The Top Things to See and Do in Asilah, Morocco

The colourful streets of Asilahs old town blend Moroccan and Andalusian aesthetics
The colourful streets of Asilah's old town blend Moroccan and Andalusian aesthetics | © GRANT ROONEY PREMIUM / Alamy Stock Photo
Jo Fernandez-Corugedo

A fortified seaside town on the northwest coast of Morocco, Asilah is a bright destination that provides a taste of Morocco’s Andalusian-inflected north. This town, adorned with inspiring artwork, can be explored by foot in just a day, but its diminutive size doesn’t detract from its beauty.

1. Eat fish at Zahora

Restaurant, Moroccan

Diners return again and again to this friendly whitewashed corner spot, daubed with sea-blue accents, close to the port of Asilah. This is hardly surprising, given the absolutely delicious Mediterranean-style fresh fish dishes made fresh daily with quality seasonal ingredients. Mouthwatering tuna, octopus and John Dory – all fresh off the boat– can be paired with shared plates such as muhammara – a spicy pepper dip – and the ubiquitous piles of pillowy bread.

2. Visit a traditional hammam

Health Spa

This is a particularly charming steam bath, surrounded by Asilah’s trademark whitewashed walls with blue accents. Come for a relaxing traditional treatment involving washing, scrubbing and steaming. After a scrub-down with a special mitt, submit to a meticulous wash, based on Moroccan beldi soap made using olive oil. After that you get smothered in rhassoul clay from the Atlas Mountains, prior to being massaged with aromatic oils, leaving you feeling as clean and fresh as a newborn baby.

3. Buy sweets on the streets

Architectural Landmark, Historical Landmark

Sweets for sale in the souk of Meknes, Morocco, North Africa, Africa
© robertharding / Alamy Stock Photo

Got a sweet tooth? You’ve come to the right place – sweets in Morocco in all manner of shapes and flavours. In Asilah, street sellers push carts around, piled high with saccharine goodies including popular local desserts such as hem (traditionally puff pastry with nuts) as well as concoctions based on toasted almonds, cinnamon, cream, pistachios and honey. While you’re in town, make sure you track down Asilah’s memorably tasty raisin and walnut cake.

4. Day-trip to Cromlech de Msoura

Historical Landmark

Head off in a south-easterly direction for about 15 km (9mi) and you’ll come to this impressive megalith, standing in the heart of the arid, dusty countryside. Located just beyond the village of Chouahed, it’s an impressive archaeological site, consisting of a stone circle with a huge 6m (20ft) structure thought to be a burial site of one of the first Mauretanian kings. It is also notable as there are few megalithic stone rings in the world with as many stones still standing.

5. See the Asilah Festival

Building

Every summer, artists from around the globe descend to Asilah en masse to paint their individual murals on the walls of the whitewashed houses that line the medina. That said, street art is but one part of the Asilah Arts Festival. Also on the agenda as part of this annual event, you’ll find concerts, exhibitions and theatrical performances that have, for years now, put Asilah on the Moroccan cultural map.

6. Shop the Thursday souk

Architectural Landmark

Tourists Shopping For Souvenirs In The Medina, Asilah, Morocco
© Grant Rooney / Alamy Stock Photo

Roll up on a Thursday morning, and you’ll find the colourful, frenetic souks of the old town swollen with determined shoppers, here to snap up everything from fruit and vegetables to spices, silk slippers and jewellery. In one of the smallest streets in the medina, Nashia Bazaar is among the largest bazaars in the town, stocked with all kinds of purchases, from Moroccan-made mirrors and chests to rugs of every size, shade and shape. Just don’t forget to do your duty and haggle.

7. Admire the Artwork

Architectural Landmark

Asilah, Morocco
© YG-Tavel-Photos / Alamy Stock Photo

The paintings that line the whitewashed walls of the old part of town are by far the main attraction, attracting art lovers year-round. They change annually and you can wander for hours, admiring each piece, some smaller and more intricate, others filling whole walls. They create fantastic backdrops for photographs – quite a change from the plain camel-brown medina walls of historical cities such as Marrakech and Fes.

8. Ride Bikes Along the Promenade

Architectural Landmark

Asilah’s layout, size and location make it perfect for bike riding, so it’s no surprise that most of the local hotels offer bike rental services. Take the day to explore the whole of the town by bike, combining sightseeing with sport and enjoy the fresh seaside air and stunning views. This activity is perfect for those who dislike long treks, but still want to see the town.

9. The Ramparts

Historical Landmark

ASILAH, MOROCCO
© frederic REGLAIN / Alamy Stock Photo

Built largely in the 15th century, when Asilah was under the control of the Portuguese, these city walls remain in great condition. Framing Asilah’s old quarter and lending character and history to a charming town, they elegantly enfold the old medina. Two piers stretch out into the ocean, the southern one open to the public and delivering spectacular sunset views.

10. Paradise Beach

Natural Feature

Asilah has a charming beach, directly off the ancient medina, but there’s a quieter alternative a short taxi ride away: the aptly named Paradise Beach. It’s less rocky than its urban sibling, with soft sand and tranquillity in spades. Roll up and find a secluded spot – you’ll have no problem, particularly outside the summer months, when it’s nothing less than a private, peaceful haven. Settle in at a Spanish-style chiringuito (beach bar) and make the most of the day with a chilled beer.

11. The Church of San Bartolome

Church

The Catholic church of San Bartolome in Asilah (also known as Arzeila), Morocco
© Artur Szymczyk / Alamy Stock Photo

Northwest of central Asilah you’ll find the colonial-Spanish Church of San Bartolome, built by the Spanish Franciscans in 1925 – one of the very few in Morocco that are allowed to ring the bells for Sunday Mass. It is a private establishment still home to nuns, who are usually more than happy to give you a little guided tour. All in all, a fascinating place for an hour or two – and it serves as a reminder of the Catholic presence in this largely Islamic country.

Rebecca Church contributed additional reporting to this article.

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