The cupboard-sized shops, the melange of French, Berber, and Moroccan cultures, the scents emanating from the scattered souks, the simple blue boats along the harbor, empty stretches of sandy coastline, the terraces of fine dining restaurants, the sandstone of the medina—Essaouira appears to have walked out of half a dozen different worlds.
You’ll wonder how it escaped status as a world-famous beach town, and then you hear about the winds along the harbor, known as the alizee, or taros in Berber. They’re fierce along the water, and that explains the ratio of kite surfers to beachcombers. Instead of becoming a beach town, Essaouira became a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Temperatures are generally Mediterranean, though record highs do hover around 100°F in summer months—hence why most visitors opt for spring or autumn travels. (More on the best time to visit Morocco can be found here.) You shouldn’t need to rent a car unless you’re traveling around the country, and the Marrakesh airport is 2.5 hours away by taxi. Hotels range from the ultra-luxe to the shoestring, and you won’t be wanting for choices.
History of Essaouira
Essaouira gained UNESCO status thanks to it being a prime example of an 18th-century fortified town. The city walls are an incredible reminder of its past. The harbor is chock full of traditional fishermen’s boats, and you’ll catch them (the fishermen—not the boats) hauling in their catch or mending their nets on the regular. The entire port is ridiculously picturesque, in that gritty, nostalgic kind of way.
Back in the citadel, also consider walking up. You pay a nominal fee to go up the ramparts, where you’ll catch a view of the harbor and Île de Mogador from above. This is an excellent spot to catch the sunset, by the way.
Dining And Nightlife
Seafood is the name of the game here, though it might not take on any taste that your palate is familiar with. Spider grab gratin, whole fish cooked over charcoals—little twists on even traditional items will keep you curious. You’ll also find a hefty dose of classic French influence, in addition to the obvious Moroccan staples of couscous, beef, and lamb.
In the morning, grab a cup of nous-nous: It’s half espresso, half steamed milk. When snack time rolls around, that means gelato! You’ll find a few good places around the Place Moulay Hassan, where you can watch magicians and acrobats do their thing while you savor away.
Things to Do
In case it wasn’t already clear, the main thing to do in Essaouira is to simply be here. Wander the city walls, and watch the craftsmen working on their inlaid woodwork—it’s a specialty of the town—from above. Take a stroll along the beach (the sand is unusually hard), and watch the kite surfers and camels roll by. Stop at the Place Orson Welles, commemorating the fact that parts of Othello were filmed here.
Try to count the djellabah-clad traders wheeling their barrows of fish straight from the harbor. Sit in an umbrella-shaded cafe, and pick out your favorite of the fabrics sold in the small shops across from you. Explore the artsy and eccletic Kasbah area, “window shopping” for tiles and paintings. Check out the old mansions of the “mellah,” the old Jewish quarter. Grab a sunlounger near the infinity pool on the rooftop of your hotel. It’s the simple things that really define a place, after all.