North along the coast from Essaouira, past the interesting town of Safi, lies the coastal bastion of El Jadida. While it is free of all but a few tourists for most of the year, in July and August the town transforms into a bustling holiday haven popular with Moroccan families mainly from Casablanca and Rabat. Their most compelling reason to visit is the UNESCO-listed 16th-century Cité Portugaise at the Fortress of Mazagan, the Grand Mosque, Church of the Assumption, and the Portuguese Cistern.
About 16 km north of the old city, on a good stretch of beach, is the recently opened large Mazagan Beach & Golf Resort, which offers a golf course designed by South African Gary Player, as well as a casino, nightclub, restaurants and spas, where a luxury room varies from US$300 to almost $8,000 per night.
El Jadida’s 16th-century city, Cité Portugaise, previously known as Mazagan, is small and in a derelict state. It seems like time has been standing still here while mass tourism, or any tourism outside July and August, have largely overlooked this old city. Enjoy it now before the bulldozers and whitewash painters move in, followed by busloads of tourists. Today’s Cité Portugaise is very much a residential place, void of tourist shops and restaurants. In fact, there are hardly any restaurants within the city walls, so best head out to the new town for drinking and dining.
Walking around the Cité Portugaise is an interesting experience. Locals are friendly and kids are curious to see foreign faces. If you want to experience the old city, stay in one of the handful of riads and homestays.
The harbour is colourful with its small red and green boats.
For an interesting excursion, take the bus or drive south along the coast towards Essaouira. Just a few kilometres from El Jadida lies the invigorating beach of Sidi Bouzid. Continue further along the small road down to Qualidia with its long intercoastal lagoon. Life here is tranquil and beaches are void of tourists and are naturally beautiful. Water activities abound in Qualidia. Wavesurfing, windsurfing, kitesurfing, canoes, kayaks and chartered fishing boats are all available to visitors.
Spend a few days here, then move further south to Safi which is famous for its Portuguese-built fortress: Kechla and Dar Al Bahar, meaning “the castle by the sea”. Safi is also famous for its pottery, so stop off at the Collines des Potiers—the potters’ quarter.