Feature: Moroccan Magic

Art, history, and endless sunshine on the country’s southern coast.

By Sarah Khan | Photograph and video by James Bedford

Most travelers are lured to Morocco by fantasies of labyrinthine walled cities, palm-fringed oases, and seemingly endless Saharan sand dunes. And yet, with more than 1,000 miles of coastline stretching from the Atlantic Ocean to the Mediterranean Sea, Morocco is also home to some of the world’s loveliest beaches. Make the glitzy resort city of Agadir in the south your base and you’ll be able to explore ancient medinas, low-key surfing hubs, and stunning bird sanctuaries—most of which are far removed from Morocco’s well-trampled tourist circuit. Read on to discover Agadir’s wonders as well as its many day-trip options with a little help from native Moroccans and expats along the way.

Morocco’s Buzziest Beach Resort

An alluring coast, gleaming golf courses, and 300 days of sunshine a year—Agadir has all the trappings of a seaside escape for globe-trotters. Souad El Mghari, a digital-media consultant and editor of fashion and lifestyle blog Kaftan Mag, hails from Agadir and returned home after a few years working in Casablanca. “I’m a Gadiri, born and raised,” she says. “I chose to come back and settle in Agadir once and for all. It’s home.” For El Mghari, the city’s mix of work and play was key, and most days end at the shore. “My favorite spot is Agadir’s main beach, and not just for swimming,” she says. “I enjoy walking by it, especially around sunset. The sky changes its color into this beautiful pinkish hue.”

But there’s much more to Agadir than its coast. For a view of the city, head up to the 16th-century walls of the city’s casbah, or fortress. Afterward, venture a few miles south to La Nouvelle Medina Polizzi (Hay Aghroud; 011-212-666-33-88-59). Thirty years after an earthquake destroyed Agadir’s former medina—a traditional walled part of the city— in 1960, it was reimagined by Morocco-born Italian artist Coco Polizzi, who wanted to showcase local handicrafts and fashions. Another popular shopping stop is Souk El Had (Rue 2 Mars), El Mghari’s personal favorite souk, or marketplace: “I could spend a whole day in it and still not have had enough.”

Agadir’s status as an international holiday hub means the city has plenty of great restaurants. You can try seafood with a view at Ô Playa (Front de Mer, Lot 5, Plage d’Agadir; 011-212-5288-45867; dinner for two, $42*); prawn risotto and tiramisu at Pure Passion (Complexe Marina Agadir; 011-212-0528-840120; dinner for two, $55), set within Marina Agadir, the city’s main nightlife and dining area; or tagine, couscous, and other Moroccan fare at Auberge Zolado (La Route de Marrakech km 69, Tiqqi Douar Tazarine; 011-212-661-380440; dinner for two, $24). Then end your evening with a nightcap at Wine O’Clock (Ave. Hassan II; 011-212-616-070760; drinks for two, $13).

Although there’s plenty to keep you busy in Agadir, many of the region’s highlights can be found not far from the city. To explore the surrounding beaches, villages, and national parks, rent a car and hit the road.

A Day in Paradise Valley

Drive time: one hour

The oasis of Paradise Valley lies northeast of Agadir in the foothills of the Atlas Mountains and makes for an easy day trip. “It’s great for nature lovers and hikers,” says Sarah Casewit, the Morocco-born-and-raised cofounder of Naya Traveler (301-358-5096; tailor-made full-day tours, from $600 a person), which leads off-the-beaten-track private journeys around the country. Palm trees shade the trails, which lead through red sandstone canyons to hidden waterfalls. Bring your bathing suit and flip-flops for a relaxed day of walks, swims, and watching kids cannonball off the cliffs into aquamarine waters. When you need to refuel, stop at one of the makeshift stalls serving mint tea, freshly squeezed orange juice, and local food.

Little Marrakech

Drive time: 90 minutes

Some call Taroudant “Le Petit Marrakech.” To others, it’s “the Grandmother of Marrakech.” But “the anti-Marrakech” might be a more apt nickname for the adobe city. It’s is set against the backdrop of the Atlas Mountains and was, like Marrakech, once a capital of the Saadi dynasty, but the tourist throngs have mostly bypassed quiet Taroudant. “If you’re looking for old, authentic architecture, this is the place to go,” El Mghari says.

Indeed, the city walls are almost exactly as they were when built in 1528, and within them there’s a thriving market town where you can experience Berber culture and hospitality. The souks surrounding Place Assarag brim with household goods, farming tools, terra-cotta pottery, and leather babouche slippers—catering to the needs of residents more than tourists. If you don’t have a chance to visit the famed tanneries of Fez or Marrakech, pop by Taroudant’s tannery (near Bab Targhount gate), but consider bringing a sprig of mint to hold by your nostrils to keep the smells at bay.

Celebrated Chilean painter Claudio Bravo, noted for his hyperrealist works, spent much of his life in Morocco before passing away, in 2011, at his home in Taroudant. That home now includes the Claudio Bravo Museum (Rte. de Tamaloukt–Agwidir; 011-212-5282-16078; admission, $21), which features works by Bravo and his friends—including Picasso—as well as a collection of antique Moroccan ceramics. Be sure to book in advance to see the galleries and gardens.

But the best way to explore Taroudant is without a plan. Simply meander its nearly five miles of immaculate ramparts by foot or horse-drawn carriage, haggle in the souks, and listen to the storytellers who converge in Place Assarag. Eventually, find your way to Riad Maryam (Ave. Mohamed V Derb Maalem Mohamed; 011-212-666-127285; site in French; dinner for two, $42) for a multicourse feast of chicken pastilla (a kind of meat pie) and beef tagine.

