Essaouira – some know this as Mogador – has a lot to offer the visitor, and many people leave having fallen in love with the simplicity and uniqueness of this city. It is well known for the Portuguese bastions that dot the coast, and where it was once a pivotal trade point for seafaring shipments, today it’s best known for its windy climate and a great spot to go if you love kite surfing.
If you’re planning a stop here, we encourage you to use your five senses to gain a full sensory experience in Mogador. First though, a preliminary word from Cara about what we mean about dialing up your sensory sensitivity is here.
Start your walk by entering the city via Place Moulay Hassan and take note of what you feel. This giant square is where the yearly Gnawa Festival takes centre stage. During the rest of the year, it’s one of the main entry points to the medina of Essaouira as well as the famous port. The large open space is where you’ll first feel the wind on your face. Depending on the day it could be a strong wind or a light breeze, but chances are – there’s wind!
Walk forward to the cement barrier that runs between the ocean and the city. Here you won’t be able to miss the squawk of seagulls that make up the melody of Essaouira. They are everywhere! If the weather isn’t horrible (just kidding), you’ll likely hear street buskers performing – some are truly impressive musicians, while others are trying their luck at earning a few dirham. We highly recommend taking time to sit down in one of the cafés near Place Moulay Hassan to listen to the musical interludes of these musicians.
Just a short walk down the street with the cafés, you’ll find a great bakery that is known for its fabulous-tasting marzipan treats. Patisserie Driss is an institution in Essaouira, and although it has all sorts of sweet treats on offer their marzipan sweets are something you’re not likely to find in other Moroccan cities. Essaouira at one time was home to one of the largest Jewish populations in Morocco; nearly 50 per cent of the city was Jewish.
Today, that population is virtually gone, but reminders remain. One of those reminders is this marzipan dessert – decorated and designed as fruit, the inside is a rich and creamy marzipan filling. Eating a whole one may be too much, so share with your travel companions or take a bite and save the rest for later.
After getting your bearings with the feel of the wind, the sounds of Essaouira and getting a little something in your stomach, turn to your left and walk towards the port area.
In the Place Moulay Hassan you’ll see an L-shaped row of outdoor restaurants. Walk past these – you might see the bobbing bright blue boats – if so you’re going to the right place.
The port area is a photographer’s dream, but it’s also the hub of the major economic activity of Essaouira, fishing. Your nose will confirm this. You won’t be able to miss the smoky scent of grills, especially around midday. Tasting fresh grilled Souiri (as in “of Essaouria”) seafood is something you shouldn’t miss, but if you decide to eat in the port area do not expect silver-rimmed dinner plates and cloth napkins. Do expect ultra-fresh fish and seafood grilled to order at reasonable prices. A fact that might interest you is Morocco exports nearly 90 per cent of the world’s tinned sardines, and a lot of those sardines – as well as other seafood – come from Essaouira.
With a full stomach, head towards the beach that lies opposite the medina. You can’t miss seeing the kite surfers, swimmers, and beachgoers that dot the sand year-round. An experience we highly recommend is a horse or camel ride on the beach towards the ruins of Dar Sultan Palace. While there’s an urban myth claiming this is the inspiration behind Jimi Hendrix’s “Castles in the Sand,” it is just a myth. The house was built at the end of the 18th century and today it is completely abandoned and mostly reclaimed by the sand. Still it is a really interesting and unique place to view from a close distance. Plus, a slow trot through the sand to soak up the sun and beautiful coastline is an amazing way to take in the essence of Essaouira.
Essaouira is a laid-back, beachy town and really, to be perfectly frank, you could do the activities we outline here without the help of a local guide. This is particularly so given that unlike the rabbit-warren style of other medinas, the medina of Essaouira is grid-like, making it easier for visitors to have their bearings. However, if time was scarce, you were visiting for the first time, perhaps as a solo traveller and you wanted to incorporate these ideas into a more comprehensive tour of the city – including for example, visiting the ramparts where artists sell their artworks (something for which Essaouira is soooo famous) – a local guide might save you some time getting from place to place and also sort out any misunderstandings that might arise. Contact Aussies in Morocco Tours™ to arrange your journey from Marrakech to Essaouira and back, for a nice, trustworthy driver and equally suitable local guide, as well as your accommodation there – be it funky or classic, French-style or Berber or a mix, in the medina or in the countryside surrounding Essaouira. All can be organised by us, as required.
Incidentally the birdsong to which we refer in our heading is in the picturesque countryside surrounding Essaouira where many choose to stay in preference to a medina or beachside location. Let us know where you prefer.
Published February 2021
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