The ritual early morning feeding of the gulls at Essaouria's waterfront.
The ritual early morning feeding of the gulls at Essaouria's waterfront.
It took only minutes after arrival for me to fall in (platonic) love with the riad's owner Jean Gabriel and his kind and helpful staff. Then, after checking in and getting a tour, I fell head over heels for Jean Gabriel's spectacular art collection (look for the whimsical paintings by the self-taught local artist known as Taloufate.) The house and its guest rooms are also works of art, very carefully painted and decorated in rich vibrant tones. The riad kindly upgraded my friend and me to the "Père Jego" 2-bedroom suite even though we had booked a smaller suite. The living room of our suite is shown in the right half of the photo; on the left is the fireplace in the riad’s living/dining room. We encountered unpleasant rainy weather during our visit, but came back to such a warm and welcoming atmosphere, and recovered from the damp November chill by toasting ourselves in front of the fireplace. I've stayed at many wonderful hotels and riads in Morocco but this is the only place I long to re-visit. When I find myself back in Essaouira someday, I would not stay anywhere else. To get the best rate, book directly on the riad’s website.
I’d like to express heartfelt thanks to my Portuguese fisherman ancestors for handing down in my DNA an innate passion for “all things ocean”. This would include boats, ships, ferries, fishing vessels, seaside towns, the smell of salt water, the rhythm of the tides, crashing waves, dolphins, whales and even mermaids. Sorry, too much information not relevant to this highlight, except -- all the above could explain why I fell so passionately in love with Essaouira. But as I write this, I begin to realize the absolute truth: the unending charms of this historic coastal city would win over anyone, regardless of their DNA. If you’re visiting Marrakech and have a free day, you can and should spend it here. Take a bus with Supratours (a nice bus and inexpensive) and get here in about 2.5 hours. Or come by taxi if you like, and arrive in about the same time, for a cost of about 60 Euros. With a taxi, you’ll have the freedom to make stops to take pictures along the way. Either way, just add this place to your list; you won't regret it! If you need more convincing, here's a list: stunning scenery, small and quaint medina, wonderful shops and art galleries, the best seafood restaurants… And finally, some name trivia: the Portuguese name (still used) for Essaouira is Mogador. The city was originally called Souira (the small fortress), after which the name became Essaouira (the beautifully designed). I couldn’t agree more !
Just a couple of hours away from Marrakesh, the Atlantic fishing port of Essaouira makes a perfect short break away from the big city. Its imposing sea ramparts contain a small medina of whitewashed houses with bright blue windows. The town is an artist’s colony and noted for its carved wood and painted canvases. There’s a sweeping beach that’s ideal for long walks in the sea breeze (and water sports for the adrenaline-inclined) and plenty of good seafood on offer. Essaouira has taken the riad concept to heart, adding a seaside-twist to its boutique guesthouses.
No matter how much you love the city, sometimes it’s great to escape – and Marrakesh is ideally placed for quick tastes of another Morocco. The snowy ridge of the High Atlas mountains are within easy reach from the medina. Put on your walking boots and head for the village of Imlil the gateway to the overnight hike up Jebel Toubkal, north Africa’s highest peak. Alternatively, make for the arty white-washed fishing port of Essaouira, with its imposing sea walls and fishermen ready to cook their catch of the day over hot coals in the fresh sea air.
Festival of music of Andalusia, Judio e Hispano-marroqui. Flamenco at Dar Souiri. Orchestra Hadj Abdelkrim Raiss de Fez www.festivaldesandalousiesatlantiques.com Lets..make a group!!! www.ritabellydancer.com
when you get to essaouira, consider yourself lucky if you can see your hand in front of your face. this moroccan sea port has a penchant for thick fog -- an incorrigible event the locals call "da bab" (murmured under the breath, with a subtle head shake). rather than braille-ing your way through the kasbah's whitewashed corridors, pull up a chair and try the national special -- couscous.
At the central fish market in the ancient Moroccan coastal city of Essaouira, table after white table is piled high with the catch of the day. Each table displays only one variety, with the lack of strong smells speaking to the freshness of the fish. Merchants frequently hose down their tables and the ancient stone street below, creating a briny slurry customers slog through while choosing their dinners. Happy stray cats weave around legs and alight upon the fish carts, looking for the occasional tossed scrap or turned back. If you don't have the means to cook your own, head to the fish carts that ring the water side of the square, where you can haggle for the fish you want, walk a few steps to one of the open air restaurants, and have it cleaned, grilled and served to you faster than you can say "winner, winner fresh fish dinner."
On the water is an old fort where artists bring their wears for sale. Bargaining is the way of the world here. I bought some amazing hand painted dishes my favorite leather belt and don't forget to pick up some argan oil here.
By Elizabeth WoodsonTry making a tagine at l’Atelier Madada, a cooking school in a former almond factory. Four-hour workshops led by a dada (female chef ) kick off with a trip to the nearby spice souk. Afterward you’ll prepare and eat a multicourse lunch. This appeared in the July/August 2012 issue.
By Elizabeth WoodsonThe windswept seaside town of Essaouira, Morocco is loved as much for what it has—a tiny, well-preserved medina, cliff-top ramparts, and a funky vibe courtesy of many resident artists—as for what it doesn’t have: crowds. Summer is the best time to take it in. This appeared in the July/August 2012 issue.
