Where can you get sunshine almost guaranteed, exotic fauna, delicious cuisine, a view of the Atlantic and great golf? Mike Kaas-Stock explores the relaxed Rabat region of Morocco and doesn’t want to leave…
You may not know much about this city, but I predict that Rabat is about to make an entrance stage left. With its stunning architecture and considerably more laid-back attitude than its contemporaries, it may be time to visit this capital by the sea.
I arrive at Rabat Airport on a flight from Stanstead and I am shocked by what I find… peace and quiet. There are plenty of people around but everything just seems very well organised and very civilised. True, you still have the rather odd custom of having your passport checked several times, even after leaving passport control, but that’s just part and parcel of a trip to Morocco.
A well-dressed driver from my hotel Sofitel Jardin Des Roses awaits me in the airport concourse. Within minutes I am seated in the back of a rather nice Mercedes and driven through the streets of the city. The roads are lined with palm trees as we pass the ancient red walls that surround the old city. The name Rabat literally means ‘fortified place’, and going by the size of these beautiful clay walls, I can see why.
On this all too short visit I am staying at two Accor hotels; the Sofitel, here in the capital, and the Pullman Mazagan Royal Golf & Spa, located about 90 minutes south near El Jadida.
WARM WELCOME. On arrival at the hotel, I am guided into the palatial foyer and greeted at reception like a returning friend. My bags are already on their way to my room before I even know it, and after a chat with my hosts I follow. And what a room I have. Overlooking the picturesque hotel gardens, I see tall palms line the paths and brightly coloured oranges in trees, ripe and ready to be picked. It’s all very pretty.
That evening I am booked into one of the hotel’s choice of restaurants, the Al Warda (which means rose in Arabic). This seems fitting as the restaurant faces out towards the gardens, which have beautiful rose bushes. An ornate carved ceiling gives the restaurant a feeling of authenticity, which complements the excellent food on offer. I begin the evening with a glass of traditional Moroccan mint tea, something that I look forward to when dining in Morocco. It is certainly a good way to refresh the palate before a meal.
The waiters are, as always, pleasant and keen to make your evening perfect. To start with I enjoy a bowl of Harira, a traditional soup made with lentils, tomatoes, ginger, cinnamon and plenty of herbs. For my main course it has to be a seafood tagine. This slow-cooked stew is baked within a distinctively shaped clay pot (tagine) and is delicious.
SO SPA. The next day, after a traditional Moroccan breakfast, I explore the hotel and grounds. My first port of call is the Sofitel So Spa. Unfortunately, I do not have time for a treatment today as I have to be at Dar es Salam Golf Course later in the morning, but plenty of guests are making good use of what is on offer.
As befits the exotic location, there is a Hammam steam room, which I know from personal experience is the perfect sauna. Other treatments include an Aromatic Scrub with Spices,said to energise the body; a White Clay Purifying Wrap, for detoxing; and an Aromatic Bath,which uses essential oils and delicate fragrances such as orange blossom, rose, eucalyptus and cinnamon. There is also an excellent gym for those looking to keep trim as well as stay relaxed and smell good.
EXPLORING THE CITY. Rabat, often overlooked and waiting to be discovered, has a lot to offer. It has a thriving medina (the old city district), distinctly different from what you would find in other Moroccan cities due to the architectural influence of the influx of Moors from Spain in the 17th century.
Another must-see site is the Kasbah. Again, it has a distinctively Andalusian feel to it, with its white and blue painted buildings and its small winding alleys. Also of interest are the Hassan Tower and the Mausoleum of Mohamed V. But above all, what I like here in Rabat is the relaxed atmosphere. No pressure from all and sundry trying to sell me something and the freedom to really just roam where my feet take me.
TIME FOR GOLF. I’m looking forward to visiting the famous Dar Es Salam Golf Course, just a short drive from the hotel, and I’m not disappointed. Designed by Robert Trent Jones, there are three stunning courses here spread out over 440 hectares of cork forest. Sadly, my time is short and there are 45 holes to cover so it will be a case of driving around and picking some choice holes to play. This is hard to do as I quickly see that there are many good holes here.
The Red Course (Par 73) is a true joy. I tee off on the first, a par-4 with a dogleg right and some interestingly placed bunkers, to its signature ninth hole, which is always one to inspire and enjoy. This par-3 has the green on an island, with a carry of in excess 150 metres over water.
The Blue Course (Par 72) is slightly shorter but by no means any easier. The fairways on average may not be such a distance, but the hidden greens and myriad doglegs make this a challenge for anyone. The 11th is a captivating long par-4 at 405 metres. Water to one side and a narrowing fairway can lead many a golfer astray.
