Escape from everywhere in Essaouira

Published: November 3rd 2019
Edit Blog Post

The mind is free and the slightest thought has great influence ~ Moroccan Proverb

Today we were travelling northwest from Taroudannt to Essaouira (via Agadir).

After a whistle-stop visit to Taroudannt (where we explored the town’s red-mud walls ramparts and crowd-free souqs), we jumped into our minibus and headed to Agadir on the Atlantic coast. We were taking the scenic coastal route to Essaouira.

We drove past endless oranges groves and banana plantations (many of which were under cover) on the way to Agadir. Nearly 40% of Moroccans are employed in agriculture, and this was very apparent as we gazed out the window at the Sous Valley’s changing terrain. We also drove past endless argan trees and witnessed the Moroccan phenomenon of goats in trees. Goats love to eat the outside flesh of the argan nut, and they’re so smitten with the taste that they climb the trees and balance on the branches to munch on the nutty delicacies. To say we were captivated by these scenes would be a huge understatement…

After a number of semi-successful attempts to photograph goats in trees, we jumped back into our minibus and sped off towards Agadir, Morocco’s seventh largest city. Agadir is a new city, which is very rare in Morocco. The coastal metropolis was rebuilt from the ground up following a shocking earthquake in 1960, so there is no medina (old city). This was our first visit to Agadir, and we would be returning a few more times over the next ten days.

We dropped into a local supermarket (Marjane) and picked up some savoury pastries (seafood, beef and chicken pastilla) for a picnic lunch, then drove to a small beach on the Atlantic coast and settled on some rocks. While the picnic location was nice enough and the overall experience was enjoyable, our pastry selection had been less than successful. The seafood and beef pastries were ordinary and not worth writing home about, and the chicken pastilla was beyond bad – it was simply inedible!

We wandered the wind-blown shoreline (being careful to avoid the camel and donkey touts) before clambering off the beach, piling into the minibus and heading north. We hugged the Atlantic coast for a while as we sped towards Essaouira, and I gazed out at a few great surf breaks along the way.

Just before arriving in Essaouira we had a scheduled stop at the Marjana Cooperative – a women’s cooperative that makes and sells argan nut products such as soaps, skin creams, shampoos and oils. To be honest, I didn’t enjoy this visit. The women removing the outer shells and cracking the argan nuts seemed to be bored (understandably so), and they appeared to be laughing among themselves at the throngs of tourists walking through their work environment (once again, understandably so). I felt like a nuisance in another person’s house, and I couldn’t wait to get out. However, before I could escape I had to endure a rote-learned sales spiel in the gift shop (a common theme in Morocco). The argan products were not for me – very hippie and very expensive – so I slipped out as soon as I could and admired the view from the carpark.

The minibus awaited! It was time to continue our journey to Essaouira. We passed dry coastal hills that were very sandy and prone to weather damage. Larger hills blocked the eastern horizon as we gazed inland, while the Atlantic Ocean stretched to the shimmering western horizon – where the sky met the sea. The coastline was stunning, and I was mesmerised by the stark contrast of dry sandy soil against the azure blue of the ocean. This was also the start of the Atlas Mountains, which span the width of Morocco and continue into Algeria.

We eventually arrived in the old coastal city of Essaouira in the late afternoon. We jumped out of the minibus and wandered the spacious and lively Avenue Oqba Ibn Nafiaa to our riad (Chakir Mogador), which was conveniently located in the heart of the medina. Essaouira appeared to be a very touristic destination – we hadn’t seen this many tourists since arriving in Morocco, not even in Marrakesh! The place felt a bit seedy, but this may have been a misinformed first impression. I decided to reserve my judgement and wait to see how I felt after a few hours of wandering. Luckily, I was way off the mark. The coastal city is fabulous. 😊

We dropped our packs in our tiny, tiny, tiny room (with the smallest conceivable toilet/bathroom) and headed out to watch the sunset from the Skala de la Ville, an impressive bastion protecting the city from the churning Atlantic Ocean. Unfortunately, old mate at the gate wouldn’t let us through, because the gates are meant to close at 7:30pm and we’d turned up at 8pm. Luckily for us, our guide got on well with all the local restauranteurs, so he took us to the rooftop terrace of a nearby French restaurant which offered a perfect vantage point for an Atlantic sunset. This packed eatery was very upmarket, and I was surprised we were allowed to tramp through its numerous levels without even looking at the menu or buying a drink.

