Brightly hued tagines and spices stacked up in the souk
Essaouira is an age-old Morocco, hewn from stone by wind and sea. In homage to the formidable walls of the 18th-century medina that indelibly shaped it, the city’s name means ‘little rampart’.
The city’s narrow streets are lined with whitewashed and blue-shuttered buildings, punctuated by hand-carved wooden doors and mesmerising patterned tiles. Some are locals’ homes, some intriguing little shops or restaurants, and some, traditional hammams, swirling with steam and sweet fragrance.
A sea of bold blue fishing boats in the Essaouira port
In the port, painted boats bob on the breeze – which is tempered a little by the shelter of neighbouring Mogador Island. Fishermen stock local restaurants and the little marina-edge gargottes (food stands), where the day’s catch is served with a hearty hunk of bread.
The historic medina walls enshroud spice-scented souks and bartering vendors, echoing the same bustle of commerce they’ve known for centuries. Colourful bags, slippers, tagines, and wood carvings are all to be haggled for.
Just outside town, the argan oil region flourishes. Hundreds of visitors flock to see its argan trees – and the amusing goats that balance nonchalantly on their gnarled branches.
The infamous, tree-climbing goats of the argan oil region
When to go?
Most people visit Essaouira in spring or autumn, when temperatures are pleasantly warm – roaming around 20 degrees celsius. Summertime brings the huge Gnaoua Festival of World Music (Morocco’s Woodstock) in late June, while swelling winds fill the sails of hundreds of windsurfers between April and November.
Hotel Heure Bleue Palais - Relais & Châteaux
Where to stay?
Hotel Heure Bleue Palais - Relais & Châteaux – Essaouira, Morocco
The luxurious Heure Bleue Palais evokes a feel of old Morocco, with its sumptuous furnishings and beautiful architecture. The hotel has its own bar, hammam and firelit piano lounge – making for an indulgent choice. An outdoor terrace features a heated pool and panoramic views of the ancient medina, with the sea stretching out beyond it.
Le Medina Essaouira Hotel Thalassa sea & spa
Le Medina Essaouira Hotel Thalassa sea & spa – Essaouira, Morocco
Right on the seafront, Le Medina Essaouira is just a five-minute walk from the port. Guests love the hotel’s attention to the little things, from cooling scented towels upon arrival to the French and Moroccan pastries served each afternoon in the tearoom. For pampering, Essaouira’s Thalassotherapy centre is paired with the hotel, offering up a wide range of spa treatments.
Hôtel Emeraude Essaouira
Hôtel Emeraude Essaouira – Essaouira, Morocco
Hôtel Emeraude Essaouira is an 18th-century riad, tucked inside the ancient city walls. The modern day meets the old world here, fusing traditional Moroccan tiling and archwork with quirky contemporary touches. Guest reviews frequently mention the hotel’s homely feel, and the delicious breakfast served daily on the roof terrace.