Agadir and its coastline have been likened to the French Riviera, but while this windswept Atlantic resort has its charms, it would be generous to call it a Moroccan Saint-Tropez. What Agadir lacks in va-va-voom, however, it makes up for with action.
Ten miles north of Agadir is Taghazout, a laid-back beach town and Mecca for sporty types who flock to enjoy gnarly waves and an excellent selection of surf and yoga retreats. To capitalise on its popularity, a landmark development is underway to lure a different class of traveller to this area.
Set to be Morocco’s newest sustainable luxury destination, Taghazout Bay Resort is being built in the foothills of the Atlas mountains, and once completed (circa 2020) will offer more than 7,000 beds in nine hotels, various tourist residences and world-class sporting and leisure facilities.
Right now the only hotel ready to host guests is the Hyatt Place Taghazout Bay: a four-star, 152 room resort with a panoramic view of the ocean. The rest of the development is very much still a work in progress.
Construction sites litter the barren land and despite tentative efforts at landscaping, it’s still scrubby and desolate. Fortunately at Hyatt Place it’s already a different story. An oasis in the dust, lush gardens of indigenous plants and palms surround a supersize pool with plenty of room for lounging, overlooked by a dominating block of a building.
Built for practicality rather than beauty, it’s only once inside that the structure makes sense. Vast and light, there’s an impressive reception and floor-to-ceiling glass walls overlooking the pool and terrace. Pleasantly surprised by the space, I was equally impressed with some of the design features, such as the woven cane bubble seating (all locally made) and elegant Scandi-inspired chandeliers.
Rooms are less interesting – bordering on bland – but functional and spacious all the same, each with a balcony and a magnificent view of the bay. But let’s face it, if the sun’s shining (300 days a year in this part of the world), you’re probably looking to spend as much time as possible outside. I was certainly happiest by the pool, which hosts a cracking Sunday lunch buffet with lazy electronic tunes courtesy of a live DJ.
Enamoured with the platters of chilled seafood, local specialities and salads, I was hardly surprised when one of the waiters breezed past with a “good appetite!”, a sweet if clumsy interpretation of “bon apetit” rather than an intention to shame my lack of portion control.
This is a good example of a running theme at Taghazout Bay: inspirational willing and winning smiles from the staff (a high proportion of whom come from neighbouring villages), are guaranteed, but be prepared for a certain things to be lost in translation. Once the hotel matures, this will almost certainly improve.
One thing that will transcend any language barrier is the quality of the all-inclusive hotel breakfast, with its insanely delicious traditional Moroccan msemen. Slathered in amoul – a mixture of almond butter and honey and the North African answer to Nutella – these light and crisp semolina pancakes changed my life.
Hyatt Place can arrange all sorts of activities – hang-gliding, hiking and mountain biking – but I was keen to get into the ocean to work off breakfast. The beach runs for miles and is still relatively rough and ready, with a range of surf to suit beginners and the more experienced.
After comprehensive instruction from Sheriffe, a genetically blessed surf dude, I hit the very small waves with a very big board. It turns out flexibility is an ally when learning to surf, and after much trial and error I finally managed to wriggle up to standing before collapsing into a fit of giggles in the foam. This is one addictive thrill, and I can see why for many, surfing is more than just a sport – it’s a lifestyle.
Looking for more adventure? I also booked in for a guided quad bike excursion, which took us up from the beach and into the mountains to explore the terrain. I’m no natural speed demon but the atmosphere was more than a bit tame until I decided to break away from the rest of the group to charge Mad Max-style down the length of the beach.
After exhilaration comes relaxation, and the Hyatt Place has exemplary facilities to soothe mind and body with its spa and authentic hammam, a cleansing ritual intrinsic to Moroccan culture that remains a weekly pilgrimage for locals. While the hamman at Hyatt Place might be luxurious, the experience is still traditional and before I knew it I was lying butt-naked on a stone slab being scrubbed as hard as a potato bound for the pan.
Despite my attempts to embrace the experience, I found myself wincing as the therapist exfoliated every inch of me with what felt like a glove made of brillo pads. Still, the amount of skin sloughed off was both impressive and hugely satisfying; I’ve never felt so smooth.
Finally, a fabulous massage from a woman with healing hands sealed my reborn status. If that doesn’t sound like your idea of fun, there’s also a brand new 18-hole links by starchitect Kyle Philips, who has created some of the loveliest courses this side of the Atlantic, including The Grove in Hertfordshire. A treat for golf nerds, such a prestigious pedigree left me wishing I knew my birdies from my bogeys so I could get in the swing. But cocooned in the spa, frankly nothing could lure me from my spot – except perhaps another round of those pancakes.