the African Professional Women's Association Conference, of which she holds a key position. Watch for her comments and a description of the Imperial Borj hotel later in our coming supplement on Expos, Great Meeting Places and Conference Sites. The latest news of our friend is that she has taken an active role in promoting the Beninese Soccer team on a world scale. Marie-Elise Gbedo made the international news a few years ago as a leading candiate for President.

The Amanjena: When one thinks of luxury living, a standout in Marrakech is this relatively new resort. bordered by a lush 18-hole golf course on the city's outskirts, with the majestic snowcapped Atlas Mountains forming the background to a picture of paradise in North Africa. I welcomed the guided tour of this great resort, from self-contained suites, to dining area, library, business and health facilities. I look forward to the day when we can arrange a function for some of our North American corporate clients here in Marrakech. More to come in our description of the Amanjena and the international chain of upscale hotels and resorts it represents.

\La Mamounia: Muguette Goufrani and I had the opportunity to visit to La Mamounia twice during our stay in Marrakech She remembers this hotel as a meeting place, where herself, friends and family spent many happy moments during her career. The hotel's name was derived from its beautiful, spacious and deliciously perfumed gardens - a unique wedding gift to the Prince Moulay Mamoun from his father some 200 years ago (more about the gardens later). In 1922, architects Prost and Marchisio designed the hotel, combining the popular Art Deco look with traditional Moroccan designs.

George Washington slept here? No but many well known icons of our times, from Ronald and Nancy Reagan, to Nelson Mandela, Charles de Gaule, President Franklin D. Roosevelt and Winston Churchill - helped make La Mamounia one of the most famous addresses in North Africa. Churchill referred to it as,"the most lovely spot in the whole world." Today, the suite this famous man stayed in 1943 during the Casablanca Conference was renamed in his honor. One of the world's great hotels, La Mamounia is located on the walls of the ancient city of Marrakech with the snowcapped Atlas mountains as a panoramic backdrop.

What a grand movie setting! Speaking of movies, several well known films used La Mamounia as a setting, including "Morocco" with Marlene Dietrich, Hitchcock's "The Man Who Knew Too Much." Charlton Heston, Omar Sharif, Nicole Kidman, Sylvester Stallone and Tom Cruise are a few of the celebrities who've stayed here.Modern as today's most elegant world class hotels in terms of facilities, yet furnished and decorated in the art deco tradition, with an authentic Moorish touch. There's a golf driving range on site, plus a swimming pool, tennis and squash courts, beauty and health spa, fitness center. There are two golf courses nearby, and you're less than an hour's drive from downhill skiing in the Atlas Mountains. How's that for starters.

Travel-Hospitality Contacts:
Blue Men of Morocco Tours and Travel
Mistral Travel of Essaouira, Morocco .
////George David Cook, Director
Jnan Palace, Fés Raid Maria in Morocco Sheraton Fez

USA: Moroccan Tourist Office: 20 East 46th St., Suite 1201, New York, NY 10017, A.S.A.P. Tel.: 212-557-2520. Fax: 212-949-8148. Web Site: http://www.tourism-in-morocco.com/

CANADA: Moroccan National Tourist Office: Suite 1460, 2001 rue University, Montreal, Quebec, Canada HA 2A6. Tel: +1 514 842 8111/2. Fax: +1 514 842 5316.

E-mail Africa Travel Magazine with your own travel experiences in Morocco or any destination in Africa.

For Further information, Contact:
USA: Moroccan Tourist Office: 20 East 46th St., Suite 1201, New York, NY 10017, U.S.A. Tel.: 212-557-2520. Fax: 212-949-8148. Web Site: http://www.tourism-in-morocco.com/

CANADA: Moroccan National Tourist Office: Suite 1460, 2001 rue Université, Montreal, Quebec, Canada H3A 2A6. Tel: +1 514 842 8111/2. Fax: +1 514 842 5316.

Jerry W. Bird is President of ATA Canada Chapter, Editor and Publisher of Africa Travel Magazine, and Webmaster for the ATA site www.africa-ata.org. He is also Publisher of Air Highways Magazine, the Journal of Open Skies, featuring aviation, tourism, transportation and business worldwide. His career began with the Edmonton Journal Daily Newspaper, and expanded into the full spectrum of media - radio, television, magazines and Internet. He has won international awards for creativity in audio visual and print production.