Published February 25, 2014, in the Herald Leader, Fitzgerald, Georgia (USA) weekly newspaper.
Lately, most Islamic countries have been pretty much OFF the list as desirable places to live, work and retire. Political unrest is not attractive for those in the market for a place to live. This black eye, however, is undeserved in several cases, and Morocco is close to the top of the list as a pleasant place to consider living. Morocco is located in the upper north-western corner of the African continent. Morocco and the United States share a companionable history – did you know that Morocco was the first country to officially recognize the fledgling USA as a nation? Morocco is an Islamic country in that Islam is the official state religion, and the majority of its citizens are Muslim, but there are people of other faiths here as well, and tolerance is the theme, espoused and endorsed by Morocco’s progressive king, Mohammad VI, as well.
A lot of Morocco is hot, often too hot to be comfortable without expensive air conditioning. After all, the Sahara Desert begins in eastern Morocco, and hot was invented there! However, Morocco has mountain ranges that run lengthwise down the middle of the country like a backbone: the Middle and High Atlas Mountains. In the Middle Atlas, you will find the lovely little city of Azrou. Azrou is a little less than a mile high in elevation, and has a comfortable climate that is much cooler than other locations in Morocco, even seeing some snow during the winter months. There is a ski resort in the neighboring town of Ifrane (10 miles away), which incidentally, is home to Morocco’s only English-speaking University (Al Akhawayn University). For those who enjoy winter sports, there are African slopes waiting!
And, unlike some other places, Morocco enjoys excellent water. Several brands of bottled mineral water originate near Azrou, and water here is delicious straight from the tap. Being in the mountains does no damage to the views, either! There are lovely, rolling hills all around Azrou, and the drive to either of the larger cities nearby, imperial Meknes (UNESCO World Heritage site) or imperial Fez (UNESCO World Heritage site) includes some breathtaking scenic spots begging for your camera. Meknes is surrounded by vineyards, and local wine produced there and elsewhere in Morocco is both tasty and relatively inexpensive. There is a good selection at prices less than 10 USD a bottle. The extensive Roman ruins of Volubilis (yet another UNESCO World Heritage site) are a little over an hour’s drive away from Azrou.
Azrou adjoins one of Morocco’s National parks, and there are Barbary Macaques (monkey), that make their home there who are accustomed to being fed by park visitors, though for your safety consider photos only. Hiking, biking and camping opportunities abound nearby in nearly any direction, including being able to explore some nearby extinct volcano calderas and some lovely waterfalls. Outdoorsy people will find plenty to do.
My husband and I moved to Morocco knowing not a word of Arabic or French, the two most common languages spoken in Morocco, and we have done just fine here for three years. The Moroccans are lovely people, helpful and generous, and many speak enough English to be able to transact business, even for us Americans, and are appreciative when you do your best to learn and speak Arabic. Azrou is primarily a farming community, with a few tourist shops featuring handicrafts thrown in for good measure. The weekly souk (farmer and flea market) here is on Tuesdays, with inexpensive, fresh produce, all manner of household goods, clothing and livestock sold weekly, but anything you might want is also available from small shops all over town any day of the week. There is also a fish farm in town that sells smoked or fresh fish, dressed fresh to your order. Restaurants in town range from inexpensive sandwich shops (where you can eat for less than two dollars USD), to dining experiences featuring the finest in French cuisine, without the expensive European price tag. Medical care and dental care both are good and inexpensive. My husband’s recent oral surgery cost us 125 USD, and his bridge will be made by a Boston University-trained dentist, for thousands less than what the identical services would have cost us back home.
Our two-bedroom, two-bath rooftop apartment, with a balcony and a private roof terrace, sets us back 1,500 Moroccan dirham a month, which is 176.50 USD. Water, gas, electricity, phones and Internet run about 500 dirhams more a month: 63 USD more. We can do just fine here on much less than a thousand USD per month – our living expenses alone run about 650 USD, without including the costs of our small car, which accounts for the rest of the thousand per month. We bought the used car for our occasional trips around Morocco and to Spain, which has two toeholds, nice little cities, five hour’s drive away from Azrou along Morocco’s northern coastline. Morocco has excellent, inexpensive bus service and the trains are quite nice, too, as well as inexpensive, for those who’d rather not maintain an automobile.
For those considering locations around the world for potential retirement, Morocco has a low cost of living, a good standard of living even on a limited budget, and a very nice proximity to vacationing in Europe, while not paying Europe’s often higher costs of living. A small, but efficient, regional airport in nearby Fez serves cities in Spain, Italy, London, Paris and more, on one of several low-cost carriers. Seasonal fares can be so low we can actually afford to fly to Rome for just the weekend, occasionally. Try THAT in the US! We had high hopes for Morocco when we made the decision to move, and it has certainly fulfilled them. If you are looking at international locations, consider exotic Morocco!
Moroccan Arabic Phrasebook (2nd ed.), Bacon, Andjar and Benchehda, 1999. Lonely Planet Publications, ISBN: 0864425864.
Moroccan consulate in New York: http://www.moroccanconsulate.com/, requirements for Moroccan visas and other information for travelers to Morocco.
US Embassy in Casablanca, Morocco: morocco.usembassy.gov/news.html, has hours of operation, directions, visa, passport information and more resources.
Friends of Morocco website: friendsofmorocco.org/, friendsofmorocco.org/
Above: Site has MANY useful links all about Morocco, in English – including links for learning Moroccan Arabic.
Learn Arabic free online: learnarabicfree.info/, learnarabicfree.info/
Above: Free Arabic lessons online. For beginners – starts with the alphabet!
Above: Free online French lessons for beginners.
Map of Morocco: http://www.journeybeyondtravel.com/news/travel-morocco-map