Stepping off the plane, a rush of hot air pressed against my face. It was both uplifting and soothing, and one I hadn’t felt in three years.
The desire to leave Ireland is quite strong at the moment. A number of my close friends have emigrated, and since the pandemic the rest of us are keen to take as many breaks as budgets allow. I was the last of us to go on vacation abroad, and when the time came, I was not going to waste a moment. I had waited three long years to feel the sun on my skin and offer myself a pure and total escape. Now that we had landed, and I felt that warm air, it was time to disconnect and embrace the “out of office” mentality.
Agadir was my destination. The coastal town and fishing port sits along the southern Atlantic coast of Morocco, in the foothills of the Anti-Atlas Mountains. It enjoys 300 days of sunshine a year, but also offers everything related to culture, hospitality and tradition. It was my first time in Africa, and I was curious to explore, but also shocked to find it was such a short flight. Just three and a half hours took me to the second largest continent in the world.
This trip was a truly unique experience, and I don’t really know why. Perhaps it was due to my childish excitement to finally be abroad, or perhaps in the unlikely event that I had gained some sort of wisdom or maturity over the past three years. But I really embraced Moroccan heritage and didn’t just laze by the pool.
Yes, I wanted some sun, but the sudden rush to secure a lounge chair at dawn wasn’t high on my priority list for a change. In the end, I think it was thanks to our tour guide, Mustapha, and Sunway rep, Laila. In Mustapha’s own words, he was “at your disposal”, and I was certainly reassured by his local knowledge and expertise.
Have the traditional Moroccan mint tea, which Mustapha described as “the epitome of hospitality.” I learned that its preparation is a ritual in itself. The tea is poured from a height to create froth, and as an act of respect towards the guest. It is served hot in authentic Moroccan tea glasses with fresh mint, sugar or honey.
You need to be sharp-witted in Morocco, and while that’s good advice when traveling to any destination, it rings especially true when venturing into local markets. In Agadir we went to the bustling Souk El Had and with nearly 6,000 stalls there was plenty to see. There are various goods on offer including clothing, pottery, fresh produce, spices, rugs and furniture.
It can be quite chaotic at times and your haggling skills will be put to the test. I found that moving away from some persistent providers was the best and only option. The market is very crowded in the afternoon, so it is best to visit before lunchtime to avoid large crowds.
Agadir has reinvented itself since a major earthquake in 1960 that killed nearly 15,000 people. The city also has big plans for the future, with a new waterfront, its first bus rapid transit line, and improved infrastructure and public parks all set to complete a transformation by 2024. But Moroccan traditions are at the heart of the place, and nowhere more so than its North African cuisine.
Tagine, for example, is a delicious staple cooked and served in a ceramic dish with a cone-shaped lid. I tried it at a restaurant in the market and it was almost like a rustic Irish stew with potatoes, chicken or lamb, parsnips, leeks and sun-dried tomatoes. It was full of flavor and, to me, summed up everything unique to Morocco, from the presentation to the flavorful local ingredients and range of herbs and spices. Agadir has restaurants to suit all tastes, however – Le Tapis Rouge is another tip, known for its monkfish and tender selection of beef as well as authentic French dishes.
Mustapha and Laila also took us to visit the botanical gardens in the picturesque village of Alma, 18 km from Agadir. Here, argan seeds are harvested, crushed, shelled and pressed to create natural argan oil. The paths are then lined with cast shells instead of the typical stone in a smart and sustainable way so nothing gets lost. Aromas of fig, pomegranate, lemon, and olive tree as well as rosemary and aloe vera lift you up, and there’s a small shop selling garden produce like argan oil, poppy flowers and pomegranate lipstick.
Here I enjoyed a traditional Berber breakfast washed down with mint tea. Flatbread soaked in argan oil, thyme honey, orange blossom honey and amlou (a thick paste made from argan oil, almonds and honey, known as “Berber Nutella”) were all served.
We then headed to Paradise Valley, at the foot of the Atlas Mountains in the heart of a palm grove. It is known for its rock pools and waterfalls and is rich in flora like banana trees and wild grapes. Here you can hike, swim or relax in natural surroundings, a quiet oasis away from the bustling city of Agadir.
Between two excursions, I took my doses of sun, sea and sand by staying at the Riu Palace Tikida, a hotel with several swimming pools on the sandy beach of Taghazout Bay, and at the Riu Tikida Beach hotel , a stone’s throw from the beach of Agadir, but also within walking distance of various restaurants and nightclubs. Both screamed luxury, and I could quietly drift along to the sound of the waves lapping on the shore.
And just like that, my trip came full circle. My flight was before sunrise so unfortunately there was no warm breeze as a parting gift. But I leaned back in my chair as the plane door closed and was glad my passport now had a Moroccan stamp on it. My first vacation abroad in three years reinvigorated my love of travel and opened my eyes to what different countries have to offer.
Seoirse was a Sunway guest. Its seven-night Agadir packages range from €265pp at the three-star Hotel Argana (B&B) to €729pp at the five-star Riu Palace Tikida (all-inclusive) this fall. sunway.fr
Ryanair also flies to Agadir from Dublin.
Travelers must complete a health form and present a valid vaccination passport or a negative PCR test result taken within 72 hours of travel.
See dfa.ie/travel and visitmorocco.com for updates.
There are many places in Agadir where you can experience what it’s like to ride a camel. It might not be for those with vertigo, but it was one of my must-do’s in Morocco…