The spice of life

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 13 February, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 13 February, 2011, 12:00am

'You can't get a suntan in Europe during winter. Not many people know that.'

Mike takes a break from washing the bugs off his windscreen and continues with the air of a meteorologist summarising weather patterns across the continent.

'People think they'll be alright in the Costas or the Greek Islands, but it can get pretty cold from November to April,' he adds.

Mike, who is from London, could probably provide average monthly temperatures if challenged.

I'm at a campsite in the southern Moroccan city of Agadir, surrounded by motorhomes and billowing laundry. The homes on wheels are adorned with the paraphernalia of permanence; from Christmas decorations to potted plants and television satellite dishes. The Swedish have the plushest vehicles; the French own the most stylish garden furniture and the Germans have cornered the market in hi-tech washing lines.

Agadir was flattened by an earthquake in 1960 and, as a result, offers little in the way of sightseeing. In the 1970s, tourism authorities switched their focus to beach holidays and began marketing the modern European-style city as an inexpensive winter sun destination only a day's drive from Spain.

The annual Morocco motorhome migration lures an increasing number of northern Europeans keen to swap frigid winters for African sun. The attraction of unending blue skies (more rain can fall during a few hours in Hong Kong than over an entire year in Agadir), no heating bills and multinational companionship draws a close-knit community of sun seekers back, often to the same campsite plot.

'We all arrive within a week or two of each other; it's like a huge reunion,' says Mike.

As we talk, a Frenchman wanders over and asks to borrow a screwdriver. It's clear they're old friends. Mike is offered some tinsel in exchange but he declines. He has brought all his Christmas decorations with him.

Morocco is an ideal country for motorhome touring. Petrol is relatively cheap, major roads are well maintained and the locals are as warm as the winter weather. A network of campsites provides security, camaraderie and the chance to make small talk in a dozen European languages.

Next to Mike, four motorhomes are arranged in a circle with a large communal area in the middle. The layout suggests close friends and the 'IRL' licence plates suggest there'll be someone ready for a chat.

Brendan and his wife are from Dublin, Ireland, and have been driving to Morocco for the past 20 years.

'We used to race down when we were working but now we're retired we take our time and stop along the way,' the former engineer says. Having criss-crossed Morocco extensively on previous trips, the couple feel no obligation to stray far from their rig.

'Once we get here we don't move much,' Brendan admits. 'We've got TV, a broadband connection and lots of sunshine. What else do we need? We don't even make it up the coast very often.'

Taghazout is 16 kilometres north of Agadir. Wedged between pounding waves and the Anti-Atlas Mountains, the higgledy piggledy Berber village is firmly established on the international surfing map. Rustic restaurants serve up Euro-Moroccan fare to hungry wave riders; drinking mint tea is almost obligatory and the smell of something slightly more potent than cigarette smoke hangs in the dry desert air.

Brendan and his campervanning contemporaries would look out of place in Taghazout as it's hard to find anyone over 20. I introduce myself to a group of sunburned, bleach-haired Brits, only to discover they are Australian.

'We worked in London for six months, bought our campervan and drove down last month,' one of the teens says. 'There are plenty of quiet spots to park for the night - no one bothers you,' they assure me when I ask about security.

Taghazout's leisurely tempo is addictive. It would be easy to spend days polishing off paperbacks, beachcombing and feasting on hearty tagine casseroles and couscous. Sometimes, though, you need to get out of your comfort zone. From Taghazout that means a three-hour bus ride.

Marrakesh marches to its own beat. The Red City is as manic as the Mardi Gras and as hip as Hollywood. Rent a luxury villa designed by Jade Jagger; stay in a resort favoured by Tom Cruise, Brad Pitt and David Bowie or just stroll around the souks, where beatniks and the Beatles sought inspiration.

The action centres on the ancient fortified city or medina, where all streets lead to Djemaa el Fna, a sprawling plaza recognised by Unesco as a World Heritage site. Snake charmers, acrobats, fortune-tellers and Berber musicians all compete for your attention. Drummers thump from noon to night time, conmen offer games of chance ('Pick a card sir; any card') and there are countless other ways you'll be sweet-talked into parting with your dirhams.

The street artists are so accomplished you sense there must be auditions somewhere. Be warned; the performers expect compensation. Try taking a sneaky photograph of a tumbling acrobat and you'll suddenly feel a tap on your shoulder and an outstretched palm. 'You don't work for free sir; neither do we.' Carpet sellers kitted out like a cross between Aladdin and Jack Sparrow work to the principle that if tourists don't buy a rug, they'll probably pay for a souvenir photo.

The pandemonium peaks at sunset. The wail of the muezzin clashes with the cacophony below and the entire population of Marrakesh seems to gravitate to the square to see, be seen and be photographed with a cobra dangling around their neck.

As dusk falls, groups of camera-toting tourists retreat to the sanctuary of the Cafe Glacier, which overlooks Djemaa el Fna.

Just as I've decided that I might never leave Marrakesh, a retired English couple join my table. They're hypnotised by the psychedelic spectacle but have an appointment to keep.

'We'd like to stay longer,' they confess, 'but we're supposed to be in Agadir tomorrow for the Caravan Club Christmas party.'

Getting there: Cathay Pacific ( flies from Hong Kong to London, from where Royal Air Maroc ( continues on to Marrakesh or Agadir.