Many people are travelling to familiar places for their first post-pandemic trips. But what about a summer holiday with a difference?
Stepping off the plane, a warm rush of hot air pressed against my face. It was a sensation at once exhilarating and calming, and one I hadn’t felt in three years.
The urge to leave Ireland is quite strong at the moment. A number of my close friends have emigrated and, since the pandemic, the rest of us are keen to fit in as many breaks as budgets will allow. I was the last of us to go on an overseas holiday, and when my time came, I wasn’t going to waste a moment of it. I’d waited three long years to feel the sun on my skin and indulge in pure and utter escapism. Now we’d landed, and I felt that hot air, it was time to switch off and adopt the ‘out of office’ mentality.
Agadir was my destination. The coastal city and fishing port lies along Morocco’s southern Atlantic coast, in the foothills of the Anti-Atlas Mountains. It boasts 300 days of sunshine a year, but also delivers on all things culture, hospitality and tradition. It was my first time in Africa, and I was curious to explore, but also shocked to discover that it was such a short flight away. 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 quite put my finger on why. Maybe it was due to my childlike excitement to finally be abroad, or maybe in the unlikely event that I had gained some sort of wisdom or maturity over the last three years. But I truly embraced Morocco’s heritage and didn’t just lounge by the pool.
Yes, I wanted sun, but the sudden dash to secure a lounger at the crack of dawn wasn’t at the top of my priority list for a change. Ultimately, I think this was thanks to our tour guide, Mustapha, and Sunway rep, Laila. In Mustapha’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 Mustapha described as the “epitome of hospitality”. I learned that its preparation is a ritual in itself. The tea is poured from a height to create a froth, and as an act of respect to the guest. It’s served hot in authentic Moroccan tea glasses with fresh mint, sugar or honey.
You need to have your wits about you in Morocco, and though this is sound advice when travelling to any destination, it rings especially true when venturing to local markets. In Agadir, we went to the bustling Souk El Had and, with nearly 6,000 stalls, it was a lot to take in. There are various goods on offer, including clothing, pottery, fresh produce, spices, rugs and furniture.
It can be quite chaotic at times, and your haggling skills will be put to the test. I found walking away from certain persistent vendors to be the best and only option. The market gets very busy during the afternoon, so it’s best to visit before lunchtime to avoid the large crowds.
Agadir has reinvented itself since a major earthquake in 1960, which killed nearly 15,000 people. The city has big plans for the future, too, with a new beachfront, its first bus-rapid transit line, and improved infrastructure and public parks all set to complete a transformation by 2024. But Moroccan traditions lie at the heart of the place, and nowhere more than its North African cuisine.
Tajine, for example, is a delicious staple cooked and served in a ceramic dish with a cone-shaped lid. I tried it at a restaurant in the market, and it almost resembled a rustic Irish stew with potatoes, chicken or lamb, parsnips, leek and sundried tomatoes. It was packed with flavour and, for me, summed up everything unique about Morocco, from the presentation to the savoury local ingredients and the array of herbs and spices. Agadir has restaurants to suit all tastes, however — Le Tapis Rouge is another tip, known for its monkfish and tender selection of beef along with authentic French dishes.
Mustapha and Laila also took us to visit the botanical gardens in the quaint village of Alma, 18km from Agadir. Here, argan seeds are harvested, crushed, shelled and pressed to create natural argan oil. The paths are then lined with discarded shells instead of the typical stone in a clever and sustainable way to let nothing go to waste. The aromas of fig, pomegranate, lemon and olive trees along with rosemary and aloe vera transports you, and there’s a small store selling garden produce such as argan oil, poppy flowers 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 amlou (a thick paste made of argan oil, almonds and honey, known as the ‘Berber Nutella’) were all served.
We then made our way to Paradise Valley, at the base of the Atlas Mountains in the heart 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 the natural surroundings, a tranquil oasis away from the vibrant city of Agadir.
Between excursions, I got my fixes of sun, sea and sand staying at the Riu Palace Tikida, a hotel with several pools set on the sandy beach of Taghazout Bay, and the Riu Tikida Beach hotel, a stone’s throw from the beach in Agadir, but also within walking distance of various restaurants and nightspots. Both screamed luxury, and I could peacefully drift off to the sound of waves lapping on the shore.
And just like that, my trip 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 airplane door shut and was glad that my passport was now home to a Moroccan stamp. My first overseas holiday in three years had reinvigorated my love of travel, and opened my eyes to what different countries have to offer.
Seoirse was a guest of Sunway. Its seven-night packages to Agadir range from €265pp at the three-star Hotel Argana (B&B) to €729pp at the five-star Riu Palace Tikida (all-inclusive) this autumn. sunway.ie
Ryanair also flies to Agadir from Dublin.
Travellers must complete a health form and show a valid vaccine passport or negative PCR test result taken within 72 hours of travel.
See dfa.ie/travel and visitmorocco.com for updates.
There are many places in Agadir where you can experience what it’s like to ride a camel. It may not be for those afraid of heights, but it was one of my must-dos in Morocco…