2 November 2016 by David Warne
Written October 2016 by David Warne
Marrakech. Fez. Casablanca. Morocco has many evocative place names but you could be forgiven for not having heard of Oualidia.
All photos by the author.
This small fishing village on the Atlantic coast is located mid-way between Casablanca and Essaouira and just under 3 hours from Marrakech. It is perhaps best known for being the oyster capital of Morocco.
Over time, the town has become a relatively upmarket summer resort for wealthy Moroccans and a few in-the-know Europeans, the latter mainly attracted by the jewel in Oualidia's crown, La Sultana's boutique resort.
Entrance to La Sultana Oualidia
This 12 room boutique hotel is the sister property to La Sultana's better known luxury riad in Marrakech's medina. Designed in the style of a Moorish fort, La Sultana Oualidia offers a wonderfully manicured, rustic-luxury experience.
Its sheltered location on the edge of a lagoon that opens to the Atlantic Ocean a kilometre or two away means it is a calm and peaceful spot. But listen carefully and you will hear the crashing breakers of the Atlantic in the distance.
The ocean plays a significant role in Oualidia's fortunes. Apart from the occasional appearance of its famous sea mist (giving the place an air of mystery as it passes by) it actually regulates the temperature, so Oualidia misses out on the extremes that affect other parts of the country. In fact the lure of year round good weather is one of Oualidia's main attractions; a microclimate with 320 days of sunshine per year means that blue skies and daytime temperatures in the twenties are the norm for much of the year. Even winters are mild and largely sunny and, as a result, La Sultana only closes for a few weeks per year between early January and mid-February.
The hotel itself is located on a small sandy beach, surrounded inland by mature trees and pretty gardens. Either side of the hotel there is, well, very little. In front of the hotel the view is of the thin sandy and rocky peninsula that separates the lagoon from the Atlantic. A couple of kilometres away to the south around the bend in the lagoon you can just make out the whitewashed buildings of Oualidia town in the distance. To the north – out of sight from the hotel itself around the point – are a few scattered shacks of small scale oyster farmers and a seafood restaurant. Small fishing boats shuttle back and forth along the lagoon during the day but otherwise there is little to disturb the tranquillity.
The focal point of the hotel is the stylish beachfront meets safari-lodge terrace and restaurant, a lovely area at any time of day but perfect for an al fresco lunch. From the beach a tropical island-style jetty, dotted with comfortable chairs, juts out into the lagoon. At the tip is a delightful oyster bar, a recent addition to the hotel's facilities.
Being west facing, spectacular sunsets are virtually guaranteed in Oualidia – and there is no better way to start an evening at La Sultana with a glass of chilled wine and a plate of oysters from the bar.
Dining al fresco is a pleasure at La Sultana Oualidia
Heading into the resort there is an indoor restaurant at beach level, with a glass orangery-style roof and a number of well-spaced tables. Dinner is served here when it is not warm enough to dine al fresco, fireplaces providing additional warmth for cooler winter evenings. Just outside on the beach there is also a Berber tent, for a more intimate, shoes-off-on-the-rug, dining experience.
The rest of the resort is raised and set back from the beach, where the reception area, guest rooms, spa and pool can all be found.
The curving infinity pool is a good size, with sun bathing areas that are spaced out nicely. Unlike the restaurant the pool is only open to hotel guests and with plenty of loungers and cabanas on offer it never feels busy. It also offers great 180º views over the lagoon, best enjoyed in the afternoon. There are also a few additional sun loungers down on the beach itself.
The infinity pool is well-kept and overlooks the beach below
About La Sultana Oualidia
Adjacent is a circular thatched hut with large terrace where breakfast is served. The style is, again, somewhat reminiscent of an Africa safari lodge.
Each of the 12 guest suites is unique, with different sizes and layouts, grouped into 6 categories. Most are named – in French – after types of boat, such as Felouque, Jonque and Pirogue. All rooms have a large outdoor private terrace with table and chairs, sun loungers and an outdoor Jacuzzi. At the top of the tree – quite literally – is the Cabane, a spacious and fun treehouse suite.
The room I stayed in was immaculately presented and traditional in style
Eating at Oualidia
Dining is, as you might expect, biased towards fish and shellfish. Quite apart from the excellent oysters, local specialities include razor clams, spider crabs, crayfish, sea bass and sea bream. The hotel only serves fresh from the day's catch so not all the seafood menu options are available every day, but the selection is supplemented by a choice of lamb dishes and an excellent fillet steak. For the ultimate indulgence, the resort also has its own tanks from which diners can select their own live local blue lobster.
Lunch menus offer a similar range of dishes along with lighter options such as salads and burgers. Alternatively, one of the hotel's signature experiences is to take a private picnic, with butler, on a secluded spot of beach across the lagoon in front of the Atlantic breakers.
The hotel also offers guests the chance to join cooking classes, where they can learn how to prepare a number of specialities from the region, again with a strong emphasis on local seafood.
The hotel restaurant at La Sultana Oualidia is filled with natural light and remains cool in the heat of the day
La Sultana's Marrakech property was voted Best Spa in Morocco in 2015 and many of the same treatments are available in the spa at La Sultana Oualidia, including its award-wining Four Hands Massage. The spa itself is a gorgeous area seemingly carved from stone. The central pool is surrounded by pillars reaching up to the glass roof which allows in plenty of daylight, a welcome change from the more typical dark hammam-style spas to be found all over Morocco.
The hotel gardens are also worth a mention; beautiful mature trees surround the property and are dotted with tables and chairs to sit and while away the time with a drink or a good book.
What strikes me above all is that for a hotel offering just 12 rooms there is a surprising amount of space allowing plenty of privacy and a wide variety of places to eat, drink and relax. And the emphasis is really on the latter; if a few days of sunshine, great seafood and the odd trip to the spa is your idea of a great way to spend a few days then Oualidia could be well worth the trip. Add in the special, tranquil atmosphere which is rather hard to describe in words, the wonderful light and beautiful sunsets and you may want to stay longer than you expect.
Indeed, La Sultana Oualidia offers a complete contrast to Morocco's hectic souks and makes a perfect twin-centre with Marrakech or a great place to relax for a few days during a longer touring itinerary.