Is Essaouira the laid back, younger sibling of Marrakech? Located about a 2.5 hours drive from Marrakech on the Atlantic coast, now with direct flights from London, we enjoyed a wonderfully relaxed few days in this port town.
When researching for our trip to Morocco, nearly every guide book, magazine and blog said after a couple of days in Marrakech you will appreciate a restbite somewhere calmer. Which led me to find Essaouira. We only had a week to play with and so I was on the look out for somewhere within easy reach from Marrakech. And I am so glad to have discovered this beautiful destination.
I enjoyed Marrakech but I did find it a bit overwhelming at times, it’s just so busy and hectic, continuously. This is part of it’s charm thats for sure, but the advice is correct, you will appreciate a little break from the mayhem.
As you drive through the new town of Essaouira and up to the walls of the medina you hear sea gulls above and the bustle of the markets beyond.
There is a totally different vibe here, and I loved it.
This place definitely deserves it’s title as the Windy City of Africa. The wind blows hard off the Atlantic and so it attracts many windsurfers and general surfer crowd. I think this is the reason the tourists and sun worshipers don’t flock here in their hundreds and why Essaouira keeps it essence.
Over the years the town has been commanded by a number of different nations and this gives it a wonderful mix of tradition and culture and why, I believe, it’s so laid back and so different to Marrakech.
Where to stay
We were celebrating our first wedding anniversary and so decided to spend a little extra and stay in the beautiful Heure Bleue Palais Hotel. Sitting just within the medina walls, the location of this riad style hotel couldn’t be better. The rooms are large and very comfortable with the friendliest of staff. Beautiful french colonial decor runs throughout the hotel and there is a stunning rooftop where you can enjoy a dip in the pool. Look out for a full rundown on the blog shortly!
There are also many riads within the medina which cater for all budgets. One that receives rave reviews is Riad Dar Maya. We very nearly booked this but decided to go for the pool instead (tip: it’s actually too windy to enjoy a pool so close to the coast here!).
If you want more of a relaxing time by the pool but still want to be close enough to come into Essaouira for the day stay somewhere like Le Jardin des Douars.
Where to eat and drink
If you come to Essaouira you have to eat at least one lunch down in the marina where there are about 12 fish stalls that cook the catch of the day for you right there. When you get down there walk past the stalls and see which one takes your fancy. You will be shouted at from all the different guys running their stalls trying to catch your attention. But they’re all pretty much the same price so I look for the one that’s busy (hopefully this means its good) with a spare table! You pick your fish take a seat while it’s cooked up in front of you.
The fish is so fresh and delicious. We also tried sea urchin for the first time! I have to say I think this is an acquired taste, I wasn’t a huge fan and devoured the huge prawns instead. Oh, and beware of the seagulls – they will dive and try and nab your food!
You can’t come to Essaouira and not go to Taros Cafe. Located on the square at the port the rooftop offers wonderful views. We were drawn into Tarros on our first evening hearing live music. A range of cocktails are on offer and it’s definitely the place to be seen whilst music plays all night. You can just come for the atmosphere, music and cocktails or you can enjoy the food too. We did both. The tagine was okay here, but their specials board is always very good. And when the sun goes down you can cosy up in the ponchos on offer.
Caravane Cafe located just within the city walls is the perfect spot for a romantic dinner. This restuarant is like an aladins cave, with art and antiques throughout a maze of small rooms and a lush courtyard. I recomend booking here and ask for a table in the courtyard – you can see the kitchen and you are treated to a fire show during your meal too. We enjoyed a traditional pigeon pastilla and beautifully cooked steaks. The dessert platter was not needed, but obviously ordered. Very good too.
Delices et Saveurs on Rue Boutouile Essouira Mogado, sits in a lovely little square in the medina. We ordered the moroccan salad which was finely diced tomatoes, peppers and red onion in a great dressing and a goats cheese salad with the juiciest tomatoes! We had these with chicken and lamb skewers. We really enjoyed our lunch here, the staff are friendly and the portions are good.
Also opposite is Tara Cafe where you should try their fresh fruit juices. We didn’t eat the food here but it looked like a great spot for lunch. We loved this little square.
What to see and do
1. Watersports – Like I said, it’s very windy here and so the perfect location for a number of watersports! There are surf schools all up the coast and but it is especially good for windsurfing and kitesurfing.
2. Visit an art gallery – Essaouira has become quite the centre for art, mainly painting and sculptures. There are many art galleries dotted all around the medina which are great to wonder through, or maybe even by a piece to take home!
3. Go horse riding – Discover the beautiful coastline on horseback! There are so many options on offer from just an hours ride to a full day ‘trek’ with lunch.
4. Wander the souks – Obviously I couldn’t leave this out! I loved wandering the souks here because it’s a much nicer experience than doing it in Marrakech. You can actually look at something for more than a second without the owner demanding you buy the item. It’s also not as busy as the souks in Marrakech. Note, much the same is on offer here but at slightly better prices.
5. Go for a walk – The light at dusk is incredible so definitely make sure you enjoy at least one walk around the town at this time of day.
And then watch the sunset before dinner
EasyJet now offers direct flights to Essaouira from London Luton twice a week from May to October. It is a 2 to 3 hour drive from Marrakech if you decide to combine both cities into the same trip.
You can also organise a day trip from Marrakech to Essaouira.