MAROC WEEK: SLEEPING UNDER THE STARS IN SIDI KAOUKI

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There are places we all go when things get too much, works burns us out, time races too fast or our heart needs a few repairs…for me, one of these places is Sidi Kaouki, a gem of a place about 20 mins and 20 km south of Essaouira.

Sidi Kaouki is surf, walking, sunlounging, horse and camel territory. Not a lot goes on here (unless you’re a surfer or serious walker – or happy just to superglue yourself to a chaise longue for a couple of days) but that’s the absolute beauty of this place.

Fall asleep under the stars, wake up to the sun…Blue Kaouki’s roof terrace

Named after the Sufi saint and healer Sidi Kaouki whose final resting place is the whitewashed building at the ends of the rocks looking out to sea (you can visit his shrine) this is a village of fishermen, shepherds and surfers, as well as a sprinkling of humans who’d rather leave civilisation behind.

Louis, manager at Blue Kaouki checking out the surf “forecast” for the morning

Last week, I spent a night at Blue Kaouki www.bluekaouki.com run by Veronique and her super-talented film-maker, photographer and surfer son Louis (with the hardest to spell surname I’ve come across in years – Louis Lavoie Isebaert) who now lives the good life steps chez la plage after relocating from Montreal to come and help his mum run the hotel two years ago.

 

Petit dejeuner, Blue Kaouki-style

Pomegranate, pear and yoghurt fruit salad with freshly squeezed orange juice, coffee, pancakes and bread

I slept with the windows open to let in the Atlantic Ocean breeze over me.  As dusk fell and the light faded, a man with four camels wandered home up the hill past my window…a few minutes later, three pretty blonde German girls appeared, chatting to a handsome young Moroccan rider on a chestnut horse who was making his way home after a day of horse rides at the beach. The girls took a few quick pics with their iPhones before he bid them good night, gave them a wave and cantered inland.

As the sky turned velvety black, I lay in bed thinking how we’ve really screwed up how we live.  Slaves to a digital age that thankfully hasn’t hit this village yet – you’re lucky if you’ve got WiFi in Sidi Kaouki. A million stars twinkled to the soundtrack of sporadic dog barking, a donkey braying and the odd car or scooter passing below my window into the rough track up the hill before total quiet descended.  I slept like a log.

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Night night, sleep tight while the stars shine bright

Photo courtesy of Louis Lavoie Isebeart/BlueKaouki

Six hours of sleep felt like twelve! I woke up at 5am under the same black star-spangled sky, watching it give way to dawn. At 7.30, before any of the guests were up I wandered out into the early morning beach haze just as a young boy with a huge basket of freshly baked bread popped in and left a stack of big round, warm loaves on the hotel reception desk. Tesco’s bread delivery, Berber-style.

Out on my walk, a man with a hundred years of stories etched on his face clopped by me on his donkey and managed to sell me a spiral-shaped sweet bread bun I didn’t really want. He and a woman draped head to toe in a deep red Berber “shesh” with her tiny baby were the only two people I saw until the sun broke through the morning mist.

Camel or horse, slow or faster? 

Photo courtesy of Louis Lavoie Isebaert/BlueKaouki

I popped the bread bun into my canvas beach bag and headed down the road to take photos of some donkeys who suspiciously looked just like the dawn raiders who, earlier, had pushed open the gate to a little garden outside the villa opposite my bedroom window. Within minutes they were giving the elaborate pot plants instant haircuts, mowing the mini lawn with their teeth and ripping in half two six foot elegant palms sprouting from a big terracotta pot. Hello donkey, goodbye landscaping.

I forgot I had put the bread in my bag because suddenly I noticed three donkeys and four dogs following me, interested in the freshly-baked bread obviously. One of the donkeys started prodding my bottom so I turned round and took a quick pic of him before I sped up and “lost them”.  Here he is.

Yes you! Stop prodding my bottom. (Note the reverse “smokey eye”)

Local kitesurf, surf, windsurf and SUP school MOGASURF, is run by Moroccan champion Ismail Adarzane so you’re in the right spot in Sidi Kaouki (info and videos at www.mogasurf.com)

Ismail wins again – this time in France

Blue Kaouki is one of those dream places that lets your spirit breathe. They just installed WiFi (not super fast but at least you can check your emails if you feel so inclined) and Louis and his mum are experts on the area so they’ll be happy to share their tips or help you plan your day – or your next Moroccan getaway!

