An Authentic seaside town, UNESCO listed Essaouira (known as Swira) sits on Morocco’s west coast a couple of hours from Marrakech. An alluring, unspoilt destination with a tangible North African feel – now reached by direct flights from London.
With an all year round, warm, sunny climate cooled by the Atlantic breezes, Essaouira is a welcome relief from the searing heat of Marrakech in the summer months. A melting pot of locals and foreigners who came and stayed, have created a laid back, atmospheric and intriguing resort. Windsurfers love Swira’s shallow, clean waters and it’s the Atlantic Trade winds that have ensured the large scale operators stay out and the character stays in.
There are times of the year when the ten kilometres of sandy beach are for looking at but not sitting on and that’s when you’ll appreciate that this is a working town with plenty to see. The fishing harbour is thriving and with the smell of citrus and spice in the air, you can have their fresh daily catch grilled for you on hot coals at the open air stands. The confusing maze of a medina, where the pretty, narrow lanes are crammed with houses adorned with cobalt blue shutters and doorways, is just as important to locals as to tourists and the woodworkers are still crafting their thuya wood as though time has stood still.
Perfect for pottering, the souks are hassle free in comparison to Marrakech. Renowned for its rich and varied handicrafts, there are zocos (markets) all over the city filled with textiles, jewellery, ceramics, musical instruments and handmade wooden items. Art galleries, bars and small boutique shops are nestled between an abundance of café’s – perfect for people watching and chatting with the locals while sipping mint tea and chilling out. Having been established in the 18th century as Morocco’s principal port, exporting goods brought from the caravan route from Timbuktu through desert and mountain, Moroccan Jews were encouraged to settle here in order to handle the European trade, with many Jewish buildings remaining in the “mellah” today.
For real surfing enthusiasts looking for wind, waves and sunshine, head for Sidi Kaouki. Twenty minutes from Swira, sitting on one of Morocco’s best beaches with an appealing shabby, chic feel – Sidi Kaouki is true escapism. Visit for the day and if the surfing is not your thing, you can ride camels on the golden sands and bargain for silver trinkets and brightly coloured silk scarves. This small Berber village has had electricity for less than a decade and the water still comes from wells. Life is quiet – at least for now.