A Pocket Guide to Oualidia, Morocco

After visiting the heady souks of Marrakech, slip down a few gears at Oualidia, where the pace is as unhurried as the tide that shapes its ever-shifting landscape. We’ve found the village’s best places to stay, and things to eat and see.

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.

This image is on holiday

hotel

Hôtel L’Hippocampe

A more casual option is the family run Hôtel L'Hippocampe. Colourful gardens wrap around a small outdoor pool and 23 no-frills rooms and suites - the latter offering lagoon views and a private terrace. Families who want a bit more privacy should book one of the apartments, located just outside the gates, where separate living rooms with sofa beds accommodate kids (guests can use all the hotel facilities). The wood-panelled restaurant is a cosy spot, with an open fireplace and traditional tiled floors. Tables and chairs spill out onto a stone terrace, which juts over the water, and the menu is crammed with day-fresh fish and seafood dishes.

Address

2 Rue du Palais Oualidia 24252e

hotel

La Sultana Oualidia

Built like a grand Moorish fort, La Sultana is tucked away among palm-strewn gardens and koi ponds on the edge of the lagoon. Just 12 rooms and suites create an intimate feel; many look out over the Atlantic, some open onto private terraces - the best with outdoor whirlpool baths. A large infinity pool seeps into the horizon, while a colonnaded indoor pool is part of the tranquil spa, where expert therapists carry out argan-oil massages in marbled treatment rooms. Breakfasts are served al fresco on a wooden deck - a lavish affair of homemade pumpkin- and fig-jams, pastries, freshly baked breads, local cheeses as well as made-to-order Moroccan pancakes and Berber omelettes. Later, lunch is served on the beachfront terrace where a sea-to-plate menu lists urchins, oysters and the catch of the day. The seafood platter is piled with lobster, prawns and crab, best shared with friends on the wooden jetty to spot avocets without needing the house binoculars. From here, guests embark on flamingo-spotting boat excursions, kayaking trips and tours of the oyster farms.

Address

Parc à huîtres n° 3 Oualidia 24252