48 hours: Agadir, Morocco
New flights, balmy days and absorbing culture make this Moroccan city an enticing option. By Nick Boulos
Saturday 29 October 2011
Why go now?
Blessed with more than 300 days of sunshine a year – and an average temperature in November of a pleasant 24C – coastal Agadir delivers on sun, sea and sand, with a splash of Moroccan culture thrown in for good measure. On 12 November, the city will host the ITU Triathlon African Cup (agadirtriathlon.com), during which athletes will cycle mountainous terrain, swim off Agadir's Atlantic beaches and sprint along the seafront promenade.
But this modern Moroccan beach resort demands to be enjoyed at a more leisurely pace.
Twice-weekly direct flights from Heathrow to Agadir start today with BMI (0844 848 4888; flybmi.com), which offers returns from £129. EasyJet (0843 104 5000; easyJet.com) flies to the city from Gatwick.
Agadir's Al-Massira airport is 25km south-east of the city. The most convenient way of getting into town is by taxi. The journey time is around 20 minutes and costs 200 dirhams (£15.50).
The low-budget alternative is bus 22, which departs every 40 minutes from outside the terminal (until 8.30pm). It requires a change in the town of Inezgane, just south of Agadir, where you catch a number 20, 24 or 28 to reach Place Salem (1) in the city centre. It should cost Dh7 (55p) in total.
Get your bearings
Agadir lies at the Atlantic limit of the Souss Valley, a landscape peppered with palms, orange groves and argan trees, in the foothills of the Anti-Atlas mountains. The city is compact and easily navigated on foot, though "petit taxis" (old orange Fiat Unos) are plentiful and cheap. A trip across town shouldn't cost more than Dp0 (£2).
Most hotels and restaurants are concentrated around the 5km-long ocean-front promenade and the two parallel roads behind – Boulevard 20 Août and Avenue Mohammed V. At the northern end of the beach is the marina (2), close to a hillside engraved with the words "Allah, King, Country" in Arabic.
To the south lie the sprawling grounds of King Mohammed's Royal Palace (3) and the medina (4) at 230 Bensergao (00 212 528 280 253; medinapolizzi.com). More of a tourist attraction than a slice of history, it consists of recreated medieval alleys with an array of craft shops. Open daily 6am-9pm; Dh40 (£3).
The tourist office (5) at Avenue Hassan II (00 212 528 842 629; visitagadir.com) opens 8.30am-noon from Monday to Saturday and 2.30-6.30pm from Monday to Friday.
Boutique hotels have yet to make a mark in Agadir. But what the large beachfront properties lack in character, they make up for with ocean views.
The Royal Atlas (6) at Boulevard 20 Août (00 212 528 294 040; hotelsatlas.com) is a luxurious hotel, with three lagoon-style pools, a spa and doubles from Dh1,357 (£105), including breakfast.
Along the coast, the Agadir Beach Club (7) (00 212 528 844 343; agadir-beach-club.net), has direct beach access and doubles from Dh1,436 (£111), with breakfast.
A more intimate option is the Suite Hotel Tilila (8) on Avenue du Général Kettani (00 212 528 840 666), decorated with Berber art and wooden furniture. Doubles start at Dh500 (£39), B&B.
Take a hike
Start in the Nouveau Talborjt, the modern city centre, at the Mohammed V mosque (9) on Rue 29 Février. It's closed to non-Muslims but the exterior – its tall minaret, large arched wooden doors and Moorish influences – is striking. Head south-east along the same road, passing the outlandish fashion shops, full of garish and eccentric designs, before pausing for a quick mint tea in the mother-of-pearl dining room of Yacout (10) on the corner of Rue de I'Entraide (00 212 528 846 588). Swing right on to Avenue du Prince Moulay Abdallah, cross the road and take the second left towards Place al Amal.
Here you'll find Valley of the Birds (11) (open daily 11am-6pm; free), a narrow park which is home to aviaries housing exotic birds, as well as mouflons and llamas. It leads to Boulevard 20 Août. You're almost at the beach. Sink your feet into the fine sand as you head towards the gleaming yachts rocking in the marina (2).
Take a view
Perched 236m over the marina (2) and fishing port (12) are the impressive ruins of the 16th-century Kasbah (13). This walled fortress – known locally as Agadir Oufella and visible across the city – was once home to over 300 people but now only its shell remains intact. The 360-degree views take in the city, its parks and mosques, the crescent bay and open ocean, as well as the Anti-Atlas mountains.
