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Essaouira

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Travel tips, hotels, food, sightseeing in Essaouira

Essaouria (الصويرة) is a coastal city in south Morocco.  

Get in
A whole grand taxi from Marrakech runs about 600dh - 800dh, or 90dh per place if you take taxi Blue. 
Supratours runs buses from the Marrakech train station into the Essaouira Supratours station, just down the street from the beach. 
Catch a bus from Marrakech's bus station for 45dh. The trip should take around 3 hours, but may last longer if there are many local stops. 

Get around
The walled center of town is mainly for pedestrians. 

Do
The beach dominates the Essaouirans' leisure time. Although the strong wind and currents makes relaxed tanning and swimming a little difficult at times, it is perfect for windsurfing. With good winds for most days of the year, Essaouira is a windsurfer's paradise. The best spots are reported to be Essaouira Bay, Sidi Kaouki, Cape Sim and Mouley Bouzertoune. Equipment can be hired from the Windsurfing Club on the beach front. World Music Festival in June : http://www.festival-gnaoua.co.ma/ 
The nearby town of Diabat and its beach is allegedly where Jimi Hendrix once spent some time. Even if the stories aren't true, this long, windswept beach with its ruined fort, about 5km from Essaouira, is a lovely place to walk to. Diabat is an empty, concrete Berber village that is practically devoid of attractions except the Hendrix ruin and a Hendrix Cafe. It's best visted in the early morning via taxi and then return to Essouiara via a short and very romantic walk on the beach past the castle in the sand of Hendrix fame. 

Buy
Essaouira's craftsmen are renowned for their woodwork and lacquer ware. Intricately inlaid boxes, chessboards and curios can be found for good prices in the city's hundreds of shops; however, beware that extensive deforestation is taking place in the area due to these woods not being replanted. Artwork of all kinds can be had here. 

Eat
Although Essaouira is on the sea, fish are quite expensive. Fishermen sell their catch through market hall and you can get it cooked in small stands nearby. Prices are negotiable. A cheaper option is to buy Harira (a spicy soup) for 2-5DH or sandwich (i.e. at Blue facade for 10-20DH, walking at the street from fish stands to the medina). There are many reasonable restaurants and cafes on the main streets and squares. Upscale restaurants worth a mention are Taros (2, rue de la Sqala Tel: 044 47 64 07) which combines a French-Moroccan restaurant, a gallery and a terrace bar with live local music and "5" (rue Youssef el fassi) for its elegant ex-pat vibe. 
Patisserie Driss - close to the main square is a great place for cakes and snacks 
Fish Market, Essaouira local market. . If you are a fish enthusiast, you cannot miss the food in the market. Buy your fish (cheap, shirmps are 50dh/kilo, sardines 5dh/6, etc) take it to the small kitchen / restaurant and let them cook it for you. They add salad, olives and bread for 25dh. Really fun, cheap and good food! buy the fish + 25dh for the baking. 
La Decouverte, 8 bis, rue Houmman,  024 47 31 58, [1]. If you are tired of taglines, disappointed by Italian Moroccan pasta, give La Decouverte a try. A French couple cooks with Moroccan ingredients, Moroccan like recipes but with French hand. Nice atmosphere, correct prices. Go for it at around 50dh - 80dh. 

Drink
Mint tea is available for about 6DH all over the town. Some of the hotels have licensed bars, but it's hard to beat the terrace bar of the Taros (2 Rue de la Sqala) for its view over the lively Place Moulay el Hassan and the harbor. 

Sleep
Hotels and riads
Essaouira Tourisme, http://www.essaouiratourisme.com the best guide ever of the great essaouira mogador, the best hotels and riads and apartments. 
Hotel Smara, 26 Rue de la Skala, Tel: 044-472334, is one of the cheapest (and therefore most popular) hotels in town, so you may need to book ahead during peak season. The spartan roof terrace has nice views over the cannons used in the opening sequence of Orson Welles Othello. Singles / doubles with shared bath start from Dh 47 / Dh 96. 
Riad Malaika, 17 Rue Zayanne, Tel: 044.473861, Email: riadmalaika@yahoo.fr , provides an authentic Riad stay. This former Moroccan home has been beautifully restored and converted and is in the center of town. The staff is extremely hospitable and courteous. It has a beautiful terrace rooftop perfect for private lounging. Rooms are charming and tastefully decorated and run from 500dh to 1000dh, including breakfast (discounts available in the low season and for longer stays). 
Sofitel Thalassa Mogador, Tel: 47 23 34. Right on the beach, it will be happy to indulge your every whim, for a hefty price. Singles / doubles start at Dh 1400 / Dh 1850 during low season but can rocket up to Dh 1890 / Dh 2430 during the peak new year period. Luxury suites are also available and there's a Sofitel-branded health spa next door for those in urgent need of a hydrotherapy session and facial. 
Apartments. If you're looking for longer term or apartment accommodation, try: 
Essaouira Apartments, Jack's Kiosk, 1 Place Moulay Hassan, Tel: 044-475538 (Fax: 044-476901, Email: apartment@essaouira.com
Chez Rebecca Apartment http://www.mogador-apartments.com  ; email: rebecca@mogadorapartments.com ) Short and long term rentals. Located in the heart of the medina, its got a lovely terrace with views over the town. Other holiday apartments for rent are also available in the same house. 

