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Home > News > Agadir: coasting down Morocco’s Big Sur
Agadir: coasting down Morocco’s Big Sur
Added On : 02 May 2013


Agadir: coasting down Morocco’s Big Sur; On the road from Agadir, Tara Stevens encounters dramatic beaches, lunar-like landscapes and the majestic Atlas Mountains. The best hotels; The best restaurants

The Telegraph Online Tara Stevens

The Telegraph Online © 2013. Telegraph Media Group Ltd.

The light, when we step off the flight from snowy London, is heavenly: a deep, cerulean blue where a cloudless North African sky meets the limitless horizon of the Atlantic. But the man-with-the-sign who's meant to take us to our car is nowhere to be seen. I ring the help line. "Hello, Mrs Stevens," says the voice at the end of the telephone, "We're here in Marrakesh waiting for you."

This being Morocco it is a "no problem, madam", moment, and soon Saaïd, the one-man operation of the Agadir branch of Holiday Inn Cars, has appeared with our vehicle. He bids us a pleasant trip, tells us to call if we need anything at all and we're on our way, heading south on highway N1. Our plan is to loop south along the coast road to Sidi Ifni, a former Spanish outpost overlooking the Atlantic, and then double back to Agadir via the lunar-like landscapes of the Anti-Atlas.

The first part of the journey is a dull, 30-mile stretch of dusty, satellite towns. But as we near Tiznit they give way to shady avenues of plane trees, pink earth and hand-painted signs written in the Tifinagh alphabet of the Amazigh people of this region, which point us towards the terracotta red crenellations of the town.

As Moroccan towns go this is a very laid-back affair, named after a reformed prostitute, Lalla Tiznit, whose repentance was rewarded by God with a freshwater spring, the Source Bleu. These days stagnant and green would be a more accurate description, but the Tiznit that grew up around it became a thriving centre for beaten metal wares, silver jewellery and enamelled cutlery and the Thursday and Friday open-air souk is considered one of the best in Morocco.

We stayed for lunch �" a chicken and golden onion tagine �" then headed west, cross-country, along valleys as green as any shire, over plump rolling hills and past sprays of forest until suddenly, from high on a ridge, the Atlantic appeared before us, like a frothy blue carpet.

This extraordinary stretch of road runs south parallel to the ocean from the isolated cove of Gourizim all the way to Sidi Ifni (nearly 40 miles away) and save for the odd grand taxi �" the battered old Mercedes that here are painted green and yellow to resemble California surf mobiles from the Sixties �" there is virtually nothing and no one on it.

Arranged along the cliff tops like a great blue-and-white wedding cake, Sidi Ifni was occupied by the Spanish from 1476 to 1524, and again from 1860. In 1912 it fell to the French protectorate, and was finally given back to Morocco in 1969, but what you see today still has a very colonial feel. With little by way of sights �" unless you count the retired Europeans who descend in their motor homes for the winter �" this is a place in which to do nothing more than mooch about admiring the Art Deco architecture of the largely disused Spanish consulate, the palace, the lighthouse and the old Hotel Bellevue.

We started and ended our days on the elegant promenade above the beach where we'd have coffee and chocolate croissants in the mornings, and later stroll about under the stars nibbling freshly popped corn from old-fashioned tin drums. In between we'd take long walks on the beach and lazy lunches of grilled fish marinated in turmeric, lemon juice and parsley eaten beneath the colourful parasols of the arcaded market. It's easy to see how days could drift into weeks, months, even years here.

If the beach at Sidi Ifni is impressive it is nothing compared to those of Mirleft and particularly Legzira, farther north up the coast. Although a Spanish-style development is slowly taking shape on the cliffs above Legzira, down on the beach the original hamlet remains as it always was: a cluster of simple guesthouses and beach bars framed by fire-red cliffs that seem to burst into flame at sunset.

This is the hour to visit, and a couple of beaches along you'll find a series of magnificent arches, carved by waves rolling over from America. Like great, gaping jaws they leave you feeling quite humbled by the sheer power of it all.

