Laid-back, coastal Essaouira is often popular for day trips or one-night stopovers when visiting Morocco, though its relaxed atmosphere is often alluring. Now with EasyJet flights from London Luton on Tuesday and Saturdays, filling a few days in Essaouira is not hard to do by heading out to the surrounding countryside, although we completely understand wanting to just wander through Essaouira, sipping coffee in the interesting plazas and shopping at ease. For those who want to see more of the Moroccan countryside, including rolling hills dotted with argan and olive trees and home to little Berber villages, we’ve put together our best day trip recommendations from Essaouira.
If the wind is destroying dreams of beach days in Essaouira, head to nearby Sidi Kaouki where the beach is open and rather untouched. The local surf shops offer lessons and board rentals, while the camels are on-site to provide visitors with another option for wandering along the beach. Don’t expect a range of services; a small café with views over the coast, a couple of local restaurants and basic restrooms are the only facilities available. Getting there is best by car but buses and collective taxis do make the journey.
For a truly local experience, head to the Had Dra Souk on Sundays when locals descend on the small village for their weekly shopping. Expect men selling everything from basketware and straw for livestock, to fresh fruits and vegetables, dates and even carpets, clothes and kitchenwares. Arrive early to witness the livestock auctions, including donkey, sheep, cows and possibly even a camel. Then after shopping, stop to buy some of the locally made biscuits and head in to one of the tents for a mint tea and a truly local experience. Don’t be surprised to see men stopping for a shave under one of the little white tents dotting the field prior to departure.
Just 30 minutes from Essaouira, French winemaker Charles Melia has developed the Val d’Argan winery, an ideal lunch spot. Upon arrival, guests are invited to tour the impressive facilities where three ranges of red, white and rosé wines are produced, in addition to Moroccan gris (a blend between a rosé and white). In the summer months, don’t forget your bathing suit or swimming trunks for a post-lunch dip under the olive trees in the vineyard.
While the restaurant only serves lunch, we included a visit to La Fromagerie as a day trip because we are always tempted to curl up in one of the hammocks following a feast of locally prepared cheeses. The three-course meal is served under the pergola covered in bougainvillea or under the arcades of the traditional buildings. Be sure to save room for the cheese platter served as dessert, including its speciality goat’s cheese and sheep’s cheese and new creation made from camel’s milk.
Less than two hours by bus is the industrial town of Safi, known for the colourful pottery available throughout the souks as well as fresh sardines. While the sights and certainly the beach here are not as interesting as other stops, a visit to Safi and wander through the medina affords the opportunity to witness local life. With the help of a guidebook, sites like the Portuguese cathedral and Kechla fortress provide insight in to the days when the Portuguese occupied the city.
If lying on the beach isn’t possible, head to Jardins by Villa Maroc, located about 20 minutes outside of Essaouira on the Route de Marrakech. Spend the day lying beneath the olive trees in between dips in the pool heated by argan shells. The Ottolenghi-inspired lunch is served either on the terrace or inside the hip and colourful salon, perfect for escaping when the sun gets to be too much! Given the location in the countryside, the area is always considerably warmer than seaside Essaouira.