Essaouira – Morocco’s Hangout Harbour (05.06.14)
I urge any and all of you to visit Essaouira, on Morocco’s west Atlantic coast.
Initially serving as one of Africa’s most welcoming ports, and occupied since prehistoric times Essaouira continues to double as one of Morocco’s most exciting marine safe heavens, and thrilling modern day African towns. It has always been one of my favourite coastal locations with enormously majestic solid rampart fortress staring out across the Atlantic Ocean. In addition, aside from feeling of stepping into a film set, the town’s blustery open beach (world renowned by kite surfers as much as summer swimmers), tall canon-topped ramparts and exciting maze of Old Town streets always give me a feeling of returning to a very special, privileged place. Rightly one of UNESCO’s World Heritage listed cities.
Whenever in Morocco, and certainly if anywhere near Marrakech, I try and find an excuse to escape to Essaouira for a few days. Not only due to its uniquely special chilled ambiance – with friendly hassle-free souk and market areas – but also because the whole town appears to have a feeling of rush-less ‘Essaouira-time’. Running at a pace set by the ocean winds as much as the African coastal sunshine.
A rush-less charm that has attracted sailors, traders, saints, sinners, kings, Sultans, rock stars, big budget film makers, hippies and politicians from time in memorial.
Indeed the long list of satisfied visitors includes not only today’s modern day tourists, but also legendary figures such as the late Jimi Hendrix, Orson Wells and Winston Churchill. Following the lead set over the years by Christian merchants, Berber traders and caravans from Timbuktu. I highly recommend a visit, not only as it is one of my favourite destinations, but also because it has been an ever popular haunt for Nomadic Thoughts clients over the decades.
Today’s visitors find themselves immediately swept up in the warm welcome and exciting bubble of activity that is the walled medina and bustling fishing port of Essaouira – traditionally known as Sidi Megdoul (Mogador) since the 11th century.
Arriving into town you disembark whatever mode of transport you arrive in, or on, and walk through the impressive pink walled rampart walls to the calm maze of streets, allies and market stalls. The every expanding selection of charming riad hotels, with classic medina building facades, offer a terrifically exciting array of differing abodes. Roof top views across white washed buildings and distance Ocean surf, cannot but slow down the heart rate, shaking off the inland desert dust as quickly as your first mint chi touches the sides.
Orientation starts with a visit to the fishing harbour, with sea of bobbing blue boats, noisy sea gulls, dry dock fishing vessels and magnificent broad stone harbour walls. The fish market often appears to double up as an outdoor dining hall, with neatly set up table often bedecked with fresh sardines, sea-food hot pots and morning-catch sea bass, hake and sole.
Today’s globalised world appears to be catching up with Essaouira, who’s Old Town to this day boasts examples of its multi-cultural history. Africans, Arabs and Amazighs, as much as Muslims, Christians, and Jews have all played their part in shaping the town structurally, as well as spiritually.
Like so many before, whether you are visiting Essaouira to enjoy the Festival Ghaoua & World Music (taking place this month), a world kite surfing championship or simply escape from the rest of the world, the unique diversity of cultural exhibits, historical landmarks, top restaurants, sea views and classic Arab-Africa coast will bright you back for more.
After all Jimmy Hendrix returned after writing ‘Castles Made Of Sand’, Orson Wells filmed Othello and Winston Churchill presumably smoked huge quantities of his cigars from the considerable battlements. For my part I would urge you to have breakfast in one of the cafés in front of the harbour, lunch in the Medina, sunset from the battlements and dinner in the bustling souk.