Lunch on the run
The cluster of permanent fish stalls beside the port (12) – most with hand-painted signs depicting lobsters and sardines – is the place to stop for a quick bite. Try a simple yet tasty portion of chargrilled sole, cooked in front of you and served with salad in freshly baked bread for Dh 34 (£2.60).
The Musée du Patrimoine Amazigh (14) at Passage Ait Souss (00 212 528 821 632; open 9.30am-5.30pm daily except Sunday; Dp0/£1.55) has three floors packed with Berber artefacts: coins, tagines, daggers and hand-woven carpets, plus intricate silver jewellery all dating back to the 18th century. There's also a small library to browse, an exhibit revealing how traditional Berber houses of stone and mud were built and the option of a free guided tour.
Café del Mar (15), part of the Tafoukt Beach hotel (00 212 528 840 123; www.decameron.com), is far more sophisticated than many of the other bars along the promenade. It is well placed for a spot of people watching. Just as with its Ibizan namesake, chill-out music creates a soothing mood. The sofas and comfy wicker armchairs are perfect for enjoying a chilled glass of Moroccan white wine as the sun goes down. (The Ait Souala 2004 goes down a treat. A bottle costs Dh85/£6.60).
Dining with the locals
Le Sésame (16) is a grill restaurant in the shadow of the Loubnan mosque at 40 Rue des Orangers (00 212 528 828 156). The succulent beef and chicken skewers cooked over hot coals are particularly popular with locals. Mains from Dh40 (£3) and drinks from Dh10 (80p).
Alternatively, Rôtisserie Nahda (17) at 1 Rue Moulay Youssef (00 212 528 827 071) is an alcohol-free, no-frills affair tucked away on a residential street in the neighbourhood of Nahda. Here, men in white djellabas (traditional full-length cotton robes) gather with their families for a hearty meal under the stars. Lamb tagine served with onions, green olives, dates and a boiled egg is the speciality and costs Dh65 (£5).
Sunday morning: out to brunch
Indulge in a selection of handmade petits fours (Dh130/£10) at the Tafarnout Pâtisserie (18), which opens each morning at 5am (to 10.30pm) on the corner of Avenue Hassan II and Rue de la Foire (00 212 528 844 450). The aroma of freshly baked breads and pastries drifts on to the outdoor terrace, where you can also dine on good omelettes and fruit juices. Save room for the cakes.
A walk in the park
The Jardin de Olhao (19), created to commemorate Agadir's twinning with the Portuguese town of Olhao, is the city's loveliest park. Gravel paths and wooden walkways twist and turn through the tropical landscaped gardens, passing Berber-style walls in the process. Open daily 8am-6.30pm; free.
On 29 February 1960, a devastating earthquake killed 15,000 people – one third of Agadir's population – and left thousands more homeless. Within the Jardin de Olhao is the Exposition Mémoire d'Agadir (20). This small museum (open daily 9.30am-6pm; Dp0/£1.60) houses a collection of photographs depicting Agadir as it once was, and the city in the aftermath of the earthquake.
It may not rival the labyrinthine souqs of Marrakech, but there's still plenty to tempt at Souq al-Had (21) at Rue Chair al Hamra. Everything from quaint tea sets and tagines, to natural soaps and essential oils can be found in this bustling market. It's a place for locals to stock up on household goods and fresh produce: the reddest of tomatoes, the freshest of herbs and the sweetest of dates, but there are also souvenirs and handicrafts on offer. Open 8am-8pm daily except Monday.
Take a ride
...on the open sea. An hour's private catamaran cruise around the harbour with skipper costs Dp50 (£27) while a half-day excursion will set you back Dh800 (£62). Kayaking and windsurfing are also available from the UCPA tent (22) (00 212 661 343 302; ucpa.com), located on the beach beside the lifeguard tower and billowing Moroccan flag.
The icing on the cake
Surrounding the city are places of exceptional natural beauty, particularly the secluded waterfalls, valleys and mountain communities to the north around the village of Immouzzer (23) and the vast Souss-Massa National Park (24) to the south (00 212 528 333 880). Created in 1991, the rich and varied park of dunes, forests, cliffs and coast is home to nearly 600 species of animals, including the endangered northern bald ibis, which are best viewed in October and November. Local tour operator Aventure Maroc (00 212 528 213 426; aventuremaroc.com) offers day trips to Souss-Massa with lunch and transport for €55. Half-day trips to Immouzzer cost €25.
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