Essaouira - Town of the wind and the seagulls
I am siting on the roof terrace of my accommodation „Riad Al Zahia“, in the middle of the Medina (Old Town) of Essaouira with a great view of surrounding houses. The air is salty and the temperture very mild. It is my first evening, shortly after sunset, and I am enjoying humus and olives with typical Moroccan bread, and the traditional "thé à la menthe" (mint tea). At 7 o'clock in the evening the voice of the Muezzin resounds (calling the Muslims 5 times daily to prayer) from several loudspeakers over the whole Medina - monotonously, but impressively. The seagulls shriek and I can hear the waves in the distance. I feel impressed and think to myself, `this was a good decision to go on my info trip to Morocco. I am looking really forward to the following days.
For the first two nights I stayed at the „Riad al Zahia“. It is really a kind of lodging in the middle of the Medina. My room called "Leila" was furnished in typical moroccan style. All the rooms of the Riad have a window towards the inner courtyard with a fountain in the middle – so it is very quiet and no noise from outside can be heard. Air-conditioning is mostly not needed, as the walls are very thick. The internet works very well, but you will not find a television in the room. This place is made for calm. The next morning I enjoyed my breakfast on the terrace with homemade marmalade, bread, pancakes, choice of tea or coffee, yoghurt, cornflakes and a glass of fresh orange juice. Depending on the weather, breakfast can also be served in the lounge by the fireplace. For dinner you can order a tajine (typical morrocan meal, prepared in a pot on the fireside) - either vegetarian or with meat or chicken. The sunset bar on the roofterrace also serves smoothies, salads, small meals and coctails.
After my breakfast I went sightseeing. Essaouira is a fortress town and lies to the west of Marrakech, directly on the Atlantic on a long stretch of rock. Before the indepence of Morocco Essaouira was called Mogador. Today this name is only used for the former prison island which stands under nature conservation (protection of birds area) and may be entered only with special approval.
The Harbour and the Medina: The completely preserved Medina with her castle walls and cannons is unique and has belonged to the UNESCO world cultural heritage since 2001. The whole Medina is only for pedestrians (no cars allowed) and the cultural influence of the former town rulers (French, Portuguese and Berbers) is clearly recognizable. Behind the old town wall you can find restaurants, bars, cafés, nice small Riads and numerous bazaars. Moreover, the town accommodates art galleries, gold and silversmiths, wooden workshops and many idyllic places. Don`t forget to visit the Souks, where you can find hand made procelain, self-knitted caps, wooden masks and of course carpets. Every street offers something else and you are surrounded by the smell of mint, cardamom, curcuma, cinnamon, coriander, ginger and more. Fully packed donkey carts, traders who want to sell their goods, shops offering meat, fish and spices and women haggling for every dirham. Of course the traders try to get you into their shops – if you are not interessted, just stay friendly, say `no – thank you` or in arabic (laa shukran) and they will leave you alone. Generally I felt very sure as an unaccompanied woman here – however just think about adequate clothing. The Moroccan people are also very friendly and helped me, as I didn`t find the right way out of the Medina to my accommodation. If you want to buy something don`t forget to negotiate the price. Mostly they will offer you a mint tea and then you start to discuss. A well known souvenir is the typcial argan oil from Essaouira. This is for cosmetic use (anti-aging) and also for cooking. There is a cooperation for the local women, which brings their know how to press the oil in the tradional method. They learn everything about hygienic standards of the production and also can learn to read and write. So for this, please buy the argan oil and the products from one of the cooperating shops, so that the women have the possibility to support the family and the children can go to school.
It is a special experience to visit the harbour in the early morning, when the fishermen return from the sea, bringing the catch of the day. Thousands of seagulls are trying to catch something. The `Porte de la Scala` is full of colourful fishing boats and fishermen mending their nets and the others are selling their fresh fish, crabs and oysters. Here in the harbour the wooden fishing boats are also still built and renovated. From here I went to the ´Skala de la Kasbah´. On top you have a great view to the harbour and the city and of course the ocean. Here you can find the famous cannons from the Portugese time (17/18th century).
My next lodging was the´Vent de Dunes´, a nice, family like hotel. I had a single room (comfort with a terrace) – very nicely furnished with my favourite colour turquoise blue. The hotel is near to the ION CLUB – about 5 minutes to walk and a cheap alternative to other hotels. No TV in the room, but there is a room for watching TV. Internet is free. Massage is offered by Amina. Besides this she also gives tradional cooking courses. Breakfast is served on the roof terrace. Each room is decorated in a different colour and there is one appartment in the garden for families or friends with up to 7 people.
