About Essaouira beaches
Seeped in history, Essaouira is one of Morocco’s most atmospheric and inviting coastal towns. It’s been a trading base for well over 1,000 years, dealing in everything from slaves and rare purple dye to tea and sardines, and its medina, fortified by the Portuguese in the 15th century, is still a thriving commercial centre, full of tiny shops selling beads, carpets and handmade shoes. But it’s most famous for the friendly, laidback vibe which, since the 1950s, has inspired artists, musicians and filmmakers including Orson Welles, who famously used the city’s impressive ramparts as a backdrop for his cinematic version of Othello.
Wind-free days in Essaouira are rare, so beach lounging isn’t really an option; instead, the broad, sandy city beach serves as a local park, popular with joggers, strollers and footballers. Conditions for windsurfing and kite-boarding are near-perfect and you’ll nearly always see boarders hurtling along; some spots are good for surfing, too. Sunbathers and swimmers are best served by the larger hotels on the seafront boulevards, which have sheltered pools.
Beyond the beach:
Car-free and clean, the medina is engrossing to explore. Its narrow streets and alleyways are a colourful jumble of shops, galleries and workshops and its fortifications offer great views of the crashing Atlantic. The port, once a major sardine fishing centre, is still busy; you can watch fishermen hauling in the catch or mending their nets while cats snoop around for scraps. Essaouira is usually a quiet town but if you visit in late June during its outstanding annual world music festival, you’ll find it packed with a fun-loving crowd. The Festival Gnaoua et Musiques du Monde (www.festival-gnaoua.net) showcases the best of Moroccan talent alongside international stars.
While Essaouira isn’t particularly geared up for family holidays, the locals are very welcoming and older children may enjoy browsing for trinkets in the medina, sampling tasty little pastries and (on calmer days) trying their hand at windsurfing. Some of Essaouria’s larger hotels also have swimming pools to help entertain the kids.
Several beautiful, historic towns are within easy reach. South of Essaouira, Taroudannt is a delightful, elegant walled town, with lively souks and good hotels, while Tafraoute makes a good base from which to explore the Anti-Atlas Mountains; it’s particularly lovely in spring when the almond trees are in blossom. Marrakech, with its bustling souks and squares, is an easy two to three-hour road journey away.
Treat yourself to a suite in a classic riad, a jewel-box of a house hidden behind a heavy wooden door. Step inside and you’ll find yourself in a cool, airy courtyard decorated with colourful tiles. Riad al Madina (9 rue Attarine) (www.riadalmadina.com) has bubbling fountains, lush greenery and masses of hippy-chic; past guests include Jimi Hendrix, Frank Zappa and Cat Stevens.