Morocco is a land of intriguing contrasts. The snow-capped peaks of the Atlas Mountains stand against the parched red soil, peppered with prickly pears, that surrounds Marrakech. The noise of streets crammed with children, donkeys and speeding cars vanishes into the muffled silence of a town-house courtyard, barely broken by the whispers of water rippling in a fountain. Through it all a vibrant, modern society manages to preserve the authentic charm of 1,400 years of scholarly culture, masterful cuisine and intricate architecture.
‘Morocco has character, which is disappearing from other places,’ says Philip Arnott of Savills associate Moroccan Properties Immobilier. ‘I think Morocco offers a quality of life which is fading in Europe and England now. You can live very well and it won’t cost you a fortune.’ Add to this a sunny climate, the sea and a bounty of fresh produce, and it’s easy to see why the country is luring increasing numbers of property buyers. Although the French helped by language and historical ties were the first to feel the pull of Moroccan shores, the British are catching up fast, aided by the increase in direct flights that make Marrakech and Tangier less than three hours from London.
‘Morocco has become a buzzword among British buyers,’ says Caroline Takla of Hamptons International. It helps that the state looks positively on foreign property ownership. Mohammed VI’s government has invested heavily in building, improving roads, railway links, lighting and marinas. ‘Lots of infrastructure is being developed there is an amazing new road linking Tangier to Rabat.’ Developments often as small as five villas are usually set by the sea or in sun-flooded African countryside around popular cities such as Marrakech and Tangier. They often marry traditional Moorish style horseshoe arches, orange gardens, high ceilings and a profusion of exquisite handmade mosaic tiles called zellij with the latest comforts, such as carefully camouflaged air-conditioning units and spacious kitchens designed to accommodate large fridges and appliances.
Unlike new builds, authentic townhouses are usually situated in the buzzy, sometimes chaotic but always fascinating medinas of Fes and Marrakech, and may suit urban types better than country mice. But buyers who are prepared to take on life in the medina will be rewarded with an idiosyncratic home of generous proportions ‘small’ houses will easily span 1,600sq ft and intricate, jaw-dropping architecture, sometimes dating from as early as the Middle Ages. Neither a new-build home nor a properly restored town house will come dirt cheap, but prices are significantly lower than in Spain, France or Italy. Renovated town houses in Marrakech start from £125,000, depending on their size and position in the medina, rising to about £700,000. ‘Large riads of 8,500sq ft to 11,000sq ft with a swimming pool can fetch ?1.5 million to ?2 million [about £1 million to £1.35 million],’ says Quito Fierro of Emile Garcin.
As a rule of thumb, new-build apartments start as low as £45,000 or £50,000 with one bedroom, and villas cost from £160,000. However, Mr Fierro warns that new-build villas in Marrakech’s palm-studded Palmeraie start from £400,000 and rise to £1 million, and larger resale properties with just under 2½ acres of land cost in the region of £1.35 million.
Tangier, where many new homes are situated, has seen prices rise lately to match the huge amount of development work that is taking place in the city. As a result, says Mr Arnott, ‘you can get a one- or two-bedroom apartment for £80,000, and small villas from £270,000’. But the price is worth it, according to Miss Takla. ‘The wali, or governor, of Tangier is trying to recreate the cachet that the city used to have in the past. Tangier presents a very exciting opportunity for property buyers.’ But then, compared to Europe, the same holds true for the whole of Morocco.
Hideaways in Morocco
Hamptons International will start marketing Tinja, a new development in Tangier, in January, 2008, but they are already starting to register interest. Devel oped by Emaar Properties, the design allows villas, townhouses and apartments to nestle among three natural barriers a river, the Atlantic Ocean and a forest just 10 minutes away from the airport. Prices to be disclosed (020?7758 8447).
Quito Fierro of Emile Garcin (00 212 24 40 62 07) is selling a riad in the Marrakech medina. ‘Its architecture is traditional, but it has been very cleverly renovated.’ The ‘lovely’ terrace has panoramic views over the medina’s roofs ?800,000 (£543,300).
Dar Eliane is in one of the prettiest parts of the Marrakech medina. It is a ‘delightful’ town house set around a beautiful whitewashed courtyard, with four bedrooms, a living room, a dining room and a roof terrace. The asking price is ?456,000 (about £318,000) through Moroccan Properties Immobilier (00 212 24 43 04 65).