Morocco doesn’t spring immediately to mind when it comes to beach destinations.
Indeed, to a European used to quaint Mediterranean seaside villages and the swaying palm-fringed shores of Asia, the coast of Morocco is quite a shock. The settlements here feel a little forlorn and there is a certain ‘frontier’ edginess comparable to desert towns in the USA, no doubt because they are remote and strung far apart from one another. Yet this slight air of desolation and dust along the coast is perhaps it’s charm. If you yearn for European beaches, go to Italy, and if coconuts are your thing then try Indonesia. But if you fancy something a little different, long empty ocean roads and secluded coves all to yourself, and aren’t bothered about frills and luxury, then you could do worse than giving the Moroccan coast a go. In particular Mirleft and Legzira beach.
We’d been travelling with Wild Morocco and having already crossed the High Atlas, traversed the Anti Atlas and explored the Ameln Valley, it was now time for a bit of salt and sea air. I was hugely excited as despite numerous visits to the country, we’d not yet made it to the coast. Not being beach bums and shuddering at the thought of sun-loungers, the rugged and little-visited stretch of Morocco really appealed.
However I have to say our first glimpse of the coast just beyond the town of Tiznit was a bit of an anticlimax.
Yet it was exciting to think that the next stop out there across the vast expanse of blue was in fact Florida! And no matter where you are, there is simply something about the sea that touches the soul in the way that no mountain or desert can ever do.
As we drove south down the R104 the scenery improved dramatically, and we couldn’t have chosen a better spot to spend the night than near the perfectly situated coastal village of Mirleft.
Mirleft itself is known as one of the most alluring coastal towns in Morocco, yet whilst the rocky cliffs and sweeping sandy coves were more than suitable camera fodder, I personally didn’t think the settlement itself was anything special (but then I’ve been spoiled in my travelling past so perhaps that’s a little unfair).
Our Wild Morocco driver Salah told us that like many other Moroccans, he comes here with his friends and family for several weeks every summer during Ramadan when it becomes too hot in the cities. I can quite appreciate the lure of the cool sea breezes and barbecues on the beach, but have to admit I was a little surprised that people stay so long. Speaking to Eric Janssens, owner of the boutique hotel Dar Najmat where we stayed the night, many of the houses in the area are in fact second homes belonging to Moroccans who come to stay in the summer.
So who am I to argue!
Mirleft, like many of the other coastal towns and villages in Morocco remains very traditional, and we barely saw any women out in the streets during our visit.
First, however, we meandered a little way south to the sea arches at Legzira beach. Finally, a place on the coast I can say with all honesty is spectacular! The tide was up when we arrived, but that didn’t stop us from exploring the length of the beach, enjoying the feel of sand between our toes, and playing ‘chicken’ in the waves just like little kids.
There is plenty of parking at the top of the cliff above Legzira beach, then a fairly steep 5 minute walk down to the sands where there are a few cafes and toilets. Although it’s a popular place with locals at weekends, many enjoying a bit of sunbathing or picnics in the dunes, the place didn’t feel at all crowded and as we strolled along the sand felt that we Legzira beach pretty much to ourselves.
Not difficult when it stretches for about 8 kms!
Legzira beach is often seen as one of the most beautiful stretches of sand in all of Africa, mainly due to its two formidable sedimentary rock arches, formed by years of erosion from the pounding sea. I’m told the best time to see them is at sunset when the rock turns a glowing red colour, but our schedule meant we had to visit during the morning instead.
We could only go as far as the first sea arch due to the high tide, and probably should have stopped short of the cliff itself, but couldn’t resist seeing just how far we could get without swimming! After a few minutes watching how far the waves came up the beach we deemed it safe to pose for photos beneath the arch. Clearly we hadn’t waited long enough. Just as we were grinning cheesily at Salah who was behind the camera, a colossal wave came crashing up to the cliff, drenching us and hurling dozens of rocks against hubbie who was was hit by it all first. Poor Salah didn’t know what to do. Should he take the photo, rescue my bag which I had thought would be safe right under the cliff, or leap into the sea to come to our rescue.
Realising we were laughing at our misfortune (we hadn’t yet thought about the sand that would be in our pants for the rest of the day!), Salah thankfully opted for saving my bag from a watery grave. He even managed to take a photo as the wave washed back down the beach.
After our excitement at Legzira beach, we drove a little further south to investigate the popular resort of Sidi Ifni. Again, we were disappointed in the settlement. The cluster of white-washed decaying art deco properties and dusty, dilapidated streets epitomised an air of not long forgotten Spanish colonial ambition. It was only in 1969 that Sidi Ifni was returned by Spain to Morocco, and today you’re still as likely to come across paella as you are tagine. It was pretty deserted when we visited, and although the beach is impressively long and popular with surfers, it wasn’t a patch on Legzira beach.
Not really our sort of place, we lingered just long enough for a short walk by the sea, trying not to notice the piles of littler adorning the cliff tops. I don’t often advise readers to avoid somewhere, realising that everyone has different tastes, but seriously…what a dump!
Retracing our steps north again to Mirleft we joined the N1 and continued up the coast to Agadir. This stretch wasn’t particularly scenic, as the road headed inland though mile upon mile of argan trees and rocky scrub-land. I won’t say much about Agadir except that it lived up to our expectations. It’s a hideous blot on the landscape, and in my opinion holds absolutely no attraction for visitors unless you’re into clubbing, drinking, concrete block high-rise hotels and big crowded beaches. I just can’t imagine why anyone would come here for a holiday, but I’m glad we’ve seen it because now when I advise people to steer clear, I can say it with conviction gained from experience, not just assumption.
North of Agadir it got better again, and we were charmed by the popular surfing spots around Taghazout where the villages were cute and the beaches relatively clean. Taghazout is a laid back Berber fishing village, and between October and April is the top destination for both beginner and professional surfers in Morocco. It was pretty busy with domestic tourists whist we were there in May, and I suspect demand now out-paces the provision during the summer. Uncertain that Morocco could cope with my surfing prowess we stuck to dry land but I can easily see why so many people choose this stretch of coast for their watery holidays.
The road then wound inland up to Essaouira, where we spent a couple of days relaxing amongst the fishing boats, exploring the fort and eating chicken in toffee sauce! Read on here to find out more about Essaouira.
It is safe to say that coastal towns in Morocco cannot be compared to their counterparts elsewhere in the world, and that you should come to this area of the country for the physical scenery rather than the settlements.
I’m happy that we included this coastal route on our itinerary this time, and that I finally got my Atlantic paddle. It worked really well as a big loop road trip starting in Marrakech and ending in Essaouira via the Atlas Mountains. Mirleft and Legzira beach were definite highlights, as was the fact we pretty much had most places to ourselves.
Yet would I ever return? In all honesty, probably not, unless I decide to turn into a surfer babe, and seeing as hubbie thinks there is more chance of me flying to the moon, this probably won’t be happening any time soon.
Although…I’ve always fancied a trip to Mars…
Our private tour with Wild Morocco was complimentary but all words, photos and opinions, as always, remain my own.