Indeed, Mother Nature seems to have been working overtime in these parts. We drove from Sidi Ifni to Gourizim, then continued north on the coast road to Aglou where the landscape turns to lush, green rolling hills sprinkled with palm trees. Then back through Tiznit and east towards Tafraoute, up, up and away into the Anti-Atlas. The heart-stoppingly beautiful drive reaches heights of over 8,000ft and is punctuated by rammed-earth villages clinging to the sides of ravines and the odd kasbah perched on a stony outcrop.

Tafraoute is comparatively low at about 4,000ft, but it occupies a dazzling spot in the heart of the Ameln Valley. It's a sweet little town and an excellent base for exploring this wilderness by foot, mountain bike or paraglider.

Known for boulder fields that look as though a giant has been playing marbles across the high desert floor, the chief attractions here are the prehistoric rock paintings at Ukas, contrasted somewhat incongruously by Les Roches Bleues, the 1984 work by the Belgian artist Jean Vérame who took it upon himself to paint several acres of these monumental pebbles in cerulean blue, hot pink and emerald green on the nearby plains of Agard Oudad. The effect is striking and bizarre, and you can easily lose several hours here half expecting that one of them might actually hatch.

The final push west over a great wall of mountain to get back to Agadir is tremendous, the scenery flattening into a Martian-like landscape on the top and springing back into life as you dive back into valleys lush with almond trees, their blossom gusting in the breeze like snowflakes.

This is the road to Aït Baha, where much of the region's best Argan oil comes from. Revered for its cosmetic and culinary qualities, the oil was traditionally obtained by milling the half-digested pits of the Argan nut gathered from the waste of grazing goats.

These days they are harvested by hand, but we saw several trees filled with little black goats with Mohican manes and came face-to-face with great herds of dromedary camels, their sinewy necks reaching into the upper branches for Argan nuts too. Imagine, just 30 minutes from Agadir, but it felt like a million miles from anywhere.

It was a shock to get back to the traffic-choked city, but even that had its compensations. With the same laid-back character that distinguishes the Moroccan south it has wide, palm-lined avenues, a pretty kasbah located 750ft above the sea, and endless, perfectly kept beaches.

Following a catastrophic earthquake in 1960, which completely destroyed the medina, the city commissioned the Medina de Coco Polizzi �" an Italo-Moroccan oddity that's sure to please lovers of kitsch. Covering four hectares, it showcases various Moroccan architectural styles from the ornate zellige and plaster-covered palaces of Fez to the rammed-earth kasbahs of the Atlas, interspersed with shops hawking fixed-price artisan wares, and cafés and restaurants serving traditional food.

For our last night however, we headed to Agadir's swanky new marina. Settling into a hip, seafood restaurant with a two-tier platter of grilled lobster before us and a bottle of ice-cold, salmon-hued Moroccan wine, we raised a glass: to spring on Morocco's Big Sur.

Did you know?

In November 2009, Black Lace recorded a song entitled "Agadir" to promote a new easyJet service to the city.

When to go

From January to May, and again in the autumn, visitors can look forward to balmy days and cool nights.

Flying time and time difference

London to Agadir takes 3.5 hours. Morocco keeps the same time as the UK.

Getting there

EasyJet ( easyjet.com ) and Royal Air Maroc ( royalairmaroc.com ) have regular flights to Agadir from London airports.

Car rental

Avis ( avis.com ) and Europcar ( europcar.com ) have concessions at Agadir airport. Local providers Holiday Inn Cars (00 212 619 135242; holidayinncars.com ) offer excellent service and good value all-inclusive deals from £120 for five days including insurance. Road conditions are generally good, with little traffic outside Agadir.


Naturally Morocco (01239 710814; naturallymorocco.co.uk ) offers tailor-made, self-drive tours of the region including accommodation in riad or kasbah hotels. A seven-night itinerary of the Anti-Atlas and Atlantic Coast costs from £395 per person, excluding flights. Tafraoute Adventure (528 801368; tafraout-aventure.com ) offers 4WD tours of southern Morocco, and guided treks of up to five nights that include overnight stays with Berber families.

Auberge Chez Amalíya, Tafraoute £

Located a short distance from the town with spectacular views of the red mountains that surround it, this is an excellent base for hiking in the area. The rustic, kasbah-style accommodation includes a small restaurant and bar, and a large pool. (00 212 528 800065; chezamaliya.com ; doubles from £41 per night).

