Essaouira, formerly known as Mogador is a fishing port with a Portuguese citadel and an 18th century Medina (old town ) which is a UNESCO world heritage site. It was a firm favourite with sixties musicians such as Janis Joplin and Jimmy Hendrix and is still a favourite with me due to its charm. . We visited it as a day trip during a weeks holiday in Marrakesh. We were captivated by its pretty whitewashed buildings and the fine golden beach leading to the blueness of the Atlantic Ocean.
The easiest and probably cheapest way to make the thee hour journey from Marrakesh to Essaouira is by Supertours,coaches- the Moroccan equivalent of our National Express. The cost of the coach was reasonable as it was 120 Dirham return . The coaches are fairly comfortable and have air conditioning. The journey itself was interesting as we drove through the desert to get to the coast and it also included a stop at a Moroccan style service station! The only thing you have to watch for is the driver's speed sometimes!
The first thing we did when we arrived was wander through the white washed buildings of the Medina. It is a lot newer than the medieval streets of Marrakesh. I actually prefer Essaouira's old town to Marrakesh's one. I think this is because I feel a lot safer and we got a lot less hassle in Essaouira. even though I was only wearing a knee length dress and cardigan. I enjoyed watching kids playing oblivious to us rather than trying to be ammeter unwanted tour guides. Due to this we felt safer wandering around even the narrowest of back streets, just browsing in the shops and negotiating the narrow alleyways and watching craftsmen making their products. I did plenty of window shopping looking at bags, metal work, raffia work and lovely woodwork made from cedar wood.
I found Essaouira to be a very bohemian artistic town. Everywhere you turned there were little art galleries, which were free to wander round. I enjoyed watching the artists in residence working hard on their latest masterpiece whilst admiring their previous works. Again it was nice to be able to browse without any hassle .
Essaouira is cosmopolitan and a small Jewish community harboured there during the Second World War. This community has dwindled down to a handful of families but there are reminders of them including some signs in Hebrew and a small active Synagogue. It is difficult to find, as it is hidden away in a little alleyway in the area of the town furthest away from the port and beach. I would advise you to arrange a viewing if you are are especially interested in seeing the synagogue but there is a telephone number to ring if you turn up on the day. I will always remember the gentleman who phoned the lady who is responsible for the synagogue. He was a lovely gentleman who would not accept a single Dirum for the phone call he made on our behalf. This was refreshing in a country where everyone seemed to expect payment for every single service or gesture undertaken, The synagogue is small and perhaps not as historic as the one in the Mellah district of Marrakesh but is an interesting place to go if you do have a couple of days in Essaouira or have a particular interest in Judaism. We paid 20 dirum to cover the lady's expenses as she came specially to open the synagogue for us, plus we left a donation for the upkeep of the synagogue.
Lets leave the narrow alleyway of the Medina and head towards the port of Essaouira. Hungry? There's a number of restaurants and cafes selling freshly caught fish. There's a lovely square where stall holders vie for passers by attention to eat their freshly caught, freshly cooked fish. I was tempted by these little stall and cafes but in the end we went to a slightly bigger restaurant round a square just outside of the Medina. This was a lovely restaurant where I ate a huge plate of grilled shrimps. Beware though, as the one thing that marred our trip to Essaouira was the restaurant overcharging us somehow!
Look out for the juices in Morocco as there are many interesting unusual ones such as avocado juice (sounds weird but it is nice in a creamy buttery way) alongside banana, almond, date and fig juice. We found a nice little cafe that did a great range of very good value fresh juices alongside nice looking cakes.
Feeling satisfied we headed down to the port area of Essaouira. It was nice to see the fishing boats complete with nets and locals sitting in the sun making and repairing nets. It was nice to be in a working port rather than just a tourist town with no substance. The main place to visit in Essaouira is the citadel and town walls. These are fairly cheap to visit costing only 20 Dirham(just over a pound). Like most attractions in Morocco they close for lunch and reopen about 2 clockish or whenever the custodian feels ready to come back from lunch. The citadel is very basic an there is not that much to see there apart from a tower and various ramparts. However it is a must to climb to get glorious views over the town and out to sea.
Last but certainly not least is the beach. This is a wide stretch of soft, silky sand with the Atlantic Ocean rolling over it crashing at our feet. Swimming may have been an option in the summer months but it was a wee bit chilly to dive in on that fine November day we visited. Instead we had to do with an invigorating paddle, as we strolled across the beach. The sunset was a fine one that day. I remember the lovely pink streaked sky as twilight approached. At this point a slightly different side to Essaouira emerged harking back to its hippy days as as a sixties hot spot, Rastas and new agers came out to play, as we were offered cookies . At that point we headed back to the coach and back to the noise, hustle and bustle of Marrakesh.
I liked Essaouira a lot. However I can not imagine staying there for a week, as there was not that much to do. I think we covered most of the main attraction in the seven hours we were there. It might be good if I was looking for a relaxing beach holiday in the summer. It would also be great for a weekend break or perhaps a two centre holiday split between Marrakesh and Essaouira It is fairly unspoiled but there are a number of hotel and riads along the seafront.