When you think about heading abroad for a short haul family break, it's possible Morocco doesn't feature on your shortlist. If this north African country conjures up images of hustle-filled souks and ancient medinas, you might assume it's more suited to an adult minibreak a family holiday destination. But let your thoughts wander further than the country's most popular destinations of Marrakech and Fez, and you'll discover another side to Morocco entirely. And it's just as - if not more - fantastic than any of the typical Mediterranean holiday hot spots, pretty much all year round.
We took a journey to the country's north-western coast, flying into Casablanca to explore The Mazagan Resort - about an hour from the airport. The resort sits on 9km of uninterrupted golden sand beaches and is a paradise for mums, dads, kids and anyone else who cares to tag along.
The Mazagan Beach Resort sits on a huge 9km beach
Of course, being a little more adventurous with a family holiday (especially with small kids in tow) can make for some pre-travel jitters. Is it safe? Is it easy to get around? Will the food be palatable to little taste buds? But any worries we had were quickly allayed at the Mazagan which had everything anyone in our family could desire - from simple children's meals to traditional cuisine and musical experiences, all the way through to camel rides, climbing walls and high octane ATV adventures!
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Not to mention a stunning Atlantic coast backdrop. Here's our ultimate guide to a family holiday resort an hour away from Casablanca.
Is Morocco safe for a family holiday?
Although the question of safety had cropped up before our holiday due to a recent Foreign Office warning, from the moment we arrived at Casablanca airport, we felt reassured this had been a good decision. The Mazagan Resort offers a service for less seasoned travellers which involves a VIP and fast track meet and greet service, meaning the moment you emerge from the plane you are accompanied and led through the airport – via a speedy immigration process - to the baggage collection area and then into the waiting transfer car.
The pool is perfect for adults and kids
This is a very welcome treat for tired travellers and sleepy kids, but although the non-VIP lines were longer, the airport and taxi area did not feel at all overwhelming, and we'd have felt perfectly at ease had we been solo. Once on the resort itself (it's about an hour's drive) you forget entirely about any concerns you may have had. Guest safety is clearly high on the agenda (and with the country's biggest casino on site you can understand why) but although there were entry-gate metal scanners and plentiful security guards, you get a sense it’s for reassurance.
On resort and on the beach (not a private beach, but a very quiet and deserted one due to the hotel's remote situation) you feel so completely safe and relaxed (with not a hawker in sight) that any pre-holiday concerns float away on a blissful wave of holiday tranquillity.
What are Morocco's beaches like?
Mazagan's beach is absolutely stunning. And seemingly endless, no matter how you try to reach its edges (by horse, camel or ATV!). Unlike most European destinations, where stunning beaches are heavily populated by hotels, this property nestles alone among the sanddunes. The beach's very gentle gradient and the hotel lifeguards who keep a close eye on the waves from Baywatch-style towers makes it the perfect spot for a bit of familiy-friendly wave jumping.
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While the Atlantic coast can be chilly in parts of the Med, even in May the waters of Morocco's Atlantic coast were fine for a mid-afternoon break from the sun. And at sunset, there's no better place to be than perched on a lounger at the foot of the Buddha Beach Bar as the sky turns pink and the African sun disappears into the watery horizon. In high season, the experience can be accompanied by cocktails and ambient dance music, allowing parents a moment of decadence while the kids dig for clams at the water's edge.
The views at sunset are divine
What is the weather like?
Morocco's Atlantic coast is temperate year round. While the heat rises to 40 and 50 degrees an hour or so inland during the summer, at the coast temperatures rarely push past 30. Outside of peak season the weather remains warm. A May half term trip has the benefit of a sunny climate combined with the joy of feeling you have much of the resort to yourself
What is there to eat?
Mazagan is not an all-inclusive resort, although there are buffet options for breakfast and dinner and half-board deals are available. The food at the Market Place Buffet is the perfect blend of traditional Moroccan cuisine with the familiar home comforts available should the kids require it. The excitement of Moroccan mint tea pouring (from a great height) makes breakfasts a lot of fun (not to mention the pancakes and hot chocolate machines). At dinner time the range is eclectic – again encompassing traditional dishes, but also offering sushi, make-it-yourself pizzas and Thai curries.
Across the resort there are 10 other restaurants in high season. The traditional Morjana is an authentic experience complete with live traditional music. The Buddha Bar offers a sushi menu you might imagine would be more at home in Malibu. And with Al Firma (where food is cooked around an open fire while guests lounge on pillows on the ground beneath the stars), a beach-side grill, a golf-side steak restaurant and Sel De Mer's (with the best fresh fish) you could dine at a completely different place every night of the week and still have restaurants on your wish list to explore next time.
What can kids do on a Moroccan beach holiday?
Mazagan has three kids' clubs for children ranging from 4 months to 18 years. The teenage schedule doesn't start until 11am to allow for lie-ins, with offerings of paintball, pool parties, and discos to finally entice them out of their rooms. The kiddie clubs have outings to the farm, to the beach, horse riding and many other activities, plus there's a kids' pool with two slides and a waterfall which are available to those in clubs or other kids just fancying a splash. On top of the clubs, there are many activities to do en famille, which create incredibly special memories in this stunning part of the world. With an on-site stable, horse rides on the beach are easy to arrange and the experience of walking (or trotting or galloping depending on your experience) totally alone, in the shallows of the Atlantic ocean is amazing.
For those wanting the ultimate riding experience, camel rides can be arranged, and while the adult camels are tethered to one another during a family ride, babies (as little as 13 days old) bound around, accompanying their parents on their mid-afternoon stroll for fun – it turns out that baby dromedaries are incredibly sweet and unexpectedly playful.
Speed demons can make the most of the 9km of uninhabited sands to let rip in All Terrain Vehicles, a real highlight for young teens given the possibility of taking the wheel while mum and dad hang on for dear life. Experienced drivers can explore the dunes if the thrill of the flat sands isn't enough.
Instagram-worthy spots for some sunset watching
There are so many activities available – from golf to climbing wall, tennis to crazy golf, that whatever your preferences, you won't be forced to laze on a sun lounger and read a book unless it's what you want to do.
There's so much to do at Mazagan it's hard to list everything – golfers will adore the course (irrigated with reclaimed water from the hotel and desalinated water from the sea) designed by Gary Player. For those who prefer talking about a spa than a par, the stunning Mazagan Spa offers treatment rooms with sea views and some of the best massages in the world.
It would be a shame to travel to Morocco and not venture beyond the admittedly stunning and extensive grounds. Short hops to Azemmour and El Jadida give visitors a taste of the local area. The hotel employs around 1500 workers, to tend to every aspect of its upkeep from the maintenance of the picturesque gardens, to looking after its array of wildlife - and the huge majority of staff come from the local area.
Mazagan is just over an hour from Casablanca airport and transfers booked from the hotel can detour via local villages to or from the airport if booked in advance. The flight to Casablanca is just over 3 hours and Royal Air Maroc fly daily from Heathrow Airport. With the Heathrow Express connecting travellers from central London (Paddington Station) to the terminals in just 15 minutes, it's a simple and easy journey.