Stehat is a tiny village on the Mediterranean coast of Morocco situated some seventy kilometers away from Tetouan. You need to zoom in the map to really locate the path that stretches out from the national road N16 leading to a few dispersed blocks along the beach. Only a couple of months ago Moroccan King Mohamed VI inaugurated the last of the three road sections known collectively as the Mediterranean Coastal Road connecting the city of Saidia to Tangier via Tetouan. The project which cost some six billion Dirhams consisted of broadening and extending the regional route over 200 kms making several coastal villages accessible after decades of abject isolation. Travelers wishing to reach Alhoceima via Tangier won’t have to take the inland road traversing Chefchaouen, Ketama, and Targuist. The trip which used to take over seven hours can now be made in half the time. The road is a lot safer and the scenery is breath taking.
Stehat is located within the section that connects the village of Oud Laou and El Jebha. It is still considered a remote place frequented by local population and visitors from Chefchaouen, Tetouan and Tangier.
Occasionally you may come across some stray visitors from Casablanca or even Marrakech. Stehat may not be the ideal place for people used to thriving tourist destinations. It boasts a dusty road extending for no more than a mile. There are a handful of shops along the way but no restaurant to speak of. Near the taxi station you may order some grilled fish or chicken or even meat Tajines but nothing else. There are a few cafes, the best overlooking the beach, but you may contend yourself lucky if you get a seat during the evening time. There is no entertainment culture in the proper sense of the word. The streets are poorly lighted and the pavements on both sides are covered with dust. I was surprised to find no dustbins anywhere that I began to doubt if there was an administrative body in the village until I saw a water tank truck bearing the name of the village.
And yet I like this place so much so that this is the third time I have decided to leave the charming beaches of Tetouan and take the arduous journey to this refuge. The most redeeming aspect of Stehat is its superb beaches extending for about two miles reaching to the next village Azinti but interrupted by massive chain of rocks descending from the mountain.
If you are an adept rock climber and a good swimmer you may round these natural obstacles. The road leading to Tetouan is concealed behind the mountain up above. The mountain overlooking the beach forms a natural protection for the long sandy beach and provides a great deal of shade in the late afternoon. The walk from the village center towards the extreme end of the beach takes some half hour towards the west and some fifteen minutes east in the direction of Bou Hmed village.
Villages in Morocco usually owe their existence to a weekly market held initially within their perimeters and continued in usage for decades if not centuries afterwards. More often however, villages grow around some wallie ‘s [saint] tomb and became the frequented site of a seasonal moussem or pilgrimage. Stehat is neither of these two types of community; its raison d’être is its splendid beach which attracts hundreds of visitors in the summer. For the rest of the year, Stehat is a ghost city. Most of the houses are closed in winter and so are the shops and cafes. Commercial activity is reduced to the minimum and traffic with Tetouan drops radically. There is one mosque in the village center, almost facing the post office. The Gendarmerie and Forces auxiliares are located nearby. The semsar [agent] who rented the flat during my first visit three years ago claimed that the village enjoyed exceptional security because a considerable part of the residing population consisted of military and paramilitary personnel. You could see some of them in uniform during the day, and on top of the hills you could even spot their stations from which they keep vigilance night and day. Occasionally some solitary figure patrol the beach; his talkie walkie in hand bearing an air of indifference towards the swimmers.
But far from being a military bastion, Stehat strikes its visitors by its calm and simplicity. You would meet the same people again and again during the day. Some of them would arrive from neighbouring villages. Past midnight I hear them walk past the hotel or drive away a bit too fast I think. There seems to be more visitors this summer than in the previous years perhaps because of the inauguration of the new road. I had hoped to rent a furnished apartment near the beach as I did during my last visit. When I arrived in the village, the semsar, against his earlier assurances, informed me that no house was available for rent. I had seen a sign for a nice hostel before and never troubled to check it out. This time I had no choice. When I was shown around the place I felt this was an ideal place suited for a couple or even a family of three or four individuals. The rooms are clean and well kept with showers, towels, wifi etc. Some like mine even have a balcony offering a nice view of the main street heading down to the beach.
The greater surprise for me is the owners of the hostel who are highly educated and have been abroad for a great deal of time. Their devotion to their project and care for their customers still amaze me. I think that their lodging house represents not so much a profitable business as a pretext to enjoy the quiet and peace of an unsophisticated landscape. Right now I hear the cock crowing in the house across the street echoed by others in the distance.
I could not come so far to Stehat without visiting the next villages. On a Friday morning I drove to Jebha some 46 kms away to the east. I stopped at a tiny village called Amtar to perform the midday prayers. Amtar is an insignificant village you could drive past without noticing. The beach is smaller and less attractive than that of Stehat. I bought some bread from the only bakery in the place. For all its limitations, Amtar should be proud of its bakery. The bread prepared by Maalem Ahmed- a native of Tetouan was of superior quality than the one I had in Stehat.
Some 18 kms away lies El Jebha. In the past my grandmother charmed me with stories about the years she spent in El Jebha. The grilled sardines of the village are legendary and so is the view from the mountain. But the greater part of Jebha is situated at the foot of the mountain squeezed between the sea and a great rock at the east end. To drive to Alhoceima you need to penetrate the thick chain of mountains inland. The sea is left behind. Despite the extensive improvements, the road is still not very safe and drivers must take a great caution particularly in the segment between Amtar and Jebha notorious for its steep curves and hairpin turns.
For me Stehat remains the best beach resort despite its minimal infrastructure. If I have to choose between a sophisticated holiday spot such as Cabo Negro or Marina Beach and Stehat I would naturally opt for the latter. For one thing, I find it easier to communicate with the local population and adapt to their relaxed rhythm of life. I shake hands with the waiter at the cafe Tejssas and borrow the kitchen utensils of Restaurant Baraka. Today I met kids on the beach fishing Bouri. I asked them if they wished to be photographed, they posed for me willingly holding a fish each as a trophy of their fisherman’s skill.