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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Volcanic Iceland Epic Trip
meet our Local Insider
HOW LONG HAVE YOU BEEN A GUIDE?
WHAT DO YOU LOVE ABOUT YOUR JOB?
It's the personal contact, the personal experiences. I love meeting people from all over the world... I really like getting to know everyone and feeling like I'm traveling with a group of friends.
WHAT DESTINATION IS ON YOUR TRAVEL BUCKET-LIST?
I have so many places on my list, but I would really lobe to go to Africa. I consider myself an “adventure girl” and Africa feels like the ULTIMATE adventure!
Every CULTURE TRIP Small-group adventure is led by a Local Insider just like Hanna.
KEEN TO EXPLORE THE WORLD?
Connect with like-minded people on our premium trips curated by local insiders and with care for the world
Since you are here, we would like to share our vision for the future of travel - and the direction Culture Trip is moving in.
Culture Trip launched in 2011 with a simple yet passionate mission: to inspire people to go beyond their boundaries and experience what makes a place, its people and its culture special and meaningful — and this is still in our DNA today. We are proud that, for more than a decade, millions like you have trusted our award-winning recommendations by people who deeply understand what makes certain places and communities so special.
Increasingly we believe the world needs more meaningful, real-life connections between curious travellers keen to explore the world in a more responsible way. That is why we have intensively curated a collection of premium small-group trips as an invitation to meet and connect with new, like-minded people for once-in-a-lifetime experiences in three categories: Culture Trips, Rail Trips and Private Trips. Our Trips are suitable for both solo travelers, couples and friends who want to explore the world together.
Culture Trips are deeply immersive 5 to 16 days itineraries, that combine authentic local experiences, exciting activities and 4-5* accommodation to look forward to at the end of each day. Our Rail Trips are our most planet-friendly itineraries that invite you to take the scenic route, relax whilst getting under the skin of a destination. Our Private Trips are fully tailored itineraries, curated by our Travel Experts specifically for you, your friends or your family.
We know that many of you worry about the environmental impact of travel and are looking for ways of expanding horizons in ways that do minimal harm - and may even bring benefits. We are committed to go as far as possible in curating our trips with care for the planet. That is why all of our trips are flightless in destination, fully carbon offset - and we have ambitious plans to be net zero in the very near future.