Mark Hodson persuades teenage daughter Helena to swap Snapchat for a surfing and yoga holiday on the wild Atlantic beaches of Morocco
Like many teenage girls, my daughter lives much of her life on Snapchat. It isn’t all bad: there are homework videos and photos of her latest smoothie recipe, but there’s an awful lot of inane chatter, and long hours spent hunched over a tiny flickering screen. Approaching her 14th birthday, Helena has started to suffer chronic shoulder pain.
Whatever happened to the sporty 10-year-old tomboy that used to bounce out of her bedroom each morning? She’s in there somewhere. She still enjoys PE, plays rugby and will even tolerate the occasional walk in the countryside. Last summer we had a great active holiday in the French Alps. February half term is more of a challenge. We can’t afford to ski in peak season and it’s too cold for a European city break. The solution: Morocco. Not the souks of Fes, but further south to the wild Atlantic beaches around Agadir. Our destination was the aptly named Paradis Plage, a hotel that promises a combination of surfing, yoga and spa, along with good food and a cool vibe. It also has free WiFi– neither of us wanted to go completely cold turkey.
We were both new to surfing, though Helena had youth on her side: I’m 53, with an arthritic hip. But I have practised yoga for more than a decade. For Helena, it would be her first time on the mat.
Getting to Paradis Plage is a cinch. EasyJet flies to Agadir in less than three hours then it’s an hour’s taxi ride along a coast road so spectacular that you’ll rediscover the lost art of window-gazing. After an early start at Gatwick, we arrived in time for lunch. The poolside restaurant – with wooden decking, canvas shades and delicious pasta dishes (£5-£7) – would have looked great on Instagram, but I resisted. Mustn’t set a bad example.
After an afternoon basking in the sun, we joined the sunset yoga class in a glass-walled sala directly overlooking the beach. Teacher Karsten, a jovial German, eased us gently into deep, joint-opening yin poses as the sun slipped below the waves, dutifully lighting the sky in a shamelessly extravagant display of Barbie-pink, orange and aubergine.
Helena was still raving about the class – “It was sooo relaxing!” – as we tucked into dinner at The 27, the hotel’s signature restaurant. For me, mixed bean salad with prawn tempura followed by sole stuffed with baby leeks. Helena had a show-stopping steak and chips. With desserts, water, wine and a mocktail, the £65 bill was good value. The hotel, which sits directly on a 5km beach, is gorgeous: built using only local materials by local craftsmen, it combines traditional Moroccan tiling, woodwork and ornamental fountains with contemporary designer touches. It looks especially pretty after dark – a beach bonfire is lit every evening – and there’s a grown-up hippie-chic feel, a strong environmental ethos and a cosmopolitan mix of nationalities among the guests: French, German, British and Moroccan.
Next day, after a long lazy buffet breakfast in the morning sun, we arrived at the surf shop and nervously wriggled into wetsuits. I’ve always been slightly intimidated by surfers – the insouciant, tousled-haired, suntanned kids – but there were several other midlifers in our beginners’ group, and not all in peak condition. Our instructor, Hussein, led us to the beach to warm up, jogging past tethered camels and fishing boats. The waves were ideal for first-timers, we were told, though the water was unseasonably cold: this part of Morocco had just struggled through its coldest winter in 40 years.
In the first hour we learned to body surf using long, wide, lightweight boards. This was easy and fun. Then Hussein moved us back to the beach to practise the moves to get standing. They were surprisingly similar to yoga poses. Knowing my Warrior II, I felt confident: in my head I was already a surfer. Unfortunately, the waves had other ideas. Unbalanced, cold, sensing defeat, I started to fall. Helena was already on her feet, gliding past me. It was a warming sight. The next day we had another instructor, Ishmael, who was relentlessly cheerful and helpful. He seemed determined to get me standing, which I did a couple of times, before falling off in shallow water. Helena, meanwhile, was growing in confidence, both on the water and on the yoga mat.
We started joining Karsten for morning yoga, this time a more dynamic vinyasa class. We jogged on the beach, I taught Helena to do a headstand and we ate lots of fresh healthy food both at the hotel and at the handful of cheap local restaurants. At Le Merlan Gris, a whole grilled sea bream, set me back a fiver.
On the third day the surf was up: bigger, stronger waves and cloudy skies. I ducked out, and grabbed my camera instead. Helena battled bravely, falling again and again, eventually getting to her feet half a dozen times. It was a great display of character. Afterwards we treated ourselves to a massage in the spa – another first for Helena. “That was sooo nice!” She had quickly acquired another expensive new hobby.
On our last evening we skipped yoga and walked on the beach to witness one of the most lavish sunsets I’ve ever seen. Our phones were out, snapping and videoing. We had rarely been without them, but this felt different: rather than consuming media and flicking through timelines, we used them mainly to take photos and reply to the occasional email.
This holiday may not have been a digital detox, but it was a glimpse into a more healthy relationship with the devices in our pockets.
We recommend visiting during February half-term, October half-term or Easter, though the surf is considered best in February. Christmas and New Year tend to be a bit chilly.
The Healthy Holiday Company offers seven nights B&B during February half-term 2019 from £975 per person based on four sharing a Prestige Suite, including easyJet flights from London Gatwick and airport transfers.
Surf lessons at Paradis Plage cost from £30 per person for a two-hour session (adult and child, minimum age 8). Board rental is also available. Yoga classes (75 mins) start at £10 per person (adult and child, minimum age 12). Free children’s club for ages 4-11.