In the Moroccan resort of Agadir, the calibre of hotel is directly proportionate to the outlandishness of its sun-loungers. I am staying at the Sofitel Royal Bay, where guests stretch out around the pool on four-poster beds with gauze drapes or swing gently in double hammocks.
Most evenings I wander down to the hotel’s private beach, pull up a fully-upholstered armchair or sofa big enough for four, and watch the sun set with a glass of chilled white Ksara in hand.
Much-needed glamour: The marina has added a dash of the Cote d'Azur to Agadir
Lying on Morocco’s east coast, Agadir enjoys 360 days’ sunshine a year and its hotels cater to guests’ every need. Mine has a huge pool, four restaurants, a nightclub and a spa. Breakfast includes freshly-made omelettes and pancakes from a griddle the length of my living room.
Life here revolves around the six-mile sandy beach, pounded by Atlantic waves. Kids tumble in the surf, couples stroll hand-in-hand and barefoot joggers pace the waterline. At the port end, the crumbling walls of the old kasbah stand on the brow of a hill, emblazoned with an Arabic inscription reading: ‘God, Nation and King’. At night the phrase is illuminated, throwing a warm orange light over the bay.
The kasbah is all that remains of the original city – Agadir was destroyed by an earthquake in 1960 and rebuilt as a tourist resort. Since then, it has become a thriving holiday enclave for European families and has a large range of seafront hotels, from good value to five-star behemoth. But now it is looking to become more than just a package holiday destination.
Life's a beach: Laura chills out with a glass of chilled white Ksara at the Sofitel Royal Bay
In the past, there has been little to entice visitors out of their enormous hotel complexes. When I first visited six years ago, the seafront was a hotchpotch of no frills cafes, popcorn and doughnut stalls, with a McDonalds thrown in. Now it has been tidied up and at the port end, a new marina has injected some much-needed glamour.
Rows of yachts and buffed-up speed boats bob around in the water and the boardwalk is lined with boutiques and stylish open-air cafes. The brand new Yacht 33 restaurant is fast becoming a favourite with well-heeled locals and visitors, with a large outdoor terrace and a menu dominated by fresh fish.
I choose our waiter’s recommendation – delicate fillets of John Dory with artichoke, fennel, tomato confit, asparagus, olives and basil - and follow it with madeleines and orange salad. It’s one of those meals I want to eat all over again as soon as I finish the final forkful.
Head for heights: The view from the kasbah's walls
Hot spot: The sun sets on Agadir's beach
Next morning, I chug around the bay on tourist boat Federika with a group of Russian alpha males in Speedos and their glossy wives. We have a go at fishing and they reel in mackerel by the bucket load. Though my own attempts are unfruitful, I still get to enjoy sea bass grilled on charcoal by the crew. It’s worth the ride just to sail back into the marina, yachts glinting white in the sun with the kasbah hill behind.
While the marina has added a dash of the Cote d’Azur to Agadir, Riad Villa Blanche is bringing back traditional Moroccan architecture and drawing visitors who may previously have dismissed the resort as the Costa del Morocco.
Opened in February, it is Agadir’s first boutique hotel and the first riad to be built since the earthquake. There are 28 rooms, each individually decorated, with deep baths, velvet daybeds and antique furniture. Three tiers of arched balconies are built around an open-air courtyard - on the night I drop by for dinner, the clear sky is filled with stars.
Sun worshipper's heaven: Life in Agadir revolves around the six-mile sandy beach, pounded by Atlantic waves
The riad is a bijou alternative to the gigantic seafront players. Guests are mostly couples looking for a quiet getaway and children have to be over 12 to stay. Its price tags are far from prohibitive, with a double room starting at around £100.
It has already gained a reputation for fantastic food and its restaurant was full on the night I was there - a pigeon pastilla (filo pastry layers filled with meat and spices) was light, sweet and aromatic, followed by a superb beef tagine with prunes and apricots. Don’t leave without trying one of the special house mojitos, laced with champagne.
Villa Blanche organises trips to see Agadir’s cultural highlights and aims to show visitors that, although Agadir lost its historic sights in the earthquake, there are still plenty of ways to have an authentic Moroccan experience here.
Souk and the city: Olives are piled high on a market stall at Souk al-Had
Setting sail: Laura on tourist boat Federika with the kasbah hill in the background
My favourite spot becomes the Souk al-Had, a huge covered market selling everything from slippers and handbags to rosewater face cream and artichokes. There is not so much of the hard sell here as in Morocco’s bigger city souks, so exploring and negotiating is pretty stress-free. I leave with a random selection of purchases - a clay foot scrubber, a large pomegranate and some dark green harem pants, which I haggle down to half price.
Back at my hotel, I indulge in another traditional Moroccan experience – a hammam and massage. I spend 20 minutes in a eucalyptus-infused steam room, covering myself in gooey black soap and mud. After a rinse-off, the brilliant Fatima kneads me head to toe with a fragrant mix of Morocco’s famous argan oil and drops of orange blossom. Next year, Sofitel will be opening a thalassotherapy spa hotel next door to the Royal Bay, aimed at pamper seekers, rather than its more traditional family clientele.
Back in style: Riad Villa Blanche is the first to be built since the earthquake
My final meal is at the Beach Club Hotel and is one of the best of the trip. We are served fantastic amounts of food: salads, breads and a giant tagine, with wine, for £20 a head. Behind us a jovial Moroccan band plays, a belly dancer wiggles, and tipsy sunburned tourists take to the floor.
Luxury pampering, stylish hang-outs and discreet getaways are creating a new experience for visitors to Agadir, but sometimes a bit of old-fashioned holiday fun is all that you need.
BMI now flies direct from Heathrow to Agadir with fares from £129 return, including taxes and charges. To book, visit www.flybmi.com.
For information on Morocco and Agadir, visit the Moroccan National Tourist Office websites: www.visitmorocco.com and www.agadir.travel