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Essaouira, Morocco: Our Guide to Food, Fun & Adventure
Essaouira, #Morocco may be a little known, quiet town for now, but soon, that may not be the case. As we've talked about before, Moroccan food disappointed us a bit, but the #cooking class we did was not at all disappointing. It was in a local home, which we discovered was the very best way to learn about Moroccan cuisine. Our trip was #active as well as traditional, and we relaxed in the best way - with hammam and a beautiful riad home.
Essaouira, Morocco, the unsung hero of the country. It’s not the first place you hear about when people talk about Morocco, it’s far more laid back and it does not have the typical chaos you’d associate with places like Marrakech. If you want a completely different Morocco experience and to feel a lot more like a local, this is currently the place to do it. But get here quick, the new wave of tourists are coming soon…
Welcome to our brand new destination series. Over the next few months we will be bringing you – our fabulous readers – some of the top destinations that we visit, and letting you know the top food, fun and adventure experiences to be had in every place.
First Stop – Essaouira, Morocco
Essaouira Morocco (pronounced Essa-wira) is known as “Wind City”, not because of the over use of chickpeas in the diet, but because it is situated on the Atlantic coast of North Africa. While previously mainly a place visited by tourists willing to taking a 3+ hour each way trip from Marrakech, soon Essaouira is set to explode in tourism as Easy Jet prepares to fly directly there from London as of May 1st, 2015.
Essaouira is mostly known for it’s Unesco Heritage listed walled city which was designed by a French architect in the 18th century. The Medina (old city) is a place you can spend hours getting lost within its maze like alleys. The main thing I love about the medina is the fact that it seems to transport you back in time with it’s traditional souks (markets), including a harbour side fresh fish market where you can buy direct from the fishermen and then take the catch to be cooked up in a traditional Moroccan style. (Be warned it is a bit stinky – but well worth a visit.)
Things to do in Essaouira Morocco:
We have some bad news for you…
What we’ve discovered in our time in Morocco is that Moroccan food served in restaurants is pretty average. It’s not that it’s crap – it’s just often bland and given the abundance of spice shops in Morocco, we had expected more.
We are massive foodies and had such high hopes for Moroccan cuisine, but time and time again we were left disappointed. No meal seemed to have the amazing array of flavours we had been expecting. Deciding to not just settle for what we were being served, we asked around, trying to discover where we would find good Moroccan food. And you know what the answer was? In the homes.
We asked around, trying to discover where we would find good food
So number 1 on our list of food things to do in Morocco is: a traditional cooking class.
We teamed up with a local cook who was promoting her cooking classes, Khadija’s Kuzina, though Facebook.
L'atelier Madada Cooking Class Experience
Marrakech Discovery Tour
Marrakesh Hidden Sides Tour
The thing that made Khadija’s class stand out against others was the fact that it was an 'in home' class. You actually turn up to her house, meet her husband and her adorable son (if he’s not off at school or playing) and you cook in her kitchen side by side, learning the secrets to Moroccan cuisine.
Khadija and her husband explain along the way that quality Moroccan food is traditionally made slowly in the home, not in a rush as you find in all the restaurants (which are mainly just for tourists). Together you cook up an exquisite array of noms unlike anything we had tried the whole time we had been in Morocco.
Khadjia offers a selection of different menu items that you can choose from and vegetarians are more than taken care of as well. Our recommendations are couscous with caramelised onions or the sardine ball tajine – YUM!
Cooking and eating takes 2-3 hours but it depends how long you choose to stay and have a chat with Khadija and her husband.
However, you probably can’t eat with Khadija every single day, so for a restaurant option in Essaouira, we recommend Le Simoun Tea Lounge & Restaurant. The food here was sensational. They offered nicely presented, well sized servings for a very affordable price of 3-8 euros for a meal. That said, we ate western food, not Moroccan, so you’ll have to let us know what their tajine is like.
The staff is friendly, the cafe has amazing views of the ocean, and many expats say its toilet has the best view in Essaouira.
Many expats say its toilet has the best view in Essaouira
For a bit of a splurge be sure to check out Caravane Cafe. This restaurant is best at night, where not only can you get a tasty meal, but they offer a selection of entertainment including live local musicians, magician’s and fire twirlers.
This funky & stylish art restaurant is on the higher end price wise for food and drink. Due to this we only went for a wine and some desserts – highly recommend the toffee dessert, YUM! But if you want to treat yourselves, this is the place to visit.
You can’t come to Essaouira, Morocco and not experience a Moroccan hammam. Now you might be asking, “What the hell is hammam?" Well let me explain…
A hammam is a Turkish steam room or bath house. Moroccans habitually go weekly to have a spa and clean and cleanse themselves. If you keep your eyes peeled you can spot little hammam doorways in many parts of Morocco. Mostly they look from the outside like they could be public toilets, but they certainly are not.
If you keep your eyes peeled you can spot little hammam doorways
Naturally we cannot show any photos of a hammam. Morocco is a Muslim country, and one where you will often see women in different levels of covering from just a headscarf to full burka. But in the Moroccan hammam, things are different. This is a place where these women will be uncovered outside of their homes. Naturally they are segregated for men and women – but this can be an interesting situation for Western tourists who may not be used to bathing with other people present.
