To Morocco without flying

By Colin Baird, a Travel Enthusiast

Read more on London.

Overall rating:5.0 out of 5 (based on 6 votes)
Enjoyable
4.5
4.5
Useful
4.666665
4.7
Inspirational
4.5
4.5
Recommended for:
Activity, Road Trip, Short Break, Mid-range

You can travel to Morocco from the UK or anywhere in Europe without the need to fly. This guide shows you how to do it from London in about two days

You may take this trip because you do not like flying or are trying to lessen your carbon footprint. My reason was to seek out the romance and adventure of a great overland journey. I wanted to be as excited about the journey as I was about the destination. I did not want to endure a budget airline flight; I wanted to enjoy some of the most renowned trains in Europe and stopovers in great cities.

Stage one: London to Paris by Eurostar

“Redefining the railway for the 21st century” is the motto of St Pancras International station and I have to agree that it has brought glamour to London departures. You won't find any UK airports with a Gothic revival façade and Europe's longest Champagne Bar (www.stpancras.com/stpancras/champagnebar).

This bar is where I toasted my adventure with a champagne breakfast. I tucked into smoked salmon and scrambled eggs whilst admiring gleaming Eurostar trains standing proudly. I could feel the excitement; I would be on one of those soon.

What surprised me the most about Eurostar is how little time is spent inside the Channel Tunnel; I expected to be in there for ages, but it is a small part of the journey and I was mostly looking out on French countryside with the occasional rustic barn or village with church spire.

Journey time: 2 hours, 15 minutes
Departure from London St Pancras, arrives Paris Gare de Nord
Cost: One-way from £39, return from £69
Tickets: www.eurostar.com

Stage two: Paris to Madrid by Elipsos “trenhotel”

The great thing about taking a sleeper train is that this gives you a full day in your departure city. What to do with a full day in Paris? There is plenty of inspiration on Simonseeks here.

Continuing the theme of glamour in my journey I set aside time for Angelina's (226 Rue de Rivoli www.groupe-bertrand.com/angelina.php), my favourite café in Paris. It is renowned for its pleasing pastries and huggable hot chocolates. No powdered nonsense here, but liquid lusciousness that will make you feel that it is no longer blood, but chocolate, flowing through your veins. Aproned waiters accustomed to constant streams of tourists may not smile when they deliver goodies to your marble table, but they are efficient and the elegance and tradition creates a refined atmosphere.

You can board a sleeper train literally minutes before departure because there is no queuing, no baggage check-in, no hanging about in dull departure lounges and no security searches.

“Trenhotel” is one of the best sleeper trains in Europe. The “Gran Clase” compartments, although very small, have an en suite toilet and shower and include breakfast and dinner in the fare (from 172 euros per person one-way). The restaurant is elegant; no pasta or chicken in a plastic tray, but steak cooked to order served on a proper plate with crisp white table linen. Passengers travelling in other classes are welcome to eat in the restaurant; main courses from 15 euros.

I travelled by “Tourist Class” in a shared 4-berth compartment (from 77 euros per person one-way, no en suite facilities). Sharing meant I made friends easily and found myself in the bar car with Marco from Málaga discussing tourism marketing over beers and olives stuffed with anchovies.

Departure: 19:45 from Paris Gare d'Austerlitz
Arrival: 09:10 Madrid Chamartin
Cost: One-way from 77 euros
Tickets: www.raileurope.com  

Stage three: Madrid to Algeciras by Altaria

It was my first time in Madrid and I had done no planning, so asked a metro employee for advice on what to do with my half day stopover. Despite us not having a language in common this helpful man took the trouble to draw me a little map. My metro ride was accompanied by a lad with a Spanish guitar and the sweetest voice that must surely qualify him for one of those reality music shows. I found myself in Plaza de Mayor listening to more live music- a Mexican band with happy tunes.

Altaria is a 125mph train that shoots through a landscape of olive plantations and the Andalusian plateau. I treated myself to first class because booked in advance it is affordable (57 euros) and includes a light meal with wine served at your seat. Complimentary headphones allowed me to plug-in to the armrest and either listen to a choice of music or watch a hip hop musical dubbed into Spanish.

It is necessary to spend the night in Algeciras. The best thing about this city is the 1902 Hotel Reina Christina with its impressive guest book- Winston Churchill, Franklin D Roosevelt, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and Orson Welles notched up stays. I had a room with a bed big enough to fit half a dozen people plus me (slight exaggeration) and a towering wardrobe more suited to a lifetime stay than a night or two. There is a swimming pool and a beautiful enclosed courtyard with lounging sofas perfect for an after-dinner liqueur. This is a four-star hotel, but amazing value for money. I managed to pick up a standard room with huge dinner and breakfast buffet included for 60 euros.

Algeciras does not have much to detain visitors, so no need to feel that you are missing out by arriving late and departing early.

Departure: 15:05 Madrid Atocha
Arrival: 20:39 Algeciras
Cost: One-way from 24 euros
Tickets from: www.renfe.com

Stage four: Algeciras to Tangier by ferry

From Europe to Africa across the Strait of Gibraltar is a thrill impossible to replicate if you fly over it. Going from one continent to the other is an experience that you can feel and add to your best travel memories when doing it by sea; you won't even notice it in an aircraft. The Rock of Gibraltar is beautiful, rustic and natural when viewing it from the deck of a boat.

It was the journey’s end and I felt like I had experienced a true adventure. I heard different languages spoken, felt the temperature gradually get hotter, spent time in three European capitals, sat on some of the most renowned trains in Europe, tasted different foods and actually felt that I had covered a great distance. Jumping on a plane gives you none of this.

