Take five-star family friendly facilities, mix with sophisticated Moroccan style and service, and indulge in a holiday to remember
For our family, a truly relaxing holiday is a combination of staying in indulgent and one-off surroundings, wonderful weather and service, plus the chance to experience the culture and flavours of the destination. It sounds fairly straightforward but can be a difficult mix to achieve, especially at a modern, five-star resort aimed to appeal to families from all over the world.
But fear not, because we’ve found a place with that perfect balance – and it’s a synch to get too, as well as offering pleasant year-round temperatures no matter whether you are school holidays restricted or wanting a go out-of-season with a baby.
Mazagan Beach & Golf Resort (shortlisted for best family hotel in the Junior Design Awards 2015) sits on the Atlantic coast of Morocco, about an hour’s drive south of the cosmopolitan capital city, Casablanca. The country’s national carrier Royal Air Maroc (which gained plus points from us for its tasty tagines and baby-loving air stewards) offers daily direct flights there from both Heathrow and Gatwick, which take a little over three hours.
Upon arrival at Mohammed V International, we simply took the resort’s complimentary shuttle service, which runs six times a day in each direction. Alternatively, you can fly to Rabat from Stansted with Ryanair, although the free transfer will take you closer to three hours.
One of the resort's many animal residents
Our first glimpse of Mazagan was as we swept through the resort entrance and over the brow of the hill. In front of us sat an impressive sand-coloured palace with a green tiled roof beside the ocean, nestled amid lush landscaped grounds and golf courses where egrets sunbathed happily.
Upon closer inspection (after passing the security checks that sit reassuringly but unobtrusively on all main exits), this palace was grander and chicer than at first glance, with thoughtful and detailed little design details at every turn.
The main lobby whet our appetite for what was to come, a tasteful mix of marble, beautiful fountains and spectacular light fittings, with a life-sized bunny rabbit handing out sweets and candyfloss to little guests as it was the national holiday of Eid.
Check-in set the standard for the care we were to experience all week. Every staff member we encountered was an absolute delight, many speaking English as well as French and Arabic, and happy to chat or leave you be, as you wished. It shouldn’t have been a surprise - Mazagan is owed by the same group as the Junior Design Award-winning Atlantis The Palm, in Dubai, and the One&Only chain of hotels, both know for high standards of service and design.
The impressive Grand Riad and resort pool
The hotel itself is set around a Grand Riad (courtyard) housing a gorgeous pool ringed by palm trees, with the corridors broken up by smaller tree and planet-filled riads to give a more intimate feel. The décor was incredible and not in the least identikit, all pretty tiles, ornate carvings and glass lanterns that created a magical atmosphere at night. It was a world away from the hustle and bustle of the souks, but still authentically Moroccan in its style.
Rooms either look towards the pool or, like ours, the Atlantic Ocean and beach. It was a fantastic size and extremely comfortable, with a huge bathroom and balcony, ideal for a family of four. But adjoining rooms are plentiful if you prefer more privacy or have additional children, and you can even link three together when travelling with grandparents. Despite visiting at a time of full occupancy and with lots of children in residence, the place still felt perfectly spacious and quiet. No wonder Mazagan attracts the likes of former Prime Minister Tony Blair, Saudi royalty and a mystery VIP whose security team we kept spotting outside a room a couple of floors up…
The spacious rooms are comfortable and feature traditional Moroccan wooden furniture
One of the many beautiful riads nestled within the resort walls
Families are the focus at Mazagan, which offers three free-to-attend children’s clubs, as well as a night-time in-room babysitting service, and a warm welcome for young diners in all its restaurants, whether buffet style or fine dining, with no shortage of highchairs. Staff seem to genuinely enjoy meeting the young guests and although there is a children’s pool and waterslide, they are equally welcome in the main one.
The hotel’s Baby Club, which runs from 9am to 6pm each day, taking children from 3 months old, is very secure and well-staffed, with an extensive questionnaire to fill in so that your child’s preferences and habits are taken into account. The Kidz Club for 4 to 11 year olds has a packed programme of activities from pottery painting and sandcastle sculpture to puppet shows and discos.
Travelling with those in-between teenagers can be tricky but Club Rush is an upmarket youth club for 12-17 year olds, with everything from big screen filming showings to beach volleyball tournaments, and a nightclub on weekend evenings.