Surfers’ Haven

Drive time: 30 minutes

Up the coast from Agadir lies one of Morocco’s most underrated surfers’ paradises. “My husband is a surfer, so I took him to Taghazout,” Casewit says. “It used to be a hippie fishing town, and it’s on the cusp of becoming a surf hub.” If the buzz and crowds of Agadir get to be too much, head to this sleepy beach town where you need only a few hours to take in its whitewashed houses with cheery blue shutters and its sweeping bay with world-class waves.

From September through April, beaches such as Panorama, Hash Point, Killers, La Source, and Devil’s Rock cater to all levels of surfers. If you need a board, stop by Surf Maroc (Centre Ville; 011-212-5282-00230). Later you can take a break from the break with smoothies and house-made ginger beer at Cafe Mouja (N1 Taghazout Centre; 011-212-5282-00230; drinks for two, $3) or calamari at Dar Josephine (Centre Ville; 011-212-674-776018; dinner for two, $17).

Outdoor Bliss

Drive time: one hour

Souss-Massa National Park (Sidi Binzarne; admission, free), to the south of Agadir, offers up an unexpected mix of wildlife—from pink flamingos and wild boars to bald ibis and even red-necked ostriches. The park has some of the best birding in Morocco. Souss-Massa’s varied landscape includes the vast pre-Saharan dunes, the placid turquoise waters behind the Youssef ibn Tachfine dam, and the fishermen’s caves of Sidi R’bat. Before returning to Agadir, consider detouring to the village of Tiznit, known as the center of Morocco’s silver trade. Stop by the jewelry souk (near Bab Jdid) to browse traditional bracelets, necklaces, earrings, and other trinkets made by Berber craftspeople—you might find yourself heading home with a Berber dagger as a souvenir.

Goats in a Tree

Drive time: 30 minutes

No, your eyes aren’t playing tricks on you: One of the more unusual sights you might come across as you drive around rural Morocco is herds of goats clambering up trees. The trees they’re found scaling en masse are argan trees, whose seeds produce an oil that has become a cult favorite for hair- and skin-care gurus the world over. It turns out you have these very goats to thank for your flowing tresses and glowing skin: They chew up the fruit, and farmers then collect the undigested seeds to produce argan oil. You’ll find working argan cooperatives in villages throughout the region, including Alma, about a half-hour drive from Agadir. Here, cooperative Elexir d’Argane (Village Alma Rte. Imouzzer km 23; 011-212-661-397728) produces and sells organic skin-care and beauty products, from oils to face masks, as well as argan-infused kitchen staples such as honey and cooking oil.

Diamond in the Desert

Drive time: three hours

You can get up early and go to Marrakech as a day trip or plan a longer visit on either end of your getaway. The Red City can overwhelm even those who have been here before. “Marrakech is the equivalent of Technicolor for the senses,” says Maryam Montague, an American expat and author who has lived here for 14 years and leads design safaris in Marrakech. “Everything feels so alive and surprising.”

Marrakech has no shortage of historic sites crammed within the congested maze of its medina. You’ll want to hire a guide to navigate the area’s alleys, souks, and landmarks: Saadian Tombs (Rue de la Kasbah; 011-212-5243-78163; admission, $8), the meticulously tiled 16th- and 17th-century mausoleums of Morocco’s erstwhile ruling family; Medersa Ben Youssef (Rue Assouel; 011-212-674-747464; admission, $7), a 14th-century Koranic school, also embellished with distinctive tiles, that’s currently under renovation but will reopen next year; and the 12th-century Koutoubia Mosque (Medina Jamaa El Fenna; admission, free), whose sandstone minaret presides over the walled old city. Naya Traveler leads tours of the medina, highlighting places visitors might otherwise never realize exist. “We like to take travelers to the back alleys where there are leather auctions and where bronze is made,” Casewit says.

Outside the medina, in the Ville Nouvelle district, don’t miss the eminently Instagrammable Jardin Majorelle (Rue Yves Saint Laurent; 011-212-5242-98686; admission, $7), a Moorish–meets–Art Deco botanical garden once owned by Yves Saint Laurent, as well as the nearby Yves Saint Laurent Museum (Rue Yves Saint Laurent; 011-212-5242-98686; admission, $8), a sprawling terra-cotta ode to the late designer. But end your day back in the pulsing heart of the medina, amid the frenetic energy of the Djemaa El Fna, the city’s main square, where dozens of street-food vendors set up stalls selling everything from fresh juices to grilled merguez sausages to bowls of snails while musicians and acrobats perform. It’s a setting quintessentially Marrakech—and not to be missed.

RCI® affiliated resorts in Agadir include:
Royal Decameron Tafoukt RA93

Choose between poolside lounging or aquatic adventures at the beach by day, but don’t miss the live entertainment by night. Boulevard de 20 Août
Member Review: “The food was delicious.”

For complete member review (as member review has been condensed) and additional resort listings, visit RCI.com or call 800-338-7777 (Weeks) or 877-968-7476 (Points). Club Members, please call your specific Club or RCI telephone number.

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Non-RCI affiliated resorts in Agadir include:
Riad Villa Blanche

Check into one of 26 contemporary rooms with plenty of flair, just steps from the beach. 50 Baie des Palmiers; 011-212-528-21-13-13; riadvillablanche.com; doubles from $141 a night

  • *Prices have been converted to U.S. dollars. Estimated meal prices do not include drinks, tax, or tip.
  • NOTE: Information may have changed since publication. Please confirm key details before planning your trip.
  • Published: Winter 2019