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Sun and Sea in Portugal’s Algarve

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Sun and Sea in Portugal’s Algarve

Portugal’s southern coast, known as the Algarve, is famous for its 100 miles of Atlantic Ocean beaches and 300 days a year of sunshine. It has long drawn Europeans, and it’s true that some of the coastal development is dense and unattractive. Yet the region remains mostly unspoiled, and especially in the western Algarve you find quiet towns and villages, dramatic cliffs and rock formations, beautiful coves and grottos, intimate beaches. I took an early bus from Seville to Lagos, the westernmost of the coastal towns. I had bought a ticket on a “directo” bus, which I...

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Pestana Palace Hotel Lisbon

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Pestana Palace Hotel Lisbon

At the mouth of the Tagus River, about 6 kilometers from the center of Lisbon, is the historic neighborhood of Belem. Belem is characterized by many distinctive buildings and landmarks, including the Jeronimos Monastery built in 1459, and the Tower of Belem. Also found here is a modern construction, an arts complex, the Centro Cultural de Belem, and the Belem Palace, the official residence of the Portuguese President. The presence of so many beautiful buildings is due to the fact that Belem suffered the least destruction in the great Lisbon earthquake and tsunami of 1755. So the royal...

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Old Belem to Seaside Sesimbra

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Old Belem to Seaside Sesimbra

Our tour of Azeitao and Arrabida began with the arrival of our guide, Vitor Martins in his midnight blue Mercedes. Lisbon is a welcoming city, but the personable Vitor, who speaks four languages and is an expert driver, takes you to the next level. He knows Lisbon, its history, its neighborhoods and its surroundings. Vitor suggested an optional first stop at Lisbon’s most renown coffee house, ‘Pasteis de Belem‘ — known for their delicious custard tartlets sprinkled with cinnamon and sugar. We agreed, of course. This establishment has been in continuous operation and...

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Palais El Mokri–Hidden Palace of Fez

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Palais El Mokri–Hidden Palace of Fez

I had read somewhere about a UNESCO World Heritage site, an old palace in Fez that could be visited, and I requested my guide take me there. But walking on the quiet edge of the Medina, on sun-drenched roads that lead up a hill overlooking a valley, I began to have my doubts: we appeared to be far afield of any popular tourist site. And indeed we were. Nearing the palace walls, a young man walking our way inquired our purpose. He turned out to be the grandson of the man who built this palace in 1906, Si Tayeb El Mokri. The young Mokri, Said, who would be my guide, told me about his...

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Riads of Fez

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My first morning in Fez, I awoke in a room that seemed like something out of a dream. My tour operator in Morocco, an expert in the best riad hotels to be found in the country, had booked me into a suite at Riad Myra. I followed my instructions: from the train station I took a taxi to a hotel located just adjacent to an entrance to the medina, where only foot traffic and mules are allowed–no cars. I crossed the street to a tiny alleyway into the medina. I followed a few twists and turns, dragging my suitcase and searching the ancient walls and doors for signage…and there it was. I used...

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La Mamounia Hotel and Travel Exploration Morocco

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La Mamounia Hotel and Travel Exploration Morocco

La Mamounia is one of Morocco’s most beloved hotels, and an undeniable beauty. It was built in the 1920s on the site of the sultan’s palace within the ancient walls of the old city. Its style is a mix of Art Deco and traditional Moroccan. Its 16th century gardens include 32 acres of palms, bananas, roses and jasmine, and ancient walls covered with bougainvillea. I joined my friend, Alecia Cohen, on the open air terrace where we enjoyed a glass of wine and a light lunch, along with the sounds of fountains and birds and the scents of spring flowers. With many years experience in...

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Marrakech–Not To Be Missed

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Most of my time in Marrakech was taken up by convention activities, but I did manage to squeeze in a few sites and would recommend these to any visitor to Marrakech: Place Djemma El-Fna It’s the heart and soul of the city. It’s wild–like a medieval circus or a street theater with a hundred stages and thousands of attendees from parts unknown. You may find it hard to believe the mix of humanity in the great square, and the curious way that so many places in the world, and times both ancient and modern, seem to be meshed together in this public square. Majorelle Gardens and...

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Travel Convention in Marrakech

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Travel Convention in Marrakech

This year Marrakech was selected as the site of my annual American Society of Travel Agents international congress. The Tourism Office of Morocco had promised ASTA a great convention, and many of us signed up at last year’s congress in Merida. About 400 travel sellers traveled to Morocco from all over the US as well as Europe and other parts of Africa. At the trade show we met with Moroccan suppliers–tour operators, hotels and riads, destination management companies and tourism officials. Our opening night event was a spectacular one. We were bused outside of town to what I would...

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Essaouira, Morocco

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Essaouira, Morocco

First impressions upon arriving the Atlantic coastal port town of Essaouira at midday on an early spring day: clear, brilliant light; wind and crashing ocean waves and screaming gulls; whitewashed buildings that look inviting, familiar, European. And then you go through the walls that surround the medina, and there you are in Morocco, North Africa. The town is not a tourist town really–though it is a gem for tourists to discover. It has a unique atmosphere with narrow winding streets, small shops with well-crafted items to buy, and white-washed houses with the loveliest collection of...

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Chellah–Royal Kingdoms of the Past

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Chellah–Royal Kingdoms of the Past

The fertile plains inland from Rabat drew settlers as far back as the 8th Century B.C. The Phoenicians and the Romans set up trading posts in the estuary of the Bou Regreg River in Sala, today’s Chellah. The Roman settlement Sala Colonia lasted long after the fall of the Roman Empire, but was abandoned and fell into ruin–until in the 14th century the sultan Abou al-Hassan built a fortress on top of the Roman ruins. His necropolis, towers and wall stand today, alongside the excavated Roman town. Its a lovely, evocative place, with fruit trees, wildflowers, the ruined Roman...

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