Carnet de voyage: day excursion in Essaouira with Moroccan Guides
Our goodbye week in Marrakech was a great one. We enjoyed the incomparable hospitality of La Mamounia Marrakech, shared meals and cocktails with our friends (I found the best pizza in the city!) and thanks to Moroccan Guides, we finally visited Essaouira, a coastal city in Morocco I was impatiently dreaming to discover since day one.
Laura and Nouredinne, the lovely couple and co-owners of Moroccan Guides discovered my IG account (@heidileon) a couple of months ago and send a nice email congratulating me for showing incredible Morocco on my feed. I, of course, felt honored that they appreciated my work. Laura is Dutch, and she has a deep knowledge on Muslim cultures (she majored in History, Arabic, and Middle East Studies), while her husband Nour is an experienced certified trekking guide. Both, from their own corner and culture, were so captivated by the beauty and history of his home country and Laura’s adopted one, that they decided to found MG to share what they love the most about this place: its breathless landscapes, the richness of Moroccan culture and traditions. Few emails back and forth, and they kindly invited us to a day excursion to Essaouira. Of course, we said yes.
After a delicious breakfast buffet at Le Français restaurant at La Mamounia, we meet up with Laura & Nour at the hotel’s entrance. While Nour smoothly drove us in a super comfortable USV, we enjoyed a wonderful and endless conversation with them where we learned about the nuances and unspoken rules of Moroccan manners. When we lived in Marrakech we had little free time to discover Morocco (something I always regretted) so that mini road trip from Kech to Essa was a great way to see beyond.
The traject from Marrakech to Essaouira is about three hours by car. Apart from carefully driving (a rarity in Morocco), Nour made sure to stop several times to let us have some leg rest, a nous nous coffee time, and even a tender kodak moment with baby goats that are strategically placed in trees for tourist to stop by on their way to Essa (I loved that Nour never insisted on makings us pay for unwanted services like many Moroccans do. As much as I respect their culture, one thing I never enjoyed was all the intimidation of certain vendors, and having a local guide which is honest is gold). One of those stops was at Afous Argan cooperative where we got our hands full with locally sourced organic skin care and food products, if you don’t know what to choose make sure to at least bring back home: edible argan oil (perfect for vinaigrettes), hamlou (an addictive spread made of grounded almonds, honey and argan oil) and cosmetic argan oil (serum de beauté), those are my three argan essentials. If you still want some more, I recommend the figue de barbarie (prickly pear) soap and serum (bit expensier than argan but so worth it), as a plus when you buy at any of the certified cooperatives you will help the community (usually these cooperatives are owned and managed by women in need) to growth their sustainable eco-business. Win-win indeed!
Once we arrived at our destination, we started by walking around the port which, just as the city’s edifications are all white with just some touches of blue. The port has an old patina that makes it even more charming and a perfect spot for photography lovers or simply voyeurs, as there’s so much happening in there, mainly sea-related. We followed our promenade through Essaouira’s medina, the souks are well known by their excellent quality of affordable handicrafts, but as much as we loved to stop at each and every souk, I think my husband and I, we were seduced by the sea, the beaches and its port and the feeling of calmness that surround this city. Later, we shared a simple but delicious meal at a restaurant suggested by Nour, which attracts more of local tourism than foreigners. For a sweet ending to our visit we stop at Essaouira’s oldest bakery (or so they say) to get some local pastries, which we enjoyed next to a glass of mint tea and more nous nous café.
I think a day trip is very short for discovering the true beauty of Morocco’s windy city, but a good introduction indeed. If you plan to stop by, I would suggest a three-day stay. As a matter of fact, Nour and Laura mentioned that during their custom-made desert or trekking experiences, they usually end their tours here, as it allows travelers to decompress after exhausting excursions into the wilderness of Morocco.
As just one-day trip is not enough to give you all the good tips, I asked my favorite Morocco-based bloggers and stylists to share their tips on what’s cool in Essaouira.Here they are!
