Located on a peninsula that juts out into the Atlantic Ocean, Essaouira is a resort town on the Moroccan coast. Come visit this beautiful port city with Izzy Nicholls, one half of the travel blogger team of The Gap Decaders.
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We have really fallen in love with Essaouira! This atmospheric and lively city on the Atlantic coast has all the sights, sounds and smells of Morocco with a long stretch of sandy beach and a bustling cobbled medina.
Fantastic fish restaurants grill and serve up the catch of the day straight from the boats that come into the working port next door. Grab a mint tea and watch the world go by in this fascinating city!
Meet Izzy Nicholls
Izzy is one half of The Gap Decaders, motorhomers travelling Europe full-time. Izzy and Phil love to share their adventures, road trip routes, destinations and practical motorhome tips to support others in their quest for adventure.
In addition to their blog, be sure to follow the Gap Decaders whereabouts and daily musings via social media:
For those of us who haven't visited yet, give us an overview of Essaouira, Morocco
Essaouira is a port and resort city on Morocco’s Atlantic Coast. It lies almost directly west of Marrakech and is a popular holiday choice for Moroccans. The location provides fantastic wind and sea conditions perfect for kite-surfers, who flock to Essaouira from across Europe. This makes for an eclectic destination with the feel of Morocco and the benefits of modern influence.
How did you get to Essaouira, Morocco?
We road-tripped Morocco in our motorhome, taking two months to amble round at a slow pace, stopping where we liked the look of somewhere and being able to get to lots of off-the-beaten track places…some of which we probably shouldn’t have attempted in a 9 m (30 foot) long, five tonne vehicle!
Did anyone travel to Essaouira with you?
I travelled with Phil, my husband and partner in crime! Together we run The Gap Decaders blog. Phil is a fantastic travel companion: unflappable, resourceful and practical. All great skills to have in a country like Morocco where the services we take for granted in Europe just do not exist.
What was the weather like when you visited Essaouira?
We visited Essaouira, Morocco, in early March, and the weather was glorious! We understand from locals the high temperatures were unusual for that time of year.
What sights cannot be missed when visiting Essaouira?
Essaouira is a popular weekend destination with locals and foreigners alike. A very walkable city, everything you’ll want to see can be reached easily on foot.
The medina is the usual muddle of narrow alleys, souqs and small squares with stalls, shops and houses lining the streets. It’s a wonderful place to stroll through, admiring the ornate wooden doors and perfect towering spice pyramids as you go. You’ll find art galleries, craft co-operatives, silver jewellery and everything in between here. On the main thoroughfare, watch out for the hand carts being pushed at pace, often precariously overloaded as their owners shout “balak, balak” (“look out, look out”). Here you’ll find piles of fresh fruit and vegetables, row upon row of freshly baked bread and sweet treats. Dates from the palmeraies of southern Morocco are laid out in the sun and the biggest strawberries you’ve ever seen are lined up in perfectly straight rows to tempt buyers.
Head to the port, literally next door, and prepare for an assault on your senses! The smell is indescribable, with decades of the fish trade on every surface. The seagulls are squawking, sailors yelling and vendors shouting for sales, their tables laden with fresh fish of every description set out along the old stone jetty. The port is a riot of colour with bright blue fishing boats bobbing in the water and others on chocks being repaired or painted.
Outside the entrance to the port and far enough away for the smell and seagulls to be forgotten is a rough patch of garden with rows of blue and white painted huts along two sides. Here you can enjoy whichever catch has been delivered that morning, freshly grilled over open coals. The smell is mouth-watering and as you wander over, you will find menus thrust out and owners imploring you to visit their establishment, which is of course the best! Whichever one you settle on, the fish served here is some of the best in Morocco and will have been caught within the past few hours.
Head over the road and take a stroll along the promenade that runs beside the long stretch of the town beach. The prom is modern, with lots of glass fronted cafes and restaurants looking out onto the surf. In contrast, you’ll see lots of men in traditional djellaba (robes) leading camels on the beach, hoping you might take a ride for a few dirhams. They can be quite persistent in their offers; be firm if you don’t want to take a ride and bargain hard if you do!
Take a trip out to the Cooperative Al Amal, south of Essaouira, bang in the centre of Argan tree country. The oil produced from the nut of this tree is highly prized in Morocco and is used in beauty products and cooking. You can see oil being made at the cooperative and visit the argan tree orchards, where you might well see a few goats climbing high in the branches…one of the more surreal sights of Essaouira!
What was your favorite moment in Essaouira?
Watching and chatting to (with the help of Google Translate!) carpenters repairing a fishing boat was a real privilege. Seeing what we might consider old-fashioned techniques and tools being used to deliver painstakingly perfect joins and finishes was fascinating.
One of the best parts of travel is experiencing the local flavors. What was your favorite meal in Morocco?
We ate lots of fish but our favourite meal was in a small restaurant in the medina, Restaurant du Coeur. The decor is trad-modern, the space is small but lofty with the kitchen on an open mezzanine above and the food simple and delicious. We had a chicken pastilla, a sweet and savoury pie with shredded chicken topped with toasted and crushed almonds and cinnamon. This mix is wrapped in werqa dough, similar to filo pastry, pan fried in a skillet and topped with honey. Surprisingly, it was not overly sweet and the balance between flavours was perfect. We followed our (large!) pastilla with a traditionally poured mint tea for a perfect lunch.
Did you learn any local expressions in Essaouira?
The people in Essaouira were so appreciative when we tried a little Arabic. Es salaam alaykum is hello and means ‘peace be upon you’. Goodbye is bessalama, please is afakurn and thank you is shukran. Even if you try just a few words you’ll be rewarded with a smile.
We hear a lot about “smooth sailing” travel moments, but were there any rough patches during your visit to Essaouira?
Yes! Despite having read a bit about visiting the port I made the mistake of wearing flip-flops. Given the amount of fish matter, seagull poo and sea water on the ground, this was a huge error! My feet got wet and very, very dirty. Also, carry tissues or toilet wipes with you, most cafe and restaurant toilets don’t provide these.
Did you meet any of the locals? What were they like?
The locals are friendly, kind and welcoming, true of all Moroccans. You might find you are approached and asked to look in a shop or view goods for sale. Moroccans are natural sales people, they just can’t help themselves! If you’re not interested, be firm and polite and walk on.