Last year when I visited Morocco a number of people informed me they were taking an excursion to Essaouira. This included two pretty young Norwegian girls in my Riad; they were gushing compliments when they returned, leaving me with a burning desire to visit. On that occasion unfortunately there was not enough time to squeeze it in. I was particularly pleased to receive an invite from the Moroccan Tourism Board and gratefully accepted.
“Casablanca sprung up to replace it”
The city was once the main port of Morocco and was extremely wealthy, but it is now difficult to imagine it as a thriving centre of commerce. The reason for the fall from grace is because the channel was not sufficiently deep enough to cope with modern cargo vessels and Casablanca sprung up to replace it.
The loss to the shipping industry is the gain of the traveller however. Essaouira is now a popular tourist destination and has become a favoured destination for many.
It’s built around the fortified ramparts of the old harbour which still has an active fishing fleet and fish market where locals seek fresh dinner and foreigners seek fresh images. There is also a medina and souk which although obviously catering for tourists still retains an ‘authentic’ charm.
Amidst the spectacle of colour provided by the many vibrant fabrics, aromatic spices and hand-crafted ceramics is the constant blue of the doors and shutters. It is impossible to miss and is intentional, as it is mandatory for homes and businesses to keep them so. Blue is my favourite colour so it made me feel especially comfortable wandering through the ramshackle buildings and workshops which line the narrow streets
“losing the authentic charm of the souks here would be a shame”
Although not necessarily as busy as the medina of Marrakech there are still a number of scooter riders to negotiate and the occasional pothole. Pavements do not exist and some of the streets are merely hardened, uneven sand but it is this raw state of disrepair along with its traditional culture that’s what appeals about the medina. It makes it an adventure and great for exploring.
It is unkempt and hopefully it will remain so, development is of course necessary but outside the old city, losing the authentic charm of the souks here would be a shame.
The nearby fishing port is no less traditional, dozens of blue long-lining boats ride the swell of the incoming surf and larger trawlers line the docks. Fisherman when not selling their daily catch of sardines, dogfish, bass, rays, skates or blue shark at the side of the road are repairing nets and lines for the following day. This scene has probably not changed in centuries.
Essaouira prides itself on its hippy background and the bohemian feel reflected in the bars and restaurants which is eagerly advertised. Fresh seafood is obviously popular but tajines and couscous dishes are widely available whilst savouring a local wine to a backdrop of traditional live Gnawa music.
“Essaouira prides itself on its hippy background”
The wind provides the perfect conditions for surfing with decent rollers but is probably even better suited to kite-surfing which is extremely popular. There are usually dozens of colourful kites in the air and the resort holds a number of competitions including the World Cup event in 2010. There are quad-bikes for rental but those that prefer a more relaxing ride can try some horse riding or even on a camel along the long sandy beach.
There is plenty to offer travellers; so much to experience it is easy to understand why it is many Moroccans favourite city. It certainly left a great impression on me and I look forward to sharing a few more of these with you in future posts.
Whilst I was visiting at the pleasure of the Moroccan Tourism Office the experiences shared here are as always uniquely my own.