Blog, Essaouira, Morocco

Essaouira: Moroccan Beach

August 27, 2013

Essaouira: Moroccan Beach

Essaouira

For a breath of fresh sea air escape hectic Marrakech for the beautiful Atlantic coast, only a three hour drive away.

My favourite Moroccan coastal town is Essaouira.  As far as Moroccan coastal towns go, Agadir tends to be most popular with tourists.  Mainly the package holiday type.  They are attracted to the sandy beaches and an all year round excellent climate.  But they tend to forget (or not know) that Agadir is not much more than an ugly concrete seaside resort, best avoided.

Essaouira, contrastingly, has far more charm.  And is relatively (and surprisingly) quiet – the sun-seekers put off by the strong winds which can make sunbathing on the beach tricky at times and can make the sea rough and dangerous in places.  For (wind)surfers and those interested in a combination of sun and culture it is however, the ideal place.

Getting lost in a maze of souqs

Getting lost in a maze of souqs

The town of Essaouira is a UNESCO World Heritage site, indicating that it is definitely worth seeing.  Strong city walls surround a pretty white washed town, with winding cobbled alleyways, blue shuttered houses, a bustling market and a large open square.  It is also an important fishing town, with a comparatively big harbour where they bring in their catch of the day.   Due to its good port – which protected from the strong winds, it has attracted many foreign powers (the Romans, Portugese, Dutch, Spanish) which have helped forge the towns long and interesting history.

The fishing boats in the Harbour

The fishing boats in the Harbour

A seagull waiting for his chance to grab a fish

A seagull waiting for his chance to grab a fish

Essaouira's birds

Essaouira’s birds

HOW TO GET THEREi

*Fly to Marrakech (British Airways or Easy Jet)

*Take the bus 
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Either
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Supratour bus – 140 Dirham return approx.
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or
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CTM bus  – 140 Dirham return approx.
Both have air conditioning, both take about 3 hours to get to Essaouira.  We took the CTM bus but with hindsight the Supratour buses looked in better shape.  Ultimately it is no luxury journey, but it is dead cheap and gets you there as quickly as a taxi would.  They go twice a day or so, from the bus station close to the Marrakech New Town.
Or take a taxi.
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STAY
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As long as you stay in the medina, you can’t really go wrong.  Yes, there are some nice small hotels outside the old town, but location wise, staying in the medina is ideal because you are so close to the beach and the restaurants/cafes/shops.  Plus the medina just has so much charm.  And everything is walking distance anyway.
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Villa de l’O Essaouira
 3 rue Mohamed Ben Messaoud, Essaouira 44100, Morocco
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We stayed here for three happy days.  It seems like a fairly large riad but only has 12 rooms, all individually designed and themed (without being tacky).  Ours had a slight old-school safari touch to it.  Try and get the suites with sea views if you can (and if you can afford to pay a bit more).  We had one of the standard rooms but still found it very spacious, with a big bathroom and huge bath.  Do remember it is a Riad, so don’t expect large windows and lots of light in your room.
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Our Room

Our Room

The cleaning lady had her fun

The cleaning lady had her fun

The Bathroom

The Bathroom

iThe absolute highlight of Villa de L’O – and the place we spent most time – was the roof terrace.  One of the highlights of this riad/hotel is its location right by the medina walls, so you have stunning views of the sea and beach instead of the town’s rooftops.  The roof terrace is the place where your delicious breakfast is served (mind the wasps though) and where you can then happily spend the rest of the day reading on one of the many deck chairs.  There is always a lovely breeze so you don’t get too hot, but you don’t get blown away like you can do on the beach.

Breakfast on the roof terrace

Breakfast on the roof terrace

The Roof Terrace

The Roof Terrace

Happy sunbathers

Happy sunbathers

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Other hotel recommendations are are Dar Adul (rooms from £40), and Dar Maya (from £90), or L’Heure Bleue (from about £200 per night).
EAT
Be warned, most restaurants are hard to find because they are often located in the smallest streets.  The map often makes little sense and most locals won’t have a clue what you are talking about when you ask them.  Don’t give up if you get lost.   You will find it!
Restaurant d’Orient et d’Ailleurs €€
67 bis, rue Touahen
Proche de la Skala de la Medina, Essaouira 44000
212 524 47 59 77
iMeant to be one of the best restaurants in town.  Sadly it was shut when we were in Essaouira.  Important you call to book in advance/make sure they are open and you get a table as it is a small place.  Food is a ‘fusion’ of French and Moroccan cuisine.   La Cle de Voute (76 rue Laaloujj), its sister property, is just as popular with a similar feel and food.   Again, we missed it because it was shut during our stay.
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Orient et Ailleurs's main dining room

Orient et Ailleurs’s main dining room

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Taros €/€€
Place Moulay Hassan, Essaouira, Morocco
212 (0)24 47 64 07
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 This was one of our favourites.  Brilliant location right on the main square, with wonderful views of the square itself and the port and the sea in the distance.  Almost reminded me of a little Greek taverna with its strong blue and white colours and friendly atmosphere.  The food is varied, again a mixture of Moroccan dishes and more international ones.  It is also one of the best places to come to have a sundowner before dinner, since it serves a selection of alcoholic beverages.
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Taros from the main square

