Essaouira may not be the most famous of Morocco's cities, but it is one of the most relaxing and beautiful. Situated on the country's Atlantic coast, Essaouira is within easy reach of Marrakech, making it a popular seaside escape for locals and travellers alike.
Although it's often sold as a beach destination, there's a lot more to see and do in Essaouira than just lounge on its golden sands - we're going to talk you through some of the top attractions here.
Enjoy the beach
The beach is, without doubt, one of Essaouira's premier attractions, so we couldn't just ignore it. This long stretch of golden sand where the rolling waves of the Atlantic come ashore is beautiful, although be warned that it can be very windy, so it isn't always warm enough for sunbathing.
To appreciate the beauty of the coast, take a taxi to nearby Diabat, a small village a couple of kilometres outside of Essaouira. From here you can walk or go horseback riding along the beach - as you make your way back towards the city, you'll pass the remains of the Bordj El Berod watchtower, which juts out of the sand. This stroll is particularly scenic at sunset.
Essaouira is also famous for its water sports offerings - more specifically kite and windsurfing. The strong winds along the coast make this the ideal spot for both of these pastimes and you'll often see sails and kites zipping across the surface of the sea when you're on the beach. The wind also whips up a good surf, so there are several centres that rent surfboards and bodyboards, as well as offering lessons.
Discover the Medina
The Medina of Essaouira is a wonderful example of an 18th century fortified town, displaying elements of European and African architecture. The walls and ramparts are distinctly European in their nature, but as soon as you pass into the fortified centre, you'll be in no doubt that you're in Morocco.
There's a maze of narrow alleys lined by stalls, small food stands, barbers and coffee shops - it's easy to spend hours aimlessly wandering along the cobbled streets and browsing the varied goods that are on sale. You can pick up everything from spices and jewellery to wood carvings and lamps.
Raffia work and wood carving are two of the crafts for which Essaouira is best known, so if you want a souvenir that really represents the city, these are the kinds of things you should be looking for.
Break up your day of exploration by stopping for a strong Moroccan coffee at any of the traditional cafes you find nestled in the whitewashed buildings of the Medina - sit at one of the outside tables and just soak up the atmosphere.
Visit Essaouira's Port
What's wonderful about Essaouira is that it hasn't been taken over by mass tourism and is still quintessentially Moroccan at its heart. Nowhere is this more apparent than at its bustling port, which is just as busy today as it was a century ago.
Fishing boats come and go, selling their buckets full of fish to the highest bidder once they moor up, weatherbeaten fishermen sit in the sun and fix their nets, and seagulls circle greedily overhead. Just standing and watching is an immersive experience and will give you a flavour of the real Essaouira.
Essaouira – history, beach and culture with a French allure
The beauty of Essaouira lies, not only in the serene beauty of its azure Atlantic coast, or in the imposing magnificence of its fortified walls, but ultimately in its French appeal. Designed by the same French person that designed Brittany’s famous port town of Saint Malo; this peculiar town has a French air of sophistication that doesn’t take away from its firm Moroccan roots – apparent once you enter its distinctly Arabic walls.
From the aroma of spices, the refreshing smell of sea air to the narrow alleyways and the floating veils of the women passing by, you could never forget you're in Morocco, yet the pretty harbour with its hovering seagulls may bring you a touch of French reminiscence that adds to the uniqueness of this town.