The Mediterranean coastline stretches east from Nador all the way to the Algerian border. Until recently it was relatively undisturbed, with just a few small villages that burst at the seams in summer but counted more birds than people for the rest of the year. Change has come, however, and the wave of development that continues to wash over much of Morocco has found its way to these shores. Beachfront promenades have been laid, and concrete apartment blocks are inevitably following. Just west of the pleasant seaside resort of Saïdia is perhaps the country’s most ambitious tourism development of all Saïdia Mediterrania, a designated tourist zone complete with mega-resorts, an 18-hole golf course, 700-berth marina and even a faux Medina. The atmosphere along this coast during summer is infectious and it’s a great time to experience modern Morocco, where families play in the shallows and Arabic pop music blares out from mobile phones. Unfortunately, this development comes at an inevitable cost, and the coastline’s remarkable ecosystem appears to be under siege from the increase in development and the resultant waste issues.
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Only a few years ago, SAÏDIA was a low-key holiday town, rambling back from the sea in the shadow of a still-occupied nineteenth-century kasbah, and fronted by one of the best beaches on the Mediterranean. Recent years, however, have seen massive development along the coast to the west of town. Officially named “Saïdia Mediterrania” though signposted along the coast simply as Station Balnéaire (“seaside resort”), the new development functions as a separate resort from Saïdia itself, even though the two almost meet. The growth has been enormous to say the least, with hundreds of apartment blocks, many of them half-finished and already looking tired, stretching along the beach and for a few hundred metres inland. In addition, the resort is home to one of the country’s largest marinas, an adjacent outdoor shopping complex, four sprawling five-star resorts, and an eighteen-hole golf course (with another two in the pipeline).
If you prefer birds to beaches, there are rewarding birdwatching sites in the marshes and woodland stretching behind the beach towards the Oued Moulouya, although in high season you’ll have to pick your way through the rubbish. Each year, Saïdia hosts the annual two-week Festival Saïdia Raggada (May). It’s a great opportunity to listen to some indigenous chaabi, raï and amazigh music, and see raggada and laäoui folk-dancing ensembles.