Sun, Surf and Yogis

Sarah Loughlin ventures to Taghazout to check out the world famous waves and the developing surf culture in the small Moroccan town.

There is nothing in life both as thrilling and frustrating as surfing. After spending the winter battling through the frosty waves in the Channel Islands, trying to get the hang of this new hobby of mine, I thought I would take my own advice on learning a watersport and add a bit of sunshine to the mix!

Taghazout, a small fishing village turned surfers paradise, is about an hours drive from Agadir Airport. Having never been to this part of Africa before I had no real idea what to expect. The village itself is bustling with people, cars and mopeds and the small square is surrounded by restaurants, and surf shops. The coast is not as picturesque as other places I have visited, but it has a great atmosphere; local families, tourists and surf schools all mingle together on the long sandy beaches. The snack-sellers on the beach are a bit intimidating at first, as they can be a bit pushy, but are actually very friendly and provide much entertainment with their haggling and joke telling. The macaroons and candied nuts they sell are perfect for a post-surf snack!

As those who have been following my previous surf posts will know, I am not a great surfer, I am not even a good surfer. So I had arranged lessons via Surf Maroc; a surf school started by Ollie and Ben, two English surfers, back in 2003. Our surf class was an interesting mix of nationalities and people from different professions and backgrounds. Chatting on the beach at lunchtime was almost as educational as the surf lessons as I learned about the best bars to visit in Krackow, and how the Swiss school system works.

Being largely self-taught I have no concept of ‘surf chat’, and so for the entire first day I assumed wave ratings must be the same as ski slope ratings; green wave must mean beginner wave. I was mightily confused pushing myself into tiny white foamy waves as my teacher yelled from the beach at me to catch a green wave. On day two it clicked, green wave doesn’t mean beginner wave at all, it’s super cool surfer lingo for a wave that has not yet broken. You have to have good timing to catch these as opposed to white waves (the foamy ones), thus they are the mecca of intermediate surf waves.

Part of my problem, like most of the beginners I meet, is that waves are terrifying. Going head on with a huge unbroken wave while attached to an eight foot cumbersome floaty board was seeming more ridiculous the more I thought about it. But I had got this far, board in hand, I was determined to make it out to find one of these sought-after green waves. Alas it was not to be, and I went back to the beach in search of some candied nuts.

Back out in the surf again and I was constantly amazed at how patient and enthusiastic our teacher was with us, despite our consistent face plants into the beach. When my arms had run out of juice he even let me hold on to his ankles so he could paddle me outback to meet the rest of the group – now that is service! Surf Maroc employ a lot of local staff from Taghazout and surrounding villages; this helps improve the local economy and quality of life by providing jobs as well as offering training and opportunities for young entrepreneurs, who sometimes go on to open their own surf businesses. The teachers at Surf Maroc, who have all grown up surfing in the area, have great local knowledge which is huge benefit to the customers. They always managed to hunt down the waves, despite the forecast being not so great, and made sure we were in our wetsuits and out surfing before the beach got too busy.

One interesting thing about holidaying here is that Taghazout is a dry town, as a European this is a bizarre concept. But actually it was quite nice, I drank more Fanta than dentists would recommend,IMG_1055 but it is the perfect place if you are planning an alcohol detox! You can buy alcohol in some near by hotels such as the Paradis Plage who have a great beach bar as well as beach side yoga sessions. Outside Paradis Plage the locals bring their horses and camels and you can ride down the long peaceful beach. The surfing in Morocco was great, but it was nothing compared to riding a Camel on the beach at sunset, I felt like a Princess riding through the desert on my trusty steed (one can dream).

If you like a post surf yoga session, Surf Maroc offer classes on their yoga balcony set into the cliffs at the Taghazout Villa. It was quite honestly the most relaxing place I have ever been. As the sun set over the sea, the sound of the waves crashing rhythmically into the cliff was the perfect accompaniment to the session. There is weekly schedule of post-surf evening entertainment at Surf Maroc , the BBQ on the balcony of the Auberge was a nice way to socialise with your surf group out of your wetsuit!

IMG_1097If your weary arms need a break from all that paddling why not head to Paradise valley; only a 45-minute drive from Taghazout. As you drive in to the valley there are cafes and restaurants dotted around next to the river with the tables and chairs in the shallow streams so you can keep your feet cool while you have a nice Fanta. A short hike from the car park at the top brings you through the trees into the valley, where you will find locals having big family days out, preparing and cooking their tagines on the rocks. There are also make shift shacks selling fresh tagines and cold drinks. You won’t be offered a menu, you just ask what they have (normally two different types of tagine!), they are very good value and the food is great.

Renting a car is very reasonable from Agadir airport, petrol is cheap and it’s not to difficult to navigate your way around. Make sure to keep some change handy for the car guards who will watch your car while parked in town or at the beach. If you don’t fancy driving, airport transfers are included in Surf Maroc’s packages and they offer excursions to Paradise Valley. The packages include everything but the flight which you will have to book yourself. If you are booking in advance try Easyjet for direct flights from the UK, or Thomson Flights can be really good for a last minute flight deal. The peak season for Surfing in Taghazout is November – April, so get booking for your mid-winter sunshine now for the best flight deals.

