Hospital Del Rey, Melilla, Spain

Morocco //

The Mediterranean coast and the Rif

Morocco’s Mediterranean coast extends for nearly 500km, from the Spanish enclave of Ceuta east to Saïdia on the Algerian border. Much of it lies in the shadow of the Rif mountains, which restrict access to the sea to a very few points. Despite a rash of stalled tourism developments dotted along the coast, such beaches as there are here remain mostly low-key and charming; for a seaside stop head for the fishing harbour and holiday resort of Al Hoceima, or to the lively summer resort of Saïdia on the country‘s (closed) border with Algeria. To the east of the Rif is Oujda, a pleasant, relaxed city within a day‘s travel from the scenic Zegzel Gorge, and there are further gorges cutting into the Middle Atlas, near the once important trading centre of Taza. Between Al Hoceima and Oujda is the Spanish enclave of Melilla, an attractive town offering an authentic slice of Spanish life; the dunes and lagoons spreading around nearby Nador are among the richest birdwatching sites in Morocco.

The Rif mountains themselves are even less on the tourist trail than the coast – and with some reason. A vast, limestone mass, over 300km long, up to 2500m in height, and with forests of towering oak and cedar, the Rif is the natural boundary between Europe and Africa. Traditionally isolated from central government and the authorities, and with an infamous economy based almost solely on the cultivation of cannabis, or kif, the Rif is also considered the most wild and remote of Morocco‘s mountain ranges. For some dramatic Riffian scenery, travel between Chefchaouen and Fez, via Issaguen (Ketama) or between Al Hoceima/Nador and Taza, via Aknoul.