36 Hours in Essaouira
To celebrate the launch of our ESSAOUIRA Perfume Oil, we’re publishing Katharine’s quick travel guide to Essaouira, Morocco, the breezy port town that inspired the scent of the Body Serum and new Perfume Oil.
First a little history: In 1506, the king of Portugal ordered a fortress to be built in Essaouira, then called Mogador by the native Berbers who inhabited the location. After Morocco regained control during the 16th century, various powers including Spain, England, the Netherlands and France tried in vain to conquer Mogador. In the 18th Century, the name Essouira, translated as “beautifully designed,” was adopted and a French architect was hired to build the medina surrounding the original fortress. Ideally located to benefit from trade between Africa, Europe and the Americas, Essaouira thrived as a Morocco’s most important trading site.
Essaouira is a perfect place to escape to and unwind after the hectic pace of Marrakech. The temperature stays a moderate 75 degrees all year, due to the trade winds blowing off of the Atlantic, which also make it an attractive destination for windsurfers. It is an easy daytrip from Marrakech, but I prefer to stay a night or two to really benefit from the laid back spirit of the beach town.
The first thing in the morning, wander down to the docks to watch the fishermen bring in the days haul. The locals will be there buying their fish for the day, jostling among numerous fish mongers with their wares laid out in boxes on the ground or in carts. A huge variety of fresh fish is on display, eyed by plenty of cats hoping for their chance.
If you’re feeling brave, do what the locals do. Choose one of the vendors based on what looks good (even if you can’t identify the type of fish) and buy directly. There is a guy with a few tables and a grill at the end of the dock who will cook your fish and serve it to you on paper plates with bread for just a few dirhams.
From the docks, I’ll continue on to walk the long, flat beach, stopping along the way at one of the sidewalk cafes across from the boardwalk for bessara, the traditional bean soup served for breakfast in Morocco. At the far end of the beach, you can opt to ride camels and/or ponies surfside.
For lunch, head back towards town where there is a row of open-air restaurant/stalls where you can choose the catch of the day.
Make time in the afternoon for the hammam, Morocco’s health and wellness tradition, which includes plenty of heat and steam, exfoliation and cleansing. There are two types to choose from, the traditional version which is a shared experience in a large room, or a private session. Either way, treat yourself to Morocco’s foremost beauty products including: Beldi Soap, rhassoul clay, and argan oil. If opting for the traditional version, make sure to stop at the souk and pick up your own products to bring with you on the way.
Afterwards, make your way to the old fortress to watch the sun go down. Stroll along the walls of the medina on the way to browse the shops and art galleries there. There is a good selection of restaurants for dinner in the medina to suit your mood and budget.
Essaouira is known for its vibrant music scene. Luminaries who have spent time in Essaouira include Jimi Hendrix and Bob Marley, whose presence is still felt today in the town’s low key, boho vibe. Essaouira is the host of the annual Gnaoua World Music Festival, but it is not unusual to stumble across an improptu concert in the main square.
Take a drive south toward Agadir. It’s a beautiful drive through the argan forests. You’ll see goats in trees and some typical Moroccan villages. There are several argan cooperatives along the way to stop in and see how the nuts are cracked. Make sure to try the amlou with bread, a mixture of almonds honey and argan oil.
If you are feeling ambitious, continue approximately 2 hours south to reach Agadir. There is a beautiful stretch of unspoiled coastline before you reach Agadir and multiple spots for surfing. Have lunch at any of the restaurants along the boardwalk of Agadir before heading back.
Where to Stay
L’Heure Bleue $$$
Luxury in a traditional Moroccan riad decorated in a Colonial Style. I recommend lunch by the rooftop pool with a great view of Essaouira.
Madada Mogador $$$
A boutique hotel decorated in traditional Moroccan finishes with rooms on the ramparts overlooking the water and the medina.