Monday, September 04, 2006

Travel writing about Morocco - part two.

Readers have commented time and again about the quality of travel writing about Morocco and a while ago we posted a classic example of what has become the norm. Sadly we have to say that things are not improving. Here is an excerpt from a piece that appeared in the Belfast Telegraph: Readers can judge for themselves.

The Complete Guide To: Stylish Morocco
The home of hookah pipes, rosewater-scented pastries and the superb Atlas mountains has become a hot destination for seekers of holiday chic. Harriet O'Brien reports

Let us pause there for a moment and remind Harriet that Morocco is not the home of the hookah.


Morocco: the very name conjures images of sand dunes and mountains, vibrant markets and hidden courtyards. Just across the Straits of Gibraltar, Morocco is now easy to reach from Europe thanks to a range of cheap flights. Yet it remains a world apart - at once African and Arabian, with a dash of French colonial glamour thrown in for good measure.

A decade ago, Morocco was regarded principally as a backpacker destination: charming and cut-price if a little short on comfort. (You can still find cheap digs: Simon Calder recommends the shacks on the roof of the Hotel Farouk in Marrakech - £5 a night including breakfast). But accommodation options have been transformed by an explosion of style - notably riads, the traditional houses in Morocco's old towns, or medinas. Built around a courtyard where the womenfolk could have access to fresh air yet remain unseen, these retain a sense of beauty and mystery. Meanwhile, away from the towns you can find oasis hotels, tented desert camps and seaside hideaways.


Publically vibrant and privately elegant, there is nowhere quite like Marrakech, with its magnificent backdrop of the High Atlas Mountains. For all its hippie-chic image in the Eighties, it is now regarded as a cosmopolitan centre of cool. The hub of the city is the Djemaa el Fna, the main square of the medina, within which you can get lost in a labyrinth of alleyways and converted riads.

The city has oozed glamour ever since the French artist Jacques Majorelle bought land here, turned it into a garden, and opened it to the public in the Forties. The Jardin Majorelle was restored in the Eighties by Yves Saint-Laurent, whose ownership adds more than a touch of prestige to the city. The Jardin Majorelle is off avenue Jacoub el Mansour, open 8am-6pm daily, admission 30 dirhams (£1.80); the garden also contains a small museum of Islamic art (DH15/90p).

I should note that at this point we at The View From Fez were gobsmacked! Apart from the notion of getting lost in a labyrinth of converted riads - the idea of any city, let alone Marrakech "oozing glamour" was ( we thought) a mild generalisation. But we digress... Back to Harriet's breathless prose.

On the other hand, let's not. The next nine or so paragraphs are simple advertorials for various tour organisations and accomodation vendors. But we should take note of ...


Despite its sights and a host of romantic associations, the north is relatively undervisited. Rabat, the capital, contains gracious boulevards as well as a 12th-century medina. Glorious, crumbling Fez is the world's largest surviving medieval city. Casablanca boasts the Hassan II Mosque, the largest religious monument outside Mecca. Volubilis is the site of one of the Roman Empire's furthest-flung cities. And Meknes was once the Versailles of Morocco, an imperial city of pomp and palaces. You can also call in at Rick's Café at 248 Boulevard Sour Jdid

Wait a moment, did I read that right? Rick's Cafe (an imitation of a place that only ever existed in a film not shot in Morocco) was in Caablanca last time I looked - not Meknes.

This is followed by more advertorial content and the entire piece ends with a gem:


September and October are ideal, with the oven-like heat of summer lifting. But bear in mind that Ramadan, the holy month of fasting, starts this year on 23 September and runs until 22 October. This is arguably a good time to visit, since the country will generally be less crowded, although of course shops and some restaurants will close earlier than normal and you'll need to ensure that you don't eat (or smoke) in the streets during daylight hours.

Mmm, it has been our experience that Ramadan is not the best time to visit, but if you do, you will find the evening restaurant trade is very busy in the evenings catering to a lot of rather hungry people.

One last thing: If Harriet actually visited Morocco, why did she not declare who paid for the trip? Disclosure of financial gain is a basic ethical duty for journalists and given the amount of advertising in her piece, it seems a lot of companies got some wonderful publicity. Most of them were not Moroccan.


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