One of the most popular destinations for day trips or an overnight from Marrakech is the port city of Essaouira. For good reason – it’s gorgeous! It’s one of our very favorite places to visit. I asked my friend Lynn of maroc-o-phile who lives in Essaouira for her recommendations of places to eat. You’ll find a wide assortment of options and price ranges but most importantly you’re guaranteed a delicious meal!
The port town of Essaouira – just 3 hours by bus or car from Marrakech – is famous for seafood. However, the quality and range of local produce from the land – argan and olive oils, goat’s cheeses, wines, fruits such as pomegranate, vegetables, meats and herbs – is less known but no less impressive. Over the last couple of years, this has prompted Swiri restaurateurs to up their game and while you will find some great classics such as tajine or couscous in town, look a little harder and you will find some innovative chefs in some very original settings. Here’s the lowdown from, Lynn Sheppard, who has lived in Essaouira for more than two years and is the go-to local in the know. The following is an extract from her forthcoming e-book, The Best of Essaouira.
BEST camel couscous – La Découverte
Adherents of a low-waste, slow-food philosophy, restaurant owners Frederique and Edouard are devotees of responsible tourism and source as many ingredients as possible organically, from local souks and from cooperatives. Following the Sunday souk at Had Dra, the Monday specials menu features couscous au dromadaire. If the idea of eating camel gives you the hump (!) there are home-cooked briouats (like Moroccan samosas), tajines and pastas. Fred has also written a book on the culinary and medicinal virtues of Moroccan spices that you can pick up in the restaurant (currently in French; available in 2015 in English). She is always present and is happy to chat – this is a great spot for vegetarians, celiacs, diary-free or others with specific diets.
BEST veggie option – La Triskala
There is so much super fresh vegetable produce around, but vegetarians often get a duff deal in Morocco. The standard vegetarian tajine normally contains potatoes, carrots and tomatoes and little else. At least ask for added tfaya (caramelised onions and raisins) on top. A better option, though, is La Triskala, where a reasonably-priced menu of fish and vegetable dishes plus juices is served in a quirky retro setting. Other good veggie options are the lentil and argan oil salad at La Découverte (above), or the goat’s cheese salads at Safran Café in the sunny former granary square. Of the above, only La Découverte serves wine.
BEST meat tajines –Restaurant Ferdaous
Tajines of beef and prunes; lamb and apricots, or chicken and olives are typically served on special occasions such as weddings in Morocco. At Restaurant Ferdaous, you can experience these dishes on any day of your holiday. Chef Mme. Souad cooks up the closest you’ll get to Moroccan home cooking outside a home. The set menu is 140dh, while small appetites or kids will be happy with just a starter. Shut on a Monday and not the best for vegetarians – call ahead or pop in if you need to be sure of a veggie option.
BEST for ambiance and entertainment – Caravane Café
Situated in a riad crammed full of artefacts and paintings created, curated and collected by owner Didier Spindler, Caravane Café is like a secret garden hidden in the medina. You’ll be served a fusion menu of French, Creole and seafood specialties by some of the friendliest staff in town, serenaded by a band, bemused by a magician and staggered at the ability of one of the chefs to juggle fire between the tables, palms and waiters. A great place for a special occasion. Full cocktail and wine list. The dessert platter is to die for; the rum punch is lethal!
BEST for romantic dining – Umia
Chef Bibi finally established her own business in 2014, to great acclaim. One of a crop of new openings in 2014, the daily-changing menu is chalked up on a board outside. The locally-sourced ingredients are prepared simply in an open kitchen to exhibit their full flavour and freshness. Like the food, the restaurant is beautifully presented, featuring dove greys, retro furniture and a gnaoua mural by a local artist. The setting is understated and welcoming, like the menu and the service. Serving lunch and dinner, save room for dessert: the chocolate fondant with salted caramel ice cream is pure pleasure! An alcohol licence is on the cards.
BEST opportunity to share your meal with locals – community kitchen
Swiris (Essaouirans) insist sardines are best eaten at lunchtime, fresh off the boat. Buy them ready-salted in the fish market or the port (the fish market is currently under renovation and relocated out of the medina near Bab Doukkala – it is due to reopen in 2015) for around 5dh a “packet” (5-6 fish). Then pick up some lemon, tomato and cucumber from the veg souk (1 lemon, two tomatoes and a cucumber should be around 5dh), and a couple of breads. Then head over to one of the many BYO restaurants around the fish market and up the alleys on the other side of the main souk street (known by locals as khodara, meaning greengrocers) to have the sardines grilled – pick a restaurant with a roof terrace for a bird’s eye view of the medina. If you find one without its own menu, the staff will cook what you bring. It costs around 5dh per chuwaya (metal fish grill). Throw in a soft drink or pot of mint tea, and you have lunch for two for under $5.