After the sun disappeared below the horizon, we walked to a local seafood restaurant – not quite as upmarket as the French eatery we’d just left – and settled at a large table. Two young Gnaoua guys were sitting at one end of a long narrow room, and they were performing traditional gnaoua music. One was playing a gimbri (a three-stringed lute), while the other was playing a qraqeb (a set of metallic castanets). The rhythms they were creating were incredible, especially the guy on the gimbri. His head movements were equally impressive – continually spinning a tassel attached to the top of his Fez-like cap. The singing and dancing of his qraqeb-playing companion wasn’t quite to the same standard, but they were entertaining all the same.

We were in a seafood restaurant on the Atlantic coast, so Ren opted for the squid tagine. Despite the tempting marine theme, I couldn’t resist the goat tagine, because I hadn’t seen it on any menu in our Moroccan travels to-date. Both tagines were fantastic! For hydration, Ren tried a Berber tea (the first we’d sampled) while I ordered a Royal tea (once again, the first we’d sampled). Ren wasn’t a fan of either, but I loved both, so I enjoyed their distinctive flavour as we listened to the inconsistent but exciting rhythms created by our two young musicians.

It was getting late, and we had a few work-related issues to address, so we headed back through the medina’s narrow lanes to our riad around 11pm. We had picked up some natural cough syrup from a pharmacy in Taroudannt earlier in the day, so we decided to try it out – and luckily it worked well for us both! After sending a number of work emails, I eventually crashed at 1am.

We woke early (6am) and caught up on our travel writing before making our way down to the riad’s intimate breakfast area at 8am. We helped ourselves to orange juice, mint tea, msemen (flaky Moroccan flatbread), baguettes and jam – a simple but effective start to the day. Feeling nourished, we headed out on an orientation walk of the old city and its fortifications. We visited the bustling sea port with its swirling seagulls and stringent fish odour, marvelled at the Skala de la Ville (which we’d unsuccessfully tried to visit the previous night) and wandered the narrow lanes of the medina. This was an impressive place… I was really starting to warm to Essaouira. 😊

Our local guide had a very Muslim-centric view of the world, which she was keen to share with us. Apparently, all Muslims go out of their way to avoid displaying wealth to others. For example, they put the most expensive grocery items in the bottom of their shopping bag, and the least expensive on top, so as not to display wealth. They build houses that show no signs of wealth on the outside, so as not to display wealth. I have to admit I wasn’t convinced. Regardless of one’s faith, there is a personality trait that flaunts success, and Muslims are as adept in the practice as the rest of us.

Our local guide was getting on my nerves. It’s okay to be proud of your nationality and faith, but it’s not okay to allow this pride to manifest itself in superior and smug undertones. What REALLY got on my nerves was her blatant and excruciating attempt to secure an expensive bracelet (as a tip) at the end of the tour – after lecturing us on the wickedness of wealthy exhibitionism!

However, I’m completely off topic. Our guide gave us a good overview of her life (and life in general) in Essaouira, and for that I was grateful. We ended the orientation walk in an artisan jewellery store (surprise surprise) which was just off Orson Welles Place – apparently the opening scene of his 1951 film Othello included footage of waves crashing into the medina walls . Ren had always planned to pick up some silver jewellery in Essaouira, and she found a fantastic ring that suited her perfectly.

Having secured the ring and regained my composure, we made our way to nearby Moulay Hassan Place, the main square overlooking Essaouira’s sea port. This was the ideal place to relax and people-watch, so we settled at a table outside one of the cafes (Dolcefreddo) and ordered the most amazing hot chocolate I’ve ever tasted. It was so thick and gooey, my spoon stood straight in the cup without any assistance!

Feeling suitably refreshed and rejuvenated, we wandered down to the sea port, stopping every now and again to watch fisherman going about their daily business, before heading back into the bustling narrow lanes of the medina, where Ren picked up some earrings at a tiny silver shop. We also picked up two Tinariwen CDs (a group of Berber musicians from the Southern Sahara). We first heard of the group in Tangier, when we asked our guide and driver if they could recommend any Moroccan music we should listen out for. They both suggested Tinariwen. We then heard the inimitable music on our 4WD journey into the Sahara Desert, and we absolutely fell in love with it.