Stay Safe

Many travelers seem to suffer from minor stomach upsets in Essaouira, no matter how carefully they eat. The town is often covered in a fine mist as Atlantic breakers crash onto the rocks below the ramparts. Closer inspection reveals a large amount of untreated sewage being discharged into the sea here. Possibly this sewage in the air is a factor amongst the high incidence of stomach upsets. 

A city stronghold combining extraordinarily varied architecture, an ocean to delight the most demanding surfers and divers, rocky inlets, a mild climate tempered by the breeze, a craft industry famed throughout Morocco, exquisite local cuisine and a genuinely warm welcome – anything a traveller might dream of is to be found here in Essaouira, the old town of Mogador. The city offers much more than routine tourism, it is a whole romantic experience. From the ramparts to the Sqala, from souk alleyways and shady squares to the art galleries along Avenue Oqba Bnou Nafii and the many antique and cabinetmakers’ shops – there is no lack of pretexts for staying on here in search of the city’s soul. Essaouira, long a focal point for artists and celebrities and with treasured memories of such greats as Orson Wells and Jimmy Hendrix, is a truly cosmopolitan city unlike anywhere else in the Kingdom. 



Attractions in Essaouira 


Bab Doukkala

Beyond the gateway lies a square serving as a stage for street musicians and storytellers. The bus station in the square has been converted into an exhibition room for local artists. Outside the city walls, just near the gateway, the European graveyard serves as a reminder of the town’s cosmopolitan character in the last century.

The Kasbah Mosque

This is the most picturesque mosque in the town. Its famous white-colored minaret, covered with green earthenware tiles at the top, is a landmark in the district linking the old and the new medina. This place is a great starting point for a stroll through the alleys of the medina.

Moulay Hassan Square

Running right through the town, rue Sidi Mohammed Ben Abdellah links Place Moulay El Hassan and its fine terraces to the nearby Mellah, the former Jewish district, a labyrinth which has suffered much at the hands of time. The street is choc-a-bloc with cabinetmakers’ and other local craftsmen’s workshops, and shops selling fabrics and traditional garments, musical instruments, tapestry, spices, and fruit and vegetables occupying the ground floors of fine middle class residences. 

Sidi Mohammed Ben Abdellah Museum

This former Pasha’s residence dating back to the 19th century is now the Sidi Mohammed Ben Abdellah ethnographic museum where you can get the flavour of local art: musical instruments (ancient and modern), especially of Berber origin, ritual-censer articles and traditional garments for special occasions and ceremonies. Upstairs the museum displays a range of beautiful tapestries, the fruit of tribal handicraft traditions. 

Skala of the Kasbah

This mighty crenellated bastion, 300 meters in length, was built upon the cliffs to protect the city on its seaward side. Formerly a munitions depot, the Skala of the Kasbah contains blockhouses now used as premises for some of the marquetry workshops whose products are the pride of the city. The craftsmen here will be delighted to show you their wares, most of which are fashioned from fragrant Thuja wood. From atop the wall with its antique cannons, there is a splendid view of the ocean and the city of Essaouira.

The Mellah

The Mellah is located in the north of the city, adjacent to the Kasbah and has remained in Souri Jewish hands for a long time. Around the 18th century, by order of Sultan Sidi Mohamed Ben Abdallah, many families of Jewish merchants "Tujjar es Sultane" settled in it to promote international commerce. This district thus became home to craftsmen covering all the specialisations, shopkeepers, vegetable, fruit and spice traders, peddlers and rabbis of great renown. 

