Morocco’s dreamy desert
Casablanca - Offer me a trip to the desert and I’m your girl. Where others ask will it be too hot during the day, will it be too cold at night, are the natives friendly, I just ask what time the plane is leaving.
I love the tawny colours and shifting scenery and that, while our tiny island is overcrowded, the desert is, well, deserted.
If you are a kitesurfer, you will already know Dakhla, where Morocco meets the Sahara. It’s just over two hours by plane from Casablanca.
It’s set on a long finger of sand that juts out from the mainland, creating a shallow lagoon on the one side while the Atlantic strafes the other. Its year-round sunny climate and cooling winds make it one of the world’s best sporting destinations.
Kitesurfing, quad biking, paragliding, camel trekking, the desert sands colourfully dubbed the Pensinsula of the Golden River by early Spanish settlers are perfect for bracing outdoor activities. If you go to the Canaries, you will already have sat on Dakhla sands — the Moroccans export it to enhance the lava beaches of the islands some 300 miles to the North.
Dakhla proper is magical. I checked into a room in the Bab Al Bahar hotel, which has its feet right in the water of the lagoon, and five minutes later I was clambering over the rocks into the little boat belonging to Nicolas, the Frenchman who runs the hotel, and chugging out towards the setting sun to spot dolphins.
A Jeep then whisked me away to dinner in Attitude, the kitesurfing camp at the head of the lagoon.
Along a Tarmac highway where lorries trundle further down into Africa, past camps of roadside motor homes full of Europeans left over from the Sixties, we soon turned down a track into the pockmarked desert, our rugged way lit only by a full moon in the clear sky.
Attitude is where the professional surfers stay, either under canvas or in reportedly comfortable rooms built into the side of the dunes and equipped with thick duvets and running water.
When I was there, everyone was anticipating the annual kiteboarding world championships, held this month in St Peter-Ording, Germany, which attracts athletes from across the world.
We were all in a state of high excitement as we watched acrobatic kitesurfing films on a large screen by a camp fire and then tucked into a terrific feast of local lobster and baby camel — a huge delicacy, served with chunks of fat from the hump.
Not one of my favourite dishes, though surprisingly tender, and camel is supposed to be a lot better for you than beef due to its low cholesterol.
If you were the parent of a restless teenager, you could do a lot worse than bring the family on a surf safari here, where the only temptations are geographical and there is wonderful camaraderie between a mix of nationalities — French, Italian, British, local Berber, united by an interest in sport.
For the older generation, you have only to invest in a pair of binoculars for birdwatching, a good camera or even an easel — the landscapes just beg you to try your hand.
The next day dawned less windy and perfect for a trip to the white dunes, spectacular outcrops where the golden desert sand inexplicably turns bright white.
There is really nothing here at all except the shells of generations of sea creatures, razors, cockles, periwinkles, flocks of pink flamingos grazing in the shallows and iridescent dragonflies flitting around.
Throw off your shoes and climb barefoot to the top of the dunes, leaving fresh tracks in the unspoiled sand, or just get one of the local camels to toil for you.
This is thirsty work, so the next stop was a delightfully ramshackle cafe on the lagoon serving nothing but oysters. Picked right out of the oyster farm under your nose, immediately opened up and sprinkled with lemon, they could not be any fresher.
The whole point of Dakhla is its striking geography, but for those who are curious about the town and the port, one of the most important in Morocco, both are well worth a visit. The local Saharwi (people of the Sahara) in their colourful tribal robes are so unused to tourists, they don’t expect to bargain or even sell.
It will be a long time until Dakhla is a household word like Marrakech, even among fans of Morocco. But for those who like getting away from it all and enjoying places ahead of the crowds, this is the time and the place.
I remember when Estepona, on the overcrowded Spanish Costa del Sol, boasted no more than a lone fishing boat, a workman’s cafe and not one high rise — and was no worse for its simplicity.
Double rooms at Bab Al Bahar hotel (020 3564 4407, babalbaharhotelandspadakhla.com) from £68 (about R1 200) B&B, and doubles at the Attitude Hotel (00212 661 835 010, dakhla-attitude.ma) from £100 full board. More information at visitmorocco.com.Daily Mail