The first CD was titled Imidiwan: Companions. We bought this at a musical instrument shop that was right beside the laundrette we were using in the medina (we’d dropped our clothes earlier in the day). The young guy running the shop only had three Tinariwen CDs, so we opted for the one with the best cover design. The second CD was titled Aman Iman. We bought this at a tiny CD shop called Music Mogador on the advice of the owner. He convinced us it was their best work, and we weren’t disappointed.

We made our way back to the riad, dropped our purchases in our room and headed out for lunch to Loft, a tiny retro eatery not far from where we were staying. This place was very small and intimate. There was only five tables, and the service was very friendly. The kitchen had closed (it was 3pm), but they made an exception for us. I ordered the lamb tagine with pears and walnuts, while Ren had the lamb couscous. The food was, quite simply, sensational. For a start, the plating was modern. My tagine didn’t arrive in a tagine – it was deconstructed on my plate. The rice on the side was mixed with sultanas and nuts, and the prunes gave the dish a delicious sweetness. We started with orange, carrot and ginger juice, and they also placed freshly made (in-house) bread on the table with two olive tapenades. I absolutely loved this place. It was modern Moroccan, and possibly the best meal I’d tasted since arriving in the country.

Feeling completely sated, we rolled out of the friendly Loft and made our way to Moulay Hassan Place, picking up some postage stamps on the way. We settled at an outside table overlooking the square at our favourite cafe (Dolcefreddo) and relaxed in the sun with mint tea (me) and hot chocolate (Ren). I wrote a few postcards, which we posted on our way back to the riad.

Ren had started to feel a little under the weather, as she’d picked up the head cold I’d been carrying since Chefchaouen. As soon as we got back to the riad she climbed into bed and slept into the late afternoon and evening. I used the time to catch up on my travel writing. I ducked out to pick up the laundry at 8pm, and there was a little Moroccan kid – no more than five or six years old – playing alone with a soccer ball in the lane outside the riad. I’m fairly sure he lived in the lane, because every so often he’d rush into one of the laneway doors and then rush back out again. I motioned to him to kick the ball, and his face lit up like a Christmas tree. We ended up kicking the ball to each other for about twenty minutes, and he laughed loudly whenever either of us headed the ball. A few locals walked passed and frowned – maybe they didn’t like soccer being played in such a narrow lane (the young bloke did nearly hit one of them with a wayward kick). I eventually motioned to him that I had to go, and he just smiled and waved. On my way back with the laundry, he was walking down the lane with his father, and he smiled and waved again. He was such a happy kid.

Ren was sleeping when I returned. This was the first day I’d almost felt back normal, but it was also the first day Ren had started to feel the impact of her head cold. I organised the laundry, caught up on my travel writing and eventually retired at 11pm. I’d pulled a muscle in my leg when I was playing soccer with the kid, and we were travelling back to Marrakesh by public bus the following afternoon, so I thought I’d take it easy.

We woke early to the call to prayer. It was still dark outside (sunrise wasn’t until 7am), so we used the time to prepare for our return travel to Marrakesh. We made our way downstairs to the riad’s breakfast area at 8am and helped ourselves to orange juice, mint tea, msemen (flaky Moroccan flatbread), baguettes, jam and chocolate croissants. It wasn’t an overly exciting breakfast, but it was okay.

Feeling refreshed, we headed out into the medina. We wanted to venture further into areas of the old city we hadn’t yet explored. On wandering through the Jewish Mellah, we were taken aback by some of the derelict dwellings along the medina’s western wall. The living conditions here were so incredibly harsh, yet it was only a block or so away from Essaouira’s picturesque lanes, palm lined avenues, art galleries and boutique jewellery shops…

We left the western wall and wandered to the eastern side of the old city. The lanes and shops were grittier and there were less tourists – which made this part of the medina far more appealing to me. We walked past an old man working in the street-front room of a small dwelling. I was immediately taken by a machine in the far corner of the room, with threads stretching diagonally across to where the old man was sitting. I could tell he was a tailor, but I had no idea what he was doing. A local man was chatting to him through the doorway, but when the old tailor realised we were intrigued by his threading machine, he waved the guy on (despite our apologies for disrupting their conversation).