BEST al fresco dining – La Fromagerie
Recently relocated from the Kasbah at Meskala, La Fromagerie is unique in the countryside above Essaouira. Now with a dining room and lounge, as well as the artisan cheesery and garden patio dining among the bougainvillea and hibiscus, cheese producer Abderrazzak and chef Jaouad are now able to offer goat tajine, goat mechoui (spit roasted in a charcoal pit) as well as a selection of delicious salads and cheeses. A vegetarian menu (with cheese) is available. Wines are served and if you’ve got transport, why not combine lunch with a guided visit to the nearby Val d’Argan vineyard?
BEST lunch + pool deal for families and those of reduced mobility – Dar Kenavo
Of the many out-of-town guesthouses offering lunch + pool deals, Dar Kenavo is the best option for families. It is built in a rural riad style, in grounds that offer a kids’ play area, vegetable and herb garden and games (petanque, swingball) space as well as a pool. The whole place is adapted for clients of reduced mobility, as the French owner uses a wheel-chair. Lunch consists of a selection of salads of raw and cooked vegetables plus gratins, so although reservation is essential, it is practically possible to do so on route. Get here by hiring local bus (to Herreta) or by hiring a grand taxi or driver.
BEST café for a slice of history with your nouss-nouss– Patisserie Driss
Dating back to 1929 during the French Protectorate, this is as much a local landmark, notice board and gallery as it is a patisserie. It’s a great stop for a breakfast of pastries, OJ and coffee-with a side-helping of local gossip. If you want more of a view, get your treats to take away to one of the cafés lining the main square – this practice is totally de rigeur in Morocco and the waiters won’t bat an eyelid at you bringing your own snacks!
|Beach & Friends||http://www.beachandfriends.com|
|La Fromagerie||Route de Safi (tel: 0658 839999)|
|La Triskala||Rue Touahen (tel: 0524 476371)|
|Patisserie Driss||Rue el Hajjali (tel: 0524 472793)|
|Restaurant Ferdaous||Rue Abdesslam Lebadi (tel : 0524 47 36 55)|
|Safran Café||Place Marché aux Grains (tel : 0600 605031)|
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- 58The medina of Essaouira is 100x's easier to follow than Marrakech. It's straight forward without the winding, twisting alleyways that seem to double back and turn in circles. It's not loaded with products to entice tourists (this is not to say those products don't exist). It's a market for the people who live there.…
- 56Bucket List #46 - Ride A Horse on A (almost) Deserted Beach I have a bad track record with beaches. I do not like to swim in the ocean and I do not like to wear a bathing suit. I do love looking at the ocean. The first time we went to Mogador (Essaouira)…
One of our favorite places in Morocco is the seaside city of Essaouira. It’s less than two hour drive from Marrakech but it feels like a world away. The first time I visited, was right after MarocBaba and I were engaged, and we’ve gone regularly ever since. Ask my kids their favorite city in Morocco and Essaouira is likely to be what they say. But why?
The city is a great combination of laid back lifestyle, lots of activities to keep people of all ages busy, and delicious food. After spending days in the bustling souks of Marrakech, walking through the tranquil streets and port of Essaouira is a welcome reprieve.
But, what if you’re after an adventure? You can find it here too! One unique feature of this city is that the wind almost always blows – always. This makes it a great destination for traditional surfers and kite surfers. If water isn’t your thing there are several companies that offer horseback riding both on the beach and on longer trail rides around Essaouira and to further destinations. Or maybe you’d rather a camel ride along the ocean? To get your heart pumping rent a Quad or dune buggy for an hour or for the day. There are trails and you can choose self guided and guided options.
Kite surfing really is the most popular sport here both among local Moroccans and visitors to the city. If you want to give it a shot I ran across a contest being hosted by Explora. The winner will get 7 days board, a spot in their kite surfing camp, equipment rental and airport transfers. All you have to do is get your ticket and pack your bags! (You can also hop over to Marrakech and join one of our food tours if you’re the lucky winner!) The contest ends on September