Travel Report: Cool Spots Around Casablanca.
October 2008. My one and only trip to Morocco was a speedy affair by my standards. I had just over two weeks to work my way around some of the country’s key locations. The first port of call was the city of Casablanca and its stunning Hassan II mosque. My then-wife and I also had a five star dinner experience at my favourite restaurant in the city, Rick’s Cafe. This article mops up the best of the rest, so buckle up for a tour of some cool spots around Casablanca. This first shot takes in Place Mohammed V, the city’s grandest square. Built in 1920 in a European style, some locals here refer to it as “the square of many names”. It certainly has gone through some titles, including United Nations Square, Victory Square and Lyouthey Square.
Place Mohammed V is also home to some of Casablanca’s most handsome and notable buildings. This is The Palace of Justice, a modernist structure with Persian elements built by The French in 1925. The cannon and palm trees, added in recent years, polish off its dramatic look.
You can also see Casablanca’s City Hall, another French addition from 1535. As with most French city halls, the building is also known as Hotel de Ville. Unfortunately you can’t go inside. In fact, try to get too close and you’ll notice armed guards by the entrance giving you the evil eye. There’s very little info online about City Hall. As a result, my favourite entry was by 7SE3 on TripAdvisor. His enlightening review states: “This is just a building. Nothing much. You can have a look from the outside, like other buildings”. Word.
The area in and around Place Mohammed V is a popular spot for so-called costume scammers. These guys, dressed in traditional Moroccan Berber costume, make a living out of aggressively approaching tourists under the guise of friendship. It’s slightly embarrassing to think I was still falling for this back then. Coaxing me into a photo, they consequently began demanding money. In the case of a nearby Australian couple, another pair of scammers even refused to return their camera until they received a satisfactory fee!
S and I spent hours exploring Casablanca’s many markets. Our first stop was at Maarif Market in Quartier Gauthier. In stark contrast to the frenzy of Marrakech, here there was no hassle whatsoever from the market vendors. I particularly loved the fruit and vegetable stalls, where the goods in question were presented like carefully constructed works of art.
Another feast for the eyes is the very pretty Habous Olive Market. In addition to just about every kind of olive you could imagine, they also sell some of the finest olive oil in Morocco. I’d never been crazy about olives. But funnily enough it was my trip to Casablanca that changed my mind!
The most fascinating Casablanca market experience came with our explorations of Marche des Boucheries, (The Butcher’s Market). This place has got to be a vegan’s nightmare! Yes you’ve got the usual chicken, beef and lamb stores. However, there are also vendors who deal strictly in turtles and horses. It’s also worth warning potential visitors that a lot of the grisly chopping and splattering takes place in plain sight.
There are more cool markets in The Old Medina, the best neighbourhood for a window into traditional life pre-dating French colonialism. If you weren’t put off by the idea of eating turtle and horse, you may be interested in trying snail too. It’s not uncommon to see large stoves like this one cooking snails up in a rich, seasoned, salty broth.
I’d never tried snails before and, to be honest, I was less than hopeful about the outcome. I recall the vendor openly laughing at my request for just one. Nevertheless, he plucked a single snail out of the soup with a toothpick and I took the plunge. What can I say, I have not tried snail since. For more on Casablanca’s vibrant food market scene, have a look at this excellent article from theculturetrip.com.
Unpleasant food servings aside, The Old Medina was my favourite Casablanca neighbourhood. Nearly all the storefronts and residences here are charmingly old and crumbly. I especially loved all the creaky, flaky doors like this one. Seems like the cat was impressed too.
The grandest of all these crispy buildings is the blue and white Cafe Central. This old colonial joint is the perfect place to stop for a pot of Moroccan Mint Tea. Which is exactly what we did! It was only once we got inside that I learned that Cafe Central is part of Hotel Central. Rooms here have been decorated in a traditional Moroccan style and there’s a rooftop terrace. For more info, here’s their website.
At some point our walk took us away from the main streets and into some of Casablanca’s less trodden back alleys, side roads and residential areas. Consequently, I felt we truly started seeing the real Casablanca if you will. Along the way, donkeys pulled wagons of rusty junk, old ladies hung washing out of their windows and we stumbled upon a group of teens playing football on the street.
Some of the seemingly forgotten streets we saw featured rows of dilapidated buildings. One of these was the sad carcass of Hotel Lincoln, once one of Casablanca’s most luxurious, Art Deco hotels. Built in 1917, it gradually fell into disrepair and was eventually shut down due to one of its floors collapsing after a heavy rainstorm. Finally, all that’s left now is this somewhat spectral facade.
The last of my cool spots around Casablanca is this atmospheric restaurant. Cafe Maure is located in the city’s trendy port area. It’s beautifully crafted within the walls of an old 18th century fortification, with a lovely stone courtyard, resplendent mosaic tiling and tables nestled between lush trees and plants.
Cafe Maure is famed for its seafood. However, S and I had our hearts set on traditional Moroccan staples like Chicken Tajine and Lamb Couscous. Both sets were delicious and couldn’t be faulted. You can find Cafe Maure on Boulevard des Almohades. It’s open daily from 08:30 to midnight.
Like this? Then why not have a look at my other reports on Casablanca.
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