Essaouira - The Picture Postcard Town
The name "Essaouira" is variously translated as "a picture" or "beautifully designed"; but whichever version you choose to accept, it tells you that this exquisite Moroccan seaside town is not exactly tough on the eye, or the camera lens. Situated on a huge bay on the Atlantic coast and surrounded by miles of golden sands and verdant woods, it"s no wonder that Essaouira holds a special place in the hearts of many that have visited.
Once known as Mogador and a diminutive refuge for molasses exporters and pirates, the town has been a trading post for almost 3000 years and, in many ways, spending time in Essaouira is to feel that connection with the past. However, more than most other African towns or cities, Essaouira has charm, ambience and appeal that are completely its own.
Colour plays a vital part - the whitewashed walls contrast beautifully with the bright blue doors and yellow details that are standard throughout the old medina. It"s in this warren of streets that Orson Welles filmed his classic 1952 version of Othello, bumping into Winston Churchill during the process, according to local rumour. The medina is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site, such is its beauty.
In the souks of the medina, you can find expert craftsmen who are famous for their woodwork - particularly with the locally-grown thuja wood - and beautifully carved and oiled ornaments, furniture, chess boards and elaborate boxes can be picked up from the hundreds of stores. Equally, the medina of Essaouira is a great place to buy some freshly-caught fish or sample a harira spicy soup.
A Laid-Back Vibe - Essaouira
Watching over the town are the imposing ramparts, canon-lined walls that offer views over the cliffs and Atlantic as well as back over the medina. A nice walk along the ramparts takes you to another minor attraction: the Skala which marks the original location of the town.
Jimmi Hendrix also made the journey to Essaouira following his famous hippy trail; it was here that he penned Castles in the Sky and the town has always been popular with creative and artistically-minded people. In many ways, the tourism industry is still relatively young here and, therefore, the town remains more conservative, yet Essaouira has always had a distinctly chilled out and hippy vibe. This is thanks to the importance that the beach plays.
Although the currents and strong coastal winds can occasionally make swimming and sunbathing difficult, the bay is actually protected by Mogador island, keeping it calm most of the time. Anyway, the winds are the main appeal as windsurfers from all over the world flock to Essaouira for this watersports paradise. Such an influx of foreign fun-lovers contributes to the town"s eclectic character, with shops, hotels and restaurants all offering more individual and unconventional takes on traditional Moroccan themes and decors.