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This quaint town located on the Atlantic coast is absolutely gorgeous, and worthy of more than a one day excursion away from the heat and bustle of Marrakech.

The 3 hour journey west from Marrakech on a blazing hot day traverses an undulating, barren landscape, punctuated by the regular appearance of police traffic checks and radar. There was the occasional oasis along the way, and plenty of argan trees (the source of argan oil which is used in cosmetics and in cooking). An amazing sight is an argan tree full of goats eating the leaves and the fruit (the kernel which is subsequently harvested undigested from the ground is used to produce oil!).

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While Essaouira has a long history, the present city was built in the 18th century by Sultan Mohammed Ben Abdallah, and comprises the main attractions of a vibrant fishing harbour and the old medina. There is also an expanse of beach exposed to the alizé (the strong on shore wind from the Atlantic, reputed to blow away evil spirits) which makes it a popular location for wind surfing.

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The port accommodates a large number of small fishing boats and a fleet of purse seiners, as well as a boat building/repairing yards. The scene includes crusty old fishermen maintaining their boats and equipment and mending nets, or playing checkers or taking a siesta.

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The fish vendors are a dodgy looking bunch, selling a considerable array of seemingly random species of fish. The fish are displayed in the hot sun, on wooden boards, without ice. The sight of a camera is not appreciated.

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A feature of the port is the fortified Scala de La Ville with its cannons and lookouts. It provides a great view of the port, adjacent islands, and the city. It is almost impossible to stand on top of this fortress like Scala, as the alizé blasts in from the Atlantic. But it’s a great place to get close to soaring gulls and other seabirds.

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Once inside the fortified walls of Essaouira, one is transported into a quieter and more relaxed world. The city is painted predominantly white, and in various stages of renovation. Like in all medinas, the houses are piled on top of each other, all with colourful doors among the endless maze of lanes and alleys that head in every direction. Here also is a world of souks selling handicrafts, as well as food, clothing, etc.

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Artisans can be seen at work, largely oblivious to the world around.

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While a more frenetic scene may be found in the markets, even during Ramadan.

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Plus the usual array of Moroccan handicrafts, and even complementary medicines, without a health warning or certification in sight.

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Essaouira was also popular with Orson Welles who filmed some of Othello at the Scala, as well as a destination for musicians such a Hendrix, and even The Wailers

20120818-083002 AM.jpg A rather dilapidated park full of bedraggled sleeping men and beggars celebrates Orson Welles (with a broken nose). While in a secluded nook deep in the medina, a graffiti artist has celebrated a famous rock musician.

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