Travel: My Hippy Hols; JANE RIDLEY RETRACES HER CHILDHOOD STEPS TO MOROCCO

Article excerpt

Byline: JANE RIDLEY

IT WAS my third birthday and my big sister, Alison, and I were sitting in a battered old caravan, devouring giant meringues in the shape of swans which Mum had bought from a market in Marrakesh.

We were screwing up our eyes against the blinding sunlight and moaning about being patted on the head by inquisitive Arabs chewing sugar beet.

This is probably my first ever memory. It was the summer of 1971 and my family was doing the hippie trail across North Africa.

Like so many others, my parents had quit their jobs to "find themselves" in the desert.

Our terraced house in Darlington was rented out for six months while we trundled from Tangiers to the Rif Mountains and beyond in a Ford Escort estate which constantly broke down.

Now, 32 years on, I am back in Morocco, this time as a proper grown-up. I have the same haircut, dangerously sweet tooth and love of travelling, but the idea of camping with bongo-playing peaceniks no longer appeals.

Instead I am sampling five-star Morocco by staying at a posh hotel in Agadir, the popular tourist resort on the Atlantic coast.

Back in the 1970s, Mum cooked our meals over a Primus stove or campfire. She once set the sleeves of her kaftan alight. As for the food, it always seemed to be Spam and baked beans.

Now, I am eating the finest lobster tails in air-conditioned luxury. It feels positively sterile in comparison. And, I have to admit, not as nice.

Most of the hippies have moved on, both physically and spiritually. Like my dad, they are probably up-standing members of the community.

A handful never came down from their 1970s trip. They have gone native and smoke hookah pipes in the coffee shops and kasbahs.

But you're unlikely to find them in Agadir, which is ugly compared to the historic cities of Fez, Casablanca, Marrakesh and Essaouria.

It no longer has a traditional Medina - or fortified central area - and the concrete sprawl is a legacy of the devastating earthquake in 1960 which flattened the area and killed 15,000.

THE resort caters mainly for package tourists who fly into its international airport directly from the UK, Germany, France and Saudi Arabia.

And it is increasingly targeting the business market by building a rash of new hotels, including the Millennium Hotel which has a friendly ambience and world-class facilities.

Another draw is the growing number of golf courses, such as the 27-hole Golf du Soleil, a swanky club surrounded by lush gardens.

There is definite blue-chip feel to the place. Morocco's forward-thinking young king, Mohammed VI, has a huge modern palace here and the city is benefiting from his regular visits.

But not in every respect. On my second afternoon the roads become gridlocked because the royal entourage is passing through. Why two miles are blocked off at the same time is anyone's guess.

Here comes another often bang his head against the steering wheel because everything in Morocco seemed an effort. He obviously wasn't eating the right brand of hash cookies. Not only were we stranded in the desert for two weeks because we couldn't find a replacement clutch, but, on the way back, a Gibraltar immigration officer refused to allow us on the ferry.

It was something to do with not being able to prove we had the means to support ourselves. It meant an agonising wait in the caravan as the money was sent from the UK to the post office in Tangiers.

At the time, the drama passed me by. I was too busy petting goats and avoiding being "prodded" by Arabs who were fascinated by our blonde hair.

My sister wasn't complaining either. For her, it meant a few more weeks off school. In the meantime, she was "home educated" by our parents, which explains her woeful grasp of maths.

Back to 2003 and I visit Taroudannt, 85km from Agadir and a 17th Century town billed as a mini-Marrakesh. …