He smiled and began talking in French, but when Ren told him we didn’t understand, he shifted to English. He explained that he was embroidering a djellaba (traditional long hooded robe), and that the machine was powered and driven by a foot switch. The machine was separating five different threads, and I felt sure he’d made it himself. He was a beautiful old man. When we told him we were Australian (he asked), he started talking about the Commonwealth – he even mentioned the Falkland Islands! He shook our hand and told us that he had three children. He wished us both a happy life, which he demonstrated by clasping both his hands together – each hand symbolising us both as individuals. I was touched by his genuine care for us. He had such a small house and such a demanding occupation, yet he was so accepting of everything and everyone around him. I doubt he had a judgmental bone in his body.

We wandered back to our favourite cafe (Dolcefreddo) in Moulay Hassan Place and sipped mint tea and hot chocolate as the tiny world of Essaouira drifted by in front of us – tourists walking aimlessly, touts selling whatever they could to make a living, fishermen making their way to the port. A young busker started singing and playing guitar just off to the right of our cafe, and he was great – so much better than the local buskers the day before. He even covered Riptide by Vance Joy. It’s rare for me to enjoy covers, but he did such a good job of making them his own – even Jeff Buckley’s version of Halleluiah. We absolutely had to drop some change into his guitar case. 😊

Unfortunately, our time in Essaouira had come to an end. I loved this place, and I could easily return. Just to sit in Moulay Hassan Place and sip mint tea for a couple of days. To hear the churning Atlantic crash against the medina walls. To eat deconstructed tagines. To browse music shops. To wander. To laugh. To relax.

We made our way back to the riad, dragged our packs down to the cramped lobby and waited. We were catching a public bus to Marrakesh in the mid-afternoon, and we needed to allow time to get to the bus stop.

Today we were travelling from Taroudannt to Essaouira, via Agadir, by minibus.

After exploring the Taroudannt souq (market), we hopped back in our minibus and started driving towards the Atlantic coast. Our final destination was Essaouira (pronounced Essa–weera), but we were easing the long trip with a lunch stop in Agadir.

We were still in the fertile Sous Valley, and it was very apparent. This area was very visibly the fruit bowl of the country… or more to the point, the orange and olive bowl. We also saw more plains and hills filled with argan trees, as we had the day before. We saw more goats climbing the argan trees and stopped to observe them. It really was fascinating watching those determined little creatures trying to reach the highest branches to reach the best fruit. Our ‘observation’ of the goats turned into ‘stalking’ at one point and we had to apologise to the shepherd for the behaviour of a couple of people in the group who not only got too close to the goats and spooked them, but also split the herd in two by doing so. Khalid (our group leader) thanked (and tipped) the old shepherd for his patience with us.

I was clearly still a bit tired from the Sahara jaunt, as I found I was asleep for most of this trip and only woke as we approached Agadir on the southern Atlantic coast. Far on a hill we could see an old wall structure, and Khalid explained to us that in 1960 Agadir had been flattened by the largest earthquake in Morocco, and the white city we now saw was entirely built post-earthquake. The only part of the old city left was that old part of the kasbah on the hill. Agadir was now a major port and tourist hub, and it was also unique in terms of being a city with a Berber speaking majority.

We were going to have a beach picnic lunch, so we stopped at the huge Marjane Supermarket for picnic items. With so much choice, we were at a slight loss as to what to get, but ended up settling for a selection of briouats (filo pastry parcels with meat fillings). I couldn’t resist trying some new ice cream flavours too… the cafe nous nous (coffee) and date flavours were outstanding, but the pistachio one was pretty poor – I’m certain it was vanilla ice cream with green colouring! 😞

We drove to a nearby beach and camped on some rocks for our beach picnic. The briouats turned out to be a mixed bag – the beef was good, the chicken was ok and the seafood was awful. The curved beach was nice enough, and the sun was lovely, but it was the antics of the guys trying to persuade tourists to buy horse rides that entertained me the most. Two muscly topless guys would gallop their horses at high speed along the beach and then trot back to see who they had impressed. There was also an old man with a muzzled camel and tiny pony in tow, trying to drum up ride business.