MOROCCO’s BEST BLOGGERS/STYLISTS TIPS ON ESSAOUIRA
Mandy Sinclair: “I never leave town empty-handed. Whether it’s an old vintage carpet that I picked up at a market or a trendy fashion item from Histoire des Filles, shopping in Essaouira is laid-back and pleasant. Be sure to visit the Thuya cooperative hidden down a narrow derb, but filled with the nicest wooden bowls. And a visit to Essaouira just wouldn’t be complete without a drink on the rooftop terrace of Meskala for a delicious lunch featuring the locally made cheeses and a mouth-watering goat tagine! – Mandy is the author of Mandy in Morocco and owner of Say Something PR agency. Follow her IG to get awesome insider tips on art, travel, and lifestyle.
Mèlaine Lecardonnel: “Essaouira is a great place when you want to have a break from the bustle of Marrakech, especially if you live in the Ochre city and you have kids! Take your time to wander around the medina. The alleys at Essa’s souk are larger than in Marrakech and this detail makes you more comfortable for strolling with toddlers or children. For lunch, go to Le chalet de la plage – Chez Jeannot, the staff is very welcoming, and they are great at dealing with young clientele. You can eat super fresh fish and shellfish on the terrace which as its name suggest is just by the beach. My little daughter loves the acrobats show and the enchanting music from traditional gnaouas. Petit plus: my fave place when I need a break is the villas at the Sofitel Essaouira Mogador Golf & Spa, it’s the perfect place to forget about everything: awesome sea view, private swimming-pool and an excellent kids club, what more could parents ask for? – Mèlaine is the author of Simply Mèlaine, follow her on IG to get more useful tips on how to enjoy da french life and have fun with your partner and kids.
Amanda Mouttaki: “One of our favorite easy to reach destinations is Essaouira. I first came in 2004 after my husband and I were engaged and so this city will always hold a special place in my heart. We later brought our children who have become just as smitten. Why is this city so special? First its manageable size makes visiting with children easily. The buzz of motorcycles doesn’t exist in the walking medina, a welcome reprieve from the daily bustle of Marrakech. It’s so laid back and there’s no stress if you want to just look around. Our kids love the fortresses and the beach. The beaches in Essaouira are clean and well maintained and the water is temperate and stays shallow for a long time so you don’t feel panicked when the kids are playing. We also love the food here! Visit the port to buy seafood and fish fresh off the boats then have them grilled on nearby food stalls. If you prefer street food look for ma’akouda, fried potato patties made into a sandwich. My boys favorite food here? The crepes that are found on every corner. They always choose Nutella and almonds while I prefer mine with cheese. Insider tip: Wake up early and go for a walk on the beach, it’s usually nearly deserted and makes for a really great experience. Then step into a café to order a nous nous (Moroccan coffee) or pot of tea to warm up. Remember this is a place to come to slow down so don’t rush it!. – Amanda is the author of MarocMama and co-owner of Marrakech Food Tours. Follow her on IG to get the secret hidden gardens and gems of Morocco. She’s also co-author of our Moroccan Cuisine e-cookbook which will be launched soon!
Karine Vaudaux: For my family and myself, Essaouira is a magical place where we just enjoy and live the moment. Our must-do while in our favorite Moroccan city are: a déjeuner (lunch) at La mouette et les dromadaires in nearby Sidi Koaki, it’s a dreamy place where to enjoy freshly caught grilled fish but also plenty of seasonal veggies while enjoying their super chic paillote (hut) by the beach. For apéritif or drinks, Taros’ terrace is the incortournable, make sure to catch the last rays of sun, while sipping a Moroccan gris wine. For dinner, we prefer to eat at our own riad Dar Cink, where Rislaine pampers us with aromatic tagines. When in la medina don’t leave without buying some artisanat marocain (cheaper than in Marrakech) and spices. Try the local petit pain marocain either with butter and jam or the salted version with grilled veggies and fresh goat cheese from Meskala; and of course, the ultimate touristy but so worthy Essaouira experience; buy fresh fish, shellfish (we love the sardines) right from the fishermen and eat them grilled at the nearby food stalls. – Karine is the owner of Dar Cink, a super stylish riad-boutique in the heart of Essaouira, and Mas de Cink a bucolic guesthouse in the Luberon. She also owns the reputed decor boutique Cink Home in Aix-en-Provence.
Thanks to our hosts Moroccan Guides for this incredible day trip to Essaouira, if you are planning a trip to Morocco make sure to check their tours and excursions. I definitely dream with their Sahara trips. And thanks to our gorgeous guest bloggers for their super useful tips.