The Skala of the Port

The construction of the port was decided by Sidi Mohammed Ben Abdallah who resorted to the architect Theodore Cornut, a land surveyor originating from Avignon and specialized in building military strongholds. The land surveyor demolished part of this stronghold to build an esplanade carrying a line of guns called "Sqala". This construction gives access to an esplanade flanked with guns (dating back in the 18th and the 19th centuries) directed at the ocean, a unique scenery of ocean and city. The aim behind building this site was to shelter the city from pirates, for, Essaouira, as its history shows, has been coveted since the 7th century B.C.

Boulevard Mohamed V

The town’s main street, Boulevard Mohamed V, stretches between the fine sandy beach and modern buildings on one side, and going through Place My Hassan leads directly to the old town and to the port on the other side.

The North Bastion

From the North Bastion terrace, an enchanting view of the city and the Skala unfolds. This 200 m long cannon platform, which is surrounded by crenellated walls, protected the city from attacks from the sea. An arched passageway leads to the ground floor where hundreds of blockhouses are occupied by the best Moroccan marquetry craftsmen.

Orson Wells Square

In 1949, Orson Wells chose the magnificent fortifications of Essaouira to shoot exteriors for his film of the Shakespearian tragedy, "Othello". In his book "Orson Wells," André Bazin wrote: "From the stones of Mogador, Wells creates an imaginary dramatic architecture, which has all the authenticity and awesome beauty of natural stone, hewn by centuries of wind and sun."

The Fish Market

The port is one of the liveliest places in the city, especially when boats land their catch and the docks turn into a real bedlam where fishermen mend their scarlet nets among flocks of white seagulls contending for their fish. In the morning, fish and shellfish are auctioned off and can be grilled on makeshift barbecues. In spite of the decline in fishing activity, Essaouira is still the Kingdom’s third largest sardine port.

The Marine Door

The gateway gives access to the port and was built in 1793 (i.e. 1184 anno Hegirae) during Sidi Mohammed Ben Abdellah’s governance of the city. It is composed of a pair of pillars and a facade in the classical style. You can climb the stairs to the top of the wall and enjoy an unrestricted view over the ocean, the medina and the nearby crimson islands. 

Essaouira Port

At the end of the 18th century, this port represented nearly half of Morocco maritime exchanges. A century later the restoration of Casablanca and Agadir ports, under the protectorate, slowed down Essaouira’s commercial activity. Contrary to the other ports of Morocco, this port has all the interest and charm of an old port, and at the same time is a busy, crowded port with large imposing fishing boats. 

The Markets of the Medina

Here, the liveliest part of the city, you can wander wherever your fancy takes you, letting colors, scents and sounds be your guide. Turn down any street and you are likely to stumble across some unexpected delight or picturesque scene. Whatever the hour, it is no easy task negotiating your way through the bustle of carts overflowing with foodstuffs, farmers from the nearby countryside come to town to sell their produce, Souiri shoppers in search of the cheapest fruit or the freshest fish, and women majestically draped in their white haik, traditional garb rarely seen nowadays elsewhere in Morocco.

The surroundings of Essaouira


Argane tree forests

Sometimes wild in forest clearings sometimes grown by individuals, this tree is omnipresent in the region of Essaouira. Some tens of kilometers from the town at a height approaching 1500 meters, stretches a vast mountain plateau, covered with argane tree forests, over hundreds of thousands of hectares.

The Crimson Islands

This archipelago, composed of a lot of tiny islands, protects the bay from the mighty waves of the Atlantic Ocean. These famous islands owe their name to the manufacture of crimson, which was started by King Juba II, during the first century before the start of Islam. Today, the islands house a sort of nature reserve where numerous species seek refuge. Among these are the very rare Eleanor falcons which come to breed between the months of April and October, before embarking on the long flight to Madagascar. They share the island with hundreds of seagulls, gulls and other species of birds. 

Safi

The city is known to have been in existence since the 11th century. In 1481, the Portuguese built a trading post at the entrance to the port on the Guinean sea route to exchange Moroccan products for gold and Black African slaves. Later, they occupied the whole city, building it up considerably and raising a wall along its seaward side, before being chased away by the Saadians. Today, Safi is one of the capitals of Moroccan pottery and a local museum, housed in a former Portuguese fortress, is dedicated to the potter’s art.

The Marabout of Sidi Kaouki

Tens of kilometers away from Essaouira, this site attracts numerous pilgrims who, following tradition, go to the grave of this saint known for his capacity in healing sterile women (The Moussem takes place during the summer in August). The place offers the visitor the scenery of a wonderful view over an infinite beach pounded by the wind. This area is much sought after by enthusiasts of windsurfing.


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