|Sofitel Agadir Thalassa has a heated pool, the focal point of the resort, flanked by daybeds with billowing white curtains.|
Morocco’s spotlight is usually trained on Marrakech, but beyond the obvious allure of the “red city,” the coast offers an enticing mix of sun, sand, culture and cuisine. What’s more, the government’s Plan Azur project is creating a string of new coastal resorts with five-star luxury hotels and golf courses. (The future Ritz-Carlton Reserve will be in the new Tamuda Bay area, in the country’s northwest). On a recent trip to Morocco, Luxury Travel Advisor scouted the southern Atlantic coast, a mecca for surfers and water sports fanatics. Here are some tips for your next adventure.
The mythical destination of Essaouira — a little over 100 miles west of Marrakech — is a favorite film set for Hollywood and TV series (like “Game of Thrones”). And on a stroll through the town, you’ll quickly understand why it’s so photogenic. Atlantic waves crash against the fortified walls protecting the medina, a UNESCO World Heritage site. Dramatic rock formations sit offshore from the wind-swept beach, crowded with kite-boarders and wind-surfers. In the winding alleys of the souk, cats curl up in the sunshine in front of white-washed houses adorned with blue shutters. Prized for its traditional shipbuilding, the port is full of wooden boats painted the same brilliant blue as the sky and ocean. Essaouira has a happy, bohemian vibe, and you can see why generations of travelers have flocked here, including Jimi Hendrix. Access: Essaouira’s small airport has direct flights to Paris with Transavia, and as of May 2015, London connections with EasyJet. To reach Morocco directly from the U.S., Royal Air Maroc offers service between Casablanca and cities like New York, Boston, Tampa, Los Angeles and San Francisco.
|Heure Bleue Palais, in Essaouira, is housed in a historic nobleman’s residence.|
The place to stay is the Heure Bleue Palais, housed in a historic nobleman’s residence within the actual medina walls. A large-scale restoration project transformed the property — once an ancient fondouk (traveler’s inn) — into a five-star luxury hotel in 2004. It’s a spirited place, reflecting an authentic Moroccan riad. The guest rooms are positioned on four levels around a verdant central courtyard, the beating heart of the hotel. It’s here, amongst the palm trees, where you are served freshly squeezed orange juice and Moroccan pastries upon arrival, and it’s here where the lavish breakfast buffet spreads along the length of the wall.
The design scheme is a mélange of Arabic, African and European influences. For example, the Salon Anglais exudes an African colonial style with wood paneling, leather armchairs and hunting trophies. Our Premium Suite featured Berber rugs, interesting wood latticework, and lamps made out of surveying tripods. There are 15 Classic Rooms on the second floor, plus 14 Suites and four Deluxe (corner) Rooms situated on the third and fourth floors. Perks in the suites include fireplaces and Italian marble bathrooms with deep-soaking tubs and separate walk-in showers. For VIP reservations, reach out to Front Office Manager Naïma Azaroual ([email protected]; 011-212-052-478-3434).
|Heure Bleue Palais reflects an authentic Moroccan riad. Its rooftop swimming pool offers panoramic views over the city to the ocean.|
Hotel treats include a billiard room, a private cinema where classic films are screened nightly, and a small spa with an authentic Moroccan hammam. The crowning touch is the rooftop terrace and swimming pool, with panoramic views over the dazzling white city to the ocean. As befits a Relais & Châteaux property, the restaurant is a sought-after table with Chef Ahmed Handour sourcing produce from the hotel’s organic vegetable garden just outside Essaouira. The chef also offers cooking classes focusing on traditional Berber couscous and other Moroccan classics. The hotel proudly features its own wine label, produced by the nearby Domaine du Val d’Argan vineyard.
The Heure Bleue is helmed by General Manager François Laustriat, who amiably mingles with his guests and provides travel recommendations. To celebrate its 10th anniversary, the hotel launched a collection of tailor-made experiences; guests can participate in open-air painting classes, immerse themselves in authentic Berber culture, learn about traditional Gnawa music, and visit an Argan oil cooperative. For an insightful guided tour of Essaouira, we highly recommend local guide Rachida Hadimi.
