Originally from Naas in Co Kildare, Peter Finan has spent the last 12 years living in Sydney, Dubai, Abu Dhabi and Perth. Two-and-a-half years ago he was transferred by his employer (law firm DLA Piper) to Casablanca, Morocco, where he lives with his wife Elannie and two children, Oscar (4) and Anthea (10 months)
Where is the first place you always bring people to when they visit Casablanca?
For me, the Corniche is the first place I bring guests. The city is very big and can be quite hectic, and so it is very refreshing to go for a walk along the coast and appreciate the fresh breeze coming off the Atlantic. You can stop to watch some local beach football games, enjoy a fresh mint tea, go for a surf or even ride a camel.
The top three things to do there, that don't cost money, are . . .
The Hassan II Mosque is on any to-do list. It’s hard to miss this impressive mosque perched on reclaimed land in the Atlantic. You can take a tour of the mosque, the second largest in the world after the Mosque of Mecca, or simply watch the worshippers attending prayers.
Most visitors are keen to visit the famous Rick's Café, a recreation of the restaurant made famous by Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman in the movie classic Casablanca. You can watch the movie every day upstairs by the casino table, or simply sip martinis while singing along to the piano in the evenings.
Thirdly, I’d suggest a visit to the old French quarter of Habbous. This is your chance to get a bargain on a carpet, which are better priced than those found in more touristy locations. Enjoy a stroll through the market, negotiate a bargain, or relax in one of the traditional cafes with some local treats and a pot of fresh mint tea.
Where do you recommend for a great meal that gives a flavour of Casablanca?
With the Arabic and French influences, you won’t have any problem finding a good meal in Casablanca. To get good typical Moroccan food, in a very pleasant setting, a good start is La Sqala. Located in an old colonial fort set on the city’s old sea walls, it serves a variety of good-quality Moroccan dishes such as tajines and couscous in a pleasant courtyard. For something a little more French, Le Petit Rocher has good fish and sweeping views of the Atlantic and Hassan II Mosque.
Where is the best place to get a sense of Casablanca’s place in history?
Casablanca is a huge city, being the economic capital of the country, which has seen most of its rapid growth in the last 50 years. This means it doesn’t have the same ancient feel of other Moroccan cities, such as Marrakesh and Fes. In ancient times, the old medina of Casablanca was surrounded by walls that extended to the old souk of el-Kebir. A few remains can be found at Place Mohammed V, sufficient enough to give an idea of the history and past grandeur of the city. History is everywhere in Morocco, with the linguistic mix of French, Arabic and Berber giving a constant reminder of the peoples and conquests that have shaped this extraordinary country.
What should visitors save room in their suitcase for after a visit to Casablanca?
It goes without saying that a carpet is top of this list. The vendors can wrap them into briefcase-sized packages for easy travel, or arrange delivery if you need. A traditional Moroccan costume is also a popular purchase, together with red Fez hat – perfect for that fancy dress party. Bon voyage!
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