Essaouira, Morocco Travel Guide – Escape to the windy city
Essaouira is a city situated on Morocco’s windy Atlantic coast. With a quaint old town surrounded by 18th century ramparts, stunning sea views and a long stretch of sandy beach it offers the perfect relaxing getaway. Formerly a Portuguese stronghold, the city has a rich history matched with vibrant nightlife, delicious food and a wealth of culture.
- Essaouira was formerly known as “Mogador” and its modern name means “the little rampart” in reference to the old fortress walls.
- Jimmy Hendrix visited Essaouira in the summer of 1969 and it’s rumoured that his song “Castles Made of Sand” was inspired by the ruins of the Borj El-Berod watchtower (even though it was recorded two years before).
- The Medina of Essaouira (walled part of the city) is a UNESCO world heritage site.
- Orson Welle’s Othello and parts of Game of Thrones were filmed in Essaouira.
- The Ramparts are a relic of the city’s Portuguese rule and provide the perfect place to enjoy a relaxing seaside stroll. Here you can get an excellent view of the sunset and see the old disused cannons that line the city walls.
- The Medina is the stunning and bustling heart of Essaouira with meandering alleyways and buildings in the traditional Moroccan shades of white and cobalt blue. Here you will find an array of shops and market stalls selling leather goods, silver jewellery, spices and rugs.
- The Mellah is the old Jewish quarter where it’s possible to visit the Jewish cemetery and several remaining synagogues. Many of the houses in this area have a star of David engraved above the door.
- The Gnaoua World Music Festival is held annually in Essaouira from June 29th to July 1st. It’s advisable to book tickets well in advance as this is an extremely popular event.
Things to do
- Essaouira has the perfect climate for water sports. Surfing, Kite-surfing, kite-boarding and windsurfing are all on offer. It’s possible to hire out equipment and take lessons.
- If you’re looking for an adrenaline rush but aren’t a fan of water sports then camel rides, horse-riding and quad-biking are fun alternatives. It’s also worth exploring the 1.5km stretch of ruins at the far end of the beach.
- There are several spas and traditional Hammams in Essaouira where it’s possible to relax in a hot steam room followed by a massage. Azur Art&Spa offers a range of treatments including reflexology and facials. For a more traditional approach you can also get a massage with argan oil inspired by the nomadic Berber people at Les Massages Bérbères.
- Relaxing Cruises set sail twice a day from the fishing port and include tea and Moroccan pastries. Advance booking is advisable.
- The Sidi Mohamed Ben Abdallah Museum offers an interesting glimpse into the city’s tumultuous past. Housed in a 19th century Riad, it displays a collection of tools, jewellery, weapons and pottery.
- For art lovers, the Galerie d’Art Damgaard displays a variety of paintings by local artists. On the west side of the Medina, near Bab Marrakech there is also an interesting store where owner Rachid sells sculptures made from recycled rubbish.
- Caravane café in the Medina serves a delicious range of Moroccan and world cuisine. At night it also has live music and sometimes fire dancers so it’s a great place to enjoy an evening of food and entertainment.
- Zahra’s Grill is a restaurant and tapas bar located outside the Medina which offers high-quality seafood and some Spanish dishes.
- Restaurant Adwak is a traditional restaurant, sequestered away on Rue de Tetouan. It’s reasonably priced with a variety of set menus to choose from. Tagines, lentil soups and cous cous all feature.
- Triskala Café in the Medina serves up a fusion of Moroccan, Mediterranean and Middle Eastern cuisine. Popular dishes include falafel and grilled fish.
- Taverna Bolognese da Maurizio is a traditional restaurant serving pizza and pasta dishes – a good alternative if you’ve had your fill of Moroccan food!
Where to stay
- If you’re on a budget then the Riad Remmy nestled in the heart of the Medina is a great option. A roof terrace breakfast is included in your stay and the Riad has its own pet tortoises.
- For something a bit more luxurious the Heure Bleue Palais next to Bab Marrkech will cater to all your needs. It even has a hammam and roof-top swimming pool.
- Five Columns is a charming restored 18th century house in the Chbanat area which is known for its textile workshops. Set over four floors with sunny roof terraces it’s a great base to explore the city from.