The drive to Essaouira after lunch was along a scenic windy road. We had sandy coastal hills with low lying shrubbery on one side, and the Atlantic lapping on the other side of us. As we climbed higher into the hills the narrow road cut through sandstone passes. I was very glad there wasn’t much traffic on the road, as there wasn’t a lot of room for overtaking… but that didn’t stop drivers from doing so!

After a brief toilet and ice cream stop at a roadside service station (where I had a memorable chocolate and coconut ice cream!), we continued onto an argan oil cooperative. The Marjana Cooperative employs disadvantaged local women as part of a socioeconomic program to aid rural women.

We were shown to a room where the women were sitting on the floor with large baskets of unshelled nuts, and using two rocks to break the shell and expose the kernel – very fiddly and tedious work. The kernel is then separated into two and another women was using a traditional circular stone hand mill to grind the kernels and separate the oil. The gift shop contained all manner of cosmetic and edible argan products, and even though I know people who swear by argan oil for their hair and skin, I just couldn’t get interested in the products. And to be honest, I was more interested in the little puppy tied up at his little kennel at the front gate.

By the time we finished at the cooperative, it had started raining quite heavily. I wasn’t at all thrilled about this! Our trip in the north had been plagued by rain, and I wanted sunshine for our coastal adventure.

Our hotel in Essaouira was inside the UNESCO World Heritage medina, so we had to exit our minibus at the main square – Place Orson Welles – just outside the city walls. We were also saying a sad goodbye to our driver Lahssan at this point. He had been an amazing driver and caretaker of the group, and we had loved having him with us for this section of the trip.

Our luggage was loaded into carts and taken directly to our hotel, while Khalid took us on a scenic route which doubled as a brief orientation walk. He explained the main layout of the old city and the orientation of its many gates which would help us navigate to our hotel.

After a week of experiencing isolated mountains villages, dusty outpost towns and the intense quiet of the Sahara… the noise and bustle of Essaouira was a bit of a shock to my system. We hadn’t seen this sort of tourism since the Marrakesh medina. But despite the crowds and the rain, I had a nice feeling about the city of Essaouira straightaway. It had the atmosphere of a salty old port town mixed with an easy contemporary vibe.

Our riad (a traditional Moroccan home) was deep in the medina, down a tiny lane off a busy medina street. It was just inside one of the many city gates and the tall minaret of the nearby Ben Youssef Mosque also made navigating to it easier. Riad Chakir Mogador was a rambling combination of three traditional riads, all with a central courtyard and the rooms rising around them. We were in the third one along, with windows over a little lane. The room had traditional decor and was comfortable enough, but the bathroom was super tiny!

After we settled in, we realised that the rain was holding off so we walked through the medina to the 18th century Skala de la Kasbah (also called the Skala de la Ville) sea wall to see the sunset. It was just before 8pm and the Bab Ljhad gate to the ramparts was being closed, and no amount of ‘negotiating’ with the guard helped. So Khalid took us to the rooftop of a nearby restaurant he knew, which offered a great vantage point! We were very lucky that the rain held off and we witnessed a gorgeous sunset over the Atlantic Ocean. We considered having dinner at the restaurant whose balcony we’d commandeered, but Khalid suggested that this was probably a better lunch venue (for the view) and he was right.

So we walked along the Skala further into the medina and had dinner at Restaurant des Reves. We were in a small upstairs room with another group and two musicians playing gnaoua music (unique to Morocco, with roots in ancient African sub-Saharan Islamic spiritual music). The meals took ages, but my squid tagine and Andrews’s goat tagine were both excellent. I had been hanging out to have seafood tagines, and it certainly didn’t disappoint! Sadly I couldn’t say the same about the grassy tasting Berber tea I tried… but Andrew loved it, so it might just be me. The musicians put on a dancing show of sorts which was quite acrobatic and entertaining.

Essaouira is an ancient city (once called Mogador), and has been stomped through by the Phoenicians, Romans and Portuguese. It was an advantageous port city, and was also fought over by the Spanish, English, Dutch and French at various times. The city as we see it now was mostly built in the 18th century, when the King decided to invest in a port that could export the goods from the sub-Saharan caravan trade to Europe.

