Final stop - Essaouira

Stephen Bellingham on 25 December 2013
Our next and final stop was Essaouira, (pronounced ‘essa-weera’, or ‘es-Sweera’ in Arabic). It was a good drive by taxi from the Mountains (about 4 hours in all) however well worth it.

Our chosen accommodation, the Riad Watier was located in the winding back streets of the old Medina accessed on foot. A porter showed us the way left and right through the maze of streets until we arrived to a welcome from JP (Jean-Gabriel) a charismatic Frenchman, who willingly shared his passion for his Riad, and Essaouria.

In traditional style the Riad has four floors, opening up to two roof-top terraces where we took breakfast. On the ground floor the communal areas included a lovely quaint library, dining and living area with log fire and the central courtyard complete with fountain. Our rooms were located off the passageways off the inside courtyard. Perfect for peace and quiet, yet the Riads location means that you are close to restaurants, cafes, shopping and the harbour area.

We had found another gem. Tastefully restored the seven suites and three Master Suites all reflect local craftsmanship and décor. The rooms are huge - we had a large living area, bedroom and bathroom and this was a standard room! We really appreciated the fresh roses, scented candles and amazing art that adorned the walls and rooms. JP showed us the duplex suites, for a family of four and pointed out some of the many works of art painted by his father. A truly personal touch.

How to describe this coastal town - its natural bay, with a broad sandy beach extending south from the active fishing harbour, charmed us. We meandered around the harbour fortifications, taking in the great crashing Atlantic waves, passed fisherman tending their blue boats in the harbour and preceded along the beach past the daily football matches (a very important part of daily life, and you can join in!). We also saw surfers and numerous locals offering camel and horse rides. I am pleased to say the animals were all well looked after. The area is a huge attraction to windsurfers, due to the ‘alizee‘ (trade winds) much of the year, so has something to suit all of the family.

Once Morocco’s main trade harbour, there are several influences here. The walls are similar to St Malo, the grid-system of streets of the Medina being designed and built by the Frenchman Cornut, and yet still the Moroccan narrow alleyways and long-forgotten Jewish quarter dominate. The Medina remains as an important part of daily local life, as it is to the inquisitive tourist.

We found Essaouira great for shopping, with better prices than Marakech and whilst you are still greeted by those wanting to sell their wares it’s a less intense and a more pleasant experience. There are the usual spices, aromatic thuya wood carvings, locally woven carpets and Argan Oil products along with several art galleries and more local artists. The renowned Gnawa singing can be heard from local shops and houses as you pass – the annual music festival held here in June is one of the most popular in Africa.

How many carpets? We found a brilliant, huge warehouse off the main streets and we weren’t particularly looking for carpets! Three rugs later, which incidentally wrap up well, we booked additional baggage on our easy Jet flight home!

There was no difficulty finding restaurants to suit all tastes, serving local fish, over-looking the sea, with entertainment. Although Essaouira is not a huge town there certainly was plenty of choice, you just need to know which narrow street the restaurants are located in. The Riad was very helpful in recommending eateries at a range of prices. One of our favourites was a small local restaurant, with just a few dishes. It was very reasonable, good food and serving alcohol.

We were sad to leave, however know that we will be back. There is just so much to experience, which we have not touched on. We realised that we still have much to discover in this land of mystic and steeped in its history. The Rif, the sands of the Western Sahara, Fez and the small villages of the north are all for another time.

Weather-wise, the best time to visit Morocco is generally in the spring and early summer, between April and early June, or in autumn, between September and November, when the weather is warm and dry (and there aren't too many tourists around, either).