By Elizabeth WoodsonIn an 18th-century riad (a traditional Moroccan home), Villa de l’Ô’s 12 rooms display sepia-tone photos of Essaouira on polished limestone walls. Berber cushions decorate the floors, and copper or wood-encased tubs are perfect for an après-beach soak. This appeared in the July/August 2012 issue.
By Elizabeth WoodsonEssaouira’s reputation as an artistic haven harks back to its hippie pilgrimage past. (Jimi Hendrix and Bob Marley both spent time here.) Damgaard Gallery highlights Morocco’s modern talent, including painters from the Gnaoua brotherhood, an ethnicity with black African and Arab roots. This appeared in the July/August 2012 issue.
After more than a year spent living and traveling in Morocco, I still count Essaouira as one of my favorite spots. The town is the best of Morocco--lovely to the eye, easy and convenient to visit (with lots of tourist amenities), but lacking in the hustler vibe of Tangier and some other Moroccan hot spots. You can ride a camel on the beach, wade in the water yourself, grab a quintessentially Moroccan meal before exploring the souq (market) for local crafts to purchase, and just generally enjoy this truly chill, welcoming town.
When in the laid-back beach town of Essaouira (a 3-hour bus trip from Marrakech), be sure to head over and visit the port where you'll find ships heading out to sea and coming in to harbor with the day's catch. You'll also see huddles of the smaller boats, mainly this eye-catching blue. Ask around and you should be able to buy some of the freshest dinner in town!
AFAR Ambassadors are in-the-know bloggers who have a passion for experiential travel.
I couldn’t get it out of my mind…like the time I heard that the Russian Cat Circus was performing in my city…I HAD to go and see those crazy Russian housecats perform tricks! Once I had heard that goats in Morocco climbed high up in trees, I was obsessed with the goats. My brain was focused on figuring out how and why they climbed the trees. Sure, mountain goats are definitely nimble, but climbing a mountain and climbing a tree seems totally different to me. How do they get up the treetrunk to the first branches - and beyond? Fast forward 1 week and I'm in a Grand Taxi leaving Essaouira early in the morning with a taxi driver who has told me he can take me to the fabled Moroccan goats that climb trees. This was no scam, in Morocco goats actually do climb trees - high up in the branches of Argan trees. Normally found in Southern Morocco, I was lucky enough to see them with my own eyes just outside of Essaouira. Argan trees are a thorny evergreen variety that grow in drought-ridden areas and are quite hearty. The Argan trees have fruits on them that the goats like to eat – actually, I think the goats are driven up into the trees in order to find food to graze on since it is so dry in these areas, the true definition of adaptation! If you want to see how goats climb trees, then go to southern Morocco and ask the locals to help you find them. Or just look closely at the Argan trees - you may just get lucky and spot one high up in the branches feasting on fruit!
We rolled into Essaouira on the SupraTours bus from Marrakech and felt the ocean tugging. This laid back beach town has a wonderful maritime history and culture exquisitely preserved in the port and Medina. The setting is storybook. Perched on rocks jutting out into the blue Atlantic, the walls bear witness to countless storms and sieges through the centuries. The Ramparts and old Dutch cannons overlook the bay from the Medina in breathtaking swaths of beauty. Blue on white give buildings a Greek Isle persuasion matched by a complementary pace of life. The working port is bustling with activity and a prelude to the expansive courtyard entrance to the walled city. Once inside, old and new mix seamlessly into a visual delight. Artisans, restaurants and services provide travelers with a great variety of things to see and do. Kate went off to the Azur Spa for a traditional hammam and massage while I ventured into the narrow alleys to scout for a lunch spot. This is a very manageable Medina. I did let myself get lost and it wasn't hard. Unlike Fes, where you might as well have your mail forwarded if you take a wrong turn, the Medina at Essaouira is a simple delight to explore on your own terms. Lots of photo ops on the high walls with an impressive view of Iles Purpuraires and its ancient ruins out in the bay. Worthy of UN Heritage site status and genuine in nature, Essaouira is really relaxed and wonderful.
Although a relatively small medina, it is still quite easy to escape the crowds and journey into the unspoiled parts of Essaouira. Getting a little lost down a quiet alley will inevitably have you running into a group of kids playing, peaking into the workshop of a fine craftsman, or capturing the perfect picture. A few moments in this town and its welcoming, peaceful vibe will suck you in and you will not want to leave.
This windy seaside town is popular, good shopping and food. The music festival draws quite a crowd, so depending on you likes, either avoid it or join in.
Built into the medina walls, Heure Bleue hotel is an oasis of luxe in laid-back, countercultural Essaouira, the old hang-out of Jimi Hendrix and Bob Marley. Dripping with heavy carvings, fabrics, lamps and wooden-shuttered windows, rooms are cavernous, sumptuous and luxurious.
The Riad Al Madina is located on a lively street in the heart of Essaouira’s historic medina. It’s a great location, with shopping available literally outside the door and almost everything else the city has to offer nearby. The riad is in a house built in 1871. Like most historic riads, it is an elegant maze of connected hallways, stairways, and rooms built around several courtyards of various sizes. Rooms are pleasant and airy and the traditional Moroccan breakfast includes several waves of freshly-made (hot from the oil) Moroccan goodies. When the weather is nice, breakfast is served in the lovely main courtyard. The riad provides comfortable lodgings in a traditional setting without breaking the budget. It was a perfect base for our exploration of this fascinating city. The riad's website is at: http://www.riadalmadina.com/
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