I have written a guide to Tangier, Tangier for first timers, that includes a wonderful riad to stay in.

Boats leave frequently and it is easy to buy the tickets on the day (20 euros one-way). The crossing takes one to one and a half hours and remember that Moroccan time is one or two hours ahead, depending on the time of year.

Tips

  • To help plan this journey The Man in Seat 61 website is excellent: www.seat61.com
  • Use the left luggage facilities in train stations to leave your bags whilst you explore the cities between trains.
  • Buying train tickets on the day will cost you much more. It is cheaper to buy in advance using the websites noted under each section.
  • Return fares are double the one-way fares that I have quoted. Eurostar is the only route that offers a discounted return.
  • The “Trenhotel” is not the Orient Express. It is a functional sleeper train; comfortable, but not luxurious.

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More information on To Morocco without flying:

Author:
Colin Baird
Traveller type:
Travel Enthusiast
Guide rating:
5
Average: 5 (6 votes)
Total views:
436
First uploaded:
14 January 2011
Last updated:
3 years 27 weeks 1 day 13 hours 34 min 51 sec ago
Destinations featured:
Trip types:
Activity, Road Trip, Short Break
Budget level:
Mid-range
Free tags / Keywords:
overland journey, Inter-railing

Colin recommends

Hotels

Price from Rating
(out of 5)
1. Hotel Reina Cristina
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Community comments (10)

Rating:
5
1 of 1 people found the following comment helpful.

Colin I always enjoy your guides, although I don't normally envisage "getting on my bike" and doing them myself. This one,however, really inspires me to follow your advice.It's the kind of travel I dream about, and it clearly hits the spot with our fellow writers too .

I once booked a first class ticket on Trenhotel via the RENFE website(in Spanish) and found we had been given a seat and not a cabin in a first class carriage. I never understood how it happened( I admit my Spanish is hopeless though) and we had to pay extra for a berth. However I loved travelling that way, and the restaurant car was almost good enough for Agatha Christie.

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Thank you Joan. I am really happy that my guide has inspired you.
Booking a sleeper train can be tricky as the term "first class" is not always used the way we expect it to be. For example, booking first class can mean a first class couchette, defined as first class because it has 4 beds instead of six beds. Six beds is called second class couchette. However, a standard sleeping compartment is more comfortable than a first class couchette because there will be less beds in the sleeping compartment. Even seats on sleeper trains can be called "first class" I guess because compared to other trains they are first class because they recline and have more legroom. The best idea is to forget about the terms first and second class when dealing with sleeper trains. Rail Europe website is the best place to book the Trenhotel as they have descriptions of the kind of accommodation you are booking.

Rating:
5
1 of 1 people found the following comment helpful.

At last- we're off! I love the getting there too and would happily see the world by boat and train. I'd heard good things about Trenhotel and you endorse those. Another original take on a guide Colin- well done.
I know it's an opener but I did feel a bit like I was going pell mell and wanted to loiter a bit. Very useful info though and you've cleverly worked in a couple of other guides. Might have linked Madrid too?
Let the good times roll!

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Rating:
5
0 of 0 people found the following comment helpful.

Hi Colin

What a great way to get to Morocco, Not sure that sharing a berth with strangers is for me though I have been told I can snore for Britain!

Great guide great adventure and the booking tips are invaluable

Simon

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Rating:
5
1 of 1 people found the following comment helpful.

Hi Colin

What a great way to get to Morocco, Not sure that sharing a berth with strangers is for me though I have been told I can snore for Britain!

Great guide great adventure and the booking tips are invaluable

Simon

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Rating:
5
1 of 1 people found the following comment helpful.

I'm not sure if I'd have the patience to do this, but each individual leg of the trip sounds great on its own - especially the ferry to Tangier - and you've provided the tips and the inspiration to make them possible.

If you like your trains, I'd recommend reading "The Great Railway Bazaar" by Paul Theroux - he goes from London to Japan and back by train and meets loads of characters on the way.

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Thank you for the comments Richard. I appreciate them. I have read Paul Theroux's book and it gave me inspiration to take these kind of journeys. I also recommend The Man in Seat 61 which is a brilliant website with all the practical information needed to plan overland journeys.

Rating:
5
1 of 1 people found the following comment helpful.

It's too easy for writers to dismiss anything that's modern/new, so I was really pleased for your celebration of St Pancras. I get a thrill when I visit the place.

As Paul said, you like the journey - and so do I. It's something about just being on the move. Your guide includes all the necessary information but still retains the excitement of the journey throughout.

It's a five-star effort, and it does just what it says on the tin/in the title: I felt it could have done with an ending of some sort...but I suspect that, following your recent travels, there's a few more guides to come from you shortly. So I'll be patient.

Thanks for the journey.

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Thank you for the nice comments Murray. I agree that my guide is missing an ending, so I have put one in!
Did you know that German Railways are planning to run direct trains from St Pancras to Amsterdam (taking under 4 hours), Cologne and Frankfurt? Discussions are underway and if it goes to plan this could happen by 2013.

Rating:
5
1 of 1 people found the following comment helpful.

Hi Colin

You are obviously one that savours the journey as much as the destination, and you have produced a very interesting and readable guide. I'm one that usually hops on the plane without a thought to taking an alternative (although even getting to London is a bit of an expedition on the train from Yorkshire!).

I particularly found your short summary at the end of each stage useful.

Happy travelling!

Paul

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