A former fishing village in the touristy region of Marrakech-Safi, Essaouira is now a booming tourist destination. It even enticed the production crew of Game of Thrones to film several episodes here. Rich in history, culture and music, Essaouira boasts a range of relaxing and enjoyable things to do and see. Here’s our pick.
The ramparts of Essaouira were built in 1760 by by a French military architect, Theodore Cornut, to protect the port from raiders. They are beautiful and imposing pieces of historic architecture that give the city real ambience, with the medina encased within their walls. For less than $2 (£1.60), you can explore their rich history, with cannons still intact, and also take advantage of the fabulous sea views.
Il Mare restaurant, café and bar is renowned for its live music as well as great local dishes. From its funky terraces you get fantastic views of the ramparts. Not only do visitors flock here for the ideal location and ambience, they’re also lured in by the chance to sip champagne while watching sunset at the sophisticated piano bar.
Annual music festival
Essaouira hosts the yearly Gnaoua World Music Festival, so if you can plan your visit to coincide, you’ll be in for a treat. The music festival serves as a platform for the music by the Gnawa, who originated from the Ghanaian empire of Ouagadougou. The festival, which is held in June each year, sees jazz, pop, rock and world music performers entertain up to 500,000 guests over the course of four days. With many of the performances free to visitors, it comes highly recommended.
Visit an argan oil cooperative
The argan tree is native to Morocco and there are an awful lot of places wher you’ll find argan oil and argan products. In Essaouira, you can visit an argan oil cooperative, where you can witness the products that are so important to Morocco being made. In rooms adorned with argan trees, women use ancient tools to hand press oil from the kernels and complete the elaborate process of creating argan cream. It is indeed more expensive to buy the argan products from here, but it’s definitely worth seeing the process first hand in what is something like an open air museum.
Essaouira’s beaches are prime locations for windsurfing and kitesurfing among other watersports because of the strong winds all year round, but especially in summer. There are plenty of surf shops and surfing schools, as well as windsurfing schools in Essaouira that are great for beginners. It’s a fantastic alternative activity away from the big touristy cities.
If watersports aren’t your thing, Essaouira’s beautiful coastline is also great for horse riding, where you can gallop through the waves and over the dunes. These adventures cater for beginners too, offering tutorials and lots of support for those who have never ridden. With adventures varying from one hour long to a few days of horseback riding, there’s a package to suit anyone and is definitely a worthwhile experience.
Sidi Mohamed Ben Abdellah Museum
Essaouira’s Sidi Mohamed Ben Abdellah Museum was named after the founder of the city, and is housed in a 19th-century former riad. Displaying historical artefacts, from ancient pottery to jewellery, it pays homage to the city’s rich history. Visitors can appreciate not only the beautiful architecture of the building in which it is located, but the sheer range of items inside that retain much of their original features. There’s also a lot to be learnt about the Berber culture, with information about their rituals and traditions.
Fishing market and port
Since Essaouira was Morocco’s main fishing port in the mid-1900s, the fishing port and market offer an authentic setting that makes for a truly peaceful afternoon. Masses of small boats form an almost unending wave of bright blue along the harbour. With fishing such an important trade in Essaouira, it’s no surprise you can enjoy catch of the day freshly cooked in numerous restaurants here.
Essaouira’s traditional souk, with its labyrinthine alleyways, is an assault on the senses, with amazing sights and smells. Selling traditional clothes, tapestries, pottery and even food, the market is also a treasure trove for souvenirs, and it offers one of the most authentic cultural experiences in Morocco.
Had Dra is a former slave market, but today it’s where all the farmers come to trade their livestock and vegetables. If you’re in Essaouira on a Sunday, take a short bus or taxi ride here to experience a market that’s steeped in history. Although it’s not your typical tourist destination, it is a great insight into typical Moroccan life.
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