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Agadir, Morocco: An African dream with an Irish feel – Irish Examiner

by | 16 Jul 2022 | News

Within minutes of landing on African soil and producing a poorly photocopied Moroccan Public Health Passenger Form, I was ushered into a small room in Agadir Al-Massira Airport. With no signal on my phone, and a warning from my telephone provider about roaming charges, I was grateful to discover I was not about to live out an episode of Nothing to Declare — instead, I was about to get my first taste of Morrocan hospitality, by being offered something to drink.

Those first few moments proved to be a taste of how my first press trip abroad would go. Fleeting moments of apprehension, followed by a feeling of being completely at home. As it turns out, there are a lot of similarities between the Irish and the Moroccan people — and it starts with tea. Everywhere I went during my too-short stay in Agadir I was offered mint tea. Luckily, I adored the stuff from the first sip as to decline is considered an insult. After settling the stomach with the so-called ‘Moroccan whiskey’ (a nickname for the tea that gave the teetotallers among us their second fright in as many minutes), we were introduced to travel representative Laila, and our driver, Said, who were to become as familiar to us as the sweet smell of sugared peppermint.

The main beach in Agadir. Picture: iStock
The main beach in Agadir. Picture: iStock

For our first night in Morroco, we headed some 11 miles north of Agadir to the fishing village of Taghazout, with signs for McDonald’s and Starbucks almost as common as the dirtbikes and construction workers. The construction work, we were informed, is all part of ‘the new Agadir’ — an impressive revitalisation project that aims to put the coastal region on the map for tourists, as well as improve the city’s livability for its citizens. The development and revitalisation of parks and green spaces, places of worship and cultural spaces were just some areas highlighted to us during our trip, along with plans for a new railway line and a cable car that will link the Tildi bridge to the Kasbah of Agadir Oufella, the only part of the city to survive a devastating earthquake in 1960.

Our hotel for the night was the 5-star all-inclusive Riu Palace Tikida Taghazout — which certainly lived up to the ‘palace’ part of its title. Located on Taghazout Bay, this luxury beachfront hotel boasts seven outdoor pools, seven bars (including beach bar and swim-up bar), bakery, fusion restaurants, steakhouse, spa, gym and live music. In my room, I was welcomed with an bowl of fresh fruit, Moroccan biscuits and a bunch of roses.

Hotel Riu Palace Tikida Taghazout

Hotel Riu Palace Tikida Taghazout

If there had been nothing else planned for my trip to Morocco, I would have been happy to spend my weekend getaway within the confines of Riu Palace, but our guide Mustapha, arrived early Saturday morning with a jam-packed itinerary.

First on that list was a journey along the Honey Road to one of Agadir’s most recognizable tourist attractions — Paradise Valley. For me, this was a bit of an Instagram versus reality moment. 

While a Google image search will throw up images of turquoise pools and lush green vegetation, the reality is less idyllic nirvana and more a sweaty walk through rugged terrain. 

Despite the heat, a freshly-juiced mango and orange juice drink at the halfway point did seem somewhat celestial at the time.

Saturday’s adventures also included a stop at a botanical garden in Alma, where we were treated to freshly baked bread complete with a number of dips, oils and pastes, my favourite of which was ‘Berber Nutella’ or amlou, a peanut-butter type paste made from almonds, argan oil and honey. Here, I also tried my hand at the arduous process of making argan oil, the world’s most expensive edible oil. The oil comes from the seed of the Argan tree, which is native to a narrow strip of semi-dessert in Morroco’s Atlas Mountains. The oil is produced by hand by peeling and de-pulping the fruit of the argan tree, before cracking the leftover nut to retrieve the oil-rich kernel inside.

A Moroccan lady making Argan oil. Picture: Nicole Glennon 

A Moroccan lady making Argan oil. Picture: Nicole Glennon 

It took me a few attempts, and a few close-calls with my gel nails, to be able to successfully crack the nut — with the Morrocan lady next to me, who was studiously minding her own business while these tourists had a crack at her day job, eventually reaching over and placing her hand over mine to guide me through the process. The kernels are then ground down to an oil. After witnessing the time-consuming nature of this process first-hand, I was happy to hand over 200 dirhams (about €20) for a small bottle of gardenia-scented pure argan oil in the adjacent shop.

