Elsewhere, trees full of goats are not an everyday sight. But then, “Morocco is a place where everything is possible and nothing is certain”, as my Moroccan friend Faical likes to say, borrowing a phrase from Richard Branson’s sister, Vanessa. She knows the country well.
The minibus driver taking us across the Sousse Plain to the Atlantic coast shakes his head when asked to stop and pulls over by a road sign saying “40 kilometres to Agadir”. “Why?” he asks. “They want to take photos of goats? Not of people?”
In the upper branches of the argan trees by the roadside, goats sit merrily munching the fruit. The rest of the herd stand upright on their hind legs, feeding from the lower branches. We are within a 10,000 square mile UNESCO Biosphere Reserve, in the argan tree’s natural habitat.
The edible and cosmetic oils produced from the kernels are sometimes called “liquid gold”. The cosmetic variety is now a sought-after ingredient for skin and hair products, because its high concentrations of vitamins A and essential fatty acids help to beautify skin and hair. Perhaps this explains the herd’s lustrous coats
Old Kasbah, New City
Our small group is taking a relaxing short break in the resort of Agadir. The flight time from London is three hours. The weather is mild and sunny, with more than 300 days of sunshine each year.
High on a hill, in the old walled city or Kasbah, you get a 360-degree view of the distant Atlas Mountains, three ports, the city, and Agadir Bay’s five-and-a-half-mile yellow, sandy beach.
Now, it is calm and peaceful, but, Abdullah our guide says, “Once an earthquake demolished everything except the Kasbah walls. A third of the population, 15,000 people, died on that February night in 1960. Only three buildings survived – on the High Street, right at the bottom of the hill, by the seaside.”
He adds, “Since the earthquake, the structure of the society has changed. There’s quite a strong middle class now.”
The words “God, Country and King” written in Arabic on the hillside can be seen from the new city that was built to the south, where many buildings are painted white, orange trees are heavy with fruit, and jacaranda purple flowers bloom.
It is 11 a.m. on a market day at the souk. Outside, cooking utensils are displayed here while colourful underwear is piled up over there. Inside, a turkey fusses, parakeets perch quietly in cages like inanimate little toys, and pomegranates the size of grapefruits add to a kaleidoscope of colours on fruit and vegetable stalls.
By the Sea
Agadir has a wide range of hotels. We are staying at The Sofitel Agadir Royal Bay Resort in Palm Bay. The luxury hotel’s main doors open into a spacious lobby, with large potted palms and comfortable sofas. The sliding glazed roof is open to the skies during the day for alfresco relaxation. At night the roof is closed and the lobby comes alive with coloured lights and live music.
In the rear gardens, terraces and pools lead down to the wide sandy beach. Guests come to sit by the shore in the evening to listen to the rhythm of the waves and watch the sun dip below the horizon.
On the first evening we meet for pre-dinner drinks by the pool bar, sipping mojitos and Laurent-Perrier champagne beside flames leaping out of a cascading fountain, and sampling irresistible canapés such as spring rolls, salmon sushi, and chocolate profiteroles.
Later, we have dinner at 33 Yacht Adress, a newly-opened restaurant in Agadir Marina. The view from our table is of a large, well-lit public space, with people out strolling and enjoying the evening breeze. My attention switches to my plate as soon as my expertly grilled sole is served.
We return to the marina one morning for an Atlantic excursion. “Do you have a king who can jet ski?” we are asked as we step on board the yacht Federika. A photograph of King Mohamed VI, skimming the waves, is passed round with pride. As we cruise along the coast, a big parasol appears in the sea, tossed about by the waves. When we get closer, it turns out to be a giant jellyfish.
The yacht anchors in a protected cove: “A good spot for catching mackerel” according to the crew. Although I am not lucky, others reel in their silvery catch while the crew prepare our lunch of freshly grilled fish with salad.