The hotel allows up to two children of 12 or younger to share a room with parents at no extra cost, while under-fives eat for free.
The dedicated pool for children with its own waterfall and slide sits beside the Kids Club
What we ate
What didn’t we eat! As well as two extremely chic buffet restaurants offering breakfast, lunch and dinner options from every corner of the globe (we particularly loved the sushi and the children’s pizza making station at Market Place), you can grab a bite beside the pool at Oasis or one of four beachside restaurants. Beach Barbecue got the thumbs up from our family for the grilled meat skewers, and we also loved the seafood platters and happy hour cocktails at Chiringuito.
There are also a number of fine dining restaurants open on different nights, where you can book a table in advance and involve paying a top up on your chosen dining plan. The newest addition, La Cave, is an intimate Parisienne bistro where we feasted on local Oualidia oysters and the speciality dessert of Éclair Paris-El Jadida, plus a fine bottle of Moroccan red (a real revelation). If you want a more local experience, Morjana serves mountainous mezze platters, classic tagines and a melt-in-the-mouth slow cooked whole shoulder of lamb, with belly dancing to entertain.
Children will love to end a meal with a platter of traditional pastries such as briouats and bourekas, while parents sip on Moroccan mint tea, a refreshing mix of green tea and fresh mint leaves (although ask them to hold the sugar if you don’t want tooth rot!).
Al fresco dining at Chiringuito, one of the many beachside restaurants
Delicious Moroccan pastries - the perfect accompaniment to the country's traditional mint tea
Enjoy an intimate meal at La Cave, one of the many fine dining options where children are equally welcome as parents
What we did
There’s plenty for parents to enjoy during those precious child-free moments. We loved horse-riding on the beach (camels also available!) and also did a spot of quad biking. At night, try your luck in the casino, which is the biggest in North Africa, and Alias nightclub is open Thursday to Saturday from 11.30pm (if you can contemplate staying up that late!).
If you want to explore further afield, the walled port town of El Jadida, a UNESCO World Heritage site, is nearby and actually gave the resort its name (it was previously called Mazagan). It is unique in Morocco thanks to its Portuguese style architecture, built when they occupied it in the 16th Century. Day trips to Casablanca are also possible, where you can visit the Hassan II Mosque or shop til you drop.
Horse riding lessons and sessions are available for all ages
The UNESCO World Heritage Site of El Jadida is close by and worth a visit
Back at Mazagan, golfers (or aspiring ones) can take lessons at the state-of-the-art Nike Academy and before a round on the Gary Player course against a soothing soundtrack of rolling waves. However, I preferred to listen to their hypnotic tones while having a blissful full body massage with lemony verbena oil in the resort spa (my therapist left the door ajar but you can actually have your massage in an outdoor cabana if you like). There’s a traditional hamman too, plus relaxation room with breathtaking ocean views. You can chose from either French Carita products for your treatments or local oils.
The Gary Player designed golf course with views of the Atlantic
The hamman at Mazagan Spa offers single and mixed sex sessions daily
There’s a gym with daily classes and tennis courts, plus a Ferrari karting track, but most of the time, we lazed by the pool where staff were always on hand with lounger, shades and hammocks, or to take drinks orders, while children happily whizzed about on scooters or played table tennis. If you need a sandy beach, the one at Mazagan was almost always deserted and quiet with plenty of loungers and space for castle building, but you may find the waves a little rough for small children. We reserved our visits for early evening, to watch flocks of sea birds gather and the sun set.
On one of these walks, we spotted a father happily strolling around the lagoon and along the sands while his daughter frolicked with her brother, who was dressed as a mini-Spiderman. It was a joyful scene and for me, it summed up Mazagan’s appeal – a place where you are able to, and actively encouraged to, enjoy your surroundings, relax and be yourself, no matter what age you are.
Taking a family stroll as the sun sets over the Atlantic Ocean
A stay at Mazagan Beach & Golf Resort costs from €170 (approx. £130) a night for a Pool View Room on a B&B basis. mazaganbeachresort.com
Our review of La Sultana – an oasis of calm and style for families amid the buzz of Marrakech
Arizona: we round up the best destinations and attractions for families
Discover five-star kids clubs, relaxation and top-level golf hidden in the hills of Provence at Terre Blanche resort