I gave my self a little pat on the back for organising what turned out to be an excellent holiday itinerary for this trip. After an awesome but intense three nights in Marrakesh, I booked us in for a 4-day stay in Essaouira – Marrakesh’s more chilled out neighbour on the southern coast of Morocco.
Knowing that we’d want to bum out on a beach with a cool beer and do pretty much next to nothing for a few days after the madness of Marrakech’s Medinas, I did plenty of homework and discovered what looked to be a very stylish alternative Moroccan holiday hideaway in this charming seaside town.
Comparing Essaouira to Marrakesh is a pretty difficult thing to do, but if I were to try and explain it – think hippy vibe with a much smaller Medina, way fewer tourists and surfer-style, laid-back living. Walking through the Medina as we arrived late at night provided a more relaxing pace and endearing greetings from shop owners as we passed. More so “welcome to Essaouira, have a good time”, opposed to “buy this rug, buy it now!”.
Where to stay
Having booked this trip way in advance (in my true organised style), I discovered the adorable Riad Dar Maya, hidden away in the south centre of the Medina. Run by English expat Gareth and his dedicated small team, this discreet riad is a large light-filled paradise with the most stylish interiors possible.
Neutral tones, light earthy colours and elaborate artifacts and plants. Each room is themed by the elements and we stayed in Laafit (fire), which had its own fireplace and a ginormous two-person marble bathtub.
We made very good use of Dar Maya’s rooftop hot tub and spent hours listening to the waves up high in peace, before exploring heading out to explore the town each day.
Returning to Dar Maya each night was such a joy, stumbling across the unassuming front door down a side street made us smug about how we’d bagged ourselves such a stylish hideaway. It was clear you only know about this place if you’ve done your homework.
Where to shop
On our penultimate day in Morocco, I convinced Nick to let me go hunting for gorgeous Moroccan home furnishings. You’ll know from reading other Tone’s Travels posts that discovering quirky coffee shops and concept stores is something I’m pretty good at.
Luckily I was reliably informed by our riad host Gareth about Rue Mohamed Ben Masoud – an entire side street on the south side of the Medina that has all of the above. All the businesses on this street are run by the same family and whoever they are my word they have good taste. As well as the clothing boutique and cafe, they also manage cookery school L’Atelier Madada and Le Tableby Madada, an upmarket fish restaurant.
Tucked away in the corner of this street is Histoire de Filles – a trendy Moroccan boutique selling women’s designer fashion, fragrances, cosmetics and kids wear. If you’ve got a spare bit of cash to spend, this is definitely the place to do it, especially if you’ve got an eye for stylish jewellery, shoes, handbags – the lot.
The staff were lovely and I could have spent a lot of money in here if I had it!
Next door was the wonderful l’Atelier, a boutique and cafe filled with the most beautifully designed Moroccan homewares and soft furnishings I’d seen during our time in the country. The quality was evident and the choice was great. Two coffees and about three hours later, I’d bought enough bits and pieces to kit out our one-bed flat pretty well.
Anyone who’s been to Essaouira will tell you that a day trip to Le Jardin Des Douars is a must. A 15-minute taxi ride up the dusty main road and you will arrive at the terracotta-coloured boutique garden hotel, which accepts day guests for no fee.
The glow of the jade-green swimming pool tucked in-between giant palm trees and cacti is a picture I won’t be forgetting for a while. We spent a full day reading and relaxing by the large main pool and lunching at the hotel’s main terrace restaurant. Our light lunch was an interesting experience – interesting in the fact that Nick’s chicken wrap turned up with completely raw chicken in it – but we’ll forget about that.
If we were ever to return to Essaouira, a 3-night stay at Le Jardin Des Douars is probably the way we would do it. Recharging and relaxing is the main thing to do here and with surroundings like this, I really don’t see why you would need to do anything else.
Where to eat & drink
Our first place to visit on our first full day in the town saw us take the half an hour stroll down Essaouira beach to Ocean Vagabond, a beachfront bar and coffee shop. This place has something for every customer with solo workers slurping coffee at the back on their laptops, to holidaymakers eating lunch in the yard and wetsuit-clad surf schoolers popping in for a post-surf pint. Nick and I are not the surfing type, but you can definitely feel part of the scene if you spend a few hours watching the skilled guys do their thing from Ocean Vagabond. It’s a decent place to people watch, especially those who opt for a camel ride. The wind is pretty fierce down on the beach so our lunch came with a free portion of sand, but it filled a hole.
I can’t write this post without talking about Taros. This bar appeared to be the ‘go-to’ place for a night out and quickly became our holiday local. After our 3-hourcar journey to get there, stumbling across Taros bar was the tonic that made our first night in Essaouira pretty special. The rooftop was packed with party goers enjoying their Friday night to the sound of live music including everything from 90s RnB hits sung by a French soul singer to locals getting involved with karaoke Frank Sinatra numbers. There were also plenty other pockets of entertainment going on, cocktail makers showing off their skills and a magician who was out to amaze rather than annoy. They know how to put on a party here. We loved it so much so that we went back every day and had our end-of-the-night pint plus a few more afternoon drinks here watching the sunset. I’m sure it’s not for everyone, but in terms of a holiday bar, this is exactly what we needed and what we got.
We opted for a mix of quick eats and nice dining for evening meals during our time here. A few of our choices included:
- The Loft – a tiny casual dining restaurant tucked away in a corner of the Medina seating no more than 20, serving modern Moroccan cuisine. We each had three courses, all of which were lovely and looked the part as well. Great value for money, very relaxed atmosphere and super friendly service.
- Le Table by Madada – this was fine dining experience for us. You need to make a reservation early on in your stay to guarantee a spot during your stay. A fish restaurant with a very good menu, super stylish interiors (it’s a converted warehouse) and good portion sizes (you do pay the price for it though). At points, it did feel a little bit too fancy for us, but it would make a good choice for a special occasion. The service was okay, but we couldn’t help but feel we were being rushed a little.
We stayed at Riad Dar Maya for 4 nights in September 2017 in the Laafit suite for €145 per night, including breakfast. EasyJet runs direct flights from London Luton to Essaouira twice a week on Saturdays and Tuesdays. I would thoroughly recommend Essaouira for a three or four night Moroccan getaway.