Just over 100 miles south of Essaouira, the port of Agadir attracts a year-long tide of sun-seekers. On the drive south, you’ll pass Argan oil cooperatives, red-rock cliffs abutting the azure Atlantic, and sandy beaches where surfers ride the waves offshore. (Taghazout is particularly popular with surfers.) When you arrive in Agadir — which was rebuilt from scratch after the devastating 1960 earthquake — you’ll see camels strutting along the beach, and boys playing pick-up soccer games in front of the surf. A string of resorts abuts the beachfront promenade.
The best of the bunch are the duo of side-by-side Sofitel hotels located at the southern tip. The Sofitel Agadir Royal Bay Resort opened in 2004, and the Sofitel Agadir Thalassa Sea & Spa followed suit in 2012. These luxury hotels are complementary, so guests benefit from both facilities (live entertainment at the former, the destination spa at the latter). The Sofitel Agadir Thalassa is a stunning vision in white, and when we checked in, we were quickly smitten with the infinity pool. The resort’s focal point, the enormous heated pool is flanked by daybeds with billowing white curtains. A giant chessboard features game pieces fashioned to resemble wire bird cages, and art can also be found in a contemporary gallery near the lobby.
The Sofitel Agadir Thalassa is devoted to leisure and well-being, and you could easily while away your days at the beach or pool. But many clients come for week-long treatment programs at the spa, where a dedicated chef and personal coaches help them reach their long-term health goals. Sea-water treatments at the thalassotherapy institute are complemented by argan oil massages and hammam scrubs. There’s a well-equipped fitness room, and yoga classes are quite popular. (Just ask the employees of the SkinCeuticals beauty brand. On a team-building retreat at the resort, they raved about the yoga instructor.)
|Sofitel Agadir Thalassa is devoted to leisure and well-being, and clients visit the hotel for week-long treatment programs at the spa.|
Cuisine is a highlight of your stay here — from Le Palais du Jardin (the gourmet restaurant) to the all-day eatery, Le Market, where sumptuous buffets feature the best of Morocco’s cuisine. Breakfast is so lavish — eggs cooked to order, Moroccan pancakes, pastries, vitamin-packed smoothies — that you can skip lunch. We also highly recommend L’Atlantique, located on the oceanfront. Agadir is an important fishing port, and the restaurant shows off this local bounty with freshly caught fish and oysters from Dakhla in the south.
There are 124 rooms and 49 suites (37 Prestige Suites, 10 Junior Suites and two Opéra Suites) — all with shaded outdoor terraces furnished like a living room. The bathroom is designed as a “bubble” in the middle of the room; the rainshower has a one-way mirror so that bathers can peer out to the exterior (the gardens and the sea) without being seen. Suites kick it up a notch with soaking tubs, Nespresso machines, and spacious living areas kitted out with Bose home cinemas. The crème de la crème are the Opéra Suites, each equipped with a private pool, hammam, Jacuzzi and serviced with personal butlers. For bookings, travel agents can reach out to Abdelatif Mansouri ([email protected]; 011-212-528-849-200), reservations manager.
Mountain Voyage Morocco
Based in Marrakech, Mountain Voyage was launched in 2005 when the British founders of Kasbah du Toubkal in the Atlas mountains teamed up with Morocco businessman Selouane Berrada. Mountain Voyage reports that it works with top tour operators and advisors in the U.S. and around the world. For more information or to plan a trip, reach out to Aziza Kourout ([email protected]).
Mountain Voyage creates customized itineraries for clients wishing to explore any region in Morocco, including the south near Agadir. One such excursion visits the Souss-Massa National Park, known for its bird-watching. Your guide will pick you up in a private, air-conditioned vehicle and drive you to the park, home to almost 250 species of birds including ibis and migrating flamingos. Passing through the Anti-Atlas foothills, you also see authentic local culture in the village of Tifnit, where ancient dwellings are carved directly into the ocean-facing cliffs. (Price for two people is 3,300 dirham, or approximately $330.) Other excursions include a trip through the fertile Souss Valley to Taroudant, known as “Little Marrakech,” and another to the aptly named Paradise Valley, famous for its waterfalls and natural pools carved in limestone rock.