Intrigued by the colours, cuisine and climate of Morocco and in search of a little luxury, Hero & Leander booked a romantic break at the five-star Mazagan Beach & Golf Resort.
The resort sits on the Atlantic coast of Morocco, about an hour’s drive south Casablanca, and the country’s national carrier Royal Air Maroc offers daily direct flights there from both Heathrow and Gatwick, which take a little over three hours.
Before we knew it, we were descending into Mohammed V International Airport, the city of Casablanca ablaze with hundreds of twinkling lights below.
We were greeted by hotel staff before we had even reached passport control and we were led into a private room filled with sofas and bottled water, a service offered to all hotel guests. Our passports were taken from us there and taken to passport control on our behalf, then we collected our luggage and were picked up in one of the resort’s complimentary shuttle busses.
Approaching the hotel the sheer scale of it started to sink in. Set over 617 acres, with 7km of uninterrupted private beach, a football pitch and an 18-hole golf course, 500 rooms and suites, 67 private villas, 14 restaurants, a gym, spa, bank, farm, one of the largest conference centres in Morocco and the largest casino in Northern Africa and even its own nightclub, the impressive Mazagan Resort is more like a city – one that’s run by 1,200 full time staff and 250 additional part-time staff. And with a seemingly endless choice of activities, from golfing to spa treatments, quad biking to horse riding, and paint balling to archery, it’s no wonder that the hotel has become a destination in its own right.
We passed through the hotel’s perimeter security and drove up to the entrance, where we then passed through a second security – airport-style complete with sniffer dog and metal detectors. The area is a safe place, but the hotel takes every precaution to ensure the security of its (sometimes high profile) guests.
Finally entering the hotel itself, our jaws dropped. The hotel was designed to mimic the traditional Moroccan ‘Grand Rhiad’ turreted building, and it is palatial. We crossed a manicured courtyard with a large water feature taking center stage, and entered the opulent main atrium via enormous triple-height ornate double doors. The atrium looks onto the central communal area, patisserie café, bar, casino and souvenir shops. Our bags were taken from us at reception and we were handed our room keys – the staff speaking perfect English (they are also all fluent in Arabic and French).
We walked down a spacious open-air balcony corridor that looked down into the courtyards below. The whole hotel was decorated with pretty mosaic tiles, ornate carvings and Moroccan lamps and lanterns that created a magical atmosphere at night.
Rooms either look towards the pool or, like ours, the sea and beach, with a balcony overlooking the North Atlantic coast. Our bedroom was furnished with traditional dark wood and looked like it could use a little updating – but the hotel is due a total renovation in August.
We opened the doors to the balcony to welcome in the sound of the rolling waves and the breeze in the palm trees, and collapsed onto bed.
Breakfast was at Olive’s restaurant – an informal restaurant with an enormous breakfast buffet and a big terrace with tables overlooking the pool area. The buffet had everything someone would want, from cheeses, meats, olives and even hummus, eggs made to order (we recommend their vegetable omelettes), lots of fresh fruit and even bottled juices with odd combinations like pressed carrot and vanilla.
With full tummies we decided to stretch our legs and explore the hotel. The hotel itself is set around a Grand Riad (courtyard) housing a gorgeous pool ringed by palm trees, with the corridors broken up by smaller tree and plant-filled riads. The pool is a central feature and takes over most of the courtyard, and is surrounded with sun loungers, parasols and day-beds, and there’s also a handy pool bar (and an ice cream parlour!) right on the poolside where you can escape the sun and relax with a cold drink or quick bite to eat.
Although most guests flock to the poolside, there’s also 7km of uninterrupted private sandy beach, where the resort offers sun loungers and day beds, horse riding and quad biking, and two beach restaurants. We looked around the other restaurants; Out of the 14 restaurants, Morjana and Sel de Mer are probably the resort’s most fine dining experiences, while Olive’s and Market Place have child-friendly buffet options. Le Cave is a rustic French restaurant with an excellent wine selection, Morjana is a Moroccan restaurant with a sort of Bollywood vibe going on (but apparently also going to be redecorated in August) serving tagines and cous cous, and Sel de Mer offers a large variety of fresh local fish and seafood prepared on a large barbecue grill. L’Oasis is by the pool, perfect for snacking or casual dining, Chiringuito Beach Club is set on the beach and has lots of tapas style dishes, also perfect for sharing, the Beach Barbecue beach restaurant has a great barbecue selection plus its own pizzeria, then there’s also a sushi bar, Jin-ja, and finally Al Firma which is located by the farm, a short drive by golf buggy, which is an outdoor Moroccan teepee restaurant which offers Moroccan cuisine and shiesha whilst belly dancers shimmy.
