Magical Essaouira is a highlight of Morocco. Head to this whitewashed port town for lashings of sandy, sunny, chilled out culture. Essaouira is also an alternative paradise for toddlers
Essaouira is a magical place. If you fancy idling a few days on Morocco’s Atlantic coastline, you are well advised to avoid the over-baked Agadir in favour her charming, smaller neighbour, Essaouira.
Essaouira is a picturesque 18th-century port town. Its chic, whitewashed medina is enclosed by ancient ramparts which overlook a curve of sandy coastline. Prior to my sojourn in Essaouira, I had spent a couple of years living in Morocco. I had already been wowed by the tangled web of Fez’s old lanes and entertained by the monkeys and snakes in Marrakech’s lively Djmaa el-Fna. However, I was feeling jaded. One medina is much the same as the next medina; a jumble of dusty lanterns, riotous rugs, cunning guides, chipped pottery, all jostling for light and space and attention. Essaouira made me fall in love with Morocco all over again.
I visited in March, a warm and balmy season. At 8am, strolling with baby in buggy along the quiet promenade, searching out a quiet eatery for a bite of breakfast, the temperature had already reached a comfortable 21C. This rocketed up to 28 as we munched fresh pain au chocolat on the terrace of the Café Chalet de le Plage. By 5pm, drinking jus d’orange portside, it was a positively hot 33C and the sandy beach was warm and golden.
Family time in Essaouira
There are lashings of trendy cafés, bars and eateries scattered throughout the old town. These make Essaouira a fun place to visit as a singleton or as one half of a couple in search of a hip gastro-break. But as it happened, I was able to enjoy another side to the vibrant port-town: family time with my baby's daddy and our toddler fella.
There is plenty to entertain a toddler in Essaouira. The beach and its shabby promenade offer acres of space for a little tot to roam, run, kick a ball, paddle, and build sandcastles. For parents, the medina offers an opportunity to practice their bartering skills, or simply, as we did, to wander its stone passageways and soak up the salty smell of the sea and the vibrant colours of the stalls. Essaouira has a boho-vibe and arts and creativity thrive here.
Both parents and children will be mesmerised by a visit to the port (located alongside the medina) as the day draws to a peaceful close. Here, the ritual of fishermen hauling in and gutting the day’s catch, to the thunderous ‘caw caw’ of scores of plump seagulls, in the gusty fresh air, makes a memorable and beautiful scene.
In addition, Essaouira offers the opportunity to go horseback riding along the sandy shoreline, peruse one of many art galleries, or to people watch as you savour a glass of sweet minty tea in a charming café.
Essaouira has resisted becoming a mass tourist destination. In my view, this adds to its allure. I was happy to trade my Starbucks ‘flat white’ for a fresh orange for a few days, in exchange for the peacefulness and refreshment offered. Tourists ranged in age from the very young - in sunhats and prams - to the elderly. What they all seemed to have in common was that they appeared to be chilled and content and happy.
Where to stay
The lack of Western trappings is not to say that one will have to ‘rough it’ in Essaouira . On the contrary, Essaouira provides a glut of stylish accommodation which range from chic boutique guesthouses in the old town (imagine a Moorish bedroom in a riad, a delicious breakfast on the roof terrace, while enjoying the incessant sea views), through to the sumptuous five-star Sofitel, which is where we stayed.
The Sofitel Essaouira Medina and Spa is as luxurious and well appointed as one would expect from a pricey five-star hotel. It sits grandly on the promenade and guests may enjoy smug access to its own private beach and playground. On arrival, we were given a very warm welcome - fresh pastries and tea in the cool environs of the Moorish styled foyer. Our room - a vast suite - was a haven from the sand and sun. We were able to enjoy suppers of fresh fish and wine on the balcony, while our tot slept inside. The travel cot provided by the Sofitel was clean and made by a western brand, and the room service staff were sensitive to our child‘s sleeping habits. Delicious L’Occitane toiletries and immense, white robes were little treats that helped make our stay very comfortable. My husband enjoyed an ‘argan oil’ massage at the spa whilst I splashed with our toddler in the warm, peaceful pool. Room rates for June 2010 range from £108 per night for a superior room, through to £190 for a junior suite.