Essaouira is charming, hedonistic and laid back. A throwback to Morocco’s traditional past. Find out why you should add this seaside gem to your bucket-list…
Essaouira: a trip to Morocco's seaside gem
Have you been to Essaouira? What, really? You’ve never heard of it? Well read on, I think you might like it…
After spending a week split between hiking in the Atlas Mountains and navigating the madness of Marrakech, I headed solo to Morocco’s Atlantic Coast. Essaouira is creative, hedonistic and chilled out. The days were slow and it proved an excellent place to rest up and self-reflect. In case you are wondering, it’s pronounced “essa-weera”.
Essaouira has a rustic charm. Inside the fortified medina, the white and honey-coloured buildings are decorated with wooden blue shutters and doors: imagine a less refined version on Santorini. These are interspersed with older buildings which have been ravaged by the unrelenting saline winds coming off the Atlantic Ocean.
The city has a functioning port, home to iconic blue fishing boats. The port becomes a hive of activity when the boats return after a day or evening spent out at sea. You can enjoy the day’s catch, freshly grilled, at the marketplace to the north of the port. Delicious and delightful.
You might recognise the fortified sea walls, which run along side the port. This was a filming location for Game of Thones. Essaouira doubled as the city of Astapor, where Daenerys obtained her unsullied army. Dracarys.
A souk runs through the centre of the medina, south-west to north-east. It’s the polar opposite of Marrakech, however; there’s no hard sell and everybody is that bit more laid back. Not having to be on constant guard against being run over by a moped was a welcome relief!
My days in Essaouira were spent leisurely wandering the Medina’s maze of twisted alleyways, chatting with the locals, sampling the freshly caught seafood and people watching over coffee.
One of Essaouira’s nicknames is the ‘Wind City of Africa’, due to the year-round winds blowing in from the Atlantic Ocean. To the south of the city, a long beach gently sweeps along the contours of the coastline. Despite the presence of a sandy beach, the unrelenting winds keep the droves of beach tourists away. Instead, the large swells created by the strong Atlantic winds attract groups of surfers, windsurfers and kite surfers. I enjoyed watching their attempts to tame the wind and waves under the early evening sun.
Essaouira has been synonymous with creativity and the arts since the 1960s, when musicians such as Jimi Hendrix and Frank Zappa visited.
Locals will tell you that Hendrix was inspired to write ‘castles made of sand’ after seeing the ruins of the Borja El-Berod; a watchtower which rises out of the beach, a kilometre or so to the south of the town. Hendrix actually visited in the summer of 1969, whereas his Axis: Bold as Love album (which featured ‘castles made of sand’) was released in 1967.
It’s easy to see why the legend came about. During high tide the sea surrounds the ruins; they literally do crumble into the sea.
Nevertheless, a strong arts scene remains. Music and art is abundant. There are street performers, painters, jazz cafes, buskers and live music in the evenings. A palpable current of creativity runs through the medina. It gets the creative juices flowing. It was here where I first had the idea of starting this blog.
Essaouira is less well known than some of its more popular cousins, such as Marrakech, Casablanca, and Chefchaouen. There has never been a better time to visit, with direct flights now flying from the UK. In November and December the flights are super cheap and the temperature remains in the low 20s. It is a perfect place for some winter warmth.
If that’s not enough to convince you, the sunsets are pretty damn special as well…
So what are you waiting for? Add Essaouira to your bucket list! If you are looking for some ideas of where to stay, what top do, where to eat and how to get there… take a look at my handy Essaouira travel guide.