February 2007- Agadir, Morocco

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Morocoo palm treesIt is that time of the year when the Med is too cold, the Canaries too crowded, and for people who won’t want to spend five hours on an airplane,  they created Agadir as the coming wintersun destination.

Bookings from England increased by 600pc making it one agency’s fastest growing package destination of 2006. Thanks to Sunway’s activity in the Irish market, Agadir has been an established destination for a decade.

You can see the attraction. The beach is 26 miles long and beautifully white. The standard of accommodation is akin to the Canaries and the prices on the ground are cheap, cheap, cheap. Just off the beach there’s a fantastic shopping area where I’d buy curios, silver, and leather coats.

Eating out is a mix of cosmopolitan and magnificently local French-influenced cuisine, in which the locals rightly take great pride.

The resort comes to life at night, and you can promenade along the streets; drink strong coffee and visit the enchanting spice market.

Despite more than a passing resemblance to the offshore resorts on the Canaries, Agadir is uniquely Morocco, with a heady blend of Arab and Berber culture, Ramadan and mosques and merchants who will do anything to get you into their corner shop.

The pidgin Irish they have learned from previous package holidaymakers makes them all sound remarkably like Cathal O Searcaigh: “céad míle fáilte”, “sláinte”, “go néirí an bóthar leat”, “sucking diesel” (in an Offaly accent)  and the ubiquitous: “how’s she cutting”. The frequency with which the phrases crop up is astonishing, a tribute to the trading prowess of the Irish winter-sunner.

Tour guides advise holiday-makers to offer one third the asking price. Said says that merchants know this and start by demanding five times the real worth of the goods. Different traders will charge different prices according to the look and demeanour of their visitor. If you dress well, you pay more.

The culture of haggling affects every aspect of economic life. The price is never the price. At quiet times, away from school holidays and especially the first fortnight in December, buses are taking off for Marrakech empty, which means that a 600 dirham round trip can tumble to 300 or even 200.

Within kilometres of Agadir the land has turned pinky red. Wild camels, sheep and goats nibble the argan trees and the destitution of three years without proper rainfall can be seen all around.

At Paradiso valley you feel that you are standing in the belly of the Earth, evaluating how time has passed in those hundreds of layers of rock.

And another surprise: Taghazoute. Just north of Agadir, it has suddenly become a haven for surfers, and for the people who like to go where the surfers go. It is a great place to learn to ride that wave.

As the package tourists walk through the beach, a cat and her two kittens follow their climb to the clifftop, and the fishermen come down to reclaim their soil and mark out their temporary prayer mats for Ramadan.

It has been that way since the Berbers first stopped by.

 

Camel trek from Aghroud to the Souss-Massa reserve where the flamingos come to feast.

Off road excursion to the Dunes of Resmouka, live scorpions and beetle and scorpion tracks.

The beach of Sidi R’bat and the village of fishermen in Tifnit.

Check out leather jackets, but beware that prices may vary Eu80 from merchant to merchant.

Moroccan carpets are good value although not as valuable as their Indian or Turkish counterparts.

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