Marrakech Express Journey
For the baby-boom generation, the Marrakech Express conjures up the old hippy days of the late 1960s and early 1970s, when everyone seemed to be discovering the wonders of Morocco, a country and culture so fascinatingly different from Europe, yet sitting on its doorstep. Immortalised by the eponymous song, the Marrakech Express remains an iconic journey.
Rabat is Morocco’s capital. Less famous than other Moroccan cities, it is a delightful place, with a marvellous fortified Kasbah, and an ancient, walled medina, as well as a French-built new town. It is well worth spending a day or two here before taking the train.
The track follows the coastline south-west to Casablanca, passing the up-market beach resort of Skhirat, as well as Mohammedia, an industrial town but with a huge beach which draws tourists from both Casablanca and Rabat. All Morocco’s cities pride themselves on their individuality, and Casablanca is no exception. Built mainly in the 20th century by the French, and boasting some fine Art Deco architecture, this is the country’s business and financial hub.
Leaving Casablanca, the track veers inland, through the city’s fertile, agricultural hinterland, past orange groves loaded with fruit and fields of crops and vegetables. Gradually the green fields are left behind as the train makes its way across a flat, increasingly barren plain. Scoured by the wind and sun for millennia, the deep red earth and rocky outcrops look bleak and under populated.
As the train approaches its goal, the scenery changes again and the magnificent range of the Atlas Mountains, with their snow-capped peaks, come into view. Finally, the spectacular, ancient, red mudbrick walled, Imperial city of Marrakech is reached. Founded in the 11th century, this tourist mecca and architectural gem demands that you explore its labyrinthine souks and remarkable, secret gardens.
WHEN TO GO:
March to June and September to November. Try to avoid Ramadan.
TIME IT TAKES:
About four hours.
Marrakech’s famous square, Djema el-Fna, crowded with exotic street entertainers and excellent street food.
The 12th century Koutoubia minaret
The saadien Tombs
The Majorelle Gardens, founded by the artist Jacques Majorelle In 1917, the gardens were restored by Yves Saint Laurent and Pierre Berge who bought the property after Majorelle’s
death in 1962.
YOU SHOULD KNOW:
Trains in Morocco are frequent, efficient and reasonably priced, first class and second class compartments contain six or eight seats respectively, with air conditioning In first class on certain
inter-city routes. Plans to build a high-speed link between Tangiers and Marrakech have been agreed, as has the building of a tunnel under the Mediterranean from Paloma, Spain to Tangiers.