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Essential Essaouira

Morocco’s most surprising city is worth the trip from Marrakech

Why go now?
On the receiving end of trade winds on Morocco’s Atlantic coast, the so-called “city of wind” has a mild climate all year round, between 17 C and 25 C. It’s also fairly quiet, though in summer it does see more European tourists. Better yet, prices are still accessible in Morocco’s most surprising city.

It’s my first time visiting. What should I do there?

To get there, you can fly into Marrakech and take a coach or shared taxi to Essaouira. Take a stroll around the pedestrian streets of the Medina or walled town, a UNESCO World Heritage site. As well as shops and cafés you’ll find traces of the Portuguese who occupied the city in the 15th century, and named it Mogador.

Some sites are very well preserved including the fortress and the skala of the kasbah (the fortress terrace), a place that inspired ’70s rock stars including Jimi Hendrix and the Rolling Stones. This beautiful Atlantic city also seduced director Orson Welles, who shot Othello here — his time here is commemorated with a statue and a square named after him.

I’ve been here before. What should I visit this time?
Hit the beach. Windsurf and kitesurf lovers make a pilgrimage here for the optimum weather conditions. Moulay Bouzerktoun and Sidi Kaouki are the enthusiasts’ most popular beaches.

Although there is a tolerant spirit in the city, which has been a gathering point of many religions throughout history, you should bear in mind local customs — it is not a good idea to sunbathe topless. It’s also worth trying the local steam baths or hammam.

What and where should I eat?
Lots of fresh fish and seafood straight off the boat, a nice alternative to the tajine or traditional Moroccan stew.

For fresh fish, tajines and other specialities try the French-run Le Pátio, (28 rue Moulay Rachid). Le Coquillage is at the fishing port and serves fish and seafood fresh off the boats, with a view over the sea.

Dinner next to the fireplace or in the refreshing courtyard at Riad al Madina, (9 rue Attarine) is lovely; sipping mint tea and tasting a sweet local pastry in one of the Moulay Hassan Square coffee shops is an essential part of visiting the city.

Where should I stay?

Travellers should look for restored palaces and riads — with interior courtyards and a fountain — where you can soak up the traditional Moroccan ambience.

Try the welcoming Riad al Madina, riadalmadina.com, in one of the main streets of the Medina. The interior of this former 19th century palace was restored, making it a simple but comfortable place to stay for guests who have included Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie.

Add the friendly, helpful staff and you have the perfect place to stay. Another option is the charming Villa Maroc, villa-maroc.com, also inside the Medina.

Where is the best place for an afternoon shopping?
The Medina and mellah (the Jewish quarter) streets are winding open-air shopping malls. Besides the typical stores there are also jewelry, vegetable, spice and fish souks, as well as a second-hand souk and a flea market, La Joutia.

Take advantage of the reasonably-priced crafts including leather goods, lanterns and crafts made of thuya wood, a tree from this region — you can also haggle, but without the Marrakech-style stress.

Bring back some argan oil, a gold-coloured oil with health and beauty benefits that’s extracted from the fruit of a tree that’s said to grow only in the Taroudant region around Essaouira and on the coast.

The argan tree is also responsible for one of the your stay’s most memorable visuals — on the road from Essaouira to Agadir you can see flocks of goats perched in the top of argan trees, grazing on the fruit.

On the web

www.visitmorocco.com
www.essaouira.com
www.essaouira.org