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Morocco Vacation: Cool Seaside Town of Taghazout Bay Was Once a Ruined Fishing Village

Shortly after leaving Agadir, the clatter of motorcycles and the horn fades, the landscape flattens, and the Atlantic Ocean fills the horizon.

And then it appears: a large curve of golden sand between the Atlases and the Atlantic. Taghazout Bay, about 15 miles north of Agadir, began life as a fishing village and then in the 1960s, travelers following the Moroccan stretch of the Hippie Trail to Africa, connecting cities like Tangier and Essaouira (loved by Jimi Hendrix), they stopped here to the soul. search and navigate.

The hippies are gone (mostly), but the atmosphere remains. People keep coming to surf instead of to the souks and to hike through the Lower Atlas Mountains.

Bay of Plenty: Sun-drenched Taghazout, which Tamara describes as 'an oversized curve of golden sand'

Bay of Plenty: Sun-drenched Taghazout, which Tamara describes as ‘an oversized curve of golden sand’

A fisherman displays his catch on Taghazout beach.  The bay began life as a fishing village.

A fisherman displays his catch on Taghazout beach.  The bay began life as a fishing village.

A fisherman displays his catch on Taghazout beach. The bay began life as a fishing village.

The laid-back vibe extends to the flurry of new bay hotels, which seem committed to integrating rather than incarcerating guests. My base, the Fairmont Taghazout Bay, opened in July. Its low, sand-colored buildings are squeezed between a newly constructed public boardwalk and slopes dotted with aloe plants, which rise and fall before tilting sharply skyward toward the mountains.

Nods to Taghazout’s hippie roots remain, even here. At the hotel’s NOLA bar, there are plans for Gnawa musicians (Gnawa is the melodic, almost blues-like music that Morocco is known for) to join the resident jazz trio.

At the gin bar, outdoor seating is scented with local herbal milks, including sage and rosemary, along with mint tea and date syrup, to spice up the cocktails.

Spectacular landscapes are everywhere. I walk from the hotel through villages scattered on the slopes behind, where low rust-red buildings shake with so many hanging baskets that only small patches of masonry peek out.

I escape the heat by immersing myself in a small shop staffed by a Berber who tiptoes between boxes of freshly baked khobz: loaves of Moroccan bread shaped like a frisbee.

As a mountain lover, what excites me the most is the hike through the lower Atlases. My guide, Larbi, and I pass stalls selling bunches of bananas and clay tajines, through canyons dotted with olive trees and small villages where Berbers drive laden donkeys down dusty roads.

We started our walk with the buzzing of crickets. The Lower Atlas Mountains are not the tallest Atlas mountains, but they are the oldest. Fossils protrude from the rocks that line the trail, and natural divots carved into the rock have been filled with crystal clear water and tiny fish. In one, an enterprising local installed a cafeteria with semi-submerged seating, allowing customers to enjoy a fish pedicure while eating.

Surfers waiting for the next wave in Taghazout.  The bay first became popular with surfers in the 1960s, reveals Tamara

Surfers waiting for the next wave in Taghazout.  The bay first became popular with surfers in the 1960s, reveals Tamara

Surfers waiting for the next wave in Taghazout. The bay first became popular with surfers in the 1960s, reveals Tamara

Many tourists flock to the Taghazout Bay region to hike through the Lower Atlas Mountains, pictured

Many tourists flock to the Taghazout Bay region to hike through the Lower Atlas Mountains, pictured

Many tourists flock to the Taghazout Bay region to hike through the Lower Atlas Mountains, pictured

As we go along, the pools get bigger. We come across four Moroccans enjoying a break from their jobs in the Royal Moroccan Air Force. Between baths, they offer me rock-sized slices of their watermelon and proudly show me their tagine, simmering over a makeshift fire.

Later, near a squat farmhouse, Larbi points out that the common oven used to heat the slices of bread slid into the flames on wooden pallets.

We stop for lunch in the shade of one of the centuries-old argan trees that adorn the landscape. Larbi explains that all argan oil comes from Morocco (a great revelation for someone who has been smearing their hair for years) and points out the beautiful speckled bark, before giving me a masterclass in etiquette while pouring Moroccan tea into cups.

He tells me that even if the khobz basket is by my side, I should never help myself, but wait until it is passed to me.

The next day, Larbi takes me on a different tour. Just outside Agadir, we passed Anza beach, guarded by a huge dinosaur statue, a nod to the fossilized dinosaur footprints found in the sand.

Tamara says Agadir, in the photo, is 'a noisy modern city crashing into a long curve of crowded golden sand'

Tamara says Agadir, in the photo, is 'a noisy modern city crashing into a long curve of crowded golden sand'

Tamara says Agadir, in the photo, is ‘a noisy modern city crashing into a long curve of crowded golden sand’

A colorful market in Agadir, which is located about 15 miles south of Taghazout Bay.

A colorful market in Agadir, which is located about 15 miles south of Taghazout Bay.

A colorful market in Agadir, which is located about 15 miles south of Taghazout Bay.

Moments later, we stop at a camel-filled parking lot above Agadir to see it from above.

It’s a hive of construction: a noisy modern city crashing into a long curve of crowded golden sand. There are fewer ancient monuments than in Marrakech or Fez, largely because in 1960, most of Agadir was washed away by Morocco’s deadliest earthquake.

Today, its main beach is lined with sprawling hotels, and the harbor is colorful and chaotic, with locals lining up to rent small boats and parents nervously watching children crumbling bread to throw at the fish that are they wave underneath. Every now and then a glittering golden carriage noisily passes by, the Agadir equivalent of a horse-drawn coach ride in Central Park.

Soon I will long for the smooth rhythm of Taghazout Bay. The Fairmont has a small private beach, but it’s more fun mingling with the locals, so I pedal along the boardwalk, a hive of smooth, linear activity. Sand-washed cafes meet surf shacks and fancy new seafood restaurants, and in the sand a Berber drives a camel between umbrellas.

From time to time, the promenade widens to house open-air gyms for locals eager to work out their muscles in the Moroccan sun.

When the ride narrows, I launch my bike out onto the road and make my way to the headland, passing a surf shop with a mosque-shaped logo. At the top of the hill, I pause to gaze at the golden beaches and rugged mountains. I realize that on my way home, my favorite cycle route, a stretch of the Basingstoke Canal without camels, may not seem so special anymore.

SOUKS, SKI AND THE SILVER SCREEN …

  • Just nine miles from Europe, Morocco, like the UK, has a monarch (King Mohammed VI) and a prime minister. It is about twice the size of the UK.
  • Every city and town has its own souk: open-air markets selling everything from flower pots to rugs to spices. Two of the most famous are in Fez and Marrakech.
  • The country has an excellent cinematic pedigree: Lawrence of Arabia, The Man Who Could Be King, Gladiator, and Origin were filmed there. Interestingly, Casablanca was not.
  • It may be most famous for its Sahara dunes, but you can ski in Morocco at the Oukaimeden resort in the Atlas Mountains.
  • In 1777, Morocco became the first country in the world to recognize the United States after it declared its independence.

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