Essaouira is a delightful seaside town and Moroccon destination.Here are seven things I love about it while traveling there twice during my recent Big Trip in Morocco.
It’s easy to get to B and I left Marrakesh early on the 8:30 bus to Essaouira. M, my now friend and former tour guide, had said the bus ride would be rough – stopping places and taking local roads. We had a much better experience and got to Essaouira on the SupraTours bus (65 MAD each) in 2 1/2 hours. It was an easy get up and go – 10 MAD for a taxi (with meter!) and then 5 MAD for each luggage to check and we were off. The bus left five minutes early because everyone was on and ready to go.
It’s a simple town to navigate B and I arrived at 12:30, which gave us plenty of time to walk around and get a feel for the town. I’d been there just the week before so I knew the lay of the land. The main street splits the walled medina and all roads point to the ocean. When we got off the bus, there was a little bit of haggling and pressure to get a man to haul our baggage and find our hotel. The teenage boys and men were in our face warring for our business. We took it slow, got our bags and then agreed on a price (30MAD) to cart our bags right to our hotel. The souks roadways sprout off the main road and I marked where we were with several landmarks: the big gate, the ice cream vendor, and the mosque with the slanted door.
The hotels are delightful! Our hotel, the Les Matins Bleu was right in the Medina on a tiny street next to a mosque. The hotel was originally a family residence and it was built in the 1700s. Our host, Adele, was very friendly and led us up to the third floor. Our room was one of three than rounded an open terrace with wi fi. B and I made a mental note to find a liquor store and have some bottles of wine out on it during our two days there.
It’s cool and breezy We got a little settled and headed back out the way we came to et our return bus tickets. The woman gave us our tickets and instructions to come there 15 minutes early, expect that Saturday, Morocco was moving to “summer time” and going an hour ahead. B and I looked at each other with disbelieving eyes. Thank God, this woman had told us, otherwise, we would have been an hour late for our bus and completely missed it back to Marrakesh. We also stopped at Royal Air Maroc office and my 6:15 flight was now a 7:15 flight. Again, HumbdAllah we checked that out.
After taking care of the errands, B and I walked the very windy beach, but with a sun very warm sun we soaked in the sunlight. B and I continued our 24 hour marathon conversation that we started when she first arrived. I’ll say it again, it’s lovely to have a girlfriend to talk to. She has given me that needed sounding board, second ear, and feedback my inner thoughts require to keep me in check.
Along the way, we dodged offers for camel and horse rides, me begging off because of my allergies and saying that we were actually afraid of camels. In the surf, about 20 windsurfers looked like they were fighting the wind to grab a hold of a strong breeze to propel them along the waves. The weather was perfect and a good respite from Marrakesh’s heat. Overall, the town has a very laid back, bright energy and we found it while wakling along the shore.
The seafood is fresh (per B) Along the Essaouira port, there are about 10 seafood restaurants, open white pavillions with bench tables and the days fresh catch on display. We navigated to stall 5, which was a little friendlier than the others because of the Intrepid and local guide connection (read: they wouldn’t rip us off too much). B and I split a melange – a mix of seafood: sole, calamari, sardines, scampi, and another white fish. I am too squeamish around seafood that does not come in carefully manicured filets and could not get through the heads and bones. B, on the other hand, was happy as a seafood lover and dissected her fish with pleasure to find succulent meat inside. I’d tried to do crab on my previous visit here with M and Elizabeth and felt the same repulsion. I need to be a vegetarian because I cannot handle meat in its animal form. The whole meal cost 100 MAD with salad and one beverage and we were very satisfied to make our way for more sightseeing around the port.
Pastries, gelato and nous nous everywhere I don’t remember the exact details of our first afternoon in Essaouira, but I know that in between a little shopping and a little walking we stopped for delicious pastries at Patisserie Driss, now dubbed Pattisserie Bliss, a nous nous (like a latte), and then enjoyed gelato on the square. I don’t think I’ll have as much sugar as I’ve had in Morocco and it’s all with pleasure. Over two days we visited PB twice and had chocolate cookies, sugar cookies, and covered cakes. We flew out of there and then crashed about 1 hour later from our sugar high.
