as much as i loved tangier, it was the ancient walled town of asilah 40km south along the coast that truly captured my heart.
a beautifully tranquil destination, straddling the cliffs of morocco’s north atlantic coast and enclosed by defensive walls built by the portuguese in the 15th century, the fortified fishing village is awash with the traditional mediterranean pairing of white and cobalt blue and flanked by wonderful stone ramparts that offer spectacular views across the ocean, with the waves crashing angrily below.
the small fishing port comes alive every august, as artists and performers descend on the town from all over the world for the international cultural moussem of asilah, leaving behind a colourful array of brightly painted murals on the whitewashed walls of the medina. from humble beginnings in 1978 when two local friends, artist mohammed melehi and photographer mohamed benaïssa first invited a group of artists to paint murals on the medina’s peeling walls, this artistic venture has since grown into an international cultural festival of concerts, design lectures, poetry readings and live art installations, drawing crowds of 100,000.
the yearly event leaves a strong mark on the town; around every corner we turned in the myriad of narrow streets was another artistic gem waiting to be discovered, turning the walled town itself into one gigantic art gallery for the year to come.
far less frenetic than neighbouring tangier, it appears that asilah has become the artists’ hangout of choice for those looking for a more laidback pace of life and a nurturing environment for fostering creativity.
i would absolutely love to stay for a few quiet months in the andalusian-style medina, waking each day with the sun and spending the morning writing or painting on a terrace looking out to sea. endearingly free from the hustle – and hassle – of other moroccan cities, i’d happily stroll the warren of alleyways admiring the picturesque beauty of the brilliant white and aegean blue buildings, oft-adorned with plush flowering foliage. it’s certainly a place i could feel at home in and happily settle back into the unhurried pace and traditional way of life.
at lunchtime i imagine i would wander along to the covered market, bursting with the scent of pungent spices, succulent olives and the aroma of freshly baked bread, browse the berber rugs, vintage textiles, and hand-painted furniture on offer in the souk, or down to the coast to enjoy the day’s catch.
given it’s historical significance as a fishing port it should come as no surprise that the seafood in asilah is among the best i’ve ever tasted, and café garcia is the restaurant those in the know flock to from miles around.
we were treated to an endless supply of scallops, langoustines, sea bass, paella, calamari… far more than we could comfortably eat in the middle of the day but boy, did we give it our best shot!
i truly think that asilah might just be one of morocco’s best kept secrets, and i’ve already begun investigating accommodation options for next summer on airbnb – watch this space!
i was hosted in tangier as a guest of the moroccan tourism board. all views and photography my own.