- Where the Locals Go
Simon Cooke, a globe-trotting Englishman with a penchant for the music and publishing businesses, now calls Essaouira home thanks to an extended stay there in 2005. Along with meeting the woman who would become his wife, this passionate traveler began a long love affair with the Moroccan city by the sea that continues to this day. Here are a few of his favorite things about Essaouira. (Pack your bags now; he says October is the best time to visit.)
Essaouira is My City
When someone comes to visit me, the first place I take them is up to the ramparts where the medina meet the Atlantic. The view sweeps from the town to the port to the islands and ocean beyond then back onto the beach dunes to the north. Add some fishing boats at sea and rock-thrashing waves, and visitors get a real sense that they have arrived in this special coastal outpost.
October is the best time to visit my city because it’s vacation time for the Souiris (the people who live here) and everything’s a bit more relaxed. The city’s also at one of its peaks of beauty: The wind drops, the sea is delicious, and the rains come, adding an extra layer of color to the region.
You can see my city best from the Skala du Port, the gateway to the fishing port. Stand on this bastion and look back at Essaouira with the sea flanking you on either side. It’s worth the entrance fee (10dh at last check).
Locals know to skip the standard lunch menu and create their own meal instead. Start in the market (or at the port) where you can choose fresh ingredients, then head to one of many cafés around town to have today’s catch grilled or perhaps a tagine prepared.
The best places to buy authentic, local souvenirs are by the ramparts, along the Rue Sidi Mohamed Ben Abdallah (a.k.a Mellah Kdim), or down many of the little back streets.
In the past, notable people like André Azoulay, Georges Lapassade and, while filming Othello, Orson Welles have called my city home.
My city’s best museum is also its only museum. It’s well worth a visit and you’ll find it next to the post office on Rue Laâlouj (+212 524 475300).
If there’s one thing you should know about getting around my city, it’s to give way when you hear “ballak, ballak” — it’ll probably be a cart laden with goods wanting to overtake you.
The best place to spend time outdoors in my city is at one of many cafés on the main square and along the seafront. For the active, rent a bike chez Hicham (43, Rue Touahen Tel: +212 662 231536) and go explore or head to end of the beach for camel and horse rides.
My city really knows how to celebrate Gnaoua music. In addition to hosting the Gnaoua Festival of World Music in June, you can hear the distinctive sound at any time of year.
You can tell if someone is from my city if they’re wearing an extra layer; if visitors are in T-shirts, locals will probably be wearing a light jacket, too.
For a fancy night out, I join friends for an aperitif at sunset on the terrace, followed by dinner at Elizir and a cocktail later on at the nearby Caravane Café.
Just outside my city, you can visit the cascades at Sidi M’Barek where waterfalls meet the sea via the dunes. It’s a mere ten-minute drive south from Sidi Kaouki.
My city is known for being windy, but it’s really not — at least not all of the time! The sea breeze helps us enjoy a temperate climate with near year-round sunshine and significantly milder temperatures than felt elsewhere in Morocco — particularly inland.
The best outdoor market in my city is the main ‘souk’ in heart of the medina. You’ll also find weekly souks on specific days at several nearby villages. Most notable are at Had-Draa (Sundays) and Ida ou Gourd (Wednesdays).
Ginger Café is my favorite place to grab breakfast (lunch, too), and Triskala is the spot for relaxed evening eats (there are no late-night eats worth talking about).
To find out what’s going on at night and on the weekends, get talking during the day. It’s a small town with a lot of word of mouth.
My city’s biggest sports event is the daily flurry of kite-surfing activity. Watch it at the beach.
When I’m feeling cash-strapped, I make a small packed lunch and head out to the countryside on my bike.
To escape the crowds, I head to La Mouette et les Dromadaires to eat fresh, fresh fish in a wonderfully relaxed setting along the beach.
If my city were a celebrity it’d be Jimi Hendrix because his brief visit here has been so broadly popularized and slightly exaggerated. Nevertheless, he’s most certainly a local legend.
The dish that represents my city best is grilled sardines, and freshly squeezed orange juice is my city’s signature drink.
Maison A, a private house in the heart of the medina, is my favorite building in town because it’s my idea of perfect living space. With a myriad of rooms and terraces, there’s a corner to match all moods.
The most random thing about my city is the abundance of stray cats.
The seasonal music festivals are the best places to see live music, although you will always find music in Essaouira — and somewhere to dance.
- Nat Geo Expeditions
Listening to Gnaoua music while eating fresh sardines by the sea could only happen in my city.
In the spring you should catch the Festival des Alizés to hear spectacular classical and chamber music.
In the summer you should find the beach relatively quiet while the month of Ramadan is being observed.
In the fall you should see the Festival des Andalousies Atlantiques — celebrating Andalucian, Arab, and Judeo-Moroccan/Arab music.
In the winter you should pack a picnic lunch and go walking in the countryside.
If you have kids (or are a kid at heart), you won’t want to miss the year-round water sports. There’s also Jakady, a little land of adventure 20 minutes (by car) from town. If you happen to come in June, it’s worth catching the ‘fantasia’ performances — “troupes of cavaliers on somewhat unruly Arab-Berber horses” racing and firing their rifles — along the beach during the Gnaoua festival.
The best book about my city is Essaouira de bab en bab, in French only. In English there’s Essaouira Mogador: Fragrances of Childhood. (If you haven’t already purchased them online before your visit, both books are available from Galerie AIDA once you arrive.)
When I think about my city, the song that comes to mind is “Essaouira,” by Ganga Fusion.
In 140 characters or less, the world should heart my city because it’s a charming fusion of past and present by the seaside. The medina itself is a living masterpiece on display for all to appreciate.