I mentioned that I had taken an instant liking to the relaxed vibe in the city, and I think that easy atmosphere may partly stem from the fact that this city has had a mixed and transient population throughout its history. It once held a large Jewish population, and it’s also the home of the Gnaoua people who are descendants of West and Central Africans who were brought to Morocco as slaves. In the recent past Essaouira was a haven for hippie expats in the 1960s and 70s, and now seems to attract a stream of surfers – along with arty and yoga types – to the city.

I went to bed tired but excited at exploring Essaouira over the next couple of days. Breakfast at our riad was basic with chocolate croissants, baguettes, msemen (flaky Moroccan flatbread), butter, honey and jams. Basic but adequate, and I was thankful there was msemen. 😊

We gathered for a walking tour with a local guide called Rashida at 9am. I tend to make very quick first impressions about people, and as much as I wanted to like the first female local guide we had… I just couldn’t. She was a bit full-on and I didn’t really like her brash style that much. However, she imparted a few interesting pieces of information.

Unfortunately, it was another rainy day. It started bucketing down on our walk to the port and we lost half the group (who doubled back to the riad to get umbrellas). Mike bought a huge golf umbrella from a guy who magically appeared at our side… this eventually got christened ‘Mike's Magic Umbrella’ – it had the power to stop rain whenever it was carried! 😊

The Porte de la Marine was heaving with activity as we walked towards it. We walked through the ornate stone arch and door of Skala du Port and were faced with a port that was a hive of intense activity everywhere we looked – the morning catch was still being sorted. Baskets of fish were being thrown from the small blue wooden boats on to the wharf, frantic negotiations were being conducted with the fishermen for their catch, and smaller sales were occurring from trays on the path near the water. Away from the immediate action, weathered old men were mending nets, cats waited patiently for morsels of fish, and many onlookers seemed to be waiting for a specific boat or catch to come in.

Fishing is a very large industry in Essaouira. It encompasses a renowned wooden boat building industry, a canned fish industry and of course the actually fishing itself. Rashida explained that almost everyone in the city would be connected to the fishing industry by a primary or secondary family or friend connection. She also explained that charity is expected to be given from the morning catch, and people in need line up with buckets to receive this charity. It isn’t considered charity when you give from what you haven’t sold in the afternoon.

We walked back through the Skala du Port, which is famously decorated with multi-faith symbols – the crescent moon (Islam), the Star of David (Judaism) and the scallop shell of Santiago (Christianity). We explored more of the medina, passing wide streets full of restaurants and cafes, and leafy squares with street vendors. We then moved into the narrower streets of the residential area of the medina, which was a mixture of whitewashed houses with blue doors and shutters, and low doorways that led to the Arabic-influenced area of rabbit warren dark walkways and densely packed buildings.

Our next sight was the other Skala – the Skala de la Kasbah – which we’d tried to visit for the sunset the night before. The Skala is made up of two levels. The lower level military rooms are now full of wood workshops and small tourist shops. We climbed to the upper level and walked to the commanding circular northern bastion. From here there was an excellent view of the medina to one side, and Atlantic Ocean to the other… and the ramparts protecting the city from the crashing waves. We walked along the upper wall which had a long line of impressive Portuguese brass cannons still pointing out to sea.

For fans of The Game of Thrones, Essaouira was used to represent Astapor – home to the Unsullied eunuch slave-soldiers, and most of the filming was done on this Skala. Anja had a photo of one of the scenes from GoT on her phone, and it really didn’t look like they’d changed the ramparts much at all.

We also explored the souqs. Like many other medinas, the souqs were roughly grouped by products sold. However, it wasn’t an enclosed market and the souq was spread through large sections of the medina streets. The rain had stopped and the streets were already starting to fill up with both locals and tourists. At a small fish market I asked one of the stallholders if I could take a photo of his stall, and he looked really taken aback and asked (in Arabic via Rashida) why I had spoken to him in English. Apparently he’d assumed I was a tourist of Moroccan decent. Rashida agreed, but said ‘but only if you grow your hair’. 😊

Well that’s one more country to add to the list of places I’ve been mistaken as a local! After that encounter I looked more closely at the local women we passed, and there were many women with similar skin colour and facial features to me. But obviously our clothing choices set us very much apart.