The Green Course (Par 32)may be the easier option but by no means is it boring. This nine-hole course is a match in terms of quality to its larger siblings.
FERTILE OASIS. I have a bit of a drive ahead of me; or rather my driver has, as I am sitting again in the back of that rather plush Mercedes. We are heading south of Rabat to my next destination, the Pullman Mazagan Royal Golf & Spa, located in the bay of El Jadida and not too far from Casablanca.
Nestled into its surroundings with a forest of pines and eucalyptus hugging the hotel and golf course, and the Atlantic Ocean in front, this is a part of Morocco that many do not know even exists. Green and fertile, it is a true oasis.
From my plush hotel room with its large balcony, I can sit and drink in the views over the golf course and out to the Bay of Al Jadida. The rich green lushness of the course and forest, the azure of the mighty Atlantic and the crystal clear blue Moroccan sky, all combine to make this a truly inspirational setting.
According to Sales Executive Nadia El Bachiri, the hotel’s guests mainly come from France but she says that they are looking to attract more visitors from the UK. And given how awful British winters are, and how pleasant the winter climate is in Morocco, I think they might be on to something!
As well as the Royal El Jadida Golf Course, which I plan to investigate tomorrow, there is also the opportunity here to go riding, quad biking and paintballing, or you could just lounge by the pool.
THE PORTUGUESE CITY. Within the city of El Jadida is the old Portuguese fortified city of Mazagan, which was granted the status of a protected UNESCO site in 2004. Built as a fortified colony in the 16th century, it was taken over by the Moroccans in 1769. This was one of the earliest settlements of the Portuguese explorers on route to West Africa and India, and is a fantastic blend of European and Moroccan cultures.
ROYAL EL JADIDA. After breakfast I head off to the golf course, my plan is to view first and then play in the afternoon. My guide, Ali Essrout, has impeccable English and has worked at Royal El Jadida Golf Course for 20 years. As the caddie master, he knows the course inside out. “I consider myself very lucky,” says Ali. “To be here on the course every day is the most wonderful thing that I can imagine.”
The course starts with a nice par-5 with a dogleg right about 150 metres from the yellow tee. I can already see from my surroundings that this is a place for strategy rather than smashing it down the fairway, although I soon find that there are opportunities for that also.
The 4th hole is a charming par-3 over a lake. At 122 metres from the yellow, it’s a reasonably safe hole to relax on and enjoy your surroundings. At this time of the day the sunlight is permeating through the large eucalyptus trees to create a wonderful dappled landscape.
Ali has an interesting story for me at the par-5 8th hole. “I was caddying for a French amateur player in a tournament here a few years back,” he says. “This player hit a wonderful drive to just left of the lake. For his second shot he used a 3-iron. The ball disappeared over towards the green and off we went to see where it had landed. After searching all around the green, we all assumed it must have disappeared over the back and into the bushes. Out of desperation I checked in the hole, sure enough the ball was there and the player had shot an Eagle!”
DOGLEG RIGHT. One thing that I have noticed here is that all the doglegs seem to be right, for me as a dyed-in-the-wool-lefty with a slice I make a note not to hit too hard. The eucalyptus forest looks wonderful but I do not want to spend my limited time here looking for lost balls.
From the 16th onwards the course stays close to the coast. The 17th hole is a lovely par-4 up to a green that’s surrounded by gnarled trees weathered by storms off the Atlantic.
My time is just too short for everything on offer on this trip. I fly back to England the next day with a different view of Morocco. Rabat offers a new side to this exotic land that is only three hours from London. Would I recommend Rabat and El Jadida as a holiday destination? It has to be a resounding yes. Will I be back? Absolutely.
Want to visit somewhere completely different but only a few hours from the UK? Somewhere with snow-capped mountains, palm trees, stunning golf courses and the odd camel? Then why not head off to the Red City?
Kenya is rightly known for the amazing wildlife of its national parks, including the famous Maasai Mara where you can enjoy breathtaking encounters with big cats. With golf courses spread from the escarpments of the Great Rift Valley to the white-sand beaches of the Indian Ocean, you can take a golf safari and even get up close and personal with wild animals on the fairways.
Good to know
Flights to Rabat and Casablanca are available with Ryanair and Royal Air Maroc.
For direct bookings with the Pullman Mazagan Royal Golf & Spa and Sofitel Jardin Des Roses visit our direct Golf bookings portal at - www.greatgolfholidays.com
Pullman Mazagan Royal Gold & Spa – www.pullmanhotels.com
Sofitel Jardin Des Roses – www.sofitel.com
For information on El Jadida and Rabat go to – www.visitmorocco.com