Head to Essaouira, on Morocco’s Atlantic coast, for some laidback beach life and the chance to feel the wind in your sails as you learn the art of kitesurfing
Dubbed the ‘windy city’, Essaouira nestles around a blustery broad bay, bedecked with blue doors, carved archways, labyrinthine medina streets and towering ramparts. Exposed to the whistling alizés, the northwesterly winds that sweep from Morocco’s Atlantic coast, it’s a haven for anyone with a sail to fill.
Kiteboarders and windsurfers have been coming here for years, drawn to Essaouira's laidback charm and its reliable breezes, which can blow up to 40 knots. The beach scene is colourful and in any one day can include camels, kites and surfers, all making the most of the wind, waves and sand. A handful of cafes line the promenade front, Boulevard Mohammed V, where shady umbrellas provide perfect ringside viewing.
This ancient fortified town has also been a magnet for poets, artists and craftsmen since the 18th century and this scene still thrives. The winding souks showcase carpets, metalwork and wood-carved creations whilst the shadowy alleyways of the sea-facing ramparts lead to the artisans' workshops.
In the main square, Place Moulay Hassan, cafes spill onto the pavements and mint teas and thick black coffees are served up on clattering trays. Visitors and locals, who still wear the traditional djellaba, a cloak-like garment with a hood, merge in the swaying crowds. Above, in the roof terrace bar of Taros, DJs mix contemporary beats, their sounds softly spiralling into an otherwise age-old night.
The beach is a broad curving bay. Sand dunes line its furthest reaches, whilst closer to town you will find the harbour entrance and a bobbing battalion of brightly coloured fishing boats. There’s a wonderful simplicity to the day's routine if you join any of the watersports schools for lessons in kitesurfing or windsurfing.
If you stay in the heart of the medina, in one of the many boutique family-run riads, (converted merchants' houses, generally situated around a central courtyard), then the morning begins with a stroll across town. You can soak up the slow start to the day as deck chairs and loungers are put out on the beach, horses led out onto the dunes and sails attached to boards. As you walk along the promenade, enthusiastic touts selling adventurous activities whisper their wares.
Lessons usually take place at the far end of the beach, about a 10-minute walk from town. It's usually a pretty relaxed approach and you can choose tuition in the morning, opting for the afternoons to be your own. When there is wind then it’s straight down to it and with kitesurfing the first stage is learning to master the art of controlling your brightly coloured foil.
The aim is to be able to power the kite using the wind. The only snag is you need to pull this off whilst steering a board on your feet. Looking out across the bay, where boarders zipped by, carving aerial jumps, it all seemed a long way off our basic skills.
This is not a quick sport to learn and even after a week’s tuition you can expect not to be standing upright. You might well get to the ‘body drag’ stage, which involves attempting to control the kite’s direction whilst you get pulled along underneath in the water. It can have its exciting moments. When the wind gusts, you can find yourself out of the water and lifted momentarily in the air.
During the daytime the beach comes to life with wet-suit-clad learners all trying their hardest to push and pull and keep their kites in the sky. By early evening the action moves to the harbour and the daily fish auction. Trays of freshly caught catch are slammed onto the pavement amidst the heavy drone of bartering. The sea walls are lined with swooping seagulls ready to pounce for rich pickings. As business concludes and the market trade ebbs away, you can join the old fishing boys, looking out to sea, wondering whether tomorrow’s breeze will be enough to fill your sail.
Getting there: easyJet flies to Marrakech