Morocco has been staunchly independent throughout its history yet remained open to ideas, creating a heady mix of cultures, religions and languages with ancient roots and a strikingly modern outlook.

The influence of Romans, Arabs and Europeans is spotted in monuments throughout the country. From Tangier, turn south along Morocco's Atlantic Coast and you'll be accompanied by a sea breeze that massages the ramparts of wonderful cities, whose names - Essaouira, Casablanca, Rabat - and atmosphere carry a whiff of African magic.

The imperial cities of Marrakech, Fes and Meknes offer visitors a maze of alleyways and souks (markets) with distinctive handicrafts, where the senses go on overload.

If it's mountains you love, Morocco has them in abundance, rising from the Rif into the Middle Atlas and on into the extraordinary contours of the High Atlas. This is land custom-built for trekking as you follow quiet mountain trails amid Berber villages and fields of flowers.

Then, suddenly, everything changes. The mountains fissure into precipitous gorges the colour of the earth and mud-brick kasbahs turn blood-red with the setting sun. From rocky fortresses such as these, the Sahara announces its presence in Morocco with perfectly sculpted seas of sand.

At journey's end, the solitude of the Sahara is ideal for contemplating why it is that Morocco has such cachet. The answer is simple: there is no place on earth quite like it.