For where to eat, what to do and to check out Louis’ photographs, visit www.bluekaouki.com

If you’re visiting from Essaouira and don’t have a car, you’ll need to get a Grand Taxi (the big blue Mercedes) to take you as the Petits Taxis (little blue taxis) aren’t authorised to do this trip outside of town. If you need a taxi and are staying at the hotel, Louis or Veronique can order one for you for 100 dirhams which is about £8 – that’s the going rate. Alternatively, find a Grand Taxi in Essaouira and ask the driver to take you (ask for the main Gare des Taxis or try your luck at Bab Doukkala). Buses from Bab Doukkala in Essaouira, just outside the Bab Doukkala gate of the medina also go to Sidi Kaouki around 5-6 times a day (I think – not verified, so I’m not 100% sure on this!)

LIVE LIKE A LOCAL

Lynn Sheppard, founder of Marocophile shares her insider tips with us.

She’s the author of new ebook  The Best of Essaouira which is available on Amazon.co.uk as well as her own site Maroc-o-Phile

Nobody knows Essaouira quite as well as Lynn (although I might be catching up, I think I’ve been round Essaouira’s medina about 300 times – at least – over the years). Lynn and her lovely husband Yassine, who met in Essaouira, have moved back to Edinburgh and just had a baby but she took a few minutes to share some secrets and must-see places around town for MAROC WEEK.  You can get her new book on Amazon now – it’s a great, condensed eGuide to Essaouira and a portion of the proceeds go to a local charity.

HOW DID YOU DISCOVER ESSAOUIRA?

I first visited Morocco in 2001.  I found the people incredibly hospitable, the architecture and crafts inspiring and the colours (the blue skies, sunsets in the Sahara, the spices and handwoven rugs) dazzling.  I stayed in a riad (Moroccan townhouse) in Essaouira over the new year into 2002 and there began my love affair with Essaouira.  Regrettably, my next visit to Morocco wasn’t until 2009 and I didn’t come back to Essaouira until 2011.  On that visit, I met the Swiri (Essaouira native) who is now my husband. I moved to Essaouira in 2012 and we married there in 2014. We now divide our time between the Edinburgh and Essaouira.

 

WHAT’S  YOUR FAVOURITE PLACE TO STAY IN MOROCCO?

It has to be Essaouira! It has everything from live-like-a-local rental apartments to boutique chic riads to luxury 5-star resorts and everything in between. Just make sure you have a terrace with a view of the sea and the spectacular sunsets!

 

…AND EAT?

My e-book, The Best of Essaouira, sets out a selection of my favourite local restaurants. When you’ve seen the medina and had your fill of tajine and couscous, head out of town for gourmet cheeses and al fresco dining among the olives and argan trees.

La Fromagerie is unique in the countryside above Essaouira. With the addition of a dining room and lounge, as well as the artisan cheesery and garden patio dining among the bougainvillea and hibiscus, this is now a viable off-season and evening choice. Cheese producer Abderrazzak and chef Jaouad offer goat tajine, goat mechoui (spit roasted in a charcoal pit) as well as a selection of delicious salads and handmade cheeses. A vegetarian menu (with cheese) is available. Wines are served and if you’ve got transport, why not combine lunch with a guided visit to the nearby Val d’Argan vineyard?

HOW TO LIVE LIKE A LOCAL

Nothing beats quay-fresh sardines eaten with your fingers in the Moroccan sunshine in Essaouira, and if you avoid the touristy stalls near the port and head into the medina, you can eat with locals like a local.

Buy your sardines ready-salted at the port for around 5dh a “packet” (5-6 fish), pick up some lemon, tomato and cucumber from the veg souk and a couple of breads. Then head over to one of the many BYO restaurants up the alleys on the other side of the main souk street (known by locals as khodara, meaning greengrocers) to have the sardines grilled. Find one without its own menu – the staff cook what you bring. It costs around 5dh per chuwaya (metal fish grill). Throw in a soft drink or pot of mint tea, and you have lunch for two for under a fiver.

Garden lounging at Dar Caravane

Essaouira’s long, sandy beach is great for strolling, kite surfing, horse-riding and sunset-viewing, but much of the time it’s too windy for sunbathing or swimming. Instead, head out of town to one of a new crop of poolside bars and restaurants. Dar Caravane is closest to town and can be reached by petit taxi, but my favourite is Jardins de Villa Maroc, off the Marrakech road.

Of the many local lunch + pool deals around, it is the most sophisticated. The restaurant and cocktail bar are set beside a turquoise pool hidden among olive and argan groves. It is decorated like a boutique hotel in the woods, with a sympathetic blend of modern Moroccan and country chic. Sun-loungers and day beds are dotted around a pool heated by the combustion of argan husks. Buffet barbecues are offered at lunchtime and the fee includes use of the pool, showers, towels and a shuttle from the medina.

Next up on MAROC WEEK – shopping and the Insider’s Guide to Essaouira.



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