Happy Surfing!

Get Me Outta Here! The December Edition.

Sarah Loughlin hunts down the best travel deals for holidays in December.

Post Christmas blues can be a real downer. If you are reading this it probably means you have finished scoffing turkey and opening presents and you are now looking for something to keep you entertained until the New Year’s Eve celebrations commence.

New Year’s Eve is a tricky evening to get right, if you live in London you will be familiar with the options; all of which are pricey and or overcrowded. When even the local pub charges £10 to get in, I begin to wonder if there isn’t another way to celebrate the beginning of a new year.

There are some great last minute deals around whether you want to go away for a few weeks, or just a few days…

A New Year’s Eve Break:

Two nights enjoying Hogmanay in Edinburgh – Tuesday 30th December – Thursday 1st January £248

Street party’s, concerts and torch light processions – Hogmanay has it all. Fly to Edinburgh with BA from London Heathrow and stay two nights at the Marriott for just £248 per person. To book tickets and find out more about Hogmanay events visit their website.

A week in the sun:

Seven nights of sunshine in Tunisia – Wednesday 31st December – Wednesday 7th January £238

Dont fancy going back to work, or starting all the post Christmas diet just yet? This package with Thomson for flights from London Gatwick, transfers to the hotel and All Inclusive accommodation is the one for you! Staying in the Hotel Marhaba Salem in Sousse, which has great reviews on Trip Advisor and has been given the Travelife Gold Award for sustainability. Weather next week is due to be mostly sunny and in the mid-teens, so perfect for a wander along the beach, or a mid afternoon drink by the pool. The all inclusive board basis is a perfect excuse to carry on the festive eating well into January!

Two weeks in the sun:

14 nights in Punta Cana, Dominican Republic‎ – Tuesday 30th December – Tuesday 13th January.

Ever fancied going to a New Year’s Eve party in a cave? Look no further, Imagine in Punta Cana is a night club which plays a great mix of English and Latin music, and the drinks are reasonable for a night club….. plus it’s in a CAVE!

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Night out at Imagine, Punta Cana earlier this summer.

You can fly from London Gatwick to Punta Cana with Thomson for £268.98:

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flights.thomson.co.uk

The Aquamarina Apartment in the Cap Cana Marina available via airbnb.co.uk sleeps 6 people and works out at £467.83 per person. The Cap Cana Resort, located about 30 minutes from Imagine night club and 20 minutes from the airport, has something for everyone. From beach clubs and nature reserves to water-sports and golf courses. This apartment is in a great location close to bars and restaurants, but also has cooking facilities if you want to save your pennies for excursions and activities.

Weather for the next two weeks is due to be in the mid- to late-twenties – ideal sunbathing weather if you fancy relaxing and reading a book on one of the well kept white sandy beaches, and not too hot for exploring the many activities that the resort offers. I had a blast at Cap Cana earlier this summer, check out my top things to do in Cap Cana on your relaxing post Christmas vacay!

1. Head to the Caleton beach club for a cocktail – Caleton is a small bay with a great beach bar and pool. It is a small secluded spot with sun loungers spread amongst the palm trees. The bay is wavy so not ideal if you want to go for a long swim, but really fun for messing around in the sea – check out my wave pictures from the bay.

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Perfect day playing in the sea and drinking cocktails in the sunshine!

2. Go windsurfing at Juanillo beach – Juanillo is a long white sandy beach with a great beach bar/ restaurant and water sports facilities. Less wavy that Caleton and also more spread out. We hired windsurf kit for an hour which cost about 40 USD. The staff were all very friendly and helpful, the water is waist deep for quite a way out and the centre has a range of kit so its ideal for any standard of windsurfer. They also have SUP boards if you fancy a paddle.

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Teaching my friend Steph to windsurf at Juanillo beach

3. Head to the Sunset party at DUX in the marina – it costs roughly £15 to get in, starting from 3pm every Sunday with an open bar and is only a short stroll from the apartment.

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Enjoying free drinks at DUX’s Lady’s night, Cap Cana Marina earlier this summer.

4. Try Zip Lining at Scape Park – Get the George of the Jungle feeling, flying over the tree tops and hiking up through the forest. The guides also tell you about some of the nature and wildlife as you go. Great way to see some more of the island. DSCN0536 If you can’t convince five friends to accompany you for some winter sunshine there are other options nearby such as the Pool and Garden View Apartment, which works out as £535 based on two people sharing via airbnb.com. 

For more ideas about great holiday deals check out my previous post ‘How to Fly for £17 Return’.

All prices and availability were accurate on Thursday the 26th of December; please check websites for up to date pricing.

Happy Holiday-ing!

Get Me Outta Here! The November Edition.

Sarah Loughlin hunts down the best travel deals for holidays in November.

