Essaouira (Berber: as-Ṣawīra) means ‘the wall’, a reference to the fortress walls that originally enclosed the city perched on the tip of North Africa on the Atlantic coast. In the 16th-century, it became known to the Portuguese as Mogador or Mogadore, sometimes gothically inscribed over doorways in the Medina, adding groundswell to the cliche ‘stepping back in time.’
As the sunset washes the city amber, a strange concert from seagulls and the call of the Imaan fills the sky. The laid back sleepy streets of the day are now teeming. We pick our way over mats of bric-a-brac and through pavement vendors spilling onto the streets. Trolleys brimming with fish, buckets full of herbs and spices. Everything possible is for sale in this frenzied market place from rubber inner tubes to rabbits feet. And just as it couldn’t get more bustling and frenetic, night falls quickly and the day drains the streets of women and children as it retreats.
That recurring ‘medieval’ feeling creeps back and I think of the colour indelibly printed into the fabric of this city; of the sky and the ocean, changed into the colour of shadows at night. Hooded figures dart spirit like in and out of alleys, while our sense of security is buoyed by the aroma of spiced meat and vegetables. Hidden behind the ancient walls are the most surprising discovery of cool restaurants, cafes and modern riyadhs.
Elizir Restaurant, Rue de Agadir (00 212 524 47 21 03) owned by Abdellatif Gharbaoui, is our favourite. Discreetly tucked up a non discript alley and 2 flights of stairs that only those better informed masses with a ‘trip advisor’ account can find. Conde Nast Traveller recommends it on its list of best places to eat in Essaouira. Over dinner; organic chicken with fresh figs, and lemon sorbet with vodka, we discuss the artisanal skills and local cooperatives to be found here and all over Morocco; Along with argan oil, another Berber tradition that has gained international recognition is weaving. Berber women pass down weaving techniques specifically for textile and rugs, from generation to generation. We were delighted to discover a more unusual application, in woven raffia lace up shoes, that fit like a glove and feel like a pair of socks. Available to order; click here..
The country’s official tourist slogan is “Morocco, the country that travels within you” and the romantic idea of possibilities for discovered treasures is the pervading feeling. Whether it’s rifling trough the souks of Essaouira or tackling the rocky approach through an Argan forest to find ‘La Mouette Et Les Dromedaries‘ it is an experience that stays with you. We discovered Patricia Finel’s restaurant on our 3rd trip. It wasn’t easy to find. It sits unassuming along the stretch of wind swept beach from the small village of Sidi Kaouki. A 30 minutes drive or a longer camel ride south from Essaouira towards Agadir. Its both wild and tranquil, French and Moroccan, a very special place to watch the sunset after reading all day and lunching on grilled seafood and delicious French wine. With Morocco predicted to be the top holiday destination for 2015, maybe some secrets are best kept within you.