Prior to arriving in Morocco a month sounded like plenty of time, a time that was unfortunately already cut in half. Being alone for the first two weeks I only got to spend time in the populated Marrakesh and Fes areas so when Andrea arrived it was time to spread our wings and head to the beach and the mountains. Essaouira sits a little north of Agadir and three hours west of Marrakesh on the Atlantic Ocean, a popular kite boarding destination that came highly recommended as a worthy destination. The weather forecast looked perfect, there seemed like ample beach walking possibilities, and getting there was an easy three hour bus ride. We were set; welcome to Morocco Andrea!
The CTM bus from Marrakesh departed punctually at 8.45am, the other daily departure at 12.30pm being too late in the day for us, and was pulling up outside their Essaouira office on schedule. Upon arrival we had been told to pay no more than 10 Dirham for ourselves and luggage for the taxi ride to the old city medina, a price that was certainly not the first amount that came out of the drivers mouth. Realising that we would actually walk the drivers price soon matched ours, very much unlike negotiations with taxis in Marrakesh.
As expected our French owned accommodation was bang in the middle of the small old town, a quaint little place with super friendly owners who provided us with plenty of useful information. We only had 3 days which sounded like it would be enough – that is unless we decide to take up kite boarding which is very popular here. We had already scouted out rooftop bars for sunset, the fishing harbour and where to buy the best fish lunches.
Approaching the midpoint of Andrea’s workday in the US it was time to hit one of those 4th storey terraces, devour some nibbles and refreshments, and hope for a dramatic coastal sunset.
With its long appealing beach we set off for a morning walk, heading out through the harbour towards nowhere in particular. This is what we’ve become accustomed to as we wander, often aimlessly, whilst trying to discover what makes a place tick, what is around the next corner, and how good will that Moroccan cappuccino taste!
The pristine beach continued far further than we fancied walking, so after passing the horse farm Ranch de Diabat we scrambled through the dunes to end up in the small town of Diabat. Why all the Hendrix artwork on the buildings we thought? Well, turns out that he never made music there, never stayed in any of the towns accommodation, in fact never even visited – probably made for another stop on the hippy trail though! The town wasn’t up to much, its dusty streets popular with stray dogs and goats, its cafes not quite appealing enough to draw us in for lunch. By the time we arrived back at the beginning of Essaouira’s Plage Tagharte what had earlier been completely quiet was now awash with camels, horses and quad bikes – we preferred it earlier in the day. One of the beach front cafes did have enough of an appeal for us to stop in for tea and coffee, its placement perfect for watching the comings and goings of too many touts and too few tourists.
For us the old part of Essaouira was what our visit was all about, its UNESCO World Heritage medina full of alleyways, tourist shops, quaint restaurants and endless photography opportunities. Inside the huge city walls it was hard to get lost; a couple of lefts, a couple of rights and we were already in the main Moulay Hassan square – this was home to cafes, bars and early evening musicians and other street artists trying to extract a few Dirhams from passersby. For our personal city discovery walk it led along a seawall where it seemed as if everyone gathered in anticipation of an epic sunset, soon taking us through the Bab el Marsa gate and out into the picturesque fishing harbour with its Skala du Port ramparts. It was here that I was to spend a lot of time here trying to capture images of the people, cats and boats at different times of the day. The small blue painted fishing boats bobbing in the water set against the stone walls of the Borj el Barmil fortress tower was an amazing sight each and every visit.
Essaouira, known as Mogador until 1956, was the most important trading port between Europe, Africa and the Americas – eventually overtaken by Casablanca to the north and Agadir in the south. This old port of Morocco is now used for fishing and boat maintenance. Our walk continued back into the medina through Bab Al Manjana, or “Porte Royale” gate and its newly renovated square clocktower. Once inside it was time to discover the local souks and see if we could find our accommodation recommended fish cafe.
With help from our host we eagerly picked up some exceptional local goats cheese for lunches, argan oil and a set of dice carved from a thuya tree for playing yahtzee. We had seen the oil vendors in Marrakesh but for some reason hadn’t made a purchase, instead buying two bottles of the nutty tasting food dressing in the town where its supposedly of a finer quality – we were also introduced to amlou, a nut butter made from argan oil, honey and almonds, all of which are local to the area. Incidentally, both of these products are extremely tasty; just hoping we can get hold of them outside of Morocco!
Although we found the fish cafe tucked away in a small courtyard next to the covered fish market we never did use their services – clearly popular with both locals and foreigners the thing to do was buy the fish of your choice from one of the vendors, take it across the alleyway to one of a number of small cafes, where they will cook it to perfection and serve with a garnish. Somehow we always had the stuff to make our own lunches. Don’t do what we did, go do it like a local!
A perfectly good justification for prepping our own lunches was that we ate out every night, a couple of times at highly recommended restaurants and once at a trendy burger house called Mactoob. Triskala Cafe was the place to be for an intimate night hidden away in one of its nook and crannies, dining on a variety of vegetarian and vegan dishes cooked with organic, local and seasonal products. Then finally Restaurant Adwak, our top choice for price, staff and excellent Moroccan food – we arrived 5-10 minutes prior to opening and within minutes it was full. Obviously we weren’t the only people who heard of its reputation.
For us, even with Andrea working each day from mid afternoon, the three day visit was enough, and anyway we were itching to get into the Atlas mountains too! The medina was small enough to wander its narrow streets in a day, we had done our buying, eaten well, wandered along the beach, so then what? Hoping for that sunset, the one where the sky explodes with colour – well we were in the right place for sure. Luckily on our final night we got it, a pretty amazing sight with the only problem being getting from point A to B to C to capture the best of it. There was a lot of running about before making it back to the sea wall at Moulay Hassan square, the end of day lighting sitting pretty over the Atlantic Ocean and Borj el Barmil fort.
CTM bus from Marrakesh to Essaouira direct, Cost: 150 Dirham pp (approx $15.60)
Triskala Cafe – vegan food, lots of nooks and crannies
Restaurant Adwak – no laster than 7.05pm for dinner!
Carrier: Maroc Telecom, SIM card & Data: 10Gb, Cost: 140 Dirham ($14.50)
Carrier: Maroc Telecom, SIM card & Data: 5Gb, Cost: 80 Dirham ($8.30)
December 17th – December 20th 2019
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