Best of both worlds in exotic Morocco

by samh

Offering the legendary hustle and bustle of Marrakesh and the laid back idylls of the Mediterranean, Agadir is a largely unknown gem on Morocco's Atlantic coast

Having been warned by travel companies, air hostesses and even the manicurist at Manchester airport about the aggressive sales tactics of the street sellers, as well as pickpockets and hygiene standards, I was nervous about more than take off as I fastened my safety belt on our outgoing flight to Marrakesh.

As I checked into our cosy hotel six hours later, I decided to simply attribute such concerns to a fear of the unknown. 

Our hotel room was basic but clean and the view from our balcony was not incredibly inspiring. Luckily, I was there to soak up some sun and found the poolside more than adequate. On my first morning in the Hotel Kamal, I discovered that the people of Morocco have the sort of manners not witnessed in the UK since the 1950s. As I meandered through a maze of corridors to the breakfast room, where a substantial continental breakfast and excellent strong coffee were provided, I was stopped by every cleaner, receptionist, pool attendant and waiter to say good morning and asked how my first night was.

Their friendliness was infectious, as I soon discovered on meeting fellow British guests at the poolside who soon spoke to me as though we were on a school trip together, rather than the traditional polite nods attributed to tourists.

Shopping in Agadir is as easy or as difficult as you want it to be. For those who are not quite able to shake the British reserve and haggle without feeling rude, the Uniprix is a government-owned shop with set prices. At first glance, it is an excellent place to top up on suntan lotion, buy cheap bottled water and purchase postcards.

However, I soon discovered that inside was an Aladdin’s cave of leather goods, clothes, metalwork and ceramics that could easily pass as the products of ferocious haggling.

The experience in the traditional Berber Souks of Agadir is not to be missed, even if the only phrase you use in there is ‘No, thank you’. The shops are accessible by 10 gates, all of which are identical from the inside so be prepared to lose yourself for longer than you anticipate.

The stalls alternate between fake designer goods, Moroccan-designed ceramics and leather and herbal remedies. As with the Spice Market in Marrakesh, the owners of the ‘Moroccan Pharmacies’ are quick to educate their British clients and I soon found myself sitting on the floor sipping mint tea and learning that cumin tea is more effective at settling an upset stomach than any of the brands at home.

Against my better judgement, I found myself purchasing a substantial amount of ‘Moroccan whisky’ or sweetened mint tea to those of us who are only familiar with Scotch, and rushing to the exits before I heard myself asking the price of the leather holdall that had caught my eye in the next stall.

Shopping aside, activities in Agadir are typical of a sunny beach resort. The most popular attractions including camel safaris through the sand dunes with a Berber guide, setting sail from Agadir’s beautiful harbour for a leisurely fishing trip and an array of water sports available along the sandy beach.

The beach itself is a bustling promenade not dissimilar to the coastlines of Europe. The path is lined with bars and restaurants, including a Pizza Hut and McDonald's for the homesick. The jewels in the crown of Agadir’s beachside businesses are undoubtedly L’Ho L’Ha and Madrague. The first is a cocktail bar owned by Mo, the friendliest man in Morocco. His efforts to entertain and amuse are delightful and walking past his contemporary bar became an impossibility with fruit platters being thrust at us when we dared to pass without enjoying his trademark champagne and curacao cocktail.

The latter is the only eatery along the beach that could rival the service Mo had to offer. Located in one of the two marinas sandwiching the beach front, this is certainly the more exclusive end of the Agadir coastline. While the main harbour is home to numerous fishing boats, this walled quay houses shiny white leisure cruisers. Madrague is priced higher than most of Agadir’s restaurants but is still better value than the UK and definitely worth the price tag. Beef carpaccio, calamari, sea bass, lobster and fillet steak all feature on the mouth watering menu and the service, as expected, is exceptional.

Agadir is the perfect trip for sun worshipers that are hungry for some culture, combining African charm, Arabic tradition and European fun to form an unrivalled beach holiday.