Note: For women it is not a problem if you wear your underwear or bikini bottoms into the hammam however depending on the Moroccan hammam, you may be the only one with any clothing on. Men, you may get some funny looks if you choose not to go in your birthday suit. That said, in the hammam we visited both sexes wore bottoms. If locals are not naked, you should not be as it could offend.
Prior to entering for your hammam experience, you will encounter a ticket booth of sorts where you pay your entry and any additional treatments you might be interested in. We went for bathing with hair shampooing, body scrub also known as gommage, massage with black soap or “savon noir” and the finale of a rub down with local argan oil. All coming to a total of 133 MAD or $13 USD per person.
There are plenty of touristy hammams that you can pay a lot more to visit and have some privacy and luxury, however if you want a real experience, we say go where the locals go.
There are hammam’s all over the Essaouira. If you are in the Medina you will most likely find higher priced more exclusive experiences. But if you are like us, and want a true local experience, check out either the Eranouk or Gita Hammams. Just hail a taxi and ask them to take you there. All taxi’s in Essaouira are for a set rate of 6.50 MAD but they are always happy to accept tips.
Adventure (at Essaouira Beach)
Essaouira is know as “wind city” and if you’ve ever been interested in learning to windsurf or kitesurf – this is the place to do it.
The temperatures in Essaouira stays pretty standard all through the year with average high’s of around 21 degrees Celsius, but the wind is what you need to be aware of when you visit, as it is extremely unpredictable. You can either have too much wind and you can’t surf or there is no wind – and you still can’t surf. But there are plenty of days that are the perfect mix of warmth and wind on Essaouira beach.
Kitesurfing Lesson on Essaouira Beach
Moroccan Tour From Marrakech and Back
Tour Around Morocco
There are quite a few schools to choose from but we teamed up with Explora Morocco our top choice for Essaouira kitesurfing. These guys are friendly, easy to deal with, speak multiple languages with and all of their staff are fully certified instructors. Explora Morocco offer a selection of activities including surfing, kite surfing, wind surfing, quad biking, horse riding and more.
Our first kitesurfing lesson on Essaouira beach was all land based. You have to learn a lot of techniques before you even get near the water – and it’s quite a bit harder to handle the kite than we had first imagined. In fact, you need 3 lessons to learn both the kite and water skills required. And trust us, you need to get all of the info and skills down, otherwise your first time in the water will mostly be under the water!
And trust us, you need to get all of the info and skills down
All of the instructors at Explora Morocco are fully certificated to international standard. It should be noted that some of the independent instructors that also teach in the area may not have official training so sticking with an accountable company is the safe option.
Our instructor, Abdul, was very skilled at teaching us the basics for lesson 1. After our first taste, we are super keen to learn more and become proper trained kite surfers.
If you are already a pro at any of the activities, you can easily hire the required equipment and go out and enjoy some fun in the sun on your own.
With any adventure sport make sure you are completely covered by your travel insurance before you book your lesson. We recommend World Nomads as they cover over 200 different adventure sports – including kite surfing! And, as a reader of this site, you’ll get 5% off your insurance policy with the code WN5DP
Where to Stay – Essaouira, Morocco Hotels
Essaouira is a chilled out city to visit. Unlike the pushy store owners and scams you may find in more major destinations like Fez or Marrakech, Essaouira is relatively unjaded and we have rarely paid more than a smidgen more than the local price for goods and services. That said, you should always apply common sense. We rarely have to barter for taxis here but occasionally, they will try to ask for way more than the flat rate fare.
To get the real Moroccan accommodation style, you’ll want to stay in a Riad. This is the traditional housing. Here are a couple of the places we checked out while we were in Essaouira.
Boutique on a Budget - Riad Dar Sabon
This riad can be found on one of the oldest original streets of Essaouira’s Medina or old town. Once you walk inside, all of the hustle and bustle of the Media melts away as you are warmly welcomed by the owner, Agne, and her staff. If you are lucky you will be treated to fresh-made crepes filled with cinnamon or fresh fruit – but this is also a common breakfast (included) option for this riad. Dar Sabon runs as a true bed & breakfast, and depending on the season you will get to experience different fresh local fruits and traditional breakfasts every morning before your days out in Essaouira.
Dar Mouna Mogador
For an older style, traditional riad experience check out Dar Mouna Mogador, nestled right in the heart of the medina. Just a short walk from the souks, the port and the beach (everything is close when you are in the Medina), this bed & breakfast not only offers old time Moroccan style accommodations, but the host Jane has been living and working in Morocco for over 15 years. She’s like an oracle of everything Morocco and can tell you anything you need to know and experience during your stay.
Treat Yourself - Riad Emotion
This Riad is a perfect for couples looking for a special splurge while in Essaouira.
Hotel Riad Emotion
L'atelier Madada Cooking Class Experience
Marrakech Discovery Tour
Situated in the heart of the medina Riad Emotion offers it’s guests a relaxing tranquil stay that will awaken the senses.
They state, “Each sense is invited to awakening. He who seeks peace, or an exceptional courage, discovery, balance, or even forgetfulness of self, here is the source. Each room offers both this theme and virtue, vitality and aura.”