Morocco's Atlantic beaches teem with tourists recharging from the intoxicating, sense-assaulting city of Marrakech. While most hotfoot it to Essaouira or Casablanca, local residents escape the incoming hordes by heading in the opposite direction to lesser-trodden Oualidia ("Waa-lee-dee-a"). Within three hours of Marrakech by car, the blue-shuttered houses of this small, soulful town hook around a lagoon, shielded from the wild Atlantic by rocky promontories.
The traditional fishing village was first put on the map when a royal palace was built for former sultan Mohammed V, who spent many holidays in Oualidia. Today, the still-guarded villa remains empty and in disarray alongside a crumbling 17th-century kasbah designed by the town's namesake, Sultan El Oualid - but the village's reputation as a summer playground lingers. In an effort to retain its character, the current king Mohammed VI banned waterfront construction following a visit in 2010, and only a few hotels are scattered throughout the whitewashed village.
The pace of life is as slow and unhurried as the tide that shapes its shifting landscape of lagoon islands and sandbars. In August, colourful wooden boats cart Moroccan holiday-goers from beach to hotel to restaurant. Come September, the town belongs to the locals again. Long, leisurely days are spent kayaking or sailing, passing reed-lined banks that shelter brooding storks and elegant egrets. Spoonbills, avocets, cormorants, kingfishers: the casting list of support actors leads to the star of the show - the magnificent flamingo. In October, the northern tip of the lagoon is partially hidden beneath a cloud of candy-pink waders.
It's not just a flamboyance of flamingos that feasts on the bounty of the water. Oualidia is known as the "oyster capital of Morocco", with freshly shucked huitres that taste of the ocean sold at beachfront shacks. At dusk, groups of young tousled surfers pause to haggle over a few-dozen huge molluscs to take back to their rented fishermen's houses. Groups of chic Marrakshis sample them baked au gratin or à la ciboulette (roasted with cream and chives) at the unpretentious seafood restaurants attached to waterside oyster farms - easily distinguished for their bone-white cube architecture.
Oualidia isn't the place to go if you want a buzzy nightlife or cool scene; it's the place to do nothing more complicated than watch the tidal island appear and vanish before you like a mirage.