Ambling the labyrinthine lanes and ramshackle alleys of the old medina, kicking back at the fishing port to watch the daily catch come in, strolling the lively Corniche, and walking along the sandy beach, are some of the delights of taking a saunter around Essaouira, a town with few sights to pressure you into playing tourist.
First, sit back, relax, and watch our slideshow of our saunter around Essaouira. This slideshow features music that Terence created by the fireplace in our riad with a gimbri, a three-stringed, skin-covered bass, that he bought and learnt to play the last time we were in Essaouira.
An Essaouira Walking Tour
Start on the pretty main square, Place Moulay Hassan. Wander over to the low sea walls where you’ll find craggy-faced old guys scaling fish in the sunshine for the market and fried seafood stalls opposite, watched over by enormous seagulls. From here you have a stunning view of Essaouira’s walled town, the wild Atlantic Sea, and its waves crashing dramatically on the rocky shore.
Head toward the fishing port where you can capture some striking pictures of Essaouira’s cobalt blue fishing boats and drool over the baskets of glistening fish and colossal crabs and shrimps that are hauled up the stone steps to the nearby market. Note where the seafood restaurant, Chez Sam, is at the end of the port in an eccentric boat-shaped building — its interior is just as quaint — as you should return here later for a retro seafood feast.
Walk around the high city walls, so that you’ve now done a U-turn. From here you can absorb the sweeping views of Essaouira’s splendid beach, an increasingly popular windsurfing and surfing spot that’s beloved by locals who enjoy football, picnics, and playing with their kids on its sands.
Take a stroll along the Corniche or Boulevard Mohamed V, that runs the length of the beach, or head down onto the sand. You’ll pass another fine seafood restaurant, Le Chalet de la Plage, our first stop whenever we visit Essaouira (the oysters and fish soup are both sublime), and a handful of breezy café-bars overlooking the beach, all good spots for a coffee or a cold beer.
Return via the same route but instead of heading back to the port, enter the arches of Bab Sbaa, one of four ‘doors’ to the old city, and stroll Avenue du Caire, home to a couple of art galleries. There are several more in the surrounding streets.
Instead of entering the medina beneath the clock tower for cute Place Chef Chaoni (which is where we’d head to return home to Dar Lazuli), turn right, following the walls, and head through the arches of Bab Moulay Youssef.
Stroll Essaouira’s local shopping street, Avenue L’Istiqal to bustling Souq Jdid. Along the way you’ll pass little hole-in-the-wall shops selling jellabiyas and babouches which are cheaper here than on Avenue Sidi Mohamed Ben Addellah, along with butchers, fruit and vegetable shops, and tiny patisseries.
Spend time soaking up the atmosphere here. When you get the chance, make sure you take a whiff of the fragrant fresh mint from the carts piled high with herbs.
Head beneath the arch on the northern corner of Souq Jdid and follow the doglegged street, along the way noting the beautiful doors boasting decorative tiles and intricate carvings, until you arrive at a small square.
You could continue exploring the atmospheric backstreets in this area where you’ll find kids playing in alleys, old men snoozing in doorways, and women returning home from shopping or heading to the hammam, or you could turn left into skinny Avenue Sidi Mohamed Ben Addellah.
The narrow street is dotted with even more hole-in-the-wall grocery shops until it intersects with Abdelaziz Al Fechtaly, after which Avenue Sidi Mohamed Ben Addellah is lined with even more stores selling colourful kilims, textiles, poufs, baskets, leather, wrought-iron lanterns, and silver jewellery.
There are also a handful of shops where you can buy CDs (dirt cheap) recorded during the annual gnaoua music festival. Make sure you shop around as prices very enormously — and make sure you bargain!
Turn right into Darb Lalouj Abdulla Ben Yassin, where you’ll find numerous stores selling beautiful polished boxes, trays, pencil holders, and so on handcrafted from Essaouira’s famous thuya wood.
At the end of this lane, take the ramp that leads up to the windy ramparts where you can inhale the salty air and feel the sea spray on your cheeks.
A narrow alley that runs beside the soaring walls will take you back to Place Moulay Hassan, where you can sip a mint tea on the square — or go tuck into some of Essaouira’s famous fresh seafood.