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'We're Off on the Road to Morocco'
The Jawhara Smir Development in Northern Morocco
Browsing through the property section of the local paper I wonder where it would be wise to invest next. I've just pulled out of the purchase of my fifth rental property in the UK. a two bedroom terrace, because structural problems were revealed on the survey, but perhaps that's no great surprise seeing as it's located in a mining area. I can't afford somewhere new yet or a house in a more salubrious area so what do I do now?
"How about this then? It looks too good to be true," I say to my daughter as I read from the newspaper advert.
"Luxury two-bed room apartments in Morocco from 37,000 GB pounds. Communal pool, on site supermarket and restaurant, round the clock security, underground parking and close to magnificent beach and all amenities."
This could be not only a good investment opportunity but it could also be beneficial to family and friends too.
We look on the Internet where there are photos of the completed phase and subsequent phases still being built. I'm impressed. The location, the specifications, everything appears first class. But I'm not easily convinced; I'd have to see it for myself before I part with any money. In my experience the camera doesn't actually lie... it just leaves out the ugly bits and knowing my luck the development will be right next to a fish processing factory.
'FREE INSPECTION VISITS'
declares the advert. Well why not? I muse, never one to resist a freebie. I've been to Morocco twice before so it's a place I'm familiar with and it's not too long a flight either.
My friend Vera who is in the property business too says she would like to go with me but her husband says no, assuming we will be up to no good with the locals as soon as we reach foreign shores. "But how will we have time to fraternise with anyone if we're looking at property out there?" we protest. He's still not convinced and warns us of white-slave traffic to deter us. Never mind, I'll ask my friend Allan instead but he's sceptical too and thinks we'll just end up having to endure the hard-sell approach. I don't want to go on my own so my teenage daughter offers to accompany me...
Superb Holiday Accommodation
13th June 2005 Monday:
We're off on the road to Morocco... via Malaga. Dorothy Lamour and Bob Hope eat your heart out! It's an early start to get to Leeds Bradford airport for our flight with Jet 2.com. I'm not a good flier at the best of times so out on Monday and back on Wednesday will do little for my equilibrium. Used to flying only with Britannia because of their excellent safety record I bash the fuselage with my fist several times as we board just to check we've not entrusted our lives to rust bucket airlines. The stewardess gives me a funny look. Strange though, I find I'm not as apprehensive as when I go on holiday, after all, this is, strictly speaking, a business trip so I am prepared to become a martyr for the sake of my property empire if the plane crashes.
The flight is a short one of less than two and a half hours and is smooth enough but we're slightly delayed so as soon as we land I stop fretting about the plane and start worrying about meeting the representative of the property company. He phones me on my mobile as we collect our luggage and all is well. He is smartly dressed, talkative and drives us to the port of Algeciras in a brand new BMW. We put our watches forward one hour on arriving in Spain.
It's a two hour journey down through the Spanish Costa's which I've never visited before and I rapidly decide I'm not too unhappy about that. It's far too built up for my liking. Property prices have gone through the roof and developers have got greedy, building on either side of the motorway and even up the side of the mountain. Soon there won't be a blade of grass to be seen. I certainly won't be looking at any property here.
We have time at Algeciras for a coffee before our rep buys our tickets to board the ferry to take us across the Straits of Gibraltar. He's charming and informative and there is no hard-sell. "The properties will speak for themselves," he says. "I'll meet you when you come back on the ferry tomorrow." He tells us we are to rendezvous with someone called Boumaine when we disembark, who will take us to our hotel in Tangier for the night.
The crossing takes two hours. It's extremely pleasant and we even spot some dolphins on the way but a strange thing happens; we leave Spain at 4pm and arrive in Tangier at 4pm as the time zone in North Africa is two hours behind UK time in summer. Now it doesn't take a lot to confuse me but my stomach is telling me mealtime is long overdue, whatever the time zone. We were in too much of a rush for breakfast, didn't fancy the sandwiches on the plane and on the ferry we only had English money and the bank was closed. We have no choice but to make do with some bottled water and a few mints.
