In and of itself, the word Morocco conjures up ideas of mystery, heat, Africa, camels, Humphrey Bogart and romantic adventure. If you then drop the name Essaouira, the mental image changes a bit – or at least it will once you have visited this historical port town. Essaouira, as a coastal town, collectively shook hands with the hippie movement of the 1950s and 60s, entertaining such renowned names as Jimi Hendrix and Bob Marley; to this day, the town retains its laid-back, bohemian-inspired atmosphere and annually hosts the Festival Gnaoua et Musiques du Monde, or Gnaoua World Music Festival, which spotlights Moroccan bands alongside international beats.
The beach in Essaouira is ten kilometers of fine sand that is at once tranquil, lovely and windy. Its constant low breeze makes every day perfect for the crowd of wind surfers and parasailers it draws in. If there is a water sport that makes use of good wind and waves, this is the beach that will accommodate it. Swimming is fine here, but the winds make sunbathing and swimming for beginners better served at a sheltered pool in hotels or resorts that pepper the area without distracting from the charm of the friendly, peaceful town.
While Jimi Hendrix may or may not have been inspired to write the song “Castles in the Sand” here, you may be inspired to pen a poem or two once you take in the ruins of the old castles, battlements and fortresses in the area. This city has been influenced by a number of civilizations and was the most prosperous city in Morocco during the 17th and 18th centuries. Crafts abound here, including beads and wood working, and many amazing little things to take back home. The wood workers are world-respected for their ability to bend sandarac wood to their will, crowning it with intricate detail and tooling, for cabinets and other wood products unparalleled anywhere else in Morocco.
The town itself is a walled beauty with whitewashed structures sporting blue shutters and colorful shops down every narrow street. There is a distinctive charm here – a definite atmosphere – and a charge of creativity accompanying the artisans found under the same ruins Orson Welles used in his adaptation of Othello in 1949. An ancient city, drawn from the sands of antiquity, it nevertheless embraces the modern world as well, while maintaining its impressive roots and inspiring the next generation. Not a well known port of call, it is becoming increasingly so. But despite the fame and renown, Essaouira remains a calm fishing town set amongst the stunning panorama of a magnificent sea to the south and peaceful wooded hills to the east.
Explore the heart of the town itself, which is a marvelous labyrinth of souks and stalls, craft shops and bazaars. Being directly on the sea, the bounty of the ocean is the freshest you will every experience. Prepared with flair and style, the local food tromps most other destinations’ gourmet offerings. Cafes brew amazing coffees, and eateries display their pastries and sandwiches for the visitor who likes to experience local cuisine and desserts.
A place of solace, sunny beaches, cool breezes, stunning landscapes and ancient ruins, Essaouira is rightly called the Jewel of the Atlantic and is destined to become a favorite haunt for life.