Monday, May 15th, 2017
Mairead Robinson returns to Morocco, an old favourite holiday destination!
‘I have been going to Morocco nearly every year for thirty-five years now’ an elderly man in the check-in queue at Dublin airport told me. It was a dark January morning, and we were about to head off for a warm and sunny week in Agadir. While escaping the dreaded Irish winter is very popular among retired Irish people, and Spain remains our favourite destination what is surprising is the amazing value Morocco offers. Having visited several times over the years myself, I am well aware of the quality hotels and great facilities available, and with gorgeous weather in the low season, for me it remains especially attractive.
It is also so easy to reach the southern Moroccan town of Agadir, with a direct flight from Dublin taking just four hours to reach its exotic destination. And Agadir itself is a well-developed tourist town with the promenade being the social centre for locals and visitors alike. Being an early bird, I enjoyed a brisk walk along the prom each morning as soon as the sun was up, at round 7.30. While this time is much quieter than in the evening, many local people were doing the same thing, stopping as I did to try out the various exercise machines. It is a great start to the day!
As the day goes on, life gets busier and children and families enjoy the mini electric cars, the food and tea stands, the occasional live music and the general buzz of the area. Restaurants offering diverse food choices face out to the sea, while people swim and enjoy the sunshine as the heat builds up. In the evening it is busiest, but always feels safe and relaxed and very family-orientated. I wondered about Morocco suffering a downturn in tourism numbers due to the global concerns regarding terrorism, and anecdotally business appeared quieter, however I did notice that the number of French visitors remains high. The Moroccan media also report that while 2016 was a difficult but resilient year for tourism, the formidable work carried out by the security forces have made Morocco a haven of peace and an exception in the Arab-Muslim world. While Morocco is a Muslim country it also embraces other religions and Catholic as well as Anglican churches can be found as well as Jewish synagogues. Although many men and women wear the traditional ‘jalaba’ and most women wear head scarves, this is a personal choice for each woman. What signals Morocco out from other North African countries is the strong influence of the Berber people who have lived here for thousands of years, and whose tradition and language is nationally recognised. It is a warm colourful culture and a key element of Moroccan identity.
There is plenty to do in Agadir as well as enjoying the beach, the promenade and the restaurants. The town itself has lots to see and enjoy and there is plenty of opportunity for shopping for handicrafts, leather goods, colourful pottery and rugs and of course the wonderful Argan Oil. Now recognised as being particularly good for skin and hair, this oil is largely made in Women’s Co-operatives from the fruit of the trees growing in the dessert and around the Atlas mountains. I brought some home for all my female friends.
If you are able for haggling, there is no better place to do this than in the large Souk located about half an hour’s walk north of the beach area. Rather than take a taxi, I enjoyed a stroll through the neighbourhood, following the road around the gardens of the Royal Palace. If you have never visited a Moroccan Souk before, they are like a step back in time, and indeed little has changed for hundreds of years. Clusters of smaller shops around Agadir also offer good shopping opportunities, and if you prefer a fixed price shop, without the haggling, there is always Uniprix, which sells everything, including alcohol.
Accommodation choices are plentiful in Agadir, and even the two star self-catering apartments are very popular and excellent value. For those who like to stay along the beach, there are a range of four and five star hotels which offer B & B, half board and all-inclusive options. This time I stayed in the Kenzi Europa and had a spacious modern room, with a great private balcony looking out towards the sea. It was a real sun-trap, and a lovely spot for reading and enjoying that lovely bright January weather. I loved that I had fast and free Wi-Fi in my room, a flat screen TV, a full size bath and shower with excellent water pressure, and all the ‘mod cons’ that make for a great stay.
While there are many choices when it comes to eating, from gourmet international and French restaurants to local ones offering four course meals for the equivalent of about seven euro, the option of eating in the hotel at night is very attractive. This is especially true if you are travelling on your own, and at a time of year when it is dark outside by 8pm. I found the food at Kenzi Europa to be exceptionally good, all meals are buffet style and there were so many choices that you would never get tired. From tagines to pizzas, fresh fish to stir-fries, pasta to soups, each meal was a gourmet feast. The salad bar was spectacular, and the desserts just too tempting with fresh fruit and ice-cream to add to every kind of pastry and cake. It is true that I did come home a couple of kilos heavier than when I left!
There is a small cocktail bar beside the restaurant if you fancy a drink before or after dinner, and they also serve drinks to enjoy beside the heated outside pool. The hotel is big enough, yet compact enough, that it is comfortable for the solo traveller, which is exactly what I wanted on this occasion. There is an excellent Japanese restaurant beside the Kenzi Europa, and I did visit that for a really authentic meal one night.
Of course if you have not been to Morocco before, you should take advantage of the organised tours to experience some of the countryside outside of Agadir. You can do a day long pre-Sarahan adventure with a Berber lunch, you can visit Marrakech in a day or alternatively do the trip of a life-time and stay overnight in this magical city, you can also visit Essaouira, where Othello was filmed, you can visit the Berber towns surrounded by olive groves and almond orchards. You can even spend a night in a nomad’s tent in the desert. If fishing or Atlas trekking is not your thing, you should certainly consider a half-day trip to Taroudant with its Monumental Gates set in the ancient Ramparts. Known as ‘Little Marrakech’ the drive takes you through the Souss valley and the Argan plantations. All trips are safe, comfortable and excellent value.
While visiting this wonderfully culture-rich and colourful country and enjoying all the comforts of a modern resort, I would strongly recommend venturing out to the countryside on one of these organized tours to get a deeper flavour of the magic of Morocco.
Mairead travelled with Sunway to Agadir, Morocco and stayed in the four- star Kenzi Europa Hotel on an all-inclusive basis. Packages include flights, transfers, seven nights’ accommodation, all taxes and charges, 20kg baggage and a Sunway representative.
* Sunway’s Morocco winter program ended April 2017. Sunway aim to resume flights to Morocco for Winter 2017/18 season. Dates to be confirmed.
Written by : Mairead Robinson, Senior Times
Date issued: May/June 2017