Getting off the ferry poses further problems as somehow we fail to get our passports stamped on board as we've managed to miss the man from the port authority. Customs won't let us into the country and we are told to get on the ferry again and wait for him to come back. I manage to twist my arm lifting my daughter's luggage from the rack. For a trip of only two days I thought it would be light like mine but she has brought everything except the kitchen sink it seems, as I find to my detriment. After traipsing on and off the boat several times my daughter is fed up too: "Whose idea was this?" she says glaring at me accusingly.
It's now over twelve hours since we left home, we are running on empty and worse is to come. We can't find Boumaine anywhere. I ask several people waiting on the quayside if they are him and they all say yes. Eventually a nice American lady called Tessa finds us and tells us she's been sent in his place and will take us to our hotel. The hotel is superb... The Dawlitz... one of the best in Tangier and when we're shown to our room shortly before 5pm, the porter places our luggage on the bed and opens the curtains.
"Wow Mum! Look at that view!" I take one glance from the balcony and know that all the travelling has been worthwhile. It has got to be one of the best views in the world. From our balcony, perched high on a hill one can see the old quarter of Tangier and some of the new town over towards the port and the sea.
In the evening we have time for a swim in the hotel pool, explore the souks, visit the tourist area and buy some treats from the bakery while we discover our surroundings.
It's been over thirty years since I was last in Tangier and it doesn't appear to have changed dramatically. It's good to know that some places stay as you remember them. I was an adventurous ten year old on a school cruise back then. I always wanted to run away to Africa as a child and now I could be buying a place out here.
We return to the hotel but find we no longer feel like a full meal and go out round the town again until midnight, giving our spare Dirhams to the many beggars who line the streets. But tiredness now prevails and our day has been seemingly endless. We have a 7am start in the morning, and are told we will eventually meet the elusive Boumaine who will take us along the coast to see the new development near Tetouan, approximately 90km distant.
Jawhara Smir Overview
14th June 2005 Tuesday - Leaving Tangier
At shortly after sunrise, the city of Tangier is gradually coming to life. This is where continents merge; less than thirty miles distant, across the Straits of Gibraltar, is Southern Spain - but it's a world away in every other respect. Tangier is a mishmash of old and new. The old quarter sits side by side with modern luxury. It all seems to work rather well. The haunting sound of the Muezzin calling the faithful to prayer reminds us we are part of a totally different culture now. Tourism here is not yet like Tunisia, a similar North African country so the locals are not as geared up to dealing with foreigners, but times are changing and everyone here is willing to learn to communicate in several languages if it means more Dirhams in their pockets. Libya and Algeria are content with the revenue from oil but Tunisia, Morocco and Egypt have chosen tourism as the way ahead.
Refreshed after a good night's sleep we're ready to continue our inspection trip. Although eager to reach our eventual destination, it seems a shame to leave the hotel and its enviable location when we only arrived the day before, but I decide there and then, I'll be back. Having risen early, I have time to film the marvellous view of the port in the rosy, post-dawn haze as people gradually arrive to take breakfast at the restaurant immediately below our balcony. There is even a MacDonald's here and it could easily win a prize for being situated in one of the finest locations of the entire chain. Last night, caught up in the sights and sounds of the Kasbah we lost our bearings and had to hail a taxi back to the hotel, but we couldn't quite remember the name. In spite of the language barrier, as soon as we mentioned MacDonald's the driver knew exactly where we wanted to be.
Today after we've viewed the development near Tetouan we'ill be driven straight back to the ferry bound for Spain but we don't know at this stage whether we'll be departing from Tangier or the Spanish colony of Ceuta. Since we're not returning to the hotel we have to take all our baggage with us. Travelling light certainly has its advantages but my daughter still has this lesson to learn.
After checking out we finally meet up with Boumaine and he apologises profusely for the mix up yesterday. He, like his Spanish counterpart is smartly dressed, and drives a BMW. His English is perfect and again there is no hard-sell. Throughout the one and a half hour journey he is informative, answers all our questions and stops at several vantage points so we can video the breathtaking scenery appearing at almost every bend in the road. There is a quicker route but the coastal road is the better option for the discerning tourist.
First we drive north, along the more rugged Atlantic coast of Northern Morocco before turning east to the Mediterranean seaboard. We stop at Mount Moses. Boumaine tells us that geologically speaking, this is the other half of the rock of Gibraltar and many eons ago the two rocks were joined, the Mediterranean in those times being shut off from the Atlantic completely. There is even a theory that the Mediterranean was one dry land and the Atlantic Ocean broke through a narrow strip of land joining African and Europe to create a waterfall three times the size of Niagara.
