Essaouira is generally acclaimed as one of the most enchanting spots along Morocco's Atlantic coast
It enjoys this status because of a unique combination of factors: its sunny and temperate climate which hardly varies from one month to the next, the generosity and warmth of its inhabitants, its inheritance of treasures both architectural and cultural and, most crucially, the liberal and tolerant atmosphere which so strongly characterises the mood of its streets. Here, fishermen, locals, tourists especially Moroccan and European, merchants, craftsmen, musicians, and artists of all kinds come to share their work, perspectives and amity.
Getting there and getting aboutTop of the page
Essaouira is equidistant from both Marrakech and Agadir International Airports and travel time by car / taxi is just over 2 hours. There are two methods of travelling from these airports: taxi, or bus. Presently the cost of a 'Grand Taxi', which seats five, is 750 dirhams (approx £50.00). There are buses from both cities at approx. 60dhs per person
The following airlines fly directly to Essaouira airport:
Ryanair (from London Luton)
Easyjet (from London Luton)
Ryanair (from Marseilles and Brussels)
Transavia (from Paris)
Royal Air Maroc (from Paris)
Once in Essaouira, most places can be easily reached on foot. The Medina itself can be traversed in about 20 minutes. The nouvelle cité outside the ancient ramparts is somewhat larger, but is also accessible on foot. If however you need motive transport outside of the Medina (which is closed to cars), local petits taxis can be used at a standard cost of 7dh (50p). These are particularly good should you wish to travel to the opposite end of the 6 mile long beach without filling your shoes with sand.
The address of the house is: 10, Rue Tripoli, off Rue Agadir (nearest gate Bab Marrakech).
About EssaouiraTop of the page
Holidays to Essaouira will suit those looking for a fashionable retreat, offering equal parts history, culture and beach life. Essaouira is not only a visually beautiful site, with its stunning Medina set into the sweeping beach, but also a thriving, active city full of culture, history and unique experiences. It is both a place to relax and to engage. As a visitor, you may be there simply for the beautiful weather, scenery, and laid-back atmosphere. But scratch the surface and you will find a bustling city going about its business independently of the tourist trade. In the Medina itself - which is essentially the social hub of the town - the narrow, cobbled streets house a multicoloured assortment of bohemian clothing shops, beauty and spa boutiques, traditional jewellers, stalls selling handmade leather goods, music stores, galleries, pavement cafés and artisan workshops - particularly woodwork. The town is world-famous for hardwood crafts made from the thuya tree. Essaouira has plenty to do if you decide to seek it out, centered largely around the city's wonderful and gregarious people.
Art, music & culture
Essaouria produces much by way of art, music, and culture. It is known as a town of artists, called by its fans 'an eternal cradle of art'. Not only Moroccans but also foreign artists can be seen at work throughout the city, and their work can be purchased (or even just admired) in the city's many art galleries. Some of it is spectacular, some of it odd; but there is a great abundance of styles and mediums and the city's artistic heritage is visible everywhere. This sense of artistry is carried over into some of the city's other famed productions, namely thuya wood and textiles, and the artisans' workshops lining the ramparts could rival any museum for visual spectacle. The city's massively popular Gnoua festival (which happens annually in June) showcases the Berber music of the region, but even away from the festival the city reverberates with sound.
Architecturally, Essaouira is the most developed of Morocco's cities on the Atlantic coast. It possesses a classical European 'Grand Place,' beautifully preserved ramparts and naval fortifications, one of the finest remaining fortified ports in the world, and numerous monuments of historical interest. The medina itself is a UNESCO World Heritage site, recognised as 'an outstanding and well preserved example of a late 18th century European fortified seaport town translated to a North African context.' This melting pot of influences has literally shaped the city's fabric, and continues to inspire its atmosphere, architecture, artwork, cooking - and even the citizens themselves, most of whom are multilingual, welcoming, and fiercely proud of the city's multicultural heritage.
Pace of life
"Everything happens in a distinctly lower gear, and a wonderful air of insouciance prevails. Fish-fed cats snooze in carved Moorish horseshoe archways; graffiti is scratched on medieval doors; glimpses of shady courtyards and dim passageways lure you to yet another mint tea. Contented, cosmopolitan and cool without caring about it, Essaouira is a jaded urbanite's delight" (mrandmrssmith.com).
Essaouira's beach is a spectacular expanse of soft golden sands, which reaches for around 10km along the Atlantic coast. There is a fine range of luxury hotels found on the beachfront boulevards, most of which provide amenities, sun loungers and parasols. The breezy conditions on the beach provide world-class conditions for windsurfing and kiteboarding
Activities & sportsTop of the page
There are plently of activities on offer, both cultural and sporting.
