A stay in Essaouira

L'avis d'Oriane

This Sunday morning of summer, it was raining hard… The sky had been sad for a week… Angel was working on his computer, while I didn’t feel like doing anything else, except geeking on my tablet, lying on the couch…
Oriane : Angel! Look!
Angel : Huh? What’s up? I’m focused!
Oriane : It’s Sunday… Can we talk about something other than work? Look at these pictures from Morocco ! Those colors ! This light ! It’s Essaouira, a small fishing port with a fortified medina, a long beach, animated by kitesurfing and camels.
Angel : Ah yes! It makes you want… It would change us from this dreariness! Is your passport still valid? Can you take a few days off at the beginning of September?
And that’s how, on a stroke of cockroach, a little escapade was decided with a flight Paris Agadir from Transavia, we teleported to Morocco in 3H30.

Essaouira Maroc
Essaouira Maroc

The pilot on the return flight: “Ladies and Gentlemen, on the right the Mont Blanc, on the left Jean Michel Aulas, straight ahead, the Eiffel Tower and a little further on Stockholm”.
During this return flight we appreciated the professionalism of the crew, but also their offbeat humour! A good time!

Essaouira Maroc
Agadir Al Massira Airport

We disembark at the airport of Agadir: entry formalities in Morocco, change a few euros in dirhams, and here we are in front of a line of old white and yellow Mercedes bearing the indication “Taxi”.

Oriane: Hello Sir! Do you know the bus station?
The driver: Of course, get in!
We left in a very old car, without seatbelts. We come across very loaded carts, pulled by donkeys or even by men on foot, bicycles, sorts of scooters hitched to trailers on which we wonder how the load manages to hold, models of cars and vans that we had not seen since the 80s, type R5, 4L, even R6! And then pedestrians who have to cross the road in the middle of all these vehicles instead of slowing down impose themselves by honking their horns…
After 20 minutes the driver drops us off in front of a large bus station. It’s time to start crossing the 3 lanes without pedestrian crossing that separate us from the counters of the local bus companies.
Angel : Move, Oriane! Don’t stop like that in the middle of the road! Run!
Oriane : Yes, that’s how it is, you have to aim for the hollow in the traffic and sneak in as fast as you can!
Angel : Yes, that’s how it is, you have to aim for the hollow in the traffic and sneak in as fast as you can!
Arriving on the opposite sidewalk, with the exhilarating impression of already being the survivors of a great adventure, Angel consults his smartphone thanks to a 4G option valid in Morocco, to check our position.
Angel : In fact, we are not in the centre of Agadir, but in Inezgane! It’s the closest town to the airport!
Oriane : et we asked for the bus station and it looks like it…
Angel : Of course! We didn’t specify: it’s the nearest bus station.
Buses leave from here too. There’s one to Essaouira at 1pm. We have 3H in front of us to visit the neighborhood.

Agadir Bus Station
Agadir Bus Station

I find that all women are covered: at least long sleeves, a long dress and a scarf. So I take a shawl out of my bag, just to cover my bare arms.
As we turn in the neighborhood we arrive in a typical big covered market, a colorful, noisy and smelly souk! Mounds of vegetables, fruits, seeds, spices… clothes, junk… But also meat and live chickens, goat’s legs and scalps… and then, a stall of tagines prepared in front of us. The smell is a bit strong but the colours and the atmosphere enchant our discoveries. This arrival by Inezgane plunged us directly into the atmosphere.

From the bus we admire the long beaches of Taghazout, Immessouane, where surfing and kitesurfing are practiced, and discover the arid countryside covered mainly with argan trees and which shelters some small herds of goats with a shepherd and a donkey.

Finally, Essaouira! With our backpacks, no need to take a taxi from the bus station to reach the medina.
This old town with its white houses and warm riads, its port on the ocean which rocks the blue boats of the fishermen, and its ochre ramparts between which life is teeming with a thousand colours is a little jewel. Essaouira has inspired painters and attracted all kinds of artists. Nicknamed “the little Moroccan Saint Malot” in reference to its ramparts, there is nothing Breton about it apart from its mild climate. Its traditional Moroccan identity is well present thanks to a well-represented craft industry.

Essaouira
Essaouira

We have chosen the pretty riad Malaïka, renovated and decorated in a traditional Moroccan style: furniture made of thuja wood, beldi tiles, a patio around a fountain decorated with old pottery, tadelakt walls and a nice roof terrace. A small haven of softness, perfect to relax after visits in the effervescence of the medina. And then, on reservation, you could taste an excellent cuisine of Moroccan gastronomy, fine, tasty, and beautiful. In short, Riad Malaïka is a pleasure for the body, eyes, nose, taste buds and heart!

But it would be wrong to believe that our escapade was going to come down to this comfort, this luxury, which despite its traditional side forms a real contrast with the animation of the outside.

