Welcome back for Part 2 of Mark in Morocco! Just in case you missed Part 1, catch up here.
To get away from the desert stereotype of Morocco (or to just head for cooler temperatures), I recommend the Atlas Mountain region of Morocco, which was the region by which I was most surprised. My two favorite destinations were Ifrane and Chefchaouen (or Chaouen), Chaouen being my second favorite place in the country.
I only spent half a day in Ifrane, but was captivated by it. Lying high in the Atlas Mountains north of Fez (another wonderful destination), Ifrane was built under the period of French colonization as a skiing village - and it shows. You could be mistaken for thinking you are in a small Swiss Alpine village - with its snow-covered large plaza, Catholic church and half-timber houses than in North Africa. Though it is mainly a university town (for an English-language university) and resort for Morocco's super-rich these days, it’s nonetheless a fun get away if you just want to head somewhere cooler, see some snow, get a glimpse at the lifestyle of Morocco's rich and powerful (and compare it with some of the poverty you've seen elsewhere, especially in the Sahara), and take in the bizarre wonder of being in a French skiing village in Africa.
Chefchaouen (or just Chaouen) is a relaxing, very accessible small city set in the lush, verdant Atlas Mountains. The city was founded by Muslims and Jews expelled from Spain during the Inquisition, and as such the architecture has a very Andalucian feel. Though, perhaps the city's most notable feature is the shades of blue of all the buildings in the city (a tradition taken from the town's former Jewish population). A far cry from the hustle and bustle of cities like Fez and Marrakesh, and subsequently much safer and less aggressive than those places, the blue hues of the city's building, surrounded by the lush green of the surrounding countryside, allows you to catch your breath, relax, and enjoy the kindness and friendliness of small-town Morocco. You can hike from one city to another, take in views of the city from the ruins of an old mosque from a hill above the city, or just take in the historical sights of the old city - the mosque, the palace, the synagogue. Of course, the city's reputation as a center of cannabis production (kif or shisha, in the local dialect), doesn't hurt all that relaxing either, and helps explain the laid back nature of the city's population.
I really cannot recommend Morocco as a travel destination enough. The country's beauty does not disappoint, and the people are so kind and friendly. While it’s true you'll meet bad people who'll just see you as a dollar sign wherever you travel, the majority of Moroccans were so kind and friendly and helpful. I've never been to a country where people seemed so genuinely curious about how I was enjoying their country, and excited to give me advice on what they thought I should see or where I should go. As much as I can recommend visiting for the beauty of the country, I can also recommend it for the kindness and warmth of the people. It is truly a wondrous destination.