Morocco with all the comforts of home

Morocco with a familiar touch

Three hundred miles south of Casablanca on Morocco’s Atlantic coast, and almost entirely rebuilt following the massive earthquake of 1960, Agadir is now a city of nearly a million people and Morocco’s principal seaside resort. With its promenades and boardwalks, its beach resorts, esplanades and terraces, it is a town I would recommend for “entry level” Morocco, as well as for anybody who already knows the country well and loves it. It’s a well-developed, cheerful, warm-year-round seaside place, perfect for families who want a taste of this wonderful, sunny country without necessarily diving head-first into its medinas, kasbahs and souks.

And here’s the thing:  You can reach Agadir in less than nine hours from New York, flying nonstop to “Casa” as Moroccans call it, and making a quick change for the short flight down south.

But don’t stop just yet. Because 12 miles north of the city, on an incomparably lovely stretch of blinding white sand, where the Atlantic breakers come rolling in to make it a surfer’s paradise, lies the charming town of Taghazout, where the stupendous new Fairmont Taghazout Bay, a luxury five-star wellness resort, sits right on the beach. Its beautifully appointed rooms, suites and villas all have an ocean view.

The accommodations are superb, all of them family-friendly. But with a gorgeous adult pool, sophisticated bars and night spots and the first “Iron Chef” Morimoto restaurant in Africa, it is perfect for a couple’s vacation, too.

Fairmont Taghazout may not be a typically Moroccan experience, but it is certainly an experience, Moroccan sweetness married to American – make that Canadian – know-how, a touch of Aman aesthetic and a big helping of French savior-faire. Top it off with innate Moroccan hospitality, grace and courtesy and you see why it’s a winner. Even the gardeners here smile sweetly as you make your way from room to pool, from restaurant to beach, from spa to bar.

The central resort restaurant is called Beef and Reef. I’m not crazy for the name, which I unkindly imagine must have been dreamt up by marketing people far away at Fairmont corporate headquarters, but there’s no doubting it’s a terrific joint – pun intended. There is plenty of beef here, so to speak – a tomahawk T-bone that gets deboned at the table and is kept warm over a flame, say, or Atlantic lobster, or half a dozen of Morocco’s famous Dakhla oysters. On a couple of my visits here, I even went against the grain so to speak and chose the poke bowl, with its sticky rice, sesame, avocado and lightly fried local fish for protein. I could have been in California and perhaps that’s the point. It was excellent, fresh, nutritious – and familiar.

Breakfasts, too, are superb. In what sometimes seems like a lifetime of dreary breakfast buffets, this one stands head and shoulders above the norm. The honey, eight different kinds, is made in- house. Look out for the rosemary and balsamic especially. They serve as toppings for the featherlight crêpes that you order from the pancake station. There are cakes and candies and sweetmeats galore, eggs whipped into omelets as you watch, or scrambled with local curd-cheese. The butteriest baked goods attest the baking legacy of the French, and on no account should you miss the flaky croissants or house-made cakes. Fairmont’s still-warm madeleines, which I like to eat with that irresistible Isigny French butter, are like taking a side-trip to Paris.

When the early morning Agadir fog – more of a mist really – blows off, the sun works its way through, and gently kisses the ocean and the tops of the hill villages, both of which I can see from my late-morning breakfast table. If you are a surfer, you will already have been up for hours, joining the honed and toned young crowd that gathers on the beaches along the bay, a bay that seems to stretch into infinity. Indeed, it leads to Taghazout, a thoroughly likeable small town, full of delightful shops and bazaars, with terraces full of charming cafés facing the water. From the Fairmont’s “back door,” a brisk walk into town along Taghazout’s brand new boardwalk is a great way to exercise, too.

In the evening, still at Fairmont, you head to the area known as the Commons, to eat at Morimoto, perhaps, or drink at one of the bars, Junipers or Iris, or listen to sultry live jazz at the bar-cum-nightclub, Nola.

There is a world-class spa, of course, with two hammams, a couple’s hammam, and wonderful treatments with top-of-the-line Natura Bissé products. And there’s a beautiful yoga studio, or “shala” too, as it is called.

As for kids, they have a grand time here, between the pools and the beach and the bikes and a truly imaginative kids’ club, called “Le Hangout.” It offers PlayStation, foosball, basketball and soccer and even has its very own stands, called “Les Bleachers,” so that proud parents can come and watch their darlings play.

And there you have it – an absolutely world-class resort, easily accessible from New York, and at a fraction of the price you will pay for similar quality in most of Europe. So, while this is not your Morocco of exquisite zellij tilework, of polished plaster, of limpid pools, dazzling souks and whirling dervishes in the local market square, it is nevertheless a story of crisp, cool cotton sheets on supremely comfortable beds; of evolved, brave design with latter-day Western Islamic flourishes; of dreamy swimming pools; primped and manicured gardens and lawns; and the most heavenly oceanside setting.

They say you can’t be all things to all people, but Fairmont Taghazout Bay comes pretty close.

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