We had a private driver take us three hours west to the coastal town of Essaouria (pronounced Eh-swear-uh) for our next three nights. It is another walled city that sits on the Atlantic and is known as a current filming site for Game of Thrones and is also where they filmed the 1940’s version of Othello starring Orson Welles. It’s also famous as the location where Jimi Hendrix recorded several of his famous songs, including All Along the Watchtower. Today, it’s best known as a laid back, hippie, surfer town.
Along the way, we stopped to see the goats in the argan trees. They climb into the trees to eat the nuts.
We stayed at a small Riad hotel called Dar Maya, which is owned by a British ex-pat named Gareth. Like Marrakech, Essaouria is a walled city with a Medina and marketplace within the center. The driver pulled up outside the walls at one of the main gates and a very elderly gentlemen met us with his cart and donkey, loaded our bags and we followed him into the Medina to our Riad, located in a small alley. Gareth met us at the door and checked us in but not before giving us a map, recommending several restaurants and pointing out some places we should see.
It was now lunchtime and Gareth highly recommended a rooftop bar/restaurant called Taros right off the main square. As you can below, unlike Marrakech, which is known as the red city, Essaouria is all white and blue like Greece. We followed Gareth’s recommendation and had lunch at Taros. The food and atmosphere at Taros was so good that we ended up going back there for lunch the next day and stopped by one evening after dinner as Taros becomes a nightclub after dark.
We also walked down to the port area and the fortress. Essaouria has a very busy port and there are fisherman with carts just loaded with fresh fish that they sell right off the dock. There are also a series of seafood stall restaurants right next to the port which looked good but being outside and on the main public square, you will not be able to get a glass of wine to go with your lobster.
The port was very scenic as the fisherman have painted all of the boats a bright blue which stands out against the muddier waters of the Atlantic.
We were very pleased with our hotel choice and I would definitely stay at Dar Maya again. Like much of Morocco, it was insanely affordable for what you got. The rooms were large and decorated in a very modern, minimalist style. The bathroom had heated tiled floors, double vanity and a massive concrete soaking tub. The hotel had a lovely inner courtyard and small dining area downstairs for breakfast, a 3rd floor lounge area and a rooftop patio with seating and a hot tub. They would bring you freshly made mint tea whenever you asked. It was also located right in the middle of the Medina but was about a 5 minute walk to the port.
I also have to give a shout-out to my other favorite restaurant of the whole trip – Tabla Madada located in the Medina. The building was an old granary that has been converted to a restaurant and the menu focuses on fresh seafood and wine pairings. We had an amazing dinner here of linguine with lobster and clams, calamari and fresh grilled fish with an excellent white wine. I also loved the comfortable banquette seating with huge pillows.
We were very happy that we decided to visit Essaouria as we had debated on doing this or hiring a guide to take us on a long 10 hour drive to the dunes of the Sahara for a camel ride to a Bedouin camp. However, I found that many of the tour operators to the Bedouin desert camps wanted cash only and carrying over a thousand euros like that into the desert where you really are at the mercy of your tour guide, made me too uncomfortable. So, Essaouria it was. My other tip is to wait and buy things in Essaouria. You can get the best prices there! I saw many of the exact same tagines and scarves. If they started asking 250 dirhams for a scarf in Marrakech they were typically asking only 100 dirhams in Essaouria and you could still bargain down from that. I was glad that I decided to be frugal in Marrakech during our souk visit and waited to shop in Essaouria instead.
Essaouria was a real treat and a nice change of pace from Marrakech.