City Panoramic, October 2008. My one and only trip to Morocco was a speedy affair, at least by my standards; with just over two weeks to take in a selective route that included Marrakech, The Atlas mountains and Essaouria. But our first port of call was the city of Casablanca and its breathtaking Hassan II Mosque. Leaving the main show for last, we found plenty of warmup acts to keep us entertained in the meanwhile. This city panoramic was taken on the viewing balcony of Casablanca Cathedral (Eglise Sacré-Cœur). Built in the 1930s, the building is a beguiling mix of European and Moroccan design, while gaining access to the private roof was as simple as tipping the guy at the door.
Place Mohammed V, October 2008. This pretty square is a great place for a breather, not to mention the chance to chat with curious locals. There are some grand buildings to admire around the square, such as The Post Office, The Police Headquarters and The Bank Of Morocco. The main fountain meanwhile has regular water shows set to Arabic music and there’s a statue of Marshal Lyautey, Morocco’s first French resident general from 1912 and 1925.
The Old Medina, October 2008. Moroccan markets are always lively, colorful affairs punctuated by the smells of sizzling meat, sharp spices and piping hot fresh mint tea. In this respect Casablanca’s labyrinthine market quarter holds its own. In stark contrast to the frenzy of Marrakech, here you won’t be hassled into buying anything and indeed it’s entirely plausible that you won’t even see another tourist. I particularly loved the fruit and vegetable stalls, where the goods in question were presented like carefully constructed works of art. Indifferent to my presence, I received little more than curious glances and friendly smiles from the local vendors. As laid back as it all is, one has to be careful with taking pictures; always ask for permission for someone to be in your shot.
Quartier Habous, October 2008. This pretty French style district, located one kilometer southeast of town, was built in the 1930s and is home to a number of cosy streets, with cutesy cafes, restaurants and bakeries galore. Noticeably clean and shiny in parts with souvenir shops aimed at tourists, Habous might come across as a bit disingenuous to the hardened traveler. But dig around and there are plenty of delights to unearth, such as hole-in-the-wall hairdressers and flaking old doorways like this one.
Rick’s Café, October 2008. A huge fan of the classic 1942 movie Casablanca, this atmospheric restaurant is another reason to include the city on your Moroccan itinerary. Opening its doors in 2004, the place was lovingly designed to recreate the movie’s famous piano bar, bringing about nostalgic flushes of Bogart and Bergman. It’s a magical little place with a sculpted bar, seemingly hovering balconies, stencilled lighting and lush shadow-casting plants abound. Fittingly, the food is magnificent; on the night of my visit there was champagne, beef stroganoff and a dessert platter so divine it could have cracked a smile out of old Bogie himself. And while the piano player admittedly wasn’t an African American called Sam, he was still happy to knock out a stirring rendition of As Time Goes By.