The golf course has its own clubhouse, golf shop, restaurant and spacious drinks terrace with sea views, then there’s a gym with daily classes, tennis courts, football pitch, and even a petting zoo / farm – although the animals looked a little malnourished and were mostly tied to trees.
Rounding off our tour we visited the spa; 19 treatment rooms plus a 100m squared authentic Moroccan hammam made from marble, then the casino; over 463 slot machines and 44 gaming tables, open 23 hours with its own bar, bank, cash machine and 3 permanent on-site and live-in police officers, then the nighclub (enormous), and finally the kids clubs – complete with their own cinema room, computer rooms with Apple Mac computers, gaming rooms and an outdoor pool with waterslide. Oh, and they offer day care and in-room babysitting services too (perfect if you want a romantic evening without the kids).
Dizzy from the whirlwind tour we had a long lunch at the Chiringita beach restaurant; lots of tapas style dishes like calamari and gambas pil pil, and a lovely blush rose. It was quiet due to Ramadan, and we had most of the restaurant (and hotel, for that matter) to ourselves.
We had a few hours to laze by the pool, then descended on the spa for our treatments. Out of everything the hotel has to offer, the spa was by far our favourite; my massage took place in a small treatment room overlooking the grounds, and I was massaged from tip to toe and back again to the sound of the rolling waves and chirping birds, with a slight sea breeze coming in through the open door.
The scent of the jasmine and orange blossom massage oil filled the air, and I lay face-down plonked on the massage bed, feet raised up on a rolled up towel, feeling heavy and unable to move. I wasn’t quite asleep, nor fully awake, just drifting and dreaming whilst the masseuse applied a firm pressure and kneaded out every knot, working her way up to my scalp for a neck and head massage.
Afterwards, I slowly emerged from my comatose state in the relaxation room, sitting in my bathrobe on the terrace which looked out over the ocean, sipping jasmine tea and stuck in a daydream.
Eventually I got up and freshened up for dinner at Morjana. There was acoustic Spanish guitar music which kept me in my trance-like holiday state, and unable to make a decision from the menu we ordered a selection of the tagines to try, along with the cous cous, side dishes and Moroccan wine (which was unexpectedly excellent).
After an early night and heavy sleep we felt ready for our action-packed itinerary the next day; horse riding, quad biking and exploring nearby El Jadida.
Horse riding took 45 minutes, which was the perfect amount of time for inexperienced riders like myself as your bum does start to ache after a while! We sauntered slowly, as the guides held on to the reigns and walked alongside the horses. Quad biking was right next to the stables so we hopped off the horses and onto the quad bikes – they were a bit intimidating at first but were very easy to drive (and I don’t drive, either) and very fun. One of the guides led the way on the beach and we followed, with another guide driving alongside us to check on us and take pictures for those who wanted them.
Lunch was at the Beach Barbecue restaurant – we had a large sharing salad to start, followed by an enormous barbecue sharing platter of fruit, vegetables, fish and meats, and finished off with a fruit platter. Again the restaurant was nearly empty due to Ramadan, and the portions were so enormous we barely even managed to make a dent in each course!
We spent the rest of the day exploring the nearby walled port town of El Jadida, a UNESCO World Heritage site. El Jadida was previously called Mazagan, which gave the hotel its name, and it’s unique in Morocco due to its Portuguese style architecture, built when they occupied it in the 16th Century.
I was surprised to find that we were the only tourists, and that the locals didn’t hassle us at all – unlike experiences in Marrakesh. We walked through their local market (again, hassle free) and explored some of the artisanal shops and the surrounding monuments. It doesn’t strike me as a holiday town (it’s very poor with crumbling architecture and lots of stray sick animals, with no bar or beach café in sight), but is worth a visit if you’re in the area.
With a wonderful spa, large golf course and plenty of activities and things to do, it’s the perfect place for a lazy weekend away from it all.
For more information please visit www.mazaganbeachresort.com/