Joining the morning throng of robed men and carts wheeling out their wares along Essaouira’s main passageways, I met Ottmane at the main gate to the medina for the journey by road to the start of our hike into the diverse countryside and coastal landscapes of western Morocco.

Sasha on a rural hike in Morocco

A local guide is the ultimate luxury if you want to get off the main track, and I was lucky enough to have an enterprising, enthusiastic, educated and English-speaking Essaouira native to show me around. Based in the coastal medina town of Essaouira, which is mellow by Moroccan standards, Ottmane’s Ecotourism Walking Tours give travellers a chance to explore some beautiful off-the-beaten path places.

A local guide is the ultimate luxury in Morocco

Wide-open space

South of Essaouira’s fortified fishing port and long sandy bay where you can stroll the promenade, ride camels along the beach, and relax in seafront cafes, western Morocco becomes a wild coast of wide dune-backed beaches and Atlantic rollers perfect for surfers and those who like to explore on foot.

After a 30-minute drive beyond the village of Diabat’s dune-engulfed Castle Made of Sand, said to have inspired Jimi Hendrix, we entered open countryside with gentle slopes of endemic Argan groves and rolling farmlands much greener than you would expect for the climate. As we turned back towards the coast, I could see isolated surfer settlements, cafe shacks and boho guesthouses dotting the land above the gigantic golden windswept beach of Sidi Kaouki. I had no idea this was a surfing spot but looking out on the powerful Atlantic swell, I could certainly see why.