Taros from the main square

Roof Terrace at Taros

Roof Terrace at Taros

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Elizir €€€
1 derb agadir medina, Essaouira, Morocco
00212524472103
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Best food we had during our stay in Essaouira.  It is the quirkiest place.  Hidden down an(other) alleyway, look for a small sign saying ‘Elizir’.  Once you enter an inconspicuous side door, you clamber up some dark stairs.  We almost missed it and kept walking up, expecting a roof terrace, but we were stopped by the waiter who ushered us in the right direction.  The restaurant is tiny, with bric-a-brac everywhere, random old photos and prints on the green walls.  But somehow it works.  The beef was some of the best I have had this year.  The complimentary aperitivo was delicious.  But the chef gladly came out to explain what exactly it was we were eating and how he cooked it.  The one thing is that it’s a shame there is no outside seating.  There is nothing fancy about this restaurant but of all the places we ate at, this one really stands out.
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Elizir

Elizir

Incredible beef

Incredible beef

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Il Mare €€
43 Rue Yamen (Skala)
Tel: 0 (0 212) 5 24 47 64 17
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We were directed here by a local on our first afternoon when we found out Taros was shut for the afternoon.  Turned out the perfect first place to come to, with great views of the ramparts and the sea.  It is a colourful, friendly place which serves dishes which are tasty but not extraordinary.  Admittedly, the pasta I had been craving for a few days was most welcome.  Their salads looked good too.  In the evening they have Happy Hour and Live Music, so probably a better time to go.
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Il Mare Restaurant

Il Mare Restaurant

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Ginger €/€€
8, Rue Ibn Rochd | Kasbah of the medina – just off main square
+212 524785120
This place was super cute.  Unlike most other Essaouiran restaurants and cafes, this one had a modern feel to it and was a little cave-like.  More cafe than restaurant.  It felt like a place you could come and ‘chill out’ at all day, lounging in their comfortable chairs, using their free wifi and drinking their delicious fresh juices or smoothies.  They have a small menu with healthy salads, sandwiches, and even, when we went, a Lebanese platter.   Friendly owners too.
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Ginger

Ginger

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Lebanese Salad

Lebanese Salad

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Other recommended places:
* One Up – Opened in 2014, a bit like Morocco’s version of Soho House
* Caravane Cafe – For evening cocktails
* La Cantina – for brunch
DO
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Beach
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Essaouira's wide sandy beach

Essaouira’s wide sandy beach

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Best for sunbathing
Sidi Kaouki (just outside Essaouira but easily accessible)
Though I sunbathed on the beach of Essaouira Bay and it was perfectly fine.
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Best for surfing
Safi Beach – an absolute favourite amongst surfers.
The Cave/La Grotto – if there is little wind you’ll still find big waves here.  10 km out of town.
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Shop
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Essaouira is a much more pleasant town to do your shopping than the souqs of Marrakech.  You just don’t get hassled as much.  People are far more laid back.  Of course, if you show an interest in their goods, they will try and encourage you to actually buy something – they are sales people after all.  But they are not as persisted and insistent as those in Marrakech.  The souqs in Essaouira are spread throughout the old town.  Often the smallest shops hide the best treasures.  Some shops also have fixed prices on their pottery, which in many cases I prefer.  Ideal place to buy big fruit bowls or pretty painted ashtrays.  Great presents to bring home.
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The Local Souq

The Local Souq

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Horseriding
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Equi Evasion 
Village of Diabat (3 km from Essaouira)
Around 20 GBP per hour
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One of the highlights of our trip was our afternoon of riding on the beach.  I had done this before, years ago, and was desperate to do it again and this time drag Rob (very much a novice) with me.  He was a little ambivalent.  I was seriously over-excited.  Our hotel organised it all for us.  There are two riding stables in the village of Diabat (3km away, 15 minute drive) which offer different rides for different levels of riders – from day trips to hourly rides.  We opted for a 1.5 hour ride.  Equi Evasion came to collect us from our hotel and drove us to the stables.  The horses were all very well looked after and looked healthy and glowing.  Being able to gallop with no need to stop on the beach is a wonderful feeling.  We were completely alone (apart from our guide).  Rob even mastered a canter.   Seriously worth while.
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Riding on the empty beaches

Riding on the empty beaches

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Hamam
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If you’re in Morocco you can’t leave without experiencing the typical Moroccan ‘Hamam’ (sort of like a Turkish bath).  You’ll see hamams on every street and they are all fairly similar.  A lot of them can be very touristy.  Like the one we chose.  But it was still a very funny experience.  You are asked to change into a paper thong, yes gents included, and are then taken to a steam room where your entire body gets thoroughly scrubbed.  You leave with the softest skin ever.  On the whole they can be quite a rip off but if you choose the un-touristy, local (and basic) ones then it can cost next to nothing (but does involve you being scrubbed by a half naked, dripping wet and seriously overweight Moroccan woman).  I had this experience the first time I went with some girl friends.  A very memorable experience but I think we were all very relieved when we left.
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