Aguergour near Marrakesh no longer has the monopoly on paragliding. The new place to ride the air streams is five hours south of the Red City by car, in Aglou, smack bang on the ocean between Tiznet and Mirleft.
For fifty-something paragliding instructor Philippe Vanier (Phil to close friends, which you will become after your first handshake), life is better when it’s authentic. So don’t talk to him about smartphones or new technology, he’s only interested in you as a person—which is somewhat reassuring when your feet are dangling 800 metres above the ground with only him at your side.
We first met the French expat at night, after a long ride up a rocky road in the secluded, southern coastal resort of Aglou. He emerged from a traditional Berber family house in flip-flops and shorts, while his assistant shined a torch from the terrace to light our way through to an inner courtyard where a homemade phyto-purification system was spitting water onto a lush vegetable garden.
We were treated like old friends. No formalities, just a ‘my-home-is-your-home’ welcome that permeated through every nook of the cosy, ocean-view guesthouse where Phil lives with his paragliding wife and son.
A democratised sport that attracts women
Over dinner in the kitchen, the conversation was all about Phil’s three loves—paragliding, his family and Morocco—and by the end of it we too were already in love with Aglou. He explained that when he arrived in Morocco twenty years ago, the paragliding world was run by adrenaline junkies. “There were no laws in Morocco at the time. Today, though, the sport can only be practiced within the constraints of the national sports federation,” he continued. “So it has become popular with Morocco’s middle classes, and more and more women take part.”
Nowadays, between Aglou and Mirleft, there are a dozen or so professionals who, like Phil, offer courses, excursions and tandem flights. All of them are Moroccan, and many are young, like Abdu, Phil’s right-hand man, still in his twenties.
Abdu is from a neighbouring village where he lives with his parents. He taught himself, and has flown all over Morocco and around the Alps in France. He is proof that the sport is professionalizing in African countries. “In winter we get lots of Europeans who love paragliding here,” he told us.
“The good thing about Aglou is that you get to see the real, non-touristy side of the country,” added Phil. “In summer, there are lots of Africans who come from all over the continent.”
It really is worth the journey to the region. Nestled between the ocean and the mountains, around a dozen spots, some of them rising to an altitude of 2400 metres, offer an addictive mix of adrenaline and contemplation as you swoop over awe-inspiring, sometimes moon-like scenery.
Safer than ping-pong
Our stunning flight over Aglou ended with our feet in the sand, just opposite a surf shop. Fifteen minutes earlier we’d been swooping through the air, 700 metres above the ocean from one of Phil’s favourite spots, a low clifftop, set just 10 metres above the lapping waves. For him the cliché of dangerous and scary paragliding is a myth. “What counts isn’t getting as high as possible, it’s staying in the air,” he explained. “Everyone can paraglide. You don’t have to be fit as a fiddle or an adrenaline addict. I’ve flown with seventy-year-olds who had never been in the air before; I’ve taken disabled people up. There’s less chance of being injured paragliding than playing ping-pong!”.
Phil’s prices are very accessible (300DH for a beginner’s tandem flight; 400DH with piloting initiation; 600DH for a day trip; 700DH for the weekend with a 1-night stay and 1 meal). One more reason to head to Aglou.