The beaches we pass have pale golden sands not grey and dismal like the coarser sands of the Spanish coast only nine miles distant. It's much quieter here, like the Costa's were in the 1950s before the age of the jet engine. There are a few villas dotted about here and there which merge with the existing landscape rather than obliterate it as they do in Spain.
We learn a lot from Boumaine: a new port is being constructed and a new airport is planned in the next few years so there will certainly be some development in the future. We pass a new town under construction as the local population is growing at a healthy rate and workers are attracted from the interior where they can earn far better wages in the tourist industry. We see the Spanish colony of Ceuta shortly before we arrive at our destination; this is a duty free haven popular with Europeans and Moroccans alike.
The sun is high in the sky now but it is only mid-June and there is no real heat in it. The beaches are virtually empty as the season is not yet in full swing. Sun worshippers come here between now and the end of August for the hottest weather but for anyone wanting to enjoy less stifling heat, May and September are perhaps better,
We are told that Morocco is set to become a property hot spot. The King is an enterprising chap who has embraced tourism and there is even talk of a "Channel tunnel" being constructed in the next few years between Africa and Europe.
Arriving at Marina Smir we have coffee at a five star hotel in an idyllic setting. "The King of Morocco goes jet-skiing here," Boumaine tells us quite casually, pointing to the beach. He then gives us more details about the properties we'll be viewing which are now only just across the road from the hotel.
The development is painted with whitewashed walls and a sky blue contrast for all doors and windows. It's even more impressive than the glossy brochures. The gardens are delightful and the pool inviting. Perversely, I find myself looking around to spot something I don't like. But there is nothing and even my daughter agrees it would be difficult to discover a better location for a holiday home. There are mountains as a backdrop and the beach sweeps round in an interesting curve. The development is built round a communal pool. We are shown some completed apartments and one that is fully furnished. The specifications are high. Granite worktops, fully tiled marble floors and air-conditioning. Apparently in Spain, a similar development would be three times the price. We are shown the second phase which is still under construction; we cannot fail to be impressed.
Boumaine takes us to two opulent marinas and nearby golf courses before we have lunch at a seafood restaurant on the beach. There are shells in abundance and we save a few as souvenirs. Soon it's time to return for the afternoon ferry but we've already decided the outcome of our visit. Boumaine drives us back along the coast and ensures that we're safely on board. The trip back to Spain is tedious and we try to catch up on sleep on the way.
Back to Spain
The Spanish rep meets us in Algeciras and finds us a hotel in Benalmadena for the night. Since we're not seeking a property on the Costa's we'll now have all day free tomorrow before leaving for the airport at 4pm.
In Benalmadena we settle in before walking along the seafront in the evening. It feels like we've been away from home for two weeks rather than just a couple of days. I decide that time is unimportant, it depends what one does with it. Two days at home and I'll remember nothing but two days away like this, I'll remember for the rest of my life.
I even decide that the Costa's aren't quite as bad as I thought. Even though I hate the huge concrete slabs of hotels, people are having a great time and that's the main thing. It's flat here too, so ideal for the older generation who are still active. People travellling to Morocco via Spain can enjoy the best of both worlds, combining the hustle and bustle of the Costa's with the tranquillity of Northern Morocco. Sipping sangria in the Marina we are pleased we came. We even have time to buy a few tacky souvenirs and send a postcard or two before our return to England.
A Great Guide to Morocco
15th June 2005 - Return to UK
In the morning we take breakfast early and walk along the beach. My daughter has ample time to have her hair braided before we leave for the airport, and as I potter round the seashore I manage to get my sandals wet. This causes them to fall apart and I have to do a temporary repair with chewing gum until I can buy a replacement pair at the nearest shop on the sea front.
We are back in the U.K. by mid-evening on Wednesday and we feel as if we've been round the world twice since Monday morning but it's been worth it. I'm impressed with what I've seen and yes, I think I will sign up for a holiday home in Morocco.
Local Points of Interest
The Jawhara Smir Complex
After reading this article, would you buy a holiday home in Morocco?
© 2015 Stella Kaye