Oualidia: a peaceful retreat on Morocco's Atlantic coast
Morocco’s Atlantic coast is a beautiful spot for a post-lockdown escape, says Chris Carter
The possibility of taking a foreign holiday at the moment feels as remote as the destinations themselves. But, fingers crossed, we may be flying again before too long. If you’d rather not stray too far beyond the borders of Europe, as well as avoid the crowds, Morocco’s beautiful Atlantic coast is just the place. It’s also ideal for catching a little winter sun. Last November I travelled to the fishing village of Oualidia. Here, perched on the side of a lagoon, the Moroccan boutique luxury brand La Sultana has its second hotel. It’s the only high-end property in the area and it really is worth visiting. When I went, peace reigned – the only sound being the flapping of canvas coverings in the Atlantic breeze, slowed down to a whisper by the lagoon. Other than the attentive staff, there seemed hardly to be anyone else around – and that included the guests. There are, after all, only a dozen rooms.
Fit for royalty
Morocco’s royal family have been coming to Oualidia for years to surf and relax. So perhaps it’s fitting that the hotel, with its sandy-coloured stone walls, resembles an immaculate fortified Moorish palace. If you look up as you enter, you may even spot the cannon up top, facing out to sea. Beyond the reception, flights of stairs take you down alleys and under covered arches, up to towers and lookout points. The geometry is amazing. All of a sudden, you find yourself gazing down upon a large swimming pool guarded by colonnades of local stone from which hang copper lamps. The cloisters lead you to the massage rooms and the hot, vaulted hammam. But like a none-too-penitent sinner, I was banished from this blissful mini-medina to sleep outside, up a tree.
A staircase led up to my room, the “cabane”, set amid the olive trees and jacarandas. While the name means “hut” in French, the arboreal suite does have a cabin feel that reminded one of my travelling companions of being on a boat. Wood runs throughout from floor to ceiling as well as “through”, in the more literal sense. A great arm of the tree pierces the bedroom like a natural pillar. In the bathroom there is a shower and a free-standing bath, and the separate toilet is, well, cosy. But it’s when you walk back out that you most feel like you are standing in the wheelhouse. From the bedroom, you can see out onto the lagoon, the other larger outdoor infinity swimming pool, and the glass roof of the La Table de La Sultana restaurant. Then you drop down into the snug lounge area, leading to the wide, private terrace complete with hot tub. All of this, as you may have guessed, takes a lot of water.
A haven for wildlife
La Sultana cleans or recycles the water it takes to keep the garden green and only clean water is returned to the lagoon. That’s important, because the lagoon is a haven for wildlife and a bird-spotter’s paradise. Binoculars in hand, we were taken out in a little boat to admire the cormorants, herons and pink flamingos that nest in this fragile environment. The hotel also grows its own organic vegetables for its kitchens and the eggs are laid on site. Besides the La Table de la Sultana, with its rich menu of traditional Moroccan dishes, such as tagines of braised monkfish and octopus, there is also La Table de la Plage – the “beach” restaurant at the end of the jetty. Here you will find a glowing barbecue grill and plenty of fresh, locally caught fish and crabs and, of course, oysters. Oualidia is known as Morocco’s “oyster capital”. But before all that, nothing beats enjoying a cocktail on the beach, a firepit at your side, as the sun goes down. The great beauty of Oualidia lies in its soft palette of golden sands, pastel blue water and the rosy pink flamingos nesting in the lagoon. And when the sun sets over the water, the sky brings to the table its own blend of oranges and reds.
Chris was a guest of La Sultana Oualidia. The hotel has closed for the pandemic, but it is hoping to reopen at the start of July. Rates start from MAD4,400 (£368) per night for a Panorama Room for two people – lasultanahotels.com/oualidia, +212 5 24 38 80 08.