TRAVEL: Enjoying the quiet pace of life on Morocco’s coast

The vibrant colours of the souk in Essaouira                       Pictures: Laura Soothill
The vibrant colours of the souk in Essaouira Pictures: Laura Soothill
Breakdown workers preparing to haul out of the sea one of the cars involved in an accident on the Havant by-pass

THIS WEEK IN 1970: Havant by-pass cars plunge into the sea

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Kieran Davey pays a visit to the Moroccan resort of Essaouira and finds a place starting to embrace the tourism lifestyle

There’s a quiet pace to life in Sidi Kaouki.

Olives galore at one of the stalls in the souk. Pictures: Laura Soothill

Olives galore at one of the stalls in the souk. Pictures: Laura Soothill

A few sunbathers are making the most of the long sandy beach by relaxing on recliners. A group of surfers are trying to tackle the large waves which crash into the coastline. And there are a handful of locals sat chatting among themselves or offering passers-by a camel trek down the beach.

This is an area open to tourists but it would be wrong to call it a tourism resort. In the past few years there has been a growth in hotels and riads – the Moroccan form of villas – and there are a few cafes and restaurants lining the seafront.

For anyone who wants to experience Morocco but not the hustle and bustle of Marrakech, the country’s capital, this could be the place.

My partner and I spent three nights staying in Rebali Riads, a complex of six villas set a hundred metres back from the beach at Sidi Kaouki.

The villa at Rebali Riads

The villa at Rebali Riads

Since opening about seven years ago it has become popular with couples as well as large groups. A family can easily fit into each riad.

Although each villa has its own individual characteristics, most come with their own private pool, outside dining area, rooftop terrace and television room.

From the moment you arrive staff are always on hand to cater to their guests’ needs.

Breakfasts and dinners are expertly prepared by kitchen staff and brought to your villa when requested.

There is a decent mix of Moroccan dishes as well as those more familiar to British tastes.

Tajine, typically meat and veg cooked inside an enclosed terracotta pot, was a particular highlight and is available with chicken, beef, lamb or fish.

With three courses for dinner and a selection of bread, fruit, pastries and more available for breakfast, there was little chance of us going hungry.

The riads themselves are spacious and even if you are sharing with other couples there are enough places to get some privacy.

On our first day we were given a thorough guided tour of the area with a list of activities staff are happy to organise.

For the more active there is the chance to try surfing for the first time, a free-to-use tennis court and chefs can offer their own cooking demonstrations using local ingredients.

If lazy holidays are more your thing, you can take a yoga class or take advantage of spa treatments available on site.

On our third day in Sidi Kaouki we were taken on an hour-long trek along the seafront by two camels.

It is definitely an unusual way to catch more views of the sea and is certainly more memorable.

Mohamed, Rebali’s manager, told us how the region has been getting to grips with tourism in recent years.

Apparently, the slow growth is down to the desire for the area not to turn into a busy tourist resort like those found in coastal Mediterranean locations.

For those looking to explore a bit farther afield, Rebali’s staff were able to quickly organise transport within an hour and also provided transfers taking us to and from the airport.

The port city of Essaouira is the closest major hub for visitors and is well worth taking a day to explore.

Next to where the local fishermen dock you can climb the city walls and get a picturesque view of the coastline.

The historic architecture also proved popular with a film crew who were using the city during our visit.

The city’s market – known as souk stalls – is full of local produce and there are a number of side streets where you can find unusual crafts and trinkets to take home.

Most of the shop owners we found were friendly and happy to chat, but a few were unstandably keen to push us towards buying their wares.

Like Sidi Kaouki, there are a range of eating places catering for all tastes but it’s wise to check recommendations with your hotel or online before choosing.

Visiting in September we were hoping for slightly cooler weather and despite temperatures climbing towards 30C it always felt bright and breezy rather than uncomfortably warm.

The camels were not the only interesting animal life we discovered – the heat also attracts tortoises and chameleons which guests are encouraged to look out for.

Essaouira is definitely a resort with something for everyone – a refreshing antidote for those looking for an alternative to the melting pot atmosphere of Marrakech.

FACTFILE

•Kieran Davey flew with EasyJet from Luton to Essaouira on Saturday, September 23 and returned on Tuesday, September 26.

•He spent three nights in a villa at Rebali Riads in Sidi Kaouki.

•Holiday and airport transfers booked with Fleewinter travel agency.

•For more information go to fleewinter.co.uk.