In researching Essaouira in advance, a lot of images of dark and stormy clouds, and a lot of descriptions of windswept and colder conditions kept recurring. Even the old Portuguese name of the town Mogador brings with it echoes of the most forbidding of Tolkienesque locations.

Yet there didn’t seem to be any other beach destination of scale so readily accessible from Marrakech, and many also spoke of a relaxed town of subtle charms that slowly draws in its visitors. So, having thankfully forgotten my driving licence, and thus avoiding negotiating any traffic in Marrakech, we took the Supratours 9am bus to Essaouira to see if we could be convinced by it.

Essaouira Beach
Essaouira Beach

Far from dark, light is all we found. In weather, in people, in landscape, in the town itself. Perhaps we were fortunate – September and October are by all accounts the most pleasant months to visit. However, winds were no more than light pleasant breezes, the waves on the beach at the centre of the town ranged from non-existent to frolicable (turns out this isn’t a word – it should be!), and the sun shone down uninterrupted for four of our five days there.

The surfers disappointed by such stillness in the water didn’t have far to go with decent waves a little south of the town, along the gorgeous wide beach, just perfect for long walks.

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All day at weekends and from mid-afternoon on weekdays, the beach came alive with locals and tourists alike (in that order) thronging the beach – football games, swimming or just relaxing – as vendors lined the promenade with chickpeas, freshly fried potato chips and more.

Then it was in to the old walled city and the medina. French-inspired cafe culture alongside the daily life of the market, and down back streets to art galleries, local tradesmen, women selling tagines and more. Every moment in it felt a pleasure. This included the views from Skala du Port and from the ramparts out to sea.

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A morning stroll for pastries from a patisserie, and orange juice freshly squeezed from the stands down by the port was a great start to each day, as was watching the activity at the port, as the fishing fleet came and went, as the catch was unloaded and sold, and delivered straight on to the fish grill stands, a must-do experience in Essaouira.

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And then, as if to give a lie to all this talk of brightness, fog descended for 24 hours or so across the town arising from the persistent heat.  It didn’t lessen the charm, giving a new perspective on every aspect of the town’s life.  Port, beach and more were transformed and even enhanced.

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Some strong recommendations from the trip:

Elizir Restaurant – the outstanding meal in a Moroccan trip with plenty of outstanding food.
Beach and Friends – relaxed spot at the south end of the beach for food, sunset and live music.

And some other reading I found helpful if you want to know more:

Maroc-o-Phile
Why Morocco
I Heart My City – Simon’s Essaouira

In short, Essaouira was one of my favourite new destinations in a long time. I look forward to returning to seeing the perspective the wind and wilder weather gives on it. And with flights opening up there all the time, it’s set to be discovered by many, many more.

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