Discovering the Real Casablanca

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The 1942 Hollywood movie of Casablanca, starring Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman, may have left an indelible impression of the city on western minds, but for the modern traveller there is so much more to discover. Located on the coast facing the Atlantic Ocean, Casablanca is now the largest city in North Africa, the so-called Maghreb region, if you discount only Egypt’s metropolises. The thriving urban centre has about 3.5 million inhabitants. Not only is it Morocco’s chief port, but it is the capital, the administrative hub and the business centre of the nation, too.

For tourists, there is plenty to see and do in the bustle of a modern and vibrant African city. However, there are also plenty of places to find relaxation and a more contemplative pace of life, too. A former French colony, Morocco has plenty of European influence in its way of life and you will notice this in Casablanca’s architecture. The New Town area is a typical example of the French style with boulevards radiating from Place des Nations Unies, which had previously been the main market area. The impressive Hassan II mosque was designed by a French architect and it is a sight all visitors to the city should take in. For smarter and more modern developments, head to the marina area where the feeling is more urbane. Shoppers will love Morocco Mall, the largest retail centre in the continent.

Most visitors to the city will arrive via Mohammed V International Airport which was originally built by US engineers during World War II. From here it is quite easy to get the bus into the city centre or to locate a taxi cab service. However, to discover the real Casablanca it is probably best to hire a car and make your own way. European and North American visitors will recognise all the big car hire brands that ply their trade from the airport, such as Alamo. In terms of public transport, the city boasts a tram system but the routes won’t get you everywhere in the city. A non-stop train service also links the airport to the city.

Once you have got your bearings in the city head to the Old Medina. This is a small and traditionally walled old part of the city in the north end of Casablanca. It is well worth a visit if you are looking for some traditional street food or for picking up a souvenir. A building of both Hispanic and Moorish origin, the Mahkama du Pacha is well worth making time for. With intricately carved ceilings and over fifty distinctively styled rooms, the building also has wonderfully decorative tiled flooring throughout.

Later in your stay, head out of town a little to Ain Diab Plage where the beach offers plenty to see and do without charge. Spending a day on the beach is great fun and there are plenty of places to buy drinks and snacks. Expect passing vendors who will offer you tea, coffee, juices and pastries. If you choose to use the beach chairs then expect a modest charge. Locals use the beach to play football and general people watching. If you are feeling adventurous, then why not hire a horse for a trek along the sand or – if you are really in the spirit of Morocco – a camel?