Spending my last night in the `Villa Quieta` – a dream of 1001 nights. I had a wonderful superior room with thick, fleecy towels, bathrobe, hairdryer, safe and a minibar and a bunch of red roses. The Villa Quieta is a former family house and was altered 20 years ago with a love for detail. You can find here a lot of relaxing places, either in the lobby or different chimney rooms or on the terrace with the stunning view to the sea, where you can also find sunbeds. A wonderful garden and a swimming pool belong to the hotel. The very sumptuous breakfast is served in the lobby or alternatively on the roof terrace. Here you can see if there are already windsurfers or kitesurfers on the beach.
During my stay I also had the opportunity to have a look at the Hotel Essaouira & Spa. It is about seven minutes to walk to our center and a hotel with a lot of comfort, like wellness, hamam and massage and/or fitness. Of course also a swimming pool and very modern rooms and two restaurants – one with local tradtionall food and one with an international dinner.
Restaurants und Bars: There are many good restaurants with either French kitchen, tapas, pizza and traditional specialities. One evening I was at the `Taros`. It is located in the Medina (Place Moulay Hassan) with an exquisite kitchen. There is a nice terrace and a bar for a drink and in the evening there is often live music.
Directly beside our ION CLUB Essaouira there is the Ocean Vagabond - `the place to be`. Just go there for a drink or relax on the sunbeds and enjoy the food while watching the surfers on the water. Either with a pizza, burger, salad or fresh fish. Besides this they offer cake and other sweets, smoothies and good drinks.
Wind-/Kitesurfing and SUP/Surfing: You can always ask our staff where to go for dinner and what is worth seeing and doing in Essaouira and the surrounds. Here are some recommendation: In front of the ION CLUB you will find a lot of camels and horses waiting for a ride – either along the beach or to the dunes. Or perhaps you would like to discover the sea and the island Mogador with a sailing boat. You will have lots of fun on a Quad tour in the dunes. Just for relaxing there are a lot of possibilites for wellness, yoga, hamam or perhaps you want to play golf. Rental of mountain bikes is offered from our ION CLUB. From here you can also visit a traditional family in the desert and enjoy their way of cooking. This is of course also to support the Moroccan inhabitans. But the most important thing to do and this is why you came to Essaouira is windsurfing, kitesurfing, stand-up-paddling and/or surfing in the waves.
Martin and his professional team will care for you all year except from the first two weeks in December. Our ION CLUB Essaouira is very generously furnished with all you need, chill out area, shop, toilets, shower, dressing rooms and equipment storage. Here you can rent your equipment and take lessons. These are held in English, Arabic, French, Italian, Spanish or German. The new Scott mountain bikes are unforgettable.
The almost closed four kilometres bay is sheltered from the island Mogador and is perfect for all levels – beginners to advanced. There is enough space for everyone. The wind blows sideshore from the right and mostly reaches 20-35 knots. In the morning moderate, increasing later on. The waves are about two meters in the spring and autumn and are suitable for jumping or surfing. The sandy beach has no obstacles and according to the tide you will find shallow water. During the summer months June to August the wind is very strong, but the waves are not so high. This is perfect for beginners and for teaching children in the morning. Surf & play is offered for the children. The water feels a bit chilly, for this a wetsuit is recommended. From October to March the wind is not so reliable. For your security we have a rescue boat.
The ION CLUB Essaouira also offers downwinders to different wave spots. You will get all information at the center and it will be according to your level. SUP excursions are also offered ... so there are various things to do and you will not get bored.
Musik and more: The political situation is stable and on the way you will find a lot of police controls for your security. The Moroccans are a friendly people who are glad about a greeting, a smile or a polite manner. They are happy with what they have. However, be careful here, like in many other countries. Especially when in times of the Gnaoua, the great music festival. Many thousands of tourists and of course also Moroccans come into the town to watch and listen to this spectacle of traditional and modern music. Drunk foreigners are a welcome target for the robbers. So be careful.
There are three important musical festivals: `Printemps musical of the Alizes` in May (classical), `Gnaoua` and at the end of September the "Festival of the Atlantique Andalouses".
Essaouira is also often called an artists town. Different artists from all corners of the world have found their native country in Essaouira. Painters, musicians and authors have found this ideal place for their creative inspiration. Moreover Essaouira has also served as a film location for historical films such as `Othello` or the fantasy film `Games of Thrones`.
My return flight was from Agadir – about two and a half hours transfer. The street first leads through the mountains and is very winding and later along the sea – very interesting. Don`t forget to fill in the police entry form (Fiche D’Embarquement) when entering the airport. You will need this for the passport control.
I felt a bit sorry to leave this great place, but I had to go further on to Dakhla.
Angelika Gross, Travel People