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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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Blog, Marrakech, Morocco

Marrakech: the Medina and Beyond

August 1, 2013

Marrakech: the Medina and Beyond

At Dusk

Walking onto the famous UNESCO World Heritage square Jmaa El Fnaa will have an effect on you – whether you like it or not.   During daylight this vast expanse of space is relatively empty; the ever-present orange-juice stalls line one side, carpets are rolled out around the square on which toothy Moroccans have laid out a selection of woven ‘sun hats’, dusty trinkets and shiny plastic sunglasses.  Three old men sit in the middle of the square in front a few snakes coiled around each other, basking in the sun.  A slight hint of interest by a passer-by will trigger the men to grab their flutes and play a song.  The snakes seem disinterested.  I only see one react and move to the music, like a teenage boy unwillingly dancing at a school disco.

At night the square truly comes to life; out of no where hundreds of stalls appear, selling anything from snails, to lamb shish and steaming tagines.  Huge crowds of locals and tourists alike crowd around entertainers.  Covent Garden is nothing compared to this.  On our first night we were so overwhelmed by how many people there were we asked a local whether there was a particular special occasion.  He laughed kind-heartedly and told us it was like this every night.

People are divided on what they think of Marrakech.  More often than not people almost gave me a pitying look when hearing I was off to Morocco for a week.  I loved it six years ago and loved it once more upon my return.  But I can see how the busy souqs, the hectic but proud salesmen, the winding maze-like medina alleyways and the heat can get to you.  Ideally you want to spend a few days at most in the medina and then find some peace and quiet in the Palmerie, the Atlas Mountains or the Atlantic Coast further a field.

Marrakech

 

Where we stayed

In the Medina

Riad Joya €€€

Derb El Hammam, Marrakech

+212 52439164

www.riadjoya.com

An oasis of peace in the heart of the bustling Mouassine area North West of Jmaa El Fnaa.   This stunning riad is not easily found, but once there you won’t want to leave.  The style is Moroccan Milanese – stylish as well as traditional.  Each room is different, from ‘Arabe’ to ‘Zanzibar’ themes, some with small fireplaces, others with huge metal bathtubs.  We stayed in the Ambre Gris room, ‘grey’ the key word.  The room radiated a sense of calm, from the vast soft bed to the large shower with plenty of potions and lotions to cleanse you of the medina dust.  The manager, Noubine, is always around, always ready to help you and advise.   The roof terrace is expansive, you can have your (delicious) breakfast there or sunbathe if you can take the heat. One of the pricier riads in the medina, but also known as one of the best.

Riad Joya

Riad Joya's Roof Terrace

In the Palmeraie 

Dar Zemora €€

Rue el Aandalib, Marrakech

www.darzemora.com

Not so much a hotel as a very charming English-owned home.   With only three rooms and three suites, this beautiful house is surrounded by the most beautiful garden.  You’d never think a lawn could be quite so green having passed through Dar Zemora’s dusty surroundings.   Arriving here from the hectic medina is (literally) a breath of fresh air.  It is no surprise that so many birds and bees have made this place their home.  The style is very Moroccan, the standard rooms a good size, simple but comfortable.  The suits are large, very large. We stayed in the Perla Suite and were overwhelmed by the size!  Especially our roof terrace was incredible, with our own pagoda.  The pool and area around it is beautiful and peaceful, the service excellent; bringing you cold water and a cold towel every so often.  I would definitely recommend you stay for either lunch or dinner (or both) – fixed prices for a fixed menu.  The drinks menu also has very reasonable prices, unlike most other Palmeraie/5* hotels.

Dar Zemora - our private terrace

dar zemora

 

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Where we ate

Les Terrace des Espices €€

15 Souk Charifia Sidi Abdellaziz

www.terrassedesepices.com

Beautiful setting, wonderful vibe.  We found Cafe des Espices and believed this was it. The waiter shook his head and led us into the deep and dark souqs until we finally found the sister restaurant.  The ‘terrace’ is worth getting lost for – huge, atmospheric, with nooks to lounge in.  While it does not serve alcohol you come here for the food.  It is exceptional. We went for the Moroccan salads to start (fresh and tasty) and then had a lamb and prune and a lemon chicken tagine.  The best tanginess we had all holiday. And all for a very reasonable price.

