Rabat, the not well known capital city of Morocco, a city occupied by just over 500,000 people, all speaking a combination of French and Arabic.
The city combines both it’s traditional Arabic roots with modern French twists offering a variety of culture. While many people who visit Morocco tend to go to the tourist centre that is Marrakesh, Rabat offers an array of traditional Moroccan culture, with the added benefit of being filled with locals as opposed to Brits or Europeans on a long weekend.
If you’re flying into Rabat you’re likely to fly into Rabat-Sale airport, about 25 minutes outside of the city.
Driving in you’re surrounded by the colour beige. I visited in June, at the start of their summer, however, the heat had already begun to dry out the crops, turning them a dead shade of beige.
As you arrive into the city it feels a world away from the city culture most Westerners are used to. The buildings are short and line the roads acting as barriers protecting the medina and kasbah which lie on either side of the road.
Hotels are of course available here, but I opted to stay in a riad, a traditional home for Moroccans.
The riad I stayed in, as part of a Plan My Gap Year volunteer group, was located behind an ornate, traditional door. Moving through rooms, they were flooded with natural light and due to the heat, the riad had no complete roof. Instead, it had a sheet which covered the courtyard from the rain.
Off the courtyard sat four rooms, 3 bedrooms and a kitchen.
Keep yourself covered up, don’t walk alone in the evening, don’t go out too late, don’t go out with wet hair, don’t eat or drink in public (especially during Ramadan) and don’t drink excessive amount of alcohol – Muslims tend to not drink any but are open to visitors having one or two.
However, I wouldn’t recommend visiting Morocco during Ramadan, which I did. Due to no-one eating during the day, options for food are few and far between. However, there is one restaurant in the Medina which will allow you to eat Dar El Medina. Plus, if you decide to really absorb the culture and adopt Ramadan, there are many many delights to enjoy once the sun goes down.
Tagine and couscous are staple dishes in this culture, lamb is a meat often eaten and most meals come with a roti – similar to a wrap but made on a hot circular plate then served alone or with your meal.
Don’t expect to eat hot food all the time by the way, most meals are made during the day by women and they are left out and enjoyed once the men finish work or daily business. However, some restaurants will serve you hot food, but hot or cold, it’s still delicious.
Tagine, given the name by the dish it’s cooked in, consists of some form of meat, mixed with beans, egg, tomatoes and multiple seasonings to give you a tasty and aromatic meal.
Spices are often used in Moroccan cooking, but they simply create a beautiful flavour as opposed to creating a hot dish.
Rabat may not be at the top of everyone’s list when they visit Morocco, but it should be. Walking around the Medina where everyone does their weekly shop, buying food, clothes and trinkets gives an authentic insight into another culture.
The difference between traditional buildings and the French colonial buildings is literally a road apart. With buildings looking like they have been plucked straight from Paris , there are French bakeries serving delicious little treats. Don’t let the sight of bees put you off though, if you see bees it means the food is sweet and good.
Once you’ve eaten and relaxed, head over to the Kasbah, go in and either walk around or sit in the gardens and relax. I wouldn’t recommend visiting the cafe as it’s a bit of a tourist trap.
Also, if anyone comes and offers you a ‘free tour’ simply ignore them. You don’t need one and it’s probably not free. Just politely say no and walk away.
Rabat may be ignored by many, it’s not bright and filled with city life, but it is beautiful and filled with tradition whether you want to relax in the beautiful gardens or walk around the medina. The people of Rabat are friendly, yes they’d like to get some money off of tourists, but as long as you’re polite to them, they’ll be nice to you.
It’s a city which needs more recognition, and why not? It’s true Moroccan culture.