The first town south of Tangier – and first stop on the train line – ASILAH is one of the most elegant of the old Portuguese Atlantic ports, small, easy to manage, and exceptionally clean. First impressions are of wonderful square stone ramparts, flanked by palms, and an outstanding beach – an immense sweep of sand stretching to the north halfway to Tangier. The town’s Medina is one of the most attractive in the country, colourwashed in pastel shades, and with a series of murals painted for the town’s International Cultural Festival (3–4 weeks in Aug), which attracts performers from around the world with a programme of art, dance, film, music and poetry.
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Before the tourists and the International Festival, Asilah was just a small fishing port, quietly stagnating after the indifference of Spanish colonial administration. Whitewashed and cleaned up, it now has a prosperous feeling to it: the Grand Mosque, for example, has been rebuilt and doubled in size, there’s a wide paved seaside promenade and property developments, including a marina and golf course estate, are popping up either side of the town. As with Tangier, the beach is the main focus of life in summer. The most popular stretches are to the north of the town, out towards the train station. For more isolated strands, walk south, past the Medina ramparts.
If you have an interest in ancient sites, you might devote a half-day to explore the prehistoric stone circle of Mzoura, south of Asilah. The desolate, unfenced site, whose name means “Holy Place” in Arabic, originally comprised a tumulus, assumed to be the tomb of some early Mauritanian king, enclosed by an elliptical circle of some 167 standing stones, mostly around 1.5 metres in height but some up to 5 metres. It was excavated in 1935 and the mound is now reduced to a series of watery hollows. There are photographs of Mzoura, pre-excavation, in the archeological museum in Tetouan.