We start by going to discover the ramparts of the ancient Mogador named by the Portuguese sailors. They surround the rocky peninsula on which the medina is installed. Facing the ocean, a patrol path, the sqala of the Kasbah defended by about twenty bronze cannons pointing between the crenellations, offers us a superb spectacle: waves breaking on the rocks, flights of seagulls and herons, the accompanying chirping and sea spray… This place is picturesque both with the morning light, and in the evening at sunset, which we admire on the ocean.
What a pleasure to snuggle within the walls of a niche to read in this enchanting setting!
Angel : And what a pleasure to capture the waves and the game of seagulls in pictures while listening to the music of the ocean!
Oriane : I don’t believe it, in this frame, chosen by the artists we would almost become poets…
Under the protection of these walls, the medina is entirely pedestrian. Redesigned at the end of the 18th century by Vauban’s disciple Theodore Cornut, it has straight streets that cross at right angles. It was at this time that it became Essaouira, from “swira”, “the well drawn” in Berber language. Today it is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
The easiest way to visit it is to walk along the main axes, Oqba Ibn Naffi Avenue, Istiqlal Avenue and Mohamed Zerktouni Street, punctuated by gates that delimit the different districts and lined with colourful shops, but above all to get lost in the side streets and souks that are grouped together by specialities: clothes and fabrics, spices, herbalists, jewellery, fruit and vegetables, fish, and even a local flea market, the Jouteya. Pretty colourful doors, a few places not to be missed, such as the pretty square of the grain market even if there are no more grains, the square of your clock tower, or the Jdid souk, divided between the fish market in its centre and the stalls of herbalists selling miracle cures around it.
It is also necessary to discover the crafts: marquetry of wood of thuja specialty of the region, leather work, percussion, weaving, silver jewelry, manufacture of argan oil and its derivatives by Berber women. All this while pushing curiosity in the workshops and shops, but with the necessary vigilance not to buy products that have nothing artisanal, but mass produced especially for the naive tourists that we are. Usually, by examining the finishes closely, we can recognize the quality.

Essaouira souk
Essaouira market

Fatima, met at the fish market, took us to a shop of the argan oil cooperative where she works to show us the steps and make us taste the products. Of course, she offered to buy some. The price was a bit high, but we can say that it’s as if we paid for the demonstration! For marquetry and jewellery, a craft cooperative allows us to see the work done by the craftsmen according to tradition and to have their explanations.

Essaouira wood crafts
Essaouira wood crafts

For meals, there is nothing better than testing all kinds of restaurants: in the cheapest ones, you can eat an excellent tagine for 40 to 50 dirhams (less than 5 euros) for example at Youssef’s restaurant El Baraka :

or a little more class for 100 dirhams (less than 10 euros) at Leila’s at the Adwak restaurant:

Even swankier, up to 250 dirhams, Le Patio:

Restaurant essaouira
Restaurant Essaouira Le Patio

In this medina of Essaouira, the richness of the riads owned mostly by foreigners, and the effervescence of the shops fuelled by tourism, should not hide the reality. The further you go into the medina, away from the main gate on Bab el-Menzeh square, or away from the main streets, the more you discover the poverty in which many inhabitants live. The part that impressed us the most is the Mellah, the old Jewish quarter, almost completely destroyed, where miserable people live like in books or films that tell us about life in the Middle Ages. In this part of the old city, we were advised against venturing there in the evening.
However, in spite of the world and the poverty, we felt quite safe. No incivilities, no aggressiveness, smiles and a warm welcome from the shopkeepers and inhabitants. And then everywhere, cats, fed by the locals. They bask and prevent the proliferation of rodents that could be attracted by the food and especially the seeds in the markets. These are the cats of Essaouira, one of its multiple identities.

Going out, along the ocean, two directions are offered to us: straight ahead the port and its sqala and on the left the cornice and its long beach of fine sand, a paradise for surfers and kitesurfers that stretches southwards.
Then we go to the port… In the distance, beautiful blue boats, a few bigger trawlers, cranes… A nice little fishing port. But the closer we get, the stronger the smell! Passed the door of the navy it becomes unbearable! Nets spread out for repair, fish stalls in full sun and without ice, in the middle of the chirping of seagulls for which this place is a paradise. But the typical and picturesque of the place, takes us to the sqala of the port, magnificent with the blue doors of the fishermen’s stalls above which the ballet of the seagulls is incessant and from where the view of the port is breathtaking.

Essaouira

Essaouira

Essaouira

Essaouira

Angel : You take a lot of pictures, don’t you? You’re not apnea anymore? You don’t feel nauseous anymore?
Oriane : That’s right! I’m breathing! I got used to the smell!
Angel : Yessss! Your appetite will come back, we can go eat. I suggest you stick to the theme: let’s go eat a Moroccan-style grilled fish.
Oriane : Um… (Clears throat)
Angel : Let’s go there, towards the medina, the fish market. We choose our fish, we buy it, then we take it to the restaurant next door which will grill it for us and provide us with the accompaniment.

Oriane :Well, I finally ate, even though the cleanliness of the tables and dishes could have set me back…
Angel :I’m proud of you, finally getting used to everything. And you have to trust cats! They eat under the table, and they don’t look sick! Besides, you have to admit that it was good, it would have been a shame to deprive yourself.

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