Having completed our excursions for the day, it was time to head to Hotel Riu Tikida Beach, which was to be our resting place for the final two nights of the trip. Although not as luxurious as its 5-star counterpart, it has lots to offer. As an adult-only resort, there are no kids to be found in the pool, and its location on the Chemin des Dunes makes it a stone’s throw from many must-see items in Agadir such as the Souk and Mosque Loubnan. It’s also right beside a nightclub. Having made poor use of the previous hotel’s facilities, upon arrival at hotel number two, I was determined to make the most of its all-inclusive offering.

The Marina in Agadir. Picture: Nicole Glennon 

The Marina in Agadir. Picture: Nicole Glennon 

So, while tired from a day of hiking and a pathetic attempt at making argan oil, I changed into my swimming togs and headed down to the pool, stopping off for a free cocktail en-route. My accent was immediately commented upon by the bartender who gave me a winning smile, “Irish?” Unfortunately, the spark between us was extinguished fairly promptly when he made a comment insinuating Ireland was part of the UK. “Like Wales, no?” After a quick history lesson, wherein I drew similarities between the French colonisation of Morocco and Ireland’s history with the UK, my Moroccan bartender and I toasted to freedom.

That night, France’s influence in Morroco was highlighted when I tucked into a perfectly-cooked fillet steak, served with peppercorn sauce, mashed potato and fresh vegetables at Le Tapis Rouge. It was one of my favourite meals of the trip — a trip that involved very little in the way of traditional Moroccan cuisine, unfortunately. Most of our lunches and dinners over the weekend were clearly designed for the unadventurous tourist, and consisted of options such as lasagne, pizza, beef and the like, though our guide Mustapha did make sure we got to try traditional Moroccan tagine during one of our day trips. Named after the cooking equipment used to prepare the dish, this tasted surprisingly like my mother’s Irish stew.

A traditional Moroccan tagine. Picture: Nicole Glennon

A traditional Moroccan tagine. Picture: Nicole Glennon

Mustapha, to his credit, was also happy to answer a never-ending tirade of questions from this group of journalists, and we even had a lively exchange about the cultural differences between Ireland and Morroco, particularly as it pertains to the woman’s place in the world.

My final day in Morocco started with a much-needed coffee in a cafe overlooking the Marina, where you will find familiar high-street stores like Zara and Mac cosmetics. Following Laila’s recommendation, we all opted for ‘nos nos’ coffees, which translates as ‘half half’ and is made of, you guessed it, half espresso and half milk. After this, we headed to the Kasba, a fortress overlooking the city and the beach, some 236 metres above ground. Here, we met Jimi the camel.

Picture: Pexels, Shafeequdeen

Picture: Pexels, Shafeequdeen

Jimi, unlike his muzzled friend whom I stayed well away from, didn’t seem particularly disgruntled about a rake of Irish women hopping on his back screeching and posing for selfies. Nevertheless, I chose to keep my feet firmly planted on the ground while this was all going on and instead gazed out at the vast landscape visible from the height. Soon, Laila told me, tourists will be able to hop into a cable cart here and admire the new Agadir from the sky.

Next on the agenda was the bustling Souk El Had, where some 6,000 stalls offer an enticing array of jewellery, bags, clothing, shoes, rugs, souvenirs, spices and fruit. Here, my travel companions scored custom-tailored leather dresses, hand-woven rugs and leather bags. With nothing but a Ryanair-friendly cabin-sized suitcase with me, I simply opted for some magnets, sugared cashew nuts, fresh paprika and something called 35-spice — ‘for people who don’t know how to cook.’

By the time Monday morning rolled around, I was already on my 3.5hr plane back to Dublin airport planning my return trip. As a cash-strapped twenty-something, I’ll probably wait until September or October before I head back to Agadir to ensure the best deal. I am already counting down the days.

Colorful fabrics in the Souk. Picture: iStock

Colorful fabrics in the Souk. Picture: iStock


Nicole was a guest of Sunway. Its seven-night packages to Agadir, which include flights (Ryanair fly direct from Dublin to Agadir), accommodation and services of the Sunway Rep, range from €283pp at the three-star Argana Hotel (B&B) to €934pp at the five-star Riu Palace Tikida (all-inclusive) this August. See sunway.ie

Read the full article here.

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