Essaouira TourismEssaouira - Castles in the Sand
Where the dirt roads have no name, Essaouira is a Moroccan hippie town. Progress has skipped over this coastal community, which is its beauty – and also its magic. And that’s not just those funky mushrooms talking either. Getting lost among the medina’s controlled chaos is an authentic experience, especially since the locals go about their business as if you’re not even there.
Good For: Couples, adventurous solo travelers, well-traveled families, and groups of friends. This is a low-key town, light on luxury but heavy on culture and atmosphere. You come to Essaouira to experience a true faraway land, even by Moroccan standards.
- Wandering along the seafront with the fishermen in the early morning hours before the city wakes up, and enjoying a fresh-squeezed orange juice in the old port near the ships.
- Lunching on fresh seafood, which they practically pluck out of the water and immediately grill for you, tableside.
- Exploring the dirt roads and dusty medina and shopping at the markets.
- Cocktailing on the terrace of L’Heure Bleue, which is reminiscent of a rooftop in a Jason Bourne pursuit scene.
- Partying at Taros, overlooking the water and medina.
What to Know: Essaouira is about a four- to five-hour drive from Casablanca, where most international flights arrive. Hire a driver to navigate the uneven roads while you sleep off your jet lag, or make your way here from Marrakech, which is about two hours away. Dress is conservative; you’ll see men in the traditional hooded robes and women in their chadors. Blue jeans are fine, but for women, leave the mini skirts at home. Be careful getting cash at night in the medina. You’ll inevitably be accosted by pickpockets who come under the guise of selling you Kleenex.
Suggested Stay: 2 Days
A Moroccan Oasis
After nothing but small, rundown towns and dark fields lit by the occasional fire in the distance, you’ll arrive in the seaside town of Essaouira. It was once a slave trading port of the Portuguese, but today it’s Morocco unfiltered.
The Sofitel Essaouira Mogador Golf & Spa is the newest and most luxurious place to stay in Essaouira. Located a five-minute drive from town, it’s the one part of Essaouira where progress has arrived. Instead of waiting in a check-in line, you’re ushered in with the classic Moroccan welcome: mint tea and pistachio macaroons served by two men dressed in traditional attire.
This is a child-friendly hotel, but since most families rent villas and the grounds are sprawling, it’s attractive to both couples and families. The hotel does a good job of creating a chic, modern feel to their rooms. Bathtubs are open to the bedroom, and the bed is placed in the center of the room with a prime view of the golf course. Every single room in the compound is a room with a view, along with a day bed outside to laze about and catch a bold, Moroccan sunset. The property also has a sandy beach, and the luxury of a decked-out pool to relax by in the late afternoon.
The other option is the Relais & Châteaux L’Heure Bleue, an old riad located right in the medina with the best hotel restaurant options in Essaouira. Amenities are limited because of the older building, but the location is prime. Aman Resorts also recently acquired a riad in the medina. The plan is to convert it into 12 luxury suites, which will usher in a true five-star experience in Essaouira. In the same way a Wall Street analyst looks at certain indicators to forecast the market, new Aman properties are one of the leading signs of up-and-coming destinations in the travel industry.
Hendrix & Hippies
“And so castles made of sand melts into the sea.” Jimi Hendrix may not have set foot in Essaouira until after he wrote the famous song, but he nailed the essence of the town and its scenery. Many rock stars, including Bob Dylan, plus Rastafarians and 1960s granola characters have come to Essaouira since that song. This is one hippie town. Unlike other parts of Morocco, where the locals and shop vendors are aggressive with tourists, here you’ll generally be left to your own devices. Besides Orson Welles Square, the streets are not paved, and you usually won’t see any cars in the medina. It’s more common to spy a donkey pulling the larger loads, or locals guiding their carts through the white buildings, which have splashes of bright blue on the doors and windows. It’s a surreal scene – chaos, yet a controlled one.
The cuisine is not groundbreaking in Essaouira. The town is more about soaking in the culture, wandering the medina, and observing local life. The best food in Essaouira is the terrace at L’Heure Bleue for lunch, where they have a nice calamari salad, fresh grilled prawns, and couscous. Also worthy is their fine-dining Moroccan restaurant. Le Mogador and Le Petite Perle are good bets for low-key, traditional Moroccan food, and both are located near the Bab Sba gate in a little square off the main road. Expect an assortment of Moroccan salads, which are small servings of the traditional carrot, beet, red and green pepper, tomato and onion, along with pigeon pie.
Funky Cold Medina
With all the hippies and their flowing hair, Essaouira does not have a particularly happening nightlife. There are two clubs, Le Chrysalis and La Bouus, neither of which is terribly interesting for those who are used to the St. Tropez scene. As is typical in the evenings, there are not a lot of women on the streets. You’ll see more ladies at Le Chrysalis, which is considered the classier of the two. Plus, it’s more open, with large windows, versus the cavernous La Bouus. The best circuit is to start out with a drink on the terrace at L’Heure Bleue, then head to Taros, where all the pretty hippies and elegant Moroccans meet. The French restaurant has food that rivals L’Heure Bleue, and upstairs, on the terrace bar, the DJ spins late into the night. Another alternative for high-end nightlife is drinking at the bar at the Sofitel Essaouira Mogador Golf & Spa, which has a chic scene. They also have an informal policy not to close until the last person leaves. Hendrix would approve.