Very cool nightclubs with live music For our first night, we decided to visit the Taros night club, which overlooks the main square and has an open terrace filled with white washed tables and, dare I say, very attractive waiters and bartenders. B, being the sensible one, insisted we just order half a bottle of wine and enjoy the appetizers and scenery. We walked just just a little bit into the medina for dinner at a nice hole-in the wall restaurant that sat about 10 people. B ordered a vegetarian cous cous that made her swoon like a teenager with a crush. I had a chicket tangine (my last tangine thankfully) with saffron rice infused with lemon, it was very good, but the way B was carrying, I got major food envy. After our dinner, we headed back to Taros and were delighted to find a Gnaoua band playing the ethnic music. The band of five jammed on what looked like a guitar, keyboard, and violin. It was excellent and just the right volume so we could continue our conversations. This time, we had another half bottle, but a very friendly bartender kept refilling our caraffe and so we were a little lit when we left the terrace.
However, we gained our wits about us when we realized that the shops were closing, some streets were dark and our hotel seemed like at the end of a maze. B and I kept a straight look on our face like we were Ok with the men standing outside shops asking us where we’re going or for an answer to their “hey baby.” Essaouira took on a little bit of a shady, scary feel as we made our way back to the hotel. B and I turned down one road, a shortcut, and turned right around when we didn’t see any lights and just a dark alleyway. I was very thankful when we made it home and thankful that B has dancer skills and could kick if we needed it.
These Souks are made for shopping On day two, we got up late, had the included breakfast (I will not need any more pastries upon returning home – post Rome of course) at the hotel and went off to wander. We just wanted to get a feel of the city. It felt the same, sunny, cool and laid back as I’d discovered on my last visit, but now it felt different because B was new to the town. We wandered and walked, discovering the blue tiled silver market and the purse boutique run by a chic French woman. We took “senior pictures” (cheesy poses that look great among historical monuments) along the ramparts and of course, stopped for more pastry at PB. I tried to find the Mellah, the Jewish quarter, relying on memory, but could not and we went to a very local part of the city, and one that didn’t feel entirely safe. No matter, the tiny streets pushed us out into the Grain Market and a lovely cafe run by another French woman (in French – “The place of women”). Our lunch actually had vegetables with it in addition to the bread and cheese, so we felt a little healthier.
Frommer’s had mentioned that there were liquor stores right outside the city walls and we needed a bottle of wine or two for that terrace, so B and I walked across a very local part of the main drag towards the gate. Camel, cow, and goat hung in gory display from small butcher shops and next to vegetable stands. A protest crowd moved through street, thankfully police were bookends to the several hundred people carrying signs in Arabic and Palestinian flags. I remarked to B that this is the second time we’ve witnessed a protest together – the first in Instanbul’s Taxsim district. Outside the gate, the buildings were run down and a lot less touristy. It was just ending lunch time and nothing looked open. At a wrong turn, we butted in about 30 men on their knees in a prayer session. Liquor is haram (forbidden) so we didn’t expect a big sign. There were only closed doors, but luckily the only open shop on the street was the liqour store. The wine was 45 MAD, about 1/4 the price in the restaurants and of course, we enjoyed not one, but two bottles on that terrace before a delicious vegetarian dinner at Lilla Mira hotel (home of excellent veg food and the fanciest squatter I’ve ever seen). B and I had another bottle at dinner and I think we have sketchy memories of the last half of dinner.
We left the Sunday morning 9:30 bus back to Marrakesh, thankfully minding the hour time change. I dubbed it the “Vomit Bus” because it heavily swayed back and forth. Thankfully, B reminded me, the brakes worked better than bus here. Thankfully. Still, I had to take major dramamine and at a rest stop, B and I shared a Sprite. When I looked over at her, she was concentrating hard on the horizon. After four months of planes, trains and automobiles, I can now sleep sitting up and did so for the rest of the way back to Marrakesh. We had one final afternoon and evening there before our Monday departure.