I recently spent some days in Morocco, my first time to the country and a much needed break from the busy summer season in Barcelona while also a great choice to explore somewhere more exotic, eat something not Tapas and finally see an uncrowded beach again.
Admitted, I didn’t know much about Morocco before except that it was Ramadan at the time of my travels and no one was eating or drinking throughout the day but everyone partied it up in the night time. Want to know more about Ramadan? Have a look here.
My first impressions of the country were certainly exotic. I flew into the former capital called Fès, the cultural hub of Morocco full of medieval architecture and a vibrant medina with narrow lanes infused with the smell of freshly squeezed orange juice, fresh peppermint, chickens running around and donkeys pulling past sweet pastry stalls, a crazy mix of stuff going on.
After a few days of wandering the streets as well as relaxing on rooftops overlooking the bustling town it was time to see some ocean, coast and feel some sand between my toes. I wanted to visit the small seaside town of Asilah.
How to get there & around
I decided to take the early-afternoon train to travel four hours north-west toward the Atlantic. And I will probably never do that again. Not the thing with the train, it’s actually quite fine, but I couldn’t have chosen a poorer time as the train was stinking hot even though I had bought a 1st class ticket where the air-condition was supposed to be working.
It was a mere breeze and my cold water bottle that kept me alive until the train reached the small town of Asilah right before sunset.
Side note: Trains are a great medium to get around Morocco, but if it’s a very hot day I would rather take it in the evening or early morning as otherwise it just get’s stinking hot and windows and doors cannot always be opened (or need to be forced). That’s my learning for your right there.
There are also trains from Tangier, Casablanca and Marrakech and long distance buses leaving from Tangier, which is a 30-40 minute train ride away, that take you all around the country. Booking 2nd class is fine too but you don’t get a dedicated seat and at peak times it can get crowded.
Asilah is the perfect place to spend a weekend or some quiet days by the beach, taste fish tagine and wander the white-washed walls of the medina (old town). The towns busiest month is August when holiday-makers flock into town.
The town is not big and you can easily explore it by walking. Taxis are inexpensive and there are also horse and donkey carts you can use to get around. Always bargain! It’s also best to ask at your accommodation how much a ride across town should normally cost in order not to pay the tourist price.
Things to do & see
Highlights of Asilah include a visit to the hammam, the public bathhouse which plays a large part in the social life of local people and where you will probably get the best exfoliation you’ve ever seen. It’s certainly an experience!
Another highlight you cannot miss is the pedestrian-only medina with it’s colourful mediterranean-influenced houses and vivid arts scene.
Artists have been invited to paint the white walls for years so you will find a lot of interesting paintings which set Asilah apart from other Andalucian style towns in Morocco like the blue town of Chefchaouen or Essaouria.
I also love the many shades of blue and green which accents house walls and especially the many key-shaped doors which serve as fantastic photo subjects.
There is even an international arts and cultural festival held every year during summer.
You will sure pass many small galleries of artists from all over Europe. When I was walking around here throughout the daytime I hardly met any people let alone tourists, just be a little carful about self-proclaimed artists wanting to sell you fake replicates of art pieces.
In general, I found that shop owners here have a less aggressive sales approach compared to other cities in Morocco.
On the edges of the medina you will find ramparts which protect the town from the roughness of the Atlantic Ocean.
A beautiful spot to come watch the waves in daylight or enjoy the sunset is the stone pier, the Krikia, on the south of the medina.
The counter part of the medina is the Ville Nouvelle, the “new town”. In the heart of it you will find a newly renovated square boarded by little restaurants, ATMs and shops.
From here you can also spot the Church of St Bartolme, one of the few churches in Morocco which was allowed to ring the bells for Sunday mass.
Outside the gate Bab el-Homar you can also find a bazar buzzing throughout the day where you can try moroccan pastries, buy fresh orange juice for about 40 cents, clothes, shoes and many other things.
Throughout the day you will most likely find many travelers explore the beautiful surrounding beaches.
Medina Beach is the main beach of Asilah, but really not the cleanest. However it’s close to town and the water is relatively shallow. Also close by is Port beach, which is just a small strip of sand inside the harbor bay of Asilah, which is too very shallow and can get crowded with locals in summer.
One of the more popular beaches is Paradise Beach (Rmilate Beach), a very large and laid-back beach about 7km south of Asilah. You will find a spot here no matter how many people are at the beach. There is a small café and you can rent sun chairs and umbrellas too. I have also seen locals down here with their horses riding along the beach or offering a ride to families with kids.
You can actually take a walk along the coast which takes about an hour and a half, depending how fast you walk.
There are some trails but not an really an official route and I can recommend wearing proper shoes and carrying enough water. You also have to walk through a Golf course/hotel facilities which is fenced but you can still enter at one point and simply exit on the other side, everyone does it. And the coastline you get to see is just beautiful!
Alternatively, you can take a horse cart which is about 150 Dh for the return journey. It takes about 30-40 minutes one-way.
However, I only took it on the way back and it was already enough to have a very sore bum from the wooden seating surface.
Other beaches to visit around Asilah:
Sidi Mugait Beach, Asilah’s most remote and relatively undiscovered beach.
Rada Beach, next to Sidi Mugai Beach but still rather undiscovered by tourist and therefore plenty of space to lie your towel.
Afriquia Beach, 3km north of Asilah so very close to even take a bike ride there.
Where to sleep & eat
In Asilah you can find some very nice guesthouses right in the medina or close by.
If you are looking for a bigger place there are options to rent a whole house in the medina too.
Situated right in front of the medina walls, Patio de la Luna offers a comfortable stay in rustic-chic rooms which have been tastefully decorated in Arabic-Andalucian style. From the top terrace you have great views over Asilah as it’s also a great spot to watch the sunset over the Atlantic.
In the medina of Asilah you will find the small charming hotel Riad Asilah, a beautifully restored building with morrocan style rooms equipped with modern amenities. There is a common area with a pation and large terrace to chill and free wifi.
Located in the old medina, Dar Tabia offers beautifully decorated, clean rooms and a wonderful rooftop terrace where breakfast is served in the morning. There are only a few rooms so the atmosphere is very private.
A great budget choice when staying in Asilah set in a typical Moroccan house. The hostel is renovated with a modern feel and lots of color, equipped with a kitchen, living room, garden, roof terrace and free wifi throughout. The various rooms offer space for 8 person in a dorm to a large double ensuite for two. 600 meters walking to the beach.
Christinas house is a big comfortable house shared with other travelers. The various rooms (with ensuite or shared bathroom) are nicely decorated in Moroccan style while offering all modern comforts. The breakfast is very yummy with fresh bread and croissants, freshly squeezed orange juice and mint tea! The rooftop terrace is a big plus. I really enjoyed staying here.
Being so close to the ocean naturally you will find a lot of fresh seafood on the menu. Other traditional food includes Tagine and Couscous. And of course, the infamous fresh peppermint tea.
In Asilah, it’s great to dine at one of the restaurants located on the promenade, such as La Perle, El Espigon or Port XIV. Ask for the daily recommendation and enjoy it with a chilled glass of wine.