Casablanca, Morocco

Photo: Denis Carrascosa via flickr

A new year means new flights. Direct flights, that is. American Airlines will finally fly nonstop from the United States to Africa in June. That’s Philadelphia to Casablanca in just seven hours. You can easily get to Rabat, Fez, Marrakesh, and even Essaouira from there.

Don’t bypass Casa, though. Morocco’s largest city is the business and economic center of the North African country. It’s home to almost four million people and one of the biggest ports on the continent. It’s modern and progressive with a Southern European vibe. Most importantly, it’s nothing like the movie that was named after it.

So most people circumvent the White House. They land at the busy Mohammed V International Airport, ride the hourly ONCF train into Casa, and quickly spread out to other cities. Few pause to see the Old Medina (the original walled city), Ville Nouvelle (the French-built New Town), Hassan II Mosque (the largest mosque in Africa), the Casablanca Cathedral, or Rick’s Café (a landmark built to celebrate the movie). You’ll take a different approach. You’re determined to see the gateway of Morocco.

Photo: Hôtel Le Doge Relais & Châteaux

Anfa, which Casablanca was originally named, was founded by the Berbers in the 7th century BC. The Phoenicians, the Romans, and the Merenids followed. Then the Portuguese arrived. They destroyed the city in the 15th century, rebuilt it in the 16th century, and abandoned it after an earthquake in the 18th century. That made it an easy target for the French, who claimed the port and expanded the city with Art Deco architecture. Though Morocco gained its independence in 1956, many Casawis still speak French.

The combination of Moroccan and French cultures is on display at Hôtel Le Doge. The Art Deco mansion was built near the cathedral in the 1930s. It was revitalized as a boutique hotel a decade ago. Marble floors, rich reds, an elegant chandelier, and oversized artwork now fill the lobby. A spiral staircase leads up to 16 individually designed rooms. Each one was named after a cultural icon—Coco Chanel, Charlie Chaplin, Josephine Baker—from the 1920s and 1930s. They’re decorated with more jewel tones, plush king-size beds, and black-and-white photos. It feels like a glamorous home.

The rooms won’t even be your favorite parts. There’s a small spa with a marble hammam, a hot tub, and a sauna. Le Jasmine, an ornately decorated restaurant with stained-glass windows, serves French food with Moroccan accents. While Le Doge Café, a rooftop lounge, is the perfect spot to sip a drink and take in the gorgeous view that extends to the Atlantic Ocean. It’s time to book that flight.

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