As I got off the plane, a hot gust of hot air hit my face. It was an exhilarating and calming feeling at once, and one I hadn’t felt in three years.
That urge to leave Ireland is strong at the moment. Many of my close friends have emigrated and since the pandemic, the rest of us are keen to fit in as many breaks as the budget will allow. I was the last of us to go on vacation abroad, and when my time came, I wasn’t going to waste a moment of it. I waited for three years to feel the sun on my skin and indulge in pure and complete escapism. Now that we had landed, and I thought hot air, it was time to shut down and adopt an ‘out of office’ mentality.
Agadir was my destination. The coastal town and fishing port is located along Morocco’s southern Atlantic coast, at the foot of the Anti-Atlas Mountains. It boasts 300 days of sunshine a year, but also offers all things culture, hospitality and tradition. It was my first time in Africa, and I was looking forward to exploring, but was also shocked to learn that 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 can’t put my finger on why. Perhaps it was because of the excitement of my childhood finally abroad, or perhaps in the unlikely event that I had gained some sort of wisdom or maturity in the past three years. But I truly embraced Moroccan heritage and didn’t just hang out by the pool.
Yes, I wanted the sun, but securing a lounger at the crack of dawn wasn’t at the top of my priority list for a sudden dash change. Ultimately, I think it was all thanks to our tour guide, Mustafa, and Sunway representative, Layla. In Mustafa’s own words, he was “at your disposal”, and I certainly took comfort in his local knowledge and expertise.
Take the traditional Moroccan mint tea, which Mustafa described as a “symbol of hospitality.” I learned that its preparation is a ritual in itself. The tea is poured from a height to form a froth and as an act of honor to the guest. It is served hot in a glass of authentic Moroccan tea with fresh mint, sugar or honey.
You need to have a sense of your own in Morocco, and although this is good advice when traveling to any destination, it is especially true when visiting local markets. In Agadir, we went to the bustling Souk El Hadd and, with almost 6,000 stalls, there was a lot to take in. Various items are available, including clothing, pottery, fresh produce, spices, rugs and furniture.
It can be quite chaotic at times, and your bargaining skills will be put to the test. I found the best and only option to be walking away from a few frequent sellers. The market gets very busy at noon, so it’s best to go before lunch to avoid large crowds.
Agadir has reestablished itself since a major earthquake in 1960 that killed about 15,000 people. The city also has big plans for the future, with a new beach, its first bus-rapid transit line, and improved infrastructure and public parks set to complete a transformation by 2024. But Moroccan traditions are at the heart of the place, and nowhere more so than in its North African cuisine.
For example, tajine is a savory staple that is cooked and served in a ceramic dish with a cone-shaped lid. I tried it at a restaurant on the market, and it almost looked like a rustic Irish stew with potatoes, chicken or lamb, parsnips, leeks and varietal tomatoes. It was packed with flavor and, for me, summed up everything unique about Morocco, from the presentation to the delicious local ingredients and array of herbs and spices. There are restaurants in Agadir to suit all tastes, however – another tip is Le Tapis Rouge, known for its monkfish and tender selection of beef to accompany authentic French dishes.
Mustafa and Laila also took us to visit the botanical garden in the quaint village of Alma, 18 km from Agadir. Here, argan seeds are harvested, crushed, shelled, and pressed to make natural argan oil. The paths are then lined in a clever and sustainable way with discarded shells instead of the usual stone so that nothing goes to waste. Let the aromas of fig, pomegranate, lemon and olive trees with rosemary and aloe vera take you, and there is a small shop that sells garden produce such as pomegranate oil, poppy seeds and lipstick made from pomegranate.
Here, I enjoyed a traditional Berber breakfast washed down with more mint tea. Flat bread dipped in argan oil, thyme honey, orange flower honey and amalou (a thick paste made of argan oil, almonds and honey, known as ‘Berber Nutella’) were all served.
Then we made our way to Paradise Valley, at the base of the Atlas Mountains in the middle of a palm grove. It is known for its rock pools and waterfalls and is rich in flora such as banana trees and wild grapes. Here, you can hike, swim, or relax in natural surroundings, a tranquil oasis away from the vibrant city of Agadir.
Between excursions, I learned about sun, sea, and sand to stay at the Riu Palace Tikida, a hotel with multiple pools on the sandy beach of Tagazout Bay, and the Riu Tikida Beach Hotel, a stone’s throw from the beach in Agadir Throw, but also within walking distance of various restaurants and nightspots. Both shouted luxury, and I could calmly sway to the sound of the waves rolling on the shore.
And just like that, my journey came full circle. My flight was before sunrise, so sadly there was no warm breeze as a parting gift. But I leaned back in my chair as the plane door closed and was glad that my passport was now home to a Moroccan stamp. My first overseas vacation in three years had reinvigorated my love of travel, and opened my eyes to what different countries have to offer.
Soirse was Sunway’s guest. Its seven-night packages for Agadir range from €265pp to €729pp at the three-star Hotel Argana (B&B) at the five-star Riu Palace Ticida (all-inclusive) this autumn. sunway.ie
Ryanair also flies from Dublin to Agadir.
Travelers must fill out a health form and show a valid vaccine passport or negative PCR test result within 72 hours of travel.
See dfa.ie/travel And visitmorocco.com for update.
There are many places in Agadir where you can experience camel riding. It may not be for those afraid of heights, but it was one of my must-sees in Morocco…