MAROC WEEK: KITESURFING, COFFEE AND CAMELS…WELCOME TO ESSAOUIRA!
Camels, kitesurf, coffee and non-stop sun…welcome to Essaouira here on Morocco’s gorgeous Atlantic coast!
MAROC WEEK kicks off today, so grab yourself a nuss-nuss (half coffee, half milk) and come and soak up 5 days of sunshine, spas, beauty, interiors and design in Essaouira and Marrakech.
I’ll be sharing my photos, travel tips and “live like a local” interviews here on the blog but there are more pics on Instagram.com/BeautyShortlist (mostly shopping, interiors, art and design finds plus photos of some of the people I meet along the way)
Re. dress code tips – I think the best way of putting it is, it’s best to stick to a sort of boho/eco/Cornwall style – tunics, T-shirts, flowing skirts (not miniscule bikinis or really short shorts).
Good news for the UK! NEW direct flights.
- EasyJet www.easyjet.com now flies direct to Essaouira twice a week from London Luton (Mon/Fri – hello, long weekend!). The 3.5hr flight is shorter than London – Tenerife and the climate is just as good in winter.
- Or fly to Marrakech and get a Supratours or CTM coach here (a ticket is 80 dirhams, about £6.50, and a 2.5 hour easy ride west). Or you can book a private transfer or take a grand taxi, which is 600 dirhams (about £40, so if there’s four of you going, it’s just £10 each).
I arrived via Marrakech (from Seville on Ryanair, for the princely sum of 20 euros) and pre-booked my coach ticket with Marrakech Tickets who delivered my Supratours ticket to Essaouira directly to my hotel, it was waiting for me upon arrival. You pay extra but for me it was worth it, Peter who runs it is very helpful and they’re recommended by Lonely Planet.
I fell in love with Essaouira and its super-friendly, creative people nearly three years ago and it’s magical (and a bit emotional) to be back here this week. I really miss this place when I leave. I don’t think I’ll ever find anywhere like it – a working fishing port, yet small enough to be mangeable, blessed by a warm but not too hot year-round climate and a fascinating history of cultural and religious mixes and tolerance.
Essaouira was once about 50% Jewish. Jews and Muslims lived side by side here and this sense of brotherhood lives on through the music, too. I took pics in the Mellah (Jewish quarter) yesterday which I’ll post this week, you can still see Star of David symbols carved into the stone above the doorways of homes where Jewish families lived.
Essaouira medina and the working fishing harbour in the distance, 20 mins walk along the sand
…or a 7 dirham (50 pence) two minute shared petit taxi ride if you’re in a hurry!
Wherever you go in Essaouira, up the road or all the way across town, the taxi fare is 50p
Since I arrived I’ve been sleeping with the window closed, in a T-shirt (but if I had my pyjamas with me I’d have the window open!) After a mini heatwave last week which saw temps of 34C in Essaouira which is very rare it’s now dropped back to a beautiful 27C with a breeze. From December to April day time temperatures can hover from 16C to the low 20s and it’s almost always sunny so when the rain comes it is greatly welcomed by the locals, not least the farmers. Bring a cosy wrap for evenings – a cashmere poncho, long cardigan, pashmina, that sort of thing – as the temperature drops to about 16C at night – if you arrive for dinner in short sleeves while the sun’s still out, you can get caught out after it sets behind Mogador Island – so bring something warmer and long-sleeved – especially if you’re dining on one of this town’s many roof terraces).
Frankly I don’t know the first thing about kitesurfing but if I could rewind 20 years, I’d learn. You could sit for hours watching the kitesurfers here (I do!), sipping a cafe au lait at cafe Le Panoramique. Technically, I think, Taghazout near Agadir is more of a surf destination but you can learn how to surf in Essaouira, too.
Wind conditions here in Essaouira are among the best in the world, with constant winds hitting the Moroccan Atlantic coast from April through to the end of October. Wind speed hovers between 20 – 30 knots throughout the summer and July and August are by far the busiest months here (the holidaymakers are a mix of Europeans and Moroccans escaping the heat of Marrakech and Casablanca) and these also happen to be the two windiest months of the year as well. Essaouira’s beach stretches for miles, so there’s always breathing space, especially on the southern end.
