"On the two-hour drive from the Casablanca airport, the landscape doesn’t change much. Not that I’m complaining. There’s something otherworldly about Morocco’s sea of caramel-colored sand dunes. The driver takes a quick right turn and starts off-roading, weaving around rocks on a narrow dirt path. When he suddenly stops, I blink my jetlagged eyes. A Moorish, stone-covered fort—the village’s only luxury hotel, palace-style La Sultana Oualidia—stands guard in front of a lagoon, the sea roaring with foam-topped waves in the distance.
I’d heard whispers about Oualidia but had yet to meet anyone who had actually visited the village. Bordered by the Atlantic Ocean on one side and a saltwater lagoon on the other, Oualidia is a paradise of pink flamingos and oyster farms—the place locals gather for straight-from-the-sea shellfish (making it known as Morocco's oyster capital) and a glass of crisp, Moroccan white wine. In the 1940s, King Mohammed V built his summer palace along the water, decreeing Morocco’s first royal beach. The palace is now empty, but guards still protect the royal ruins, which blend in amongst the villas that dot the rust-red cliffs.
“For Moroccans, Oualidia is the high-end seaside destination that used to be home to the royal family, and since then, many wealthy families have followed,” explains La Sultana Oualidia’s head concierge, Nabil. Just as Saint-Tropez draws jetsetters each summer, chic Marrakshis and Casablancais still mimic the royals in August, descending on the under-the-radar surf town that’s quickly becoming the Montauk of Morocco. It’s one of the country’s best-kept surf secrets (the current king’s kids even come here to surf)—and since temperatures never dip below 64 degrees, you can hit the waves year-round.
It’s early November and there’s a slight chill in the air as we step on the motorboat and whisk across the lagoon to Surfland, a Quiksilver-sponsored surf camp started in the 1990s, where many of Morocco’s pros train, and where masters like Tom Carroll and Ross Clarke-Jones come to surf. “The site remains preserved from the masses of surfers, compared to spots in the south like Imsouane or Taghazout, where it's overcrowded,” says Surfland’s founder, Laurent Miramon. “The advantage of Oualidia is the bay, which is like a natural wave garden; whatever the size of the swell, you are guaranteed surf every day.”
We zip up our wetsuits and jump back on the boat, heading to a beginner-friendly spot in the center of the lagoon. Glancing at the waves crashing against the portal of pale rocks opening to the sea in the distance, I take a second to shake off my nerves before the instructor gently glides my board through the clear-as-glass water, shouting an encouraging “Allez!” Go!
Waves roll slowly, offering beginners plenty of opportunities to practice rising to their feet and riding to shore, while more advanced surfers cross over into the Atlantic, vying for a place at famous surf spot “Les Tomates,” named after the neighboring tomato farm. In spring and fall, birdwatchers flock to the lagoon and its salt marshes (a natural reserve) on boat safaris to see over 400 species, from white egrets to pink flamingoes that make the migration on the east-Atlantic route.
Red-and-green-painted fishing boats bob on the water as we cruise around the crescent-shaped lagoon to another one of its claims-to-fame: oysters. Modest, whitewashed buildings outfitted with Tiffany blue-colored shutters line the shore, housing restaurants and oyster farms. Seven farms drive the region’s oyster production, one of the most famous being Maison de l’Ostréa, which produces 200 tons of shellfish per year.
There’s more to Oualidia than oysters, Nabil is quick to remind us as we hike across a sandy dune where a photoshoot-worthy picnic sits tucked beneath honey-colored cliffs. Rattan-topped stools and a white-tableclothed table greet us under a tent supported solely by sticks, a beachfront version of a Bedouin camp. La Sultana Oualidia’s culinary team, meanwhile, is prepping a seaside barbecue worthy of a royal reception. First to arrive: platters of freshly shucked oysters, sourced from the neighboring farms we just visited. Next, the cook presents spider crabs the size of coconuts, so large they are nearly double the width of his palm. A light, floral white wine from Val d’Argan, near the port town of Essaouira where camels plow the organic vines, pairs perfectly with the briny oysters, leaving us with a nice midday buzz.
While Essaouira’s UNESCO-listed medina (whose 18th-century ramparts form the backdrop of Astapor, the Red City in Game of Thrones) and beach resorts may be a more common pairing with Marrakech, Oualidia’s noticeable lack of hotels is part of the village’s charm. Besides La Sultana Oualidia, the family-run L’Hippocampe (now managed by the owner’s son) offers 23 contemporary rooms that feel like a laid-back beach bungalow (think beautifully tiled terraces overlooking the lagoon). On Saturdays, visitors make the trek by donkey carriage to the weekly souk, or market. Others head off in search of another treasure—traditional pottery—hand-crafted in the fishing port town of Safi, the “land of potters,” located an hour’s drive from Oualidia (and a popular surf spot for its wave dubbed “The Garden”—Morocco’s most powerful tube wave—which many consider to be the best in Africa).
Once you wrap up a day on the waves, soothe your muscles in the Sultana’s cathedral-inspired spa composed entirely of stone. Morocco is the land of argan oil (you can buy some of the purest right from the pharmacy, or herboriste), which works wonders for everything from your hair to your skin, especially when applied in massage form after a full-body scrub in a hammam, Morocco’s answer to the Turkish bath. After taking part in this traditional ritual, I strolled down a lantern-lined path to the sand as the sun started to set over the lagoon. Just when I thought there couldn’t be a scene more picturesque, I stumbled upon my dinner “table” that evening: hand-weaved carpets sprawled across the sand under a Berber tent, where wicker baskets held another Moroccan tradition, tajine."
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