Tatler - The Hot Ticket: Casablanca
November 2012

Morocco’s dynamo-destination, with a name that quickens the pulse, is much more than just a movie. The country’s urban black sheep is scrubbing up, with regeneration projects in the works that include Sir Norman Foster’s complex Anfa Place on the surf-splashed Corniche; the dazzling new Casablanca Marina (bring your yacht!); and the super-modern shopping complex Morocco Mall, home to Galeries Lafayette and other fancy French labels. Also underway are an inner-city tramway, a high-speed rail link to Tangiers and a sensational theatre by Christian de Portzamparc. Phew.

Don’t go expecting a Marrakech by the seaside. Casa, as locals call this city, feels more like the Mediterranean than the Maghreb, with no obvious tourist top fives. But that’s the charm of the place. Like Beirut (and it has a similar vibe), rather than tick off must-sees, you live this city -- passing hours in the cafes on Boulevard Moulay Rachid or at the glamourous beach clubs. Meander around the hallowed Gauthier neighbourhood, lunch on mussels at Le Pilotis on the Corniche, shop in the Quartier Habous, a Portobello-style souk beside the king's palace, and pause for a bagful of tiny, freshly-baked almond pastries at Patisserie Bennis. At sundown, slip out for a cold bottle of Casa Beer at Rick’s Cafe -- a re-creation of the bar Humphrey Bogart ran in the movie, set up by an enterprising former US diplomat -- or, for a cocktail, try the funky cliffside Le Cabestan, overlooking the crashing Atlantic. On to supper at Le Relais de Paris, with impeccable steak frites, followed by drinks and dancing at the adjoining SkyBar. Then flop -- and flop you will! -- at the prettiest place to stay: art-deco bolthole Le Doge, with its 16 rooms named after French icons like Colette, Majorelle and Coco Chanel, and a steamy pocket-rocket hammam.

Michelle Jana Chan travelled with Tselana Travel (www.tselana.com).