Spice it up: Spain, Gibraltar and Morocco

Spice it up: Spain, Gibraltar and Morocco

by Nadia Saar
Stripes Europe

Seeking a little excitement in your next vacation? Why not venture through three colorful and vastly different locations on two continents in one lively trip? A jaunt to the southern coast of Spain, then Gibraltar and Morocco may spice up your travel season.

A Little Spanish Flavor & Fun Spain is home to some of the best food, nightlife and shopping on the Iberian Peninsula. Its exotic culture reflects neighboring influences of France, Andorra, the Bay of Biscay and Gibraltar.

There is nothing better to welcome one to Spain’s coast than a healthy appetite for the seasoned seafood of Mediterranean cuisine. Along the coast, indulge in Pescaito frito, gazpacho, and many rice-based dishes like paella. Venture further inland for diverse country dishes like thick, spicy or creamy garlic and bread-based soups such as the popular Castilian Sopa de Ajo. Or, head north for fish, meat and vegetable-based soups such as pote gallego.

After cleansing your palate, head out into the night for a little dancing on the sand. The party never stops on the beaches of Malaga and Costa del Sol destinations such as Fuengirola, Marbella, Puerto Marina or Puerto Banus. Be sure to limit and watch all valuables; theft of tourists’ bags and belongings is not uncommon.

If relaxation and a little shopping are what you seek, head to Malaga’s old city and take a stroll down Calle Larios, an expensive yet flourishing shopping street. If Calle Larios is a little too high-end for your taste, El Corte Ingles, located near the central train station, is home to the largest shopping complex in Spain with several floors and shops to fulfill your shopping needs. Fuengirola has some of the most beautiful shorelines, which make any beach vacation worth it.

Why remain in Spain when there is so much more to be seen to the south of Malaga? Take a small cruise or boat trip to the tip of the Iberian Peninsula and find yourself at the foot of The Rock of Gibraltar. A limestone rock rising 461 feet above sea level and covering six square miles, Gibraltar may be claimed by Spain but it’s actually a British overseas territory and has been since 1713. Its intricate caves are popular attractions for tourists and locals alike. The cave of St. Miguel offers perfectly paved sidewalks, lights, a gift shop and an underground concert hall popular for weddings and special occasions.

Explore Gibraltar by taking one of the minivan rock tours or take a cable car to the top to see, on a clear day, all the way to Africa. Or, find your way to Europa Point and visit the majestic lighthouse to see the Pillars of Hercules across the strait. You can also visit the 14th century medieval castle and botanical gardens that opened in 1816. While sightseeing, beware of the monkeys. They are accustomed to tourists with snacks in their bags and are not shy about taking what they want.

Europeans love to shop in Gibraltar, as it is a tax-free haven on goods such as gas, jewelry, liquor and electronics. Main Street hosts a variety of small shops, selling everything from  silver to crystal, and an array of food vendors. You’re sure to leave with at least a small token of Gibraltar.

When sightseeing and shopping have exhausted you, venture to one of the many dining venues. Gibraltar is known for its diverse inhabitants and reflects this in its dining choices. Gibraltar offers not only popular western chains but also delicious European and Asian restaurants. Visit Bianco’s Bistro or La Parilla for starters, and hit a few others that crowd Main Street. Fancy an Irish coffee? Several Irish cafés and pubs also fight for your attention. It’s a lovely way to end a special day on the rock.

Nine miles from Spain, and only a ferry boat ride away, are the shores of Morocco on the African continent. After gaining its independence from France in 1956, Morocco has come a long way since its scattered past to reveal gorgeous beaches and a truly fascinating culture.

Tourists coming from Spain can choose from several originating ports for single-day ferry rides to multi-day stays and tours across Morocco. One of the most popular ferry itineraries is from Algeciras to Tangier. Ferries depart nearly every hour, and in little more than two hours you arrive in Morocco. Many tourists choose guided tours to avoid tricksters or cons found at many of the popular marketplaces. Transportation options can be limited and rather “adventurous” in Morocco, which is another plus for choosing guided tours for both day trips and extended stays.

Outside of guided tours, most tourists travel by train or by bus. It may be difficult to travel by car; rentals are expensive, roads are narrow and many locals do not follow traffic signs (posted in Arabic and French) if policemen are not present. Fuel may also be scarce outside of urban areas so planning ahead is essential to driving in Morocco. Also plan ahead when considering currency. It is illegal to take more than a 1,000 dirham (Moroccan currency) out of the country. Therefore, you should check exchange rates before entering the country, exchange currency at a bank or ATM near tourist hotels and only exchange for what you think you will need. 

Morocco is an amazingly magical, colorful city with three main languages: Moroccan Arabic, French and Berber; Amazigh is spoken in the mountainous region. No matter what you are looking for, Morocco has it all, from snow-capped mountains in the High Atlas to white sand dunes in the Sahara. Hustle your way through lively souqs and bargain for great treasures. Venture through the spice markets to enjoy the delicious smells. When in the markets or shopping, look for leatherwear, carpets, dates, birads (Moroccan tea pots) and argan oil, but avoid geodes or trilobite fossils, as these tend to be fake. Marrakesh has some of the best markets and shopping around. Enjoy a trip to the Chez Les Nomades where you can purchase beautifully handcrafted Berber carpets, or find hand-woven linens with spectacular designs in the Association Al Kawtar. 

Visit the Hasan II Mosque in famous Casablanca and be taken away by its incandescent beauty. Travel through medieval city centers and stare in awe at the impressive colonial architecture. Step into a Moroccan restaurant and feast on countless, flavorful dishes of couscous, Tagine (spicy meat stew) or Pastilla, a Moroccan delicacy of flaky dough with a sweet, spiced meat filling. Try the Basmane in Casablanca or the Riad Tanja in Tangier for exquisite, authentic Moroccan cuisine and atmosphere. Be mindful, however, that many dishes served are spicy and you may need to request a lighter dish.

For a little Moroccan nightlife, check out the Diamant Noir behind Hotel Marrakesh for drinks and high-energy dancing. Or, pull out your smartest outfit and enjoy a night at Paradise, where only the well-dressed may enter. Morocco never fails to offer a good time. Some clubs have extensive yet pricey drink menus, however, so check with a server before ordering. 

After sightseeing and dancing, you’ll need a place to lay your head – or at least have a nice breakfast. Spain’s Marbella and Puerto Banus have the best resorts, with glimmering pools and the most exquisite breakfasts. If you’d prefer a hotel in Morocco, try the Riad Kniza in Marrakesh for an excellent view and fabulous accommodations or Casablanca’s Hotel & Spa Le Doge for incredible accommodations and a massage or two. Wherever you choose to stay, Spain or Morocco is sure to give you the time of your life.

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