While most visitors head for the mayhem of Marrakech, or the rather charmlful sun-and-sea resort town of Agadir. A day trip to Essaouira offers something in between. The stalls and souks might not match up to those found in the previously mentioned cities, but there’s plenty to peruse and it’s possible to do so without being harangued at every turn.
And while its beach is too windswept, the town itself – a warren of whitewashed houses and crumbling, honey coloured fortifications has retained the sort of character that lured rock stars like Jimi Hendrix here in the Sixties.
If the breeze is blowing, take advantage with a wind- or kite-surfing lesson; the city is a beach-sports paradise.
Essaouira Mogador, home of the gnawa music and crossroads of portuguese, french and berber achitecture
The city slowly comes to life in the morning as stallholders meticulously arrange their stock of fezes, handbags and artwork. Catch a glimpse of the skilled local woodworkers (the industry has thrived here for hundreds of years), then pick up a hand-carved box for next to nothing. if you follow the wall, passing through a pretty gateway, and take the slope on the right into the ramparts. The view north from the old bastion, as the morning light hits the town’s whitewashed walls, is breathtaking.
Admire the collection of 18th and 19th-century cannons (cover picture) – and the Banksy-style artwork at the end of the path.
If you go east, picking your way through the maze of streets. By now, any vendor worth his salt will have opened their stall, and you’ll find everything from ornate swords to bizarre musical instruments and artwork of varying quality. Gentlemen should consider a traditional shave at one of the tiny barber shops; the silence inside, broken only by the sound of your own gulps as the razor passes inches from your jugular, makes for a memorable break from the bustle. Pause for a traditional Moroccan coffee (thick and strong) at any café with an empty table in the sun.
All roads south will take you to the photogenic port , where weather-beaten men mend their vessels, buckets of fish are tossed ashore for the highest bidder, and seagulls swoop to steal whatever morsels they can. One can easily spend hours here watching the drama unfold – remember to ask before taking anyone’s picture.
Between the port and Place Moulay Hassan lie a dozen or so wooden shacks, each with tables outside. Head to any, and for around £3 you’ll get a pile of salad, bread and the freshest fish available.
If it’s not too windy, take a towel to the beach and find a mixture of tourists, local families and grinning entrepreneurs hawking hash cakes. Birdwatchers should consider packing a pair of binoculars – the island of Mogador, off the coast, is a nature reserve that is home to the Eleonora’s falcon.
Head back to the medina for a final browse, or to test the resolve of the shopkeeper who wouldn’t budge on his “final” price earlier. Keep the wolves from the door with an ice cream at Dolce Freddo (Place Moulay Hassan), or take in the artwork at the Galerie Damgaard (Avenue Oqba lbn Nafiaa).
Go to Taros (taroscafe.com) on the Place Moulay Hassan. The open-air rooftop restaurant is on several levels, and is a picture after dark – all twinkling lights and medina views. The food is excellent, and features lots of locally caught fish, including a papillote of sea bream, ratatouille and crab and spinach gratin. It’s also one of the only venues where you can get a drink.