Asilah: a town that gazes at the sea from behind its walls
The name Asilah evokes images of winding streets lined by clean, white houses with freshly painted walls that dazzle when they reflect the sun. You can hear the sea from Asilah because it’s lapped by the waters of the Mediterranean – parts of the town are strongly reminiscent of coastal towns in Cadiz. They say that Asilah (or Arcila as it’s also known) has the cleanest and most well-cared for medina in Morocco and it’s true that the inhabitants of this ancient town take great care over every street and Neo-Arabic building as if they were a prized treasure.
Almost all the houses are white but many add a dash of colour with borders, doors and windows in indigo or green. Buildings are also decorated with mural paintings by the many artists who have been drawn to Asilah and its town plan dating from the age of Al-Andalus. Other former houses have become attractive shops that you’ll love to visit as you wander the streets and discover the town’s charms alongside a population of little more than 30,000 inhabitants.
Strolling around the medina of Asilah is essential during your visit, and you’ll quickly soak up the charm of its hidden corners, squares, designs, the doors of its houses and the small mosques. It’s a delight for the senses and, when you raise your eyes upwards, your gaze will be met by the endless blue of the sky and sea.
- What to see in Asilah
- Where to eat in Asilah
- How to get to Asilah from Tangier
- Where to stay in Asilah
What to see in Asilah
The historic centre of Asilah lies behind beautiful ochre walls that have defied the Atlantic Ocean for five centuries. A colourful souk is held next to the walls every Thursday that sells local products and looks like something straight off a postcard. Economic activity in the town is based on tourism and its biggest draws are its long sandy beaches and the lively cultural festivals that take place here in summer. Below are essential places to visit if you travel to Asilah:
Medina of Asilah
The oldest part of Asilah. Its hidden corners and maze-like streets twist and turn in a winding web that is clean and well-cared for; tourists never fail to be captivated by its white buildings, many decorated by artists from around the world. The walls around the town were built on the orders of Alfonso V of Portugal in the 15th century and have three main gates that lead into the medina: Bab Homar or the Old Gate, Bab el Kasbah (opposite the Muslim cemetery) and Bab el Bahar or the Sea Gate, next to the square Portuguese tower that presides over the city.
The Grand Mosque is on the way to Place Ibn Khaldun and very close to Kasbah Gate (Bab el Kasbah). Its white hexagonal minaret is particularly attractive. The Hassan II Cultural Centre is opposite and holds exhibitions, congresses and conferences; it’s particularly busy in summer when it hosts the International Cultural Festival. The mosque is almost ten centuries old and is the only temple in the medina.
Borj Al Kamra
An emblematic defensive tower on the walls of Asilah, which were built in the 15th century. It’s located in Place Ibn Khaldun to the right of the Grand Mosque. This is a lively area of the city and a great place to stop at a terrace to enjoy a relaxing cup of tea or fruit juice.
Cemetery and Mausoleum of Sidi Ahmed al-Mansur
The only cemetery in the medina is small in size but its tombs, with multicoloured ceramics, have all the magic of the Arabic and Muslim world and look towards Mecca. The Mausoleum of Sidi Ahmed al-Mansur is located in this cemetery; Sidi Ahmed al-Mansur was the sultan who reconquered Asilah after the famous “battle of the three kings”.
Asilah is home to numerous Moroccan artisans who sell their skilfully crafted goods in the souk in the medina. Watching first-hand as they make their valuable creations is an amazing experience and they’re proud to share their knowledge with travellers who visit their stalls and workshops.
Known as Paradise Beach or the Beach of the Caves, Asilah beach often has camels and donkey carts for anyone who wants to take photos as a souvenir. It’s a surprising sight, but if you just want to go for a walk along the sand this is the perfect place to enjoy the sun and sea. When the tide is low, you can search for the entrance to the cave that gives the beach its name.
Where to eat in Asilah
Sampling delicious Moroccan food at a traditional restaurant in Asilah is a must and there are many wonderful dishes that it would a crime to miss. Below is a selection of restaurants with great menus to enjoy. One is restaurant La Place (7, Ave. Moulay Hassan ben el-Mehdi), which is next to the main entrance gate to the medina. It has a small terrace where you can sit and take in everyday life in the city. If you’d like to try fresh fish, head to restaurant Port XIV opposite the breakwater and close to restaurant La Place. Another good recommendation is Dar Al Maghribia (Rue Al Banafsaje, 7). The city also has Spanish restaurants: Océano Casa Pepe and Casa García.
How to get to Asilah from Tangier
Asilah is around 50 km from Tangier and the journey takes about 45 min by car along the A5. Buses and taxis also connect the two cities.
Where to stay in Asilah
The best place to stay near Asilah is Tangier where the Barceló Tánger is the perfect option because it’s great value for money and has an unbeatable location and friendly staff. The hotel is in the city centre in the most tourist-orientated and modern area; it’s two minutes on foot from the beach and has wonderful sea views. It has 138 rooms with every comfort you could need and its selection of dining options includes a restaurant serving international cuisine, a snack bar and a café. The hotel also has a large outdoor pool and a pub with regular live music. Staying at the Barceló Tánger will ensure you enjoy the city to the full and have an unforgettable holiday by the sea. It’s the perfect base for planning a day trip to Asilah to discover the treasures that lie behind its impressive ochre walls that gaze out to sea.
Frequently Asked Questions
Why is Asilah famous?
Asilah is famous for its centuries-old, imposing ochre walls and its beautiful medina, which attracts artists from around the world.
How do you get to Asilah from Tangier?
Asilah is around 50 km from Tangier and the journey takes about 45 min by car on the A5. You can also travel by bus or taxi.
What is there to see in Asilah?
Walk along the beach, visit its well-cared for medina and souq, and admire the 15th century walls that face the sea and the famous tower of Borj Al Kamra. You should also visit the Grand Mosque, the Hassan II Cultural Centre, the cemetery and the Mausoleum of Sidi Ahmed El Mansur.