Camel and horse riding:
History of EssaouiraTop of the page
Essaouira's history begins in the 7th century B.C., when the Phoenecians used the Isle of Mogador as a stopover on their sea routes down towards the equator.
Many years later Juba II, the king of Mauritania, established a dye factory here to produce the purple colors much sought after by the wealthy Roman Empire. In the 15th century the Portugese arrived in force, establishing what would become one of the three most important bases in their expanding maritime empire.
Transforming the city
Although the town was occupied for a time by the Saadian sultanate, it was the Alaouite Sultan Sidi Mohammed Ibn Abdallah who, in the 1760s, transformed Essaouira from a regional backwater into an open trading city, attracting merchants, scholars, and foreign populations including numerous Christians and Jews. It was at this time as well that the Sultan entrusted the planning of his new city and its fortifications to French architect Théodore Cornut, who is responsible for much of Essaouira's enduring order and grace.
Essaouira, known then as Mogador, was for centuries a key trading centre between Timbuktu and Europe, overseeing flows of manufactured goods streaming south in exchange for African salt, spices, sugar, feathers and gold. In recent years however the exchanges have been more cultural in nature: in the 1950's Orson Welles famously shot "Othello" on Essaouira's streets and Skala, while in the 1960s and 70s Essaouira would provide inspiration for musicians such as Jimmy Hendrix and Cat Stevens. At that time, innumerable hippy travellers and local residents developed an almost unique relationship that persists to this day, making Essaouira one of the friendliest and most laid-back beach resorts anywhere.
Suggested one-day itineraryTop of the page
Spend the morning perhaps...
- Trawling the medina. Three souk-flanked "avenues" criss-cross Essaouira's grid layout, and are packed with an enormous variety of goods, sights, and sounds. You could happily spend a fortune here, but if you prefer simply to look, the shopkeepers can generally be relied upon to keep hassling to a minimum.
- Venture into the souk for some excellent fresh food (and more shopping, should you prefer!). The spice market, where stalls display colourful pyramids of pimento, cumin and harissa, is supremely photogenic, and prices are generally cheaper than elsewhere.
- Freshly caught langoustines, prawns and sole at one of the open-air fish shacks - an Essaouiran institution - decked out with blue-and-white awnings opposite the port. Prices are based on weight: about £5 buys a salad, bread, water and grilled sole.
In the afternoon, stroll around...
- The cannon-bristling battlements of the northern ramparts, scene of many famous films and a vantage point from which you can enjoy stunning views of the sea and wonderful sunsets.
- Beneath, visit the town's woodworkers. Here, in tiny vaulted caverns below Kasba Scala, skilled woodworking craftsmen toil in their dimly-lit shops to produce intricate marquetry boxes, chessboards, tables and other ornaments from richly-grained Thuya wood (a type of oak which is found in the Essaouira region). Some may simply polish the wood to a glossy finish; others may inlay it with ebony, cedar, lemon-wood, mother-of-pearl and silver in floral or geometric patterns.
Sample a gallery or two...
Essaouira has spawned many talented artists. Try Alliance Franco-Marocaine (9 rue Mohammed Diouri); or Galeries Frederic Damgaard (www.galeriedamgaard.com). Also visit Sidi Mohammed Ben Abdallah Museum, which has has a small but interesting collection of jewellery, costumes, weapons, amazing musical instruments and carpets of the region.
- Take coffee at the Gelateria Dolce Freddo café (Place Moulay Hassan), and snap up delicious pastries from the boys who trail the square with laden trays. Or sample a beer at Chalet de la Plage, which overlooks the beach.
In the evening...
- For a superb view of the city by night, try chilled rooftop club Taros (Place Moulay Hassan, 00212 244 76407, www.taroscafe.com). Comfortable candlelit corners overlook a dance floor, and cocktails cost around £5.
WeatherTop of the page
Average daily temperatures in Essaouira, by month, are as follows:
Temp in C°
- Jan 20
- Feb 20
- Mar 22
- Apr 22
- May 23
- June 26
- July 27
- Aug 27
- Sep 25
- Oct 23
- Nov 22
- Dec 21
Essaouira enjoys sun all year round - on average, 320 days of the year to be precise. The sea temperature is also fairly constant, going from 16°C in January to 20°C in late summer.
Between November and March however, it can get rather nippy at night, particularly if there are clear skies, and between May and September the wind can get quite strong.
View next 5 days Essaouira forecast on BBC Weather:
LinksTop of the page