24 hours in Casablanca

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Surround yourself with magnificent Moorish architecture and luxurious décor in this oasis of calm in the busy city centre.

Immortalised by the film Casablanca in 1942, there’s a certain irony to the fact that it wasn’t actually shot here. Rick’s Café never existed until 2004 (see below), and until recently the city had pretty much been ignored by globetrotting tourists.

Largely built in the 1940s by the French, the Casablanca of today is a patchwork of wildly disparate neighbourhoods glinting like a whitewashed Manhattan in the bright Atlantic sun. Each quartier represents a different face of Morocco: from the ancient medina of Anfa, the original Berber settlement dating back to the 7th century, to the crumbling art deco villas of Boulevard Mohamed V and antique stores of Hay Hassani, right through to the modern skyscrapers of today.

Even now Africa’s biggest shopping mall is taking shape, while a 50-stop tram network is under way, both scheduled for completion by 2012. Increasingly cosmopolitan then, Casablanca is busy reinventing itself, this time as a cultural hot spot for Morocco’s greatest talents in art, music, and literature.

Stroll the ancient sea wall and watch the sun rise over the Atlantic.
Situated between the old port and the Mosque Hassan II the area is soon to become a luxury marina lined by spectacular yachts and emerald green parks.

The beautifully-restored art deco villa and lush gardens of Chez Paul
are the place du jour for the city’s movers and shakers. It’s also a perfect start to the day with the best coffee and croissants this side of Paris.

Visit the imposing and austere Mosque Hassan II,
which stands on a promontory looking out to the Atlantic. Its 210m minaret is the tallest in the world, and it’s the only one in the country that non-Muslims can enter.

Don’t hit the medina for the shopping, but for a taste of Casablanca past.
Woven together in a patchwork of rabbit warren streets and crumbling Portuguese townhouses that lead to the old sea wall, it is a delight.

Les Transculturelles des Abattoirs (the Transcultural Slaughterhouse)
is a vast contemporary art space hosting an impressive roster of top-flight exhibitions, music and theatrical performances, as well as various cultural festivals.

Head to La Sqala, a dream-like restaurant
set in the verdant gardens of the old Portuguese fortress, and feast on the finest Moroccan cuisine like pigeon b’stilla (a savoury pie sprinkled with sugar and cinnamon).

The Quartiers des Habous is a Disneyfied version of the medina
with its neat lanes and polished shop façades. Great for bargain-hunting, craftsmen here offer their wares at a fraction of the prices you’ll find in Fez and Marrakech.

Stroll along the Aïn Diab Corniche,
an immense beach of golden sand lapped by the foaming waves of the Atlantic. Then sip a mint tea at one of the innumerable beach clubs and lounges that line the strand to watch the sun go down.

Owned by American entrepreneur Kathy Kriger, Rick’s Café
has become an icon of modern Casablanca, satisfying the itch of many a film buff looking for ghosts of Bogart. Stick around for dinner and the café’s very own piano-playing ‘Sam’.

Finish your day at Le Skybar at the boutique hotel ‘Villa Blanca’,
on the Boulevard de la Corniche, haunt of the city’s beautiful people who lounge inside and dance outside beneath the stars until the small hours.

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