Reviews of Holidays and Hotels in Morocco - Oualidia Moroccos Answer To St Tropez
The Telegraph, 12 Oct 2009
Gareth Wyn Davies discovers what wealthy Moroccans and French ex-pats love about Oualidia.
It's early summer and daytime temperatures in the centre of Marrakesh have just begun to top 100F (38C). Frederic and Jean-Michel, the two Frenchmen with whom we're staying, ask if we fancy escaping the city for a few days. There's this little resort on the Atlantic they know, and they wonder whether we would like? What are we waiting for, boys? Fire up the Citroen while I go and fetch my swimming trunks.
Like so many British travellers, we'd still be unaware of the charms of Oualidia had it not been for this impromptu little excursion. And it has many, many charms, chief among them a beautiful tidal lagoon that teems with bird life and - in the high season at least - wealthy Moroccans and expat French (earning it the dubious sobriquet 'the St Tropez of Morocco'). Britons seem to head instead to Essaouira, about 100 miles farther south.
Mind you, there's hardly anyone on the lagoon's crescent of a beach when we go, save for some poor soul trying to sell us sea urchins, closely trailed by a doleful-looking stray dog with a bad limp. 'Oursins! Oursins!' the man cries, but as if he's really too hot to be bothering with the whole hard-sell. We forego his sea urchins, but feast ourselves silly on the freshest calamari, lobster and shrimps - for less than £30 for four - at a colourful beachside seafood restaurant.
Oualidia is quite unlike the Morocco of dusty, crumbling, chaotic souks and medinas. There are no entreaties to come-inside-please-look-see-beautiful-handmade-Berber-carpet, perhaps because what shops there are sit high on an escarpment away from the beach. There are no donkeys hurtling towards you with rubble-filled trailers in tow. No rusting mopeds with dad on the seat and his two toddlers standing on the footplate. I'm not sure we even saw a solitary clapped-out Renault 4 during our time there.
What you do get is a rugged beauty and the chance to bird-watch and to rubberneck, for some impressive modernist villas have started to spring up behind the dunes and on the cliff top, as a boat trip (highly recommended) around the shallow waters of the lagoon will attest. In short, we were hooked - and determined, after just a day and a half there, to go back.
Fast-forward, then, to last month, when once again we find ourselves making the three-hour journey by car along the P12 road from Marrakesh, having spent two nights in the foothills of the Atlas Mountains. It's not the most scintillating of drives, taking in an arid, featureless landscape punctuated only by telegraph poles and isolated flat-roofed adobe houses. But the rewards when you arrive more than compensate for any tedium en route.
We found Oualidia even quieter this time, with egrets and herons and flamingoes on the lagoon far outnumbering people, though this might have something to do with the fact that it was the middle of Ramadan. We certainly found it even more beguiling, an impression not exactly tempered by our fine accommodation. We stayed in the newish La Sultana Hotel, having made an unfortunate choice of billet on our first visit - a budget b & b with bedspreads made of bright blue teddy-bear fur. No one could ever accuse the 11-bedroom La Sultana of any such lapses, as it is super-swish in a modern-ethno kind of way, with an infinity pool, its own private stretch of beach and a jetty on which more romantically inclined guests can take their meals.
I'd love to tell you that we used our time there profitably by windsurfing and hiking and quad-biking all the way up to El-Jadida, site of the old Portuguese fortification of Mazagan. We didn't. On the first day I mustered the energy to pull on a bathrobe and partake of a blissful massage, and I swear that on the second day we had fully intended to complete the quarter-mile walk around the lagoon to the centre of Oualidia (be warned: not a walk to be negotiated in flimsy espadrilles on account of the tricky outcrops of volcanic rock). But then the tide got the better of us and we had to turn back just before reaching the crumbling edifice that is - or was - Mohammed V's summer palace, now surrounded by chicken-wire fences and heavily armed soldiers.
So there was nothing else for it but to sit idly contemplating the wildlife and the oystermen on the lagoon, which, in the milky-grey light of dusk, took on the appearance of a Whistler nocturne. But then idle contemplation and escapism are what Oualidia is largely about. I dare say it would be even better now than when we went in June and September, and that you'd have the place pretty much to yourselves - with the virtual guarantee of decent weather. But please do me a favour: don't go spoiling it by all stampeding there at once.
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