Unless you have been locked in a darkened room for the last few weeks, you will have noticed its becoming decidedly wintery. Although this means that soon enough the ski resorts will start opening up, and the Christmas markets will be in full swing. For now, well…its just a bit soggy.

So to while away your time until it is socially acceptable to don christmas jumpers and drink mulled wine in the afternoon, here are a few insanely good deals to get some last minute sunshine before the festive season officially commences…

A Weekend Break:

Three nights exploring Marrakech, Morocco – Saturday the 29th Of November- Tuesday 2nd of December £296.

Book via Voyage Prive and stay in the 5* Kenzi Menara Palace. Flights, accommodation, breakfast and private transfers are all included as well as one free day in the spa. This hotel has great reviews on Trip Advisor and loads of facilities including both an indoor and outdoor pool, tennis courts and a volley ball court. This deal is based on flying from Stansted with Ryanair, although there are alternatives if the thought of driving to Stansted at 2am makes you want to stay at home in the rain!

The weather is due to be 20 degrees and sunny in Marrakech next week, perfect for chilling by the pool or exploring the town. This deal is only available for three more days, so don’t miss out!

If you have not been to Marrakech before check out Elle Croft’s handy guide.

A week in the sun:

Seven nights soaking up the sun in Hurghada, Egypt – Tuesday the 2nd of December – Tuesday the 9th of December £342.

I know this is strictly in December, but it was good a deal to ignore! Fly from London Gatwick with Thomas Cook staying at the Sunrise Royal Makadi Resort, which has great reviews and it’s an All Inclusive hotel, so everything is covered!

This Hotel has been given a Travelife Award which means they take great care of their environmental and social impacts within their local communities. To see how choosing a hotel like this can mean you go on holiday, while saving the world, keep reading…

The weather is due to be sunny and in the mid 20’s all week, perfect weather to catch a few rays and read a book! But if lounging by the pool is just far too relaxing, here are my top five things to do in Hurghada:

1. Ride a camel… Those of you who have read my previous post’s will know that my Dad and I tend to get carried away when embracing history and culture, camel riding was no exception! My sisters were mortified to see us running around with our camels pretending we were ancient Egyptian explorers.

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Dad and I pretending we were Egyptian Kings, exploring the desert…

3. Go Scuba-diving… I tried diving for the first time in Egypt and absolutely loved it. The Red Sea is renowned for their great dive spots, and it wasn’t too pricey compared to some other destinations. If you don’t fancy scuba-diving, try snorkelling, you can still see a lot of the amazing coral and wildlife just buy swimming around on the surface. TOP TIP: Always take care when snorkelling and diving, the coral is very delicate and touching it or treading on it can easily kill it.

2. Spend some time in the desert…. There are a lot of different activities and excursions to choose from so pick something that suites you and head out into the desert for the day, you won’t regret it! TOP TIP: Remember to take a jumper if you are staying into the evening because it can get cold quite quickly.

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Excursion to a Bedouin Camp, and more camel riding!

4. Visit the Marina…. take a taxi down to Hurghada Marina for a wonder around the shops and bars. It’s a great atmosphere in the town, remember that haggling is a part of the culture over there so give it a go! TOP TIP: Book a return taxi from the hotel and arrange to meet them at a set time and place, this way you don’t have to worry about getting home.

5. Have a cheeky afternoon beer at the pool bar… there is nothing like catching up on the days events over a beer to cool off in the afternoon sun. Whether you have been playing volleyball, taking a nap or reading a great book, it’s always good to pencil in an afternoon refreshment or two!

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My sisters, pretending they didn’t know me when I came back from an afternoon running around with camels…

 

Two weeks in the sun:

14 nights saving the world in The Gambia – Friday the 28th of November – Friday the 12th of December.

Book with The Gambia Experience and stay at Kombo Beach, for just £551 per person based on two people sharing. This includes your flights, transfers, accommodation and breakfast.

In my feature ‘Go on Holiday Whilst Saving the World’ I discussed how you can really make a difference in places such as The Gambia, which as a developing country relies heavily on the tourist trade to make money. You can make your money go a lot further by choosing a hotel such as Kombo Beach, which has great reviews as well as being recognised by Travelife as a hotel that is making an effort to look after the environment and local community. Kombo beach works with Gambia is Good (GiG), a business which supports thousands of remote local farmers by linking them with the tourist market. Kombo Beach buys fruit and vegetables from GiG, as well as serving locally produced beer at the hotel. They also monitor their environmental impact in terms of energy and water usage and try, where they can, to improve on it every year. This hotel really goes the extra mile to look after its staff, during the rainy season when the hotel is closed they try to employ staff as handy men in the hotel, if that is not possible they provide them with food packages each month.

As if saving the world was not reason enough to go, the weather for next week is due to be in the mid 30’s! So you will definitely pick up a healthy glow in time for the office Christmas party!

For more ideas about great holiday deals check out my previous post ‘How to Fly for £17 Return’.

All prices and availability were accurate on Sunday the 23rd of November; please check websites for up to date pricing.

Happy Holiday-ing!