asilah moroccoWhen you visit Morocco, you have a host of choices to make about where to visit and what to do. If you’ve visited Morocco before and have hit all the highlights, or you’re looking for a low-key, under-the-radar destination, consider visiting Asilah, Morocco.

Asilah sits along the Atlantic Coast near Moulay in the northern portion of the country. Situated on the outskirts of the Rif Mountains, its two closest areas for outdoor activities are Jebel Bouhachem Nature Reserve and Talassemtane National Park.

It is a small fishing village and has become increasingly popular in recent years for its beautiful beaches. Because of its location, Asilah was a natural harbor for a variety of people who made their way to Morocco, including the Byzantines, Arabs, Normans, Portuguese, Phoenicians, Romans and Carthaginians. The most influential culture of the small town was arguably the Portuguese, who provided ramparts, fortifications and walls around the town.

Asilah was not always as peaceful as it is today. The ramparts made it a wonderful haven for pirates during the 17th century. There were a number of battles in and around the fortifications.

Today, however, the village is worthy of exploring once you wander inside the city walls. Every year since 1978, the Asilah Art Festival has lured thousands of people to the city. Artists line the streets to display their work, and the town becomes one live, breathing art gallery. Music also plays an integral part in the festivities.

Beyond the festivals, visitors to Asilah should be sure to visit the Medina. The Koubba of Sidi Mamsur is also worth checking out, though it is not actually open to the public. You can, however, view it from afar.

Because it isn’t as popular as other cities in Morocco, the hotels in Asilah are generally simple and inexpensive, though nothing to write home about. This isn’t the place people travel to for luxury, but it is a pleasant visit for a relaxing, authentic view of Morocco.

If you’d like to venture just beyond Asilah for a view of the countryside, head to Talassemtane National Park. Home to dozens of interesting species and several day treks that traverse the park, Talassemtane National Park aims to conserve the last of Morocco’s fir forests.

Tangier is the closest large city to Asilah. If you plan on only visiting this area of the country, fly into Tangier and make the trip down the coast by train or bus to make the most of your time. Because of its ideal location near the ocean, many people enjoy spending time at the beaches between the two cities, though they can be quite crowded during the summer months.

Posted by JoAnna Haugen, managing editor at Journey Beyond Travel and author of Kaleidoscopic Wandering.

Photo by Miguel Fruto.