Freelance travel writer, James Stewart, travelled to Oualidia with Lawrence of Morocco in November 2012, writing for the Independent and easyJet in-flight magazine.
It only takes a morning to realise Oualidia isn’t your usual Moroccan resort. Though only three hours from Marrakesh or Essouaria, there are no entreaties to admire craftshops, no big-eyed requests for “un dirham, monsieur”. I almost had to hustle a couple of fresh oysters (the local speciality) from a fisherman.
So, it’s hard to believe Oualidia – a spread of white and blue houses hooked around a lagoon – is currently being touted as Morocco’s St Tropez. Sure it’s a favourite weekend escape for smart Moroccans and in-the-know Europeans. And yes, there’s a frision of French Riviera in summer when holidaymakers sizzle before the breakers on Grande Plage. The arrival of small five-star hotel La Sultana has also introduced boutique luxury (and then some).
Nevertheless, Oualidia is no St Tropez. Not unless that’s the fishing village before Bardot changed everything. Instead it is a coastal escape for connoisseurs, especially out of high season. You’ll do nothing more complicated than eat in fine seafood restaurants and swim; maybe potter down the lagoon in a boat or kayak to spot flamingos, go horse-riding or try surfing the small waves which break in the lagoon.
Personally, I could’ve passed my entire stay on the terrace of L’Hippocampe. Family-run, perfumed by flowers in its garden and the sea directly in front, the small hotel makes up in utterly charming staff and waterfront location what it lacks in luxury compared to La Sultana. There’s a small pool and petanque court but for me the best entertainment was the view from that terrace, especially over breakfast. As manager Muhammed brought warm croissants, eggs dusted with spice, baguettes with jam, fresh juice and coffee, I lost more then one morning simply watching the golden sandflats materialise and vanish with the tide, filling the air with vast drifts of gulls.
That view, those long langurous breakfasts seemed to capture something of the essence of Oualidia. It is a resort to remember how to relax; a place where plenty holds your attention but nothing – and, as importantly, no one – demands it. One morning Muhammed told me he had not left in years. Now that I could believe.