Hotel Safa, Sidi Ifni £

Sidi Ifni has yet to get a truly great hotel, and the Safa is the best option if you want to be in town. What it lacks in character it makes up for with free Wi-Fi, reliable hot water and scrupulously clean rooms. (528 780796; ifnimarina.com ; doubles from £30 per night.)

Dar Maktoub, Agadir ££

Located in the popular golf neighbourhood halfway between the beach and the airport, Dar Maktoub has a 200sq metre pool, comfortable bedrooms and a spacious lounge with an open fireplace. The French-Moroccan cuisine is top-notch too. (528 337500; darmaktoub.com ; standard doubles from £70 per night; golf packages from £560 for five nights).

Dar Najmat, Mirleft £££

This trendy, boutique hotel right on the edge of Marabout beach, takes its inspiration from California beach houses. Guests hang by the pool by day and sit out under the stars by night. Seven rooms are spacious and modern, each with a private terrace overlooking beach or pool (528 719056; darnajmat.com ; doubles from £110 per night)

Kasbah Tabelkoukt, Mirleft £££

Situated on a cliff top with sensational ocean views, a large infinity pool and a spa, this is the best hotel in the area. Featuring traditional rammed-earth architecture the owners have filled the lounges with antique furniture and artefacts from their travels, while the best of the seven bedrooms have private terraces and open fireplaces.

Excellent seasonal food is available too such as sea bream in beurre blanc and eggplant gratin. (524 387567; kasbah-tabelkoukt.com ; deluxe doubles from £125 a night).

Pequeña Mar, Sidi Ifni £

This friendly little restaurant just off the promenade serves admirably inventive Moroccan cuisine. Try aubergines stuffed with apples, honey and cinnamon and spiced octopus and mussel b’stilla. You can bring your own wine, available from the bar on the beach. (20 Av Elmowahidine, no phone).

La Kasbah, Tafraoute £

The delightful family that run La Kasbah are justly proud of their superlative regional cooking. Don’t miss the khalia �" a lamb stew cooked with local spices with an egg on top. They can supply a bottle of local red too (672 303909).

La Khalia, Rue de Tafraoute-Madaou £

The pretty walled garden of this roadside restaurant heading down the other side of the Anti-Atlas from Tafraoute is a good pit-stop for lunch. Try tasty freshly chopped Moroccan salads and beef kebabs sprinkled with mint and orange juice (615 555999).

Nomade Restaurant, Sidi Ifni ££

With its tribal décor and funky music the Nomade is the hippest restaurant in town. The food makes a bold attempt at new wave with tasty dishes like grilled local tiger prawns and a rich, tomato seafood stew. Wine and beer served (5 Avenue Moulay Youseff, no phone).

Riad Le Lieu, Tiznit ££

The restaurant at this little guesthouse is set in a courtyard of jasmine and bouganvilla. It’s well worth a detour for their salads, crisp pigeon b’stilla and sumptuous tagines (528 600019; riad-le-lieu.com ).

Le Flore, Agadir £££

Located in the new marina La Flore serves sensational fish and seafood, particularly the lobster and Dahkla oysters. Feast on indecently large platters of the stuff, at prices that could have you musing over the possibility of flying in just for lunch (528 840813).

The inside track

Dress conservatively: mid-length sleeves, long shorts and generally looser fitting clothes will help you feel more comfortable.

It’s impossible to avoid the tat completely, but good buys include beaten metal crafts and silver jewellery from Tiznit, date syrup in Sidi Ifni and also Argan oil in Tafraoute.

Fill up with petrol or diesel before crossing the mountains. A full tank will easily get you across the Anti-Atlas from Tiznit to Agadir.


At the current rate of exchange £1 is equivalent to 13 MAD (Moroccan dirhams).


UK residents get a 90-day visa on entry to Morocco. No vaccinations necessary. Further health and travel advice for Morocco is available at fco.gov.uk .

Further information

Footprint, Rough Guides or Lonely Planet guidebooks all offer similar information about this region, take one for practicalities. Lonely Planet’s chapters on south-western Morocco and the Atlantic coast are available as downloadable PDF ebook.

Telegraph Media Group Ltd.

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