In fact, if there are 20 kites on the water it is a busy day. Yesterday I saw five out while I was at the beach.
Rachid, one of the Explora Morocco Team.
Not just a brilliant kitesurfer, he’s one of the surf instructors
and a hit with the kids
It does tend to be windy here – not always, though! – it’s more sort of easy, breezy Essaouira although having said that if you’re in a serious soak-up-the-sun mood then you’ll want a sunlounger by the wall at Beach & Friends two doors down from Explora, where there’s more protection from the wind.
Kitesurf + Coffee at Le Panoramique
Order a Moroccan nuss-nuss (half strongish coffee, half milk, sometimes layered, served in a glass)
Fellow Brit Sara Jolly runs kitesurf and surf company Explora Morocco with her husband Nassar (conveniently, my favourite beach cafe Le Panoramique is bang next door to Explora, the perfect spot for coffee and kitesurf watching).
The dromedaries (one hump!) plod along the sand like slow, tall 4x4s, sitting around in the sand when they’re off duty, batting their long double-layered eyelashes with an “I’ve seen it all before” expression until the next little girl brave enough to sit that high up comes for a ride.
Yesterday at Cafe Le Panoramique next to Explora
LIVE LIKE A LOCAL
I caught up with Sara at Explora Morocco (they also have an Explora base way down south in Dakhla) and asked her to share some tips on how to get the most out of a visit here, here’s what she said…
Live Like A Local – Sara Jolly, Co-Owner of Explora Morocco
WHY DID YOU COME TO ESSAOUIRA?
We set up Explora in 2009, my husband is from here and always wanted to come back. I fell in love with Essaouira. The huge expanse of beach offers you space and freedom whilst the old medina and harbour give Essaouira it soul offering you a great mix of culture, food and insight into a charming way of life. Oh and the odd camel on the beach makes it unique !
Another day, another blue sky
Sara’s husband Nassar (left) and Rachid (right) along with the rest of the Explora Team
WHERE’S YOUR FAVOURITE PLACE AROUND HERE?
I think Essaouira has the perfect vibe, it has the buzz and excitement of the medina as well as the relaxed laid back hippy essence due to the beach.
If you discount Essaouira, my next favourite place is Imsoaune south of here – this beautiful tiny fishing village is a place you could easily miss, but if you like to experience real life and want to forget the stresses and strains of modern life then this is the place to go for a few days. You wont find any 5 star hotels and the accommodation is a bit rough and ready but if you want to surf some great waves and take a step back then this is the place to go
WHERE ARE SOME GOOD PLACES TO EAT?
The best lunch I have ever eaten is in Imsoaune, buying fish from a local fisherman and taking it to the smaller restaurant over looking the spot, they cooked the fish to perfection with roasted pepper and tomatoes, The flavour was truly delicious
Mega Loft is becoming more and more popular in Essaouira it opened just over a year ago, it has the shabby chic style which has become really popular in Europe. The food is a mix of Moroccan/ French style cuisine, live soulful music and great non-alcoholic cocktails – it’s a must visit restaurant in Essaouira
HOW DO YOU LIVE LIKE A LOCAL?
A friend came to visit us and described Essaouira as “the town of smiles”… so for me in Essaouira to live like a local, you need to put a smile on your face and chat and show interest in the locals as you buy your vegetables and meat from the market, Essaouira is a town full or spirit and warm heartedness so if you embrace the markets and the culture you will be welcomed with open arms
You need to learn a few words “salam’ (hello) and ‘chokran’ (thank you)
To have a local experience head to the right of the harbour and barter for the fish with the locals and then head to the small restaurant under the archway where they will BBQ your fish for a few dirhams.
This is where the locals eat and the freshly caught fish is delicious!
More on Essaouira – 5 Reasons to Love Essaouira on The Spa Shortlist
FOLLOW EXPLORA on INSTAGRAM at @exploramorocco