Morocco travel: Tune in to windy city’s wavelength | Beach Holidays | Travel

Fort of Essaouira (Image: Getty Images)

Surfboard underarm, I had one thought: “Absolutely no chance.” 

Fast-forward five days and I’d conquered my fear of open water and fish – and learnt to surf. 

Greece holidays: Take the plunge in amazing Athens Buckinghamshire getaway: Retreat to the country

Thanks to a few one-to-one lessons from some very patient instructors, I’d stood up on my bright pink beginners’ board more times than I can count and rode the waves of Africa’s windiest city. 

Perched on Morocco’s Atlantic coast, Essaouira is where the best of North Africa meets the finery of the Mediterranean region. 

Its vibrant medina is surrounded by golden-stone city walls which enclose the bright blue and crisp whitewashed riads and markets with flowing djellabas and the smell of spices. 

Influences from Arabs, Africans, Romans and French all blend together to create a buzzing, relaxed beachside metropolis. 

Formerly known as Mogador, the medina in Essaouira has been listed as a Unesco World Heritage site for its unusual mix of Moroccan and European styles. But unlike the medinas of other Moroccan towns and cities, walking into Essaouira’s medina isn’t like going into a maze, so you’ve got a pretty good chance of not getting completely lost.

KiteWorldWide offers excellent tuition (Image: SUNDAY EXPRESS)

The medina’s narrow alleyways are lined by tall buildings, adorned with vibrant plates, tagines, beautiful hand-woven baskets where hundreds of locals bustle and barter with market stall owners. 

While there are still plenty of twists and turns, the city is based on a French-inspired grid design which makes it a lot easier to find your way around. The name Es-Saouira, the locals tell me, translates as “beautifully designed”. How convenient for those of us who are navigationally challenged. 

Essaouira’s liveliness bursts beyond the old city’s walls and spills on to the beach. 

Surfing may seem unattainable for those of us who have done nothing more than splash about in waist-high waters. But if you’re in good shape and up for a challenge, it’s never too late to learn. 

I’d booked a seven-night hotel and surf tuition package with adventure specialists KiteWorld Wide. 

Their very patient instructors showed me how to paddle, arch my back and pop up.

Essaouira’s liveliness bursts beyond the old city’s walls and spills on to the beach (Image: SUNDAY EXPRESS)

But I wasn’t thinking about any of that. All I could visualise was how much it was going to hurt when my board inevitably smacked me in the head when I was dragged, washing machine style, under the waves. 

But somehow I managed to do what I’d been taught and suddenly I was up and moving, being swept forward by the great hand of the sea. With a huge grin on my face I paddled back out, basking in my pride, to attempt another wave. Gnarly, dude. 

After a few days, erm, mastering surfing, I tried my hand at kiting with another of KiteWorldWide’s incredible instructors. 

It began with learning how to set up my kite and control it in the unrelenting winds, before taking to the water again. This is where I had my first “body drag” lesson. Every kite surfer must learn to control their kite from the water for when they inevitably fall off their board. 

“Body drag” involves vigorously flying the kite left and right in the air while being dragged facedown through the breaking waves. 

“Pull left, right, left, right,” my instructor Hamza screamed after me as I swallowed another wave. 

The medina and its colourful streets (Image: SUNDAY EXPRESS)

It’s every bit as scary as it sounds but after mastering this, you’re ready to get on a board. 

Kiting requires using all your core strength to stay upright, quads and hamstrings while clinging to and controlling the board, and upper body flying the enormous kite. 

It’s not for the faint-hearted and left me aching in places I didn’t know could ache but it is exhilarating to attempt to master. 

After all the hard work in the sea, I needed to refuel. 

Ocean Vagabond and Beach & Friends offered the perfect setting to relax and try out the day’s freshly caught fish. 

They’re ideally located either side of KiteWorldWide’s base on the beach so one swift unpeel of a soggy wetsuit and I was good to go. 

The fun doesn’t stop when the sun goes down in Essaouira. 

A small traditional boat at the small fishing harbour (Image: Getty Images)

I took the chance to try some mouthwatering local cuisine in arguably the best restaurant in the city – Umia. 

This family-owned eatery offers a seasonal, Mediterranean-influenced menu made with Moroccan market finds. 

Tucked away in the Essaouira Hills, sheltered from the brisk desert winds, my base for the trip, Le Jardin des Douars, provided perfectly serene surroundings to get my breath back. 

There are two inviting pools set in lush gardens and a spa. In the rooms, there are tiled floors, deep pile rugs, colourful local artworks and spacious bathrooms. 

The inviting queen-size beds and luxury linen provided the perfect retreat to recharge. Flawlessly decorated in traditional Moroccan style with adobe-style walls, it is a secluded gem. 

It originally began life as a botanical garden owned by a French couple, who added a house amid the riot of palm trees, cacti, flowers and ponds. 

This magnificent oasis is now Belgian-owned and has been run as a family-friendly hotel since 2005. With much less wind than the coast at 15km away, it provided the ultimate retreat after a long day at the beach. 

Le Jardin des Douars, provided perfectly serene surroundings (Image: Handout)

All too soon, my final night arrived, which I spent gazing out at a glowing Moroccan sunset, while enjoying live music on the roof of Taros – a bar popular with locals and tourists in a charming old merchant’s house right off the main square in the middle of the medina. 

I’d fallen in love with the waves and this beautiful Moroccan city and returned home with a new lease of life and the inspiration to take the leap and try something new.

GETTING THERE

KiteWorldWide offers seven days’ learn-to-kite surf holidays from £650pp, including accommodation at the KiteWorldWide Riad in Essaouira, Morocco, a 12hr kite course, transfers, breakfast, a dinner and rooftop barbecue (kiteworldwide.com/en). Kitesurfing and surfing lessons from partner firm Explora Watersports. 

Ryanair flies from London Stansted to Essaouira from £24.99 one way. (ryanair.com) 

More info at visitmorocco.com/en