From the first moment the name of the game at the Mazagan Beach Resort was "two steps forward and three steps back". Having been eventually permitted through the security outpost at the perimeter of the resort, our car was valet-parked and our luggage ushered swiftly inside. Then followed a 25-minute pause, standing in the cavernous reception with dozens of other lost souls, waiting for the hotel rep to turn up. After the long trek to the room, we were happy to find a note from the manager (signed by his assistant).
Located about 100km south of Casablanca, on Morocco's windswept Atlantic coast, Mazagan is set just off the beach. The property is simply enormous, sprawling over a heavily irrigated terrain of 250 hectares, much of it devoted to the celebrated golf course laid out by Gary Player. There's certainly a sense that you're separated from the outside world, with wonderful views over the surrounding wilderness and down the deserted coastline. The downside is that unless you have your own transport, you are rather captive, unable to easily take advantage of local sights and culture in the nearby city of El Jadida. There are, however, a range of (pricey) hotel-run excursions to nearby cities, and others farther afield to places such as Marrakech.
Without wanting to seem uncharitable, I have to say right away that the service at Mazagan was strangely reminiscent of the 1970s British sitcom Fawlty Towers. As with the shambolic fictional hotel on the equally windswept English south coast, Mazagan's lack of management is at best amusing, and at worst distressing. It's as if all the staff have been told to keep their heads down and to bumble along. They are friendly (Morocco is a kingdom of friendliness par excellence), but so was Manuel, the inept lackey under Basil Fawlty's thumb. And for me this was where Mazagan flopped - the sense that no one really cared that I was staying there.
The guest rooms at Mazagan are laid out on four floors, along three sides of what is essentially a grand riad, a courtyard garden. The rooms are spacious and bright with either views towards the ocean or over the central swimming pool. A normal deluxe room is 42 square metres, with the suites starting at 82 sq m. All rooms feature free Wi-Fi internet, and the usual mod cons. The bathrooms are a little on the small side, but very acceptable.
There are four main restaurants at Mazagan, serving a mixture of cuisine from both East and West. One of the central pleasures at a resort is gorging oneself on food, and that's quite possible, especially in the voluminous Market Place restaurant. Popular with families, the buffet spread is very good, and includes a chocolate fountain (which made my kids weak at the knees with delight). On the floor below the Market Place is a Mediterranean restaurant called Olive's, serving a buffet arrangement of salads, pasta and pizza. The fare in both restaurants is good, although the menu did seem rather repetitive by the second day. For those managing to park their kids with a babysitter, there are two à la carte restaurants, Sel de Mer and Morjana. The first, offering seafood pulled from the Atlantic waters a stone's throw away, backs onto the casino. The second, Morjana, is highly regarded for its Moroccan fusion cuisine.
Mazagan is a Las Vegas-style resort catering to international holidaymakers eager for sun and sand, golf and gambling, as well as to Moroccans from up the road in Casablanca, who fill the place at the weekends. A great many visitors are lured by the links-style golf course, which is certainly impressive and challenging at the same time. Although there is a consistent Moroccan theme in the decor, I wouldn't say that Mazagan is genuinely Moroccan. Rather, it's a garish fantasy version of the country conjured by the casino owner, Sol Kerzner, the man who gave the world Sun City in South Africa.
I loved the fact that children were so welcome, and that they had their own "Kids' Club", run by the most ebullient chap I've ever encountered anywhere. The range of activities is near limitless. Also excellent is the golf club, managed by a retired PGA professional. The club, which has its own restaurant and bar, is set to become ever more celebrated as word of it spreads.
Hate is a strong word, but I'd say I disliked intensely the general lack of leadership, and the fact that just about everything was average yet with prices that could be regarded as well above average. It was this sense of mediocrity that left me feeling a little hollow inside. There was nothing that stole my heart, nothing that made me ever want to return. The verdict If you are looking for golf or for a casino, and you're in the neighbourhood, then drop in. But if you don't gamble or golf and you're searching for a memorably good retreat, then my advice is to go elsewhere.
The bottom line
A deluxe double room with sea view is approximately US$335 (Dh1,230) including breakfast. Suites with a sea view start at approximately $754 (Dh2,770) including breakfast. Mazagan Beach Resort, El Jadida 24000, Morocco (www.mazaganbeachresort.com; 00 212 5 2338 8000).