Saturday, 13 August 2011

Essaouira - The Windy City

Essaouira is everybody's favourite Moroccan town. This is partly because it is half an days drive from Marrakesh and in summer is welcomingly cool with a breeze after the frying pan of the city.For me it is pleasant enough for a day or two and a couple of excellent fish dinners but as I am not a  beach person the attraction palls after a couple of days because it is a way from anywhere else and the wind gets irritating. It has an old town with a walled medina and souk, cheaper and friendlier than Marrakesh and a long sandy beach fronted by upmarket european hotels with swimming pools. It is a seasonal resort like Rhyl and definately is down in winter. However it was February when we first went there and walked into the Sofitel without a booking, got the best 1st floor centre rooms overlooking the beach and experienced the most wonderful sunset from the balcony.
Jimi Hendrix stayed there for a few days in 1970 and hippy wannabees and surfer types still make the pilgrimage and take rooms in the medina. There is an artists' colony and many galleries and vegetarian restaurants but the majority of the people live a little inland in the newtown where are such essentials as Marjane and Kitea but few tourists. The advantage over the medina is that one can use a car and park it.
The height of the Essaouira year is the music festival in July featuring the best of African music,mostly free in the square. The town is full to bursting and as you drive in you are met by young men waving keys, indicating they will rent out a room or roof for latecomers to sleep in. The Sofitel is entirely booked up by the organising committee and artists but booking early does not always guarantee of bagsing a good room - see my review of the Hotel des Iles on TripAdvisor. One of the best spinoffs of the festival  is that there is a quite excellent small record shop selling all my favourite griot artists with a very knowledgeable young proprietor.
The walls next to the sea are quite spectacular and were used by Orson Welles as a set for Othello.You can fish off them and there is a port area with booths selling fried fish and prawns straight off the boat.
More upmarket is the Cafe de Plage, a wooden structure built in the 19C and cantilevered over the beach with spectacular views over the sea which swishes beneath at high water. The food is french cuisine, specialising in seafood, and extremely good - worth the trip up for an overnight from Taroudant.

View from Cafe de Plage, Essaouira

Lunch, Cafe de Plage, Essaouira


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