We ended the walking tour at Bij Outerie Artisanale – a silver workshop that trains hearing impaired kids in silver smithing. We briefly watched the apprentices at work before browsing the shop which was full of all manner of beautiful silver designs. I had been looking forward to visiting this silver shop, and I could have bought so so so many things here. I practised some restraint and only bought a silver Berber ring which I hadn’t seen in any of the other jewellery shops I had been to. When Andrew finally dragged me out of there, a few of us gravitated to Place Moulay Hassan, a beautiful open square that faces the port and has outdoor cafes on one end.

At some point in the late morning, the sun had started shining and the city looked even more picturesque! We sat in the sun with Mike, Sue, Ineke and Anja… absorbing the energy of the square and planning our afternoon. We were at the square to check out the famed hot chocolates at Dolcefreddo. Only Andrew’s hot chocolate was thick enough to enable the spoon to stand upright as advertised, but all our hot chocolates were really superb. I will definitely be coming back for more of this heavenly goodness! 😄

We wandered back to the port with Ineke and Anja to see if the afternoon catch had come in yet. The port was much more crowded than in the morning, and the giant seagulls I’d noticed sitting on the walls were now in full ‘low-flight’ and squawking mode! They virtually obscured the sky in parts of the port. The small fish stalls were really vying for our attention, even though we’d been virtually ignored in the morning. The sun was now up and the fishy smell all round us was far more pungent and overpowering, so I couldn’t really linger long.

Andrew and I kept exploring the medina with two missions – to find a music shop to buy a Tinariwen CD and to explore the silver souq. We had success on both fronts. I found a pair of earrings that I loved – a representation of a Berber fibula symbol (of an inverted triangle) that was originally introduced by the Romans in Morocco as an ornate safety pin for clocks, but over the centuries has been incorporated into Berber culture and now represents a powerful female sign of fertility, family and protection. I’d seen the design in the silver cooperative earlier (but it had been the wrong size), and while the prices were similar, I could bargain in the shops and managed to get the price dropped by 50 dirham. I really do detest bargaining, but it has to be done I suppose. I also bought a t-shirt with a West African wax print design from a street vendor (more bargaining…). I love West African wax print, especially when it’s incorporated into western outfits.

It was getting into the late afternoon so we decided to lunch at The Loft, a modern Moroccan restaurant. It was a tiny eatery with the cutest retro inspired decor. I ordered a lamb couscous which was very tasty, but Andrew’s deconstructed (and very untraditional) lamb tagine with saffron, walnuts and pears was absolutely delicious. Unfortunately, the kitchen closed and I couldn’t try any of their delicious sounding desserts. So we revisited Dolcefreddo to have more of their luscious hot chocolates, and to write postcards while absorbing the vibe of the square.

We returned to our riad via a pharmacy to buy throat lozenges, cold and flu tablets and more cough syrup. This time I got Broncoliber for dry coughs… we’d got some ‘all natural’ cough syrup in Taroudannt, but I think I needed something stronger. I had started getting a head cold a few days ago, but this was the first day I'd actually felt sick enough to have spent the day in bed. My cough seemed to be getting worse very quickly.

I sorted my pack and managed to write some notes before I crashed. I ended up sleeping for 12 hours with short periods of waking up to take more cough syrup. I felt so much better in the morning, but was sad that we hadn’t been able to try another nice restaurant for dinner.

We had a leisurely breakfast with Mike before we went off to explore a part of the medina we hadn’t yet visited. We walked through the souqs with clothing, household goods and rows and rows of shops selling marinated olives.

We ended up walking through the small residential lanes near the old Jewish Mellah with smaller shops, cobblers and tailors. One old tailor noticed we were interested in the contraption he was using for the embroidery on a djellaba (traditional long hooded robe), and called us over to explain the way it worked. He was interested in where we were from, and in our limited French / English exchange we gathered he knew Australia was part of the Commonwealth. But of all the explanations he offered on the djellaba, all I grasped was that they are only worn in Tunisia, Algeria and Morocco. He was a genuinely lovely old man, and he wished us the warmest and most heartfelt goodbye when we left.

