Located just south of Tangier in Northern Morocco, picturesque Asilah is a popular seaside town washed by the Atlantic Ocean and favored by Moroccan holidaymakers. In summer, the town's sleepy streets and abandoned beaches are transformed into one of the country's hottest holiday spots.
Asilah has a fascinating history, having been founded by the Phoenicians in 1500 BC. During the 15th and 16th centuries it spent several decades under Portuguese rule, before being surrendered to the Spanish. Today, it is once more ruled by Morocco, but its colonial past is reflected in the distinctly Iberian flavor of its cuisine and culture.
Asilah's charms are manifold, and include safe swimming beaches, quaint streets painted in soft shades of white and blue, and excellent restaurants inspired by the town's Spanish heritage. Many visitors travel to Asilah to explore its historic city center, or medina - where cobbled streets, carved doors, crowded souks and bustling plazas offering authentic opportunities for shopping and socialising.
The medina is surrounded by dramatic ramparts, whose steep walls plunge directly onto Asilah's rocky beaches and into the cool waters of the Atlantic. These ramparts are arguably amongst the most scenic of Asilah's many attractions, offering unforgettable views of the city, the sea and the local fishing boats. 1.5 miles/3 kilometers south of Asilah lies Paradise Beach, a wide stretch of sand popular with local families and international tourists alike.
- Shopping: Asilah is full of authentic Moroccan souks, where adept hagglers can easily pick up excellent bargains on North African furniture, jewellery and spices. Asilah is renowned as a haven for artists, and as such, artisan and custom crafts are of a particularly high quality here.
- Beaches: The best of Asilah's beaches is Paradise Beach, located 1.5 miles/3 kilometers south of the medina. Clean and beautiful, it's a great place for swimming, sunbathing or even riding a camel along the sand. There are other good beaches north of Asilah that can be reached by taxi or horse-drawn carriage.
- Architecture: The medina is a treasure trove of Portuguese, Spanish and Moorish architecture, and is best explored on foot. Enter via one of the two main gates (Bab el-Kasaba and the Bab el-Homar) and spend a day admiring the old town's ornate carved doors and graceful historic buildings.
- The Ramparts: The ramparts were built by the Portuguese more than 500 years ago and have been restored many times since. They retain their old-world charm, however, and offer the perfect spot for a sunset stroll, or for taking aerial photographs of the town and the ocean spread out below.
- Wall Paintings: Asilah's reputation as a creative center is proven by the colorful murals that adorn the walls in and around the medina. These wall paintings are sometimes commissioned and always celebrated every summer during the annual Asilah Cultural Festival.
Where to Stay in Asilah
Asilah is full of charming traditional Moroccan guesthouses or Riads, many of them in or close to the medina. These accommodation options are defined by their intimate size, atmospheric rooftop terraces and flawless, personalised service. Recommended Riads include Hotel Dar Manara, Hotel Dar Azaouia and Christina's House (the latter of which is a good option for those on a budget).
A little out of town, peaceful Berbari Guest House is perfect for those looking for a rural escape, while Al Alba is an excellent choice for those that prefer hotel-living with the benefit of a good restaurant. If you'd like to rent your own villa for a family vacation or a getaway with friends, take a look at the options listed here.
Best Time to Visit Asilah
If you want to enjoy the beach, the summer months (June - September) boast warm water and hot sunshine. However, this is also peak time for tourists, both local and foreign, so prices soar and the town is crowded. Winter (December - February) can be chilly; therefore, spring and fall are the best times to visit with pleasant weather and minimal crowds. The Asilah Cultural Festival takes place in late July or early August.
Getting To and Around Asilah
Asilah is a 35-minute drive from Tangier Airport, and about an hour's drive from Port de Tangier Ville. Taxis are available from both. You can also get to Asilah by train from Tangier, Casablanca, Fes or Marrakech. Long distance buses stop in Asilah - check with the CTM or Supratours offices for an up-to-date schedule upon arrival.
Getting around Asilah is easy, either on foot in the medina, or by shared taxi, mini taxi or horse-drawn carriage. There is never a shortage of transport but bargaining is advised - as is finding out in advance what a reasonable fare might be for getting from A to B.
This article was updated and re-written in part by Jessica Macdonald on January 5th 2017.