Why This Picturesque Town In Marrakech Should Be On Your Radar
Marrakech, Morocco’s most famous city, is so cinematic it almost doesn’t seem real. There are the labyrinthine souks, full of trinkets and treasures; the fragrant spice markets; and the call to prayer that echoes from the mosques at dusk. Yet, only two and a half hours west, Essaouira may as well be a world away from bustling Marrakech. With its barefoot, bohemian vibe, this low-key coastal town has long been a haven for surfers, artists, and musicians (it even attracted Bob Marley and Jimi Hendrix back in the day).
The seaside enclave is also a major cultural hub thanks to a melting pot of Mediterranean, Middle Eastern, and African influences. To get a feel for the area, start at the 18th-century Skala du Port ramparts (or Astapor, to Game of Thrones fans). You’ll have a bird’s-eye view of the wild Atlantic as well as the maze of whitewashed alleys and blue doors below. The Borj el Barmil citadel is another good lookout point over the harbor’s cobalt-colored flouka skiffs and seafood stalls where fishermen haul in the morning’s fresh catch.
But the real beauty lies along the breezy shore. Nicknamed the Windy City, Essaouira is one of the country’s best kitesurfing and windsurfing spots. If you’re feeling adventurous, grab a board and book a lesson at ION Club on the far end of Plage Tagharte. After riding the waves, treat yourself to a drink at Ocean Vagabond beach club before retiring to Villa Quieta. This waterfront palace has dreamy suites done up with ornate tile, rich textiles, and hanging lamps. Plus, there’s a large outdoor pool tucked in a garden oasis when you want a tranquil dip.
Meanwhile, in the heart of town, you could spend a whole day exploring the cobblestoned medina—a UNESCO World Heritage Site formerly known as Mogador. Merchants hawk Berber-made boucherouite rugs, ceramic pottery, and babouche slippers (usually at half the price of Marrakech vendors). For hand-carved wares, check out the Coopérative Artisanale des Marqueteurs, a hidden riad turned workshop where craftsmen have been creating custom thuya wood boxes, ornaments, and furniture since 1948. From here, weave your way through the artsy Kasbah neighborhood to Galerie La Kasbah. The 4,300-square-foot studio displays 11 halls full of naive Souiri sculptures, paintings, and tiles. Once happy hour hits, sip sundowners at Taros Café, a sprawling rooftop terrace with live music. The bar also shares space with Galérie Aida downstairs, which houses a collection of curiosities, including antique daggers, pewter goblets, and rare English and French books.
If you’re interested in more high-end fashions, make a beeline to Histoire de Filles, Essaouira’s first concept store. Parisian purveyor Christelle Pailly sells Luc Baille jewelry, Cote Bougie candles, and Lalla bags in her stylish boutique. Next door, Pailly’s husband, Pacha Jahlan, runs L’Atelier, a culinary school that teaches you how to cook Moroccan specialties such as bissara, shakshuka, and pastilla. To take some gourmet goods home with you, visit Sidi Yassine for amlou (almond butter) or organic argan oil.
A trip to Essaouira wouldn’t be complete without tasting a traditional Moroccan meal at Adwak, a cozy restaurant located down a secret side street in the medina. Gather around low-slung tables while tucking into steaming platters of tagine and couscous (order the sweet chicken tagine with caramelized raisins and onions). Don’t eat meat? Try Triskala, which serves fresh organic fare such as sea bream moussaka, goat cheese briouats, falafel, and whiting croquettes.
For an elegant fine-dining experience, plan reservations at La Table by Madada. The white-tablecloth establishment—inside a historic traders’ warehouse with striking stone archways—serves elevated seafood dishes including spider crab gratin, monkfish skewers, and lobster linguine. Following dinner, stroll over to the brand-new African Roots restaurant to watch a few upbeat bands and local performers, or head back to your romantic riad. L'Heure Bleue Palais stands out due to the three on-site restaurants, billiards room, cinema, black marble hammam, and swanky rooftop pool—the only one in the medina. After all, there’s no better way to end an evening in Essaouira than to curl up in a candlelit courtyard and sip Maghrebi mint tea under the stars.