My guest post from Lara Dunston will leave you longing to visit Essaouria in Morocco, a gorgeous seaside destination that has been on my list to visit ever since I read about it on Lara’s Grantourismo blog. It’s an ideal place to combine with a trip to Marrakech as a place to relax and enjoy a slower pace of Moroccan life.
Why should I visit Essaouria?
Essaouria has that wonderful and unusual combination of Middle East exoticism that you find in places like Marrakech (a tangle of narrow laneways, colorful souqs, carpets draped over balconies etc) and the delights of a laidback seaside holiday town (an attractive beach, salt spray in the air, seagulls everywhere, and even watersports – Essaouira is famed for its windsurfing).
What will I enjoy doing in Essaouira?
Stroll the long wide beach, watch the kids kick a football around on the sand, relax in a steaming hammam, haggle for handicrafts, go watch the fishing trawlers unload their catch at the port, walk around the windswept city walls, feast on fresh seafood, drink cold beers as you watch the sun down, check out a local gnaoua band from a rooftop bar.
What will I be eating in Essaouria?
Seafood, seafood and more seafood, and when you tire of that tajines, cous cous and other traditional Moroccan treats. We like Le Chalet de la Plage right on the beach with sea views for plump juicy oysters and tasty fish soup, despite the staff occasionally having a bit of an attitude. The staff are friendlier at Chez Sam, an atmospheric nautical themed place by the port. There are plenty of cheap outdoor stands near the fish market that do fried fish, but they’re unlicensed and we have trouble eating seafood without being able to wash it down with a glass of Moroccan white.
Where will I stay in Essaouria?
Don’t think of staying anywhere except within the walled medieval medina. It has so much atmosphere and even if you want to spend your days on the beach, it’s only a 5-10 minute walk to the sand. Nothing compares to a stay in a traditional Moroccan riad or courtyard house; see our tips for renting a rhiad in Morocco – they’re so romantic and super-affordable compared to Essaouira’s boutique hotels and you have the added advantage of being able to shop the markets and cook at home. Do take a look at the pretty apartment, Dar Lazuli where we stayed, which can be booked at Holiday Rentals here. It has cute, colorful apartments, each with their own bedroom, bathroom, kitchen, and living room, spread across a few floors and set around a central courtyard. They’re cool in summer and have open fireplaces for winter. But there are plenty of other riads dotted all over the medina that can be booked through Holiday Rentals.
What will I want to bring home from Essaouira?
Essaouira is fabulous for shopping – you’ll find plenty of Moroccan souvenirs to take home! There are wonderful stores all over the old town, and if you step into the sidestreets you’ll still see artisans, especially woodmakers, at work in many shops. Essaouira is famous for its marble-like thuya wood, and they do beautiful polished wooden trays, dishes, salad bowls, and so on. Bold-coloured kilims, textiles, babouches (the pointy leather slippers), jellabiyas (the long loose-fitting robes with hoods), and silver jewellery are all great buys, and it is perfectly acceptable – even expected – to bargain. Essaouira is also famous for its naïve art movement and the gallery to head to for local art is that of Frédéric Damgardor, just outside the medina walls.
Anything to watch out for in Essaouira?
When shopping for handicrafts, carpets and souvenirs, always shop around – no matter how much you love something don’t buy it straight away unless you’re happy to throw money around. It’s best to check the prices at a few places, and then once you’ve made your mind up, start bargaining on the thing you really want. I always start at half the offered price and work my way up to a compromise. Remember the sales guys are never going to settle on a price they’re not happy with, so don’t feel guilty if it does end up being half the price they initially suggested.
How will I get to Essaouira and get around when I’m there?
Most travelers fly into Marrakech and then head to Essaouira for a few days on a side-trip or a longer stay, some drop in as part of a longer trip around the country, while others will fly into Agadir and head up to Essaouira. There are cheap buses from Marrakech, though you can also hire a driver which is more comfortable. You can see a lot in a weekend, but it’s a wonderful spot to really relax for a week or two. Or three. Or four…
Thanks so much to Lara Dunston of Granstourismo for this wonderful guest post – now I want to visit Essaouria even more. Lara and her husband Terence Carter who provided these wonderful photos, are travelling for a year in partnership with HomeAway Holiday-Rentals. They’re travelling slowly, living like locals, staying in apartments and holiday homes to get in touch with the local neighbourhoods they stay in. You can read more about their experiences at Grantourismo
You can also hear more about their travel project in my podcast interview with Lara Dunston here.
All photos copyright Terence Carter and may not be reproduced without permission