Amazing Roof Terrace Restaurant/Lounge

Amazing Roof Terrace Restaurant/Lounge

Cafe des Arabe €€

184, rue Mouassine | Medina, Marrakech

http://www.cafearabe.com/en/english/presentation.html 

Owned by an Italian, this chilled out restaurant/cafe/lounge is ideally located minutes from Jmaa el Fnaa and near the souqs. It is the only place in the heart of the medina which has an alcohol licence, which means it attracts quite a few tourists.  Again, the roof terrace is ideal for a lunch in the shade, the food a mixture of Moroccan and Italian. Great place to come for a cold beer as a welcome break from the hot sun.  Also lovely in the evening.

Wonderfully shaded Roof Terrace

Wonderfully shaded Roof Terrace

Villa Flore €€€

4 Derb Azzouz, Marrakech (around the corner from Riad Joya)

Trip Advisor reviews perhaps give this place a bit too much flattery.  Or perhaps we just went for the wrong courses.  Yes, it is a beautiful riad (I would have been interested to check out the rooms) and the court yard, where there restaurant is, is sophisticated and welcoming.  But the menu is limited.  The lamb – much raved about on Trip Advisor – was super expensive so we went for a tagine and the duck instead.  Portions were small. The food was good but nothing special.  It was perfect for us though as it was round the corner from our riad.  So we did not get lost that night.

 

Dejeuner a Marrakech €€

24, Place Douar Graoua, Marrakech

I loved this place!  Slightly removed from the centre of the medina, but actually quite easy to find from Jmaa el Fnaa, this tall terracotta building has seating areas on each level.  The best is, of course, the roof terrace, with views across the medina.  I really liked the menu – a mixture of Moroccan and more international cuisine.  Their salad options were good – a duck and goats cheese salad, a chicken with tarragon salad and a smoked salmon and dill blinis salad.  I got excited by the idea of blinis so went for the latter which I actually wouldn’t advise as the salmon was still a little frozen.  Loved our experience here though and would definitely come back for dinner.

The views of the rooftops of Marrakech

The views of the rooftops of Marrakech

Other places we wanted to visit but did not get round to:

Mama Tilee

13 Derb El Arsa, Riad Zitoun Jdid, Marrakech

Meant to have fantastic set menus in a nice setting.  A little bit out of our way so we chose restaurants closer to us.

Beldi Country Club

A hotel, restaurant and country club, all rolled into one – this is the ideal retreat to head to if you’re staying in one of Marrakech’s riads and need a cooling dip and some fresh countryside air.  Beldi is only 6km form the pink city, so it’s easy to come here for the day to lounge by one of their many pools, have lunch at their amazing restaurant, or enjoy their spa and hammam.  Rooms from £140 per night.

Beldi Country Club

 

Where we drank

KosyBar €

47, Place des Ferblantiers, Marrakech

This was our first ‘destination’ in Marrakech and we were not disappointed.  Situated in the mellah (the Jewish area), it is a max 10 minute walk from the Jmaa El Fnaa.  Ideal to come here as the sun is setting over the medina – the views from the roof terrace are beautiful.  You can see stalks nests high above and hear children laughing and playing in the square below.  The cocktails are pretty good and an average price for Marrakech (around 90 Dirham, or 7 pounds).   A good place to start your evening.

Kosybar

Mamounia €€€

Sidi Mimoun, Marrakesh

www.mamounia.com

For those who want to have a glimpse of this iconic hotel – where Churchill stayed and loved it so much the bar was named after him.  The bar is super swish, the cocktails truly excellent and you are minutes walk from the medina but yet surrounded by beautiful gardens.  The only draw back are the prices.

Sky Bar €€ 

89 Angle Bld Zerktouni et Mohamed V Gueliz (above Renaissance Hotel)

We didn’t make it here but I heard good things about this cool bar.  Again, nice roof terrace, average priced drinks and a pleasant atmosphere.  Close to Jmaa El Fnaa and Un Dejeuner a Marrakech.

The Medina

We were lucky enough to get an Abercrombie & Kent guide to take us round the main highlights of the medina.  There is not a huge amount to see, it is by no means Rome or Paris.  But just walking around, bartering for a leather bag and having a drink at a local cafe is part of the experience.

If you’ve had enough of the noises, heat and smells of Marrakech then the place I suggest you visit is Essaouira – a beautiful, small, breezy, beachside town.  My experience there will be the topic of my next blog, including tips on where to stay, eat and drink.

Marrakech's spices

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