This area was a very different face of the medina to what we’d seen so far. It was much more run down, and many of the residential buildings were crumbling on the outside. I can only hope they were in better condition on the inside.

We returned to the riad to check-out at midday, but we weren’t leaving town until later that afternoon. We stored our bags at the hotel and went for another walk to Place Moulay Hassan. It was a sunshiny morning and all the cats were out sunning their tummies. This delayed our five minute walk to the square considerably! In our few days in Essaouira, I think I’ve managed to photograph every cat and kitten in the old medina. 😊

We returned to our favourite Dolcefreddo cafe to sit in the sunny square and have one last hot chocolate. This time the waitress just smiled and asked ‘hot chocolate?’ and didn’t even bother offering me a menu. 😄

Andrew’s not a natural sweet tooth and decided that he’d had enough hot chocolates, so he went back to his much-loved mint tea. We soaked up the sun and listened to a very good busker (who did a fabulous version of Vance Joy’s Riptide). We reflected on our time in Essaouira and agreed that we loved this city very much and could easily return.

We loved the medina so much that we have to acknowledge we hardly left the confines of the old walls, apart from a quick look at the foreshore and new Mellah areas. Essaouira had many qualities that I don’t usually warm to – it’s a commercial fishing port with all the smells that go with that; the wind howled regularly through the outer perimeter of the medina; the air was thick with sea spray and salt; and it was very touristy in parts. However, its unquestionable charms far far far outweighed all these things.

I loved the picturesque Skala stone sea walls constantly lashed by the sea, the fleet of bobbing blue wooden fishing boats, the pink medina walls with square saw-tooth tops, the palm tree lined administrative streets, the striking architecture, the grid planning, the interesting shops with friendly shopkeepers, the colourful art galleries, the aroma of spices, incense and perfumes in the ‘hippie’ souq, the plethora of great tiny cafes and eateries, the happy cats sunning themselves in the streets, and not to mention the luscious hot chocolates I just couldn’t get enough of!

We regrouped at the riad in time to walk to the bus station outside the medina. Our stored luggage was loaded onto two carts and taken to the bus. When we arrived and put our bags into the storage compartment of the public bus, it was noticed a bag had been left back at the riad. The riad sent it via a motorbike, but as expected there was some stress while waiting for it to arrive. In the end all was ok, and the public bus was only delayed by five minutes. Phew.

Next we travel east to Marrakesh, back to Morocco’s Red City.


3rd November 2019

Beautiful place
It looks like a beautiful place to visit!
4th November 2019

Re: Beautiful place
Thank you for your comment Carmel. Yes it was very picturesque and we enjoyed exploring it :)
3rd November 2019
essaouira souqs

Shopping in the souks
We loved Morocco and I love bargaining. One of the gentlemen told me he thought I had Berber blood in me. I laughed and thanked him. I love the sardines in Essaouira. We bought a bunch of music to take home.
4th November 2019
essaouira souqs

Re: Shopping in the souks
Ah I clearly don't have Berber blood as I really really really dislike the bargaining process. Give me clearly marked set prices any day! :)
9th November 2019

The sea and the town
Essaouira resonates with me, said the old seadog. Thank you for transporting me to this robust fishing town with its seawalls and old cannons.
10th November 2019

Re: The sea and the town
Thanks for your comment Chris. Essaouira resonated with us too :)
12th November 2019

Great pictures of Essaouira, I especially love the cat pics! Brings back nice memories.
13th November 2019

Re: Essaouira
Thanks Lori! It was a very photogenic town, and I loved all the cats! I remember that this is where Susan got sick :( and you got all our beautiful jewellery :)
16th November 2019

I love the blue boats . Although this is a tour you seem to have had quite a lot of time to do your own thing. Thanks for taking me along with you.
16th November 2019

Re: Boats
Thanks Lynne. We had a local guide for a couple of hours in Essaouira but otherwise we did our own thing. The blue boats were such a sight when docked in the harbour! :)

Tot: 0.154s; Tpl: 0.022s; cc: 14; qc: 38; dbt: 0.0356s; 1; m:domysql w:travelblog (; sld: 1; ; mem: 1.3mb