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The Atlantic coastal city of Essaouira is a sandy canvas punched with ocean-blue doors and shutters; it is a shopper’s city of bold, bright ceramics and rugs; rainbow spices at every turn in the markets you discover. Whether you want to relax or lose yourself in the thrum, somewhere to stay that’s comfy and easy on the eye is an essential part of the visit. And we know just where to stay in Essaouira.
With a name that means ‘beautifully designed’ in Moroccan Arabic, it’s no wonder that Essaouira has become an artistic hub. Built between wind, sand and sea, the walled city was designed in the 18th century by a French architect for King Mohammed III. Hints of foreign influence can still be seen today in its architecture and burgeoning art scene. Artists were drawn here by the fairytale fortifications, picturesque port and spice-scented streets, where Jimi Hendrix passed by in 1969 and hippies hung out in the 1970s. Nowadays, the city plays host to numerous music festivals and exhibitions.
There’s a fine soporific feel to this verdant, rambling property just outside Essaouira: a retreat made for sundowners and siestas, with a fairytale, kasbah-esque main building as well as quirky bedrooms and suites. Some are gently treehouse-y, others like the attic den of your childhood. French-run Jardin des Douars, sure enough, is a hit with families; there’s a kids’ pool as well as a grown-up alternative with a bar. You dine in the atmospherically lit, tiered botanical garden (it’s more boisterous at breakfast time). Beyond the river running alongside, low hills bristle with argan trees, some providing the oil used in the spa. A regular shuttle bus runs to central Essaouira.
Chill Art, an 18th-century riad, was created by travellers for travellers, so you won’t find better backpacker vibes anywhere in town. Bought by a group of young Europeans in the 1970s, it opened as Essaouira’s first hostel, and is still a favourite among solo wanderers, with its vibrant murals, live-music nights and sociable communal areas. Share stories over free Moroccan tea during happy hour, have (healthy) dinners together and – maybe even – grab an instrument to join a late-night jam session. There’s a mix of shared dorms and private doubles; alternatively, an apartment with private terrace and kitchen, if you’d like a little privacy.
Tucked off one a main street in the medina, accessed via ways busy with carpet vendors, Hôtel Gnaoua is one of many reasonably priced hotels in Essaouira. It deserves flagging up for its central location and excellent free breakfast served on the sunny rooftop terrace. Fill up on eggs, msemen (Moroccan pancake), orange juice and coffee while watching the teeming street trade below. Just a few steps from this riad you’re plunged into a whirl of cafés and shops that’ll keep you captivated for hours. Back at the ranch, relax in bedrooms of Moroccan art and textiles: great value for money for this degree of privacy, with bathroom, and breakfast. The comfy beds guarantee deep sleep after demanding medina wanderings.
Hidden on a quiet hilltop just outside Essaouira, Tangaro is the perfect place for those who want to dip into the city and prioritise chill time. Winding stone paths lead through the calming cactus gardens to several whitewashed cottages, with a central courtyard shaded by a huge eucalyptus tree, where breakfast is served. Plan your day around dips in the pool, naps in the sun, long lunches in the poolside conservatory and watching the sunset from your private terrace. Guests can use the private hammam for free, while massages and yoga classes are available on request at the spa.
You’d be hard-pressed to find a more colourful hotel than Salut Maroc!. It’s located in the heart of the medina, and from the moment you walk through the door of this 18th-century riad, you’ll be wowed by the jaw-dropping clash of colours in a kaleidoscopic fusion of contemporary Moroccan design and traditional Islamic tile patterns, creating psychedelic mosaics from floor to ceiling in every room. The staff are as cheerful as the vibrant surroundings and the terrace restaurant offers a mix of fresh seafood from the market and traditional Moroccan dishes, served with a sea view. Indulge in a rejuvenating hammam treatment followed by a relaxing Moroccan massage and drift off into dreams full of the wildest colours.