With only 24 hours in Essaouira there is much to see and do in this simply spectacular seaside artist colony. Essaouira offers a wide array of sites and sounds that can fill the pallet of any Moroccan traveler regardless of age. The small coastal town of Essaouira is popular with surfers and has a hippy, laid-back feel – perfect for those who want to spend more time relaxing than bartering. In the ’60s and ’70s, Essaouira was a pitstop on the hippie trek from Marrakesh. Jimi Hendrix made the pilgrimage, as did Bob Marley and Cat Stevens. Essaouira boasts lovely white-washed and blue-shuttered houses, colonnades, thuya wood workshops, art galleries and mouthwatering seafood.
WHERE TO STAY
Madada Mogador feels like someone’s home, albeit that of a chic Parisian. Each morning breakfast is served on the riad’s large terrace overlooking the beach.
Villa Maroc is an achingly hip Riad and was the first hotel to make riad accommodation popular. Enjoy a laid back stay in the best location, incredible views of the sea or book for dinner and eat mouthwatering Moroccan dishes in one of the cozy candle-lit nooks
Palais Des Ramparts is a charming Riad in the heart of the old medina that offers spectacular views, a hammam along with comfortable rooms for reasonable prices. The staff is accommodating and you cannot beat it’s location.
Heure Bleue Palais is the most glamorous address in town (and has been since Jimi Hendrix stayed there). It has a rooftop pool and terrace with views of the harbour, an extensive library and beautiful bar, plus a private screening room.
WHERE TO EAT
The fish stalls at the port are an essential Essaourian experience. Pick from the catches of the day – anything from sardines to sea urchins – then watch as it’s grilled, before eating it with salad and fresh bread. You are guaranteed the fresh catch of the day plus an enormous variety of fish from lobster, shrimp. crab, sea bass, sea brim, scallops, octopus, calamari and local fish as well. All fish is served with the option of being grilled or fried along with salad and bread. This is a must for fish lovers who relish dining by the sea while watching their food being made.
Elizir is a well-known haunt, where the décor is retro – with 1970s design classics and knick-knacks galore – the atmosphere is relaxed and a Leonard Cohen soundtrack plays away in the background. With its stylistic modern- Moroccan cuisine and décor, Elixer is sure to leave you with a most memorable dining experience during your stay in Essaouira. The menu consists of everything from a camel tagine to home-made pasta via organic kitchen and the catch of the day. Elizer has a fireplace perfect for winter and a roof terrace for summer.
Chez Sam offers stunning views of the sea and is just a ten-minute walk towards the end of the seaport in Essaouira. This restaurant offers excellent seafood for the value. They are one of the more reasonably prices seafood restaurants in this seaside artist colony. The staff is very friendly and they offer wine to compliment the variety of kinds of seafood served. Chez Sam has both an upstairs area to dine which enables guests to enjoy the views of the sea.
Le Sirocco is a well-established Franco-Moroccan restaurant in Essaouira. It is a reliable favorite of returning tourists and local expats alike. Prices are a bit higher than most other restaurants in town, but well worth it. The owners are French and the food is simply delicious. Le Sirocco offers the standard Moroccan fare in addition to specialties such as dark chocolate molten cake and excellent fish dishes.
Le Chalez De La Plage is an upscale beachfront institution in Essaouira that has some of the best seafood in town. Built entirely of wood in 1893, the restaurant is in its fourth family of proprietors, the Jeannots, and the dark, maritime-theme interior is adorned with pictures and mementos of a past guest list that includes a French president and Hollywood movie stars. Diners feast on items from a French-language menu that offers Oualidia oysters, shrimp, calamari, lobster, and a wide selection of line fish. There’s also a small choice of other meats, soups and salads, three-course set menus, and Chez Jeannot’s suggestions du jour. A well-stocked bar is complimented by a select wine list, chosen by local vintner Charles Melia.
WHAT TO DRINK
Head to Taros, near the port, for live music and drinks on the terrace. At night the place is full of visiting surfers and a hippy crowd.
Le Patio is a dark, atmospheric Moroccan restaurant with a great bar. If you do stay for dinner, the tajines are delicious.
WHAT TO DO
Madada Mogador runs popular cookery courses at which you can master the art of the tajine, as well as pastillas and couscous. It starts with a guided tour of the spice market, and at the end of the day you share a feast of everything the class has made
Ask your Morocco travel agent to arrange a camel ride across the sand dunes – a guide will take you as far as you want to go for about $35.00 each, including taxis to and from the hotel.
WHERE TO SHOP
The souks of Essaouira may be smaller than those in Marrakech, but they still provide an interesting experience. The pace is much slower and the bartering isn’t quite so aggressive. Look out for the ceramics and rugs, which are particularly beautiful. Seek out the hidden jewels such as art galleries and nouvelle French owned boutiques that sell artistically interesting wears.
Head to Azur spa for a luxurious take on the traditional hammam. You can choose whether to focus your treatment on toning, detoxing or slimming
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