The coastal city of Essaouira is a sandy canvas splashed with ocean-blue doors and shutters; bold, bright ceramics and rugs; and a rainbow of spices. Whether you want to kick back and relax or lose yourself in the hustle and bustle, look no further than these vibrant accommodation options for the perfect city break.
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 gorgeously soporific feel to this verdant, rambling property, which is tucked away in snoozy splendour just outside Essaouira proper. For adults, that means sundowners and siestas galore; for little ones, the place will have a fantastical quality, courtesy of the fairytale-esque kasbah design of the dusty-pink main building and the vibe of the accommodation (19 bedrooms and 6 suites), with some feeling a little like treehouses and others like the attic den of your childhood dreams. Predictably, then, French-run Jardin des Douars is a hit with families; a kids’ pool is tucked away in one corner of the site, with a much more grown-up arrangement (read: well-stocked bar) at the central pool area. Relaxed and refined evening meals are taken in the tiered botanical garden, tastefully lit and soundtracked; the same space bustles during the more boisterous breakfast buffet. Beyond the Ksob river, which runs alongside the property, low hills bristle with argan trees, some of which provide the oil used in the on-site spa. A regular shuttle bus runs to central Essaouira.
Chill Art was built by travellers for travellers, so you won’t find better backpacker vibes anywhere else. Originally an 18th-century riad, it was bought by a group of young Europeans in the ’70s and became Essaouira’s first hostel. It’s still a favourite with solo globetrotters today, and offers vibrant murals, live-music nights and plenty of communal areas. Share stories over a free Moroccan tea during happy hour, enjoy a healthy dinner together and then grab an instrument to join a late-night jam session. Choose from an eclectic mix of shared dorms and private doubles, or an apartment with private terrace and kitchen if you’d like a little privacy.
Through an Aladdin’s cave of carpets, tucked away off one of the main streets of the medina, you’ll find Hôtel Gnaoua. This riad is one of the many reasonably priced hotels in Essaouira, worth mentioning 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 busy streets below. Just a few steps from the riad you’ll find enough cafés and shops to occupy you for the afternoon. The rooms are decorated with Moroccan art and textiles, with comfy beds to ensure you get a good night’s sleep after a day wandering the medina. It’s great value for money for a private room with bathroom and breakfast included.
Courtesy of Tangaro Hip Hotel and Spa / Hotels.com
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.