For all it has in common with other chilled-out seaside spots around the world – clean air, ocean-view restaurants – this old hippie hang-out is out there on its own as a surfer's paradise with a kasbah.
Clinging to Morocco’s Atlantic coast, Essaouira swaps the rose hues of the mountain towns for sparkling whitewash and blue shutters. The pretty medina is confined within solid great ramparts, and sidles up to a 18th-century military harbour. But both are dwarfed by the vast sweep of beach that runs along the approach to the city. In true Maghreb style, the sights to see are the quotidian ones: djellaba’d men whiz by on motorbikes, the port’s clamour competes with gnaoua-soundtracked cafés and the call to prayer – but forget comparing the pace of life of the souks here to Marrakech. Everything happens in a distinctly lower gear, and a wonderful air of insouciance prevails. Fish-fed cats snooze outside riads in carved Moorish horseshoe archways; graffiti is scratched on medieval doors; glimpses of shady courtyards and dim passageways lure you to yet another mint tea. Contented, cosmopolitan and cool without caring about it, Essaouira is a jaded urbanite’s delight.
The north-westerly winds can be fierce here, but this only makes it extra-alluring to windsurfers, especially between March and September. When Marrakech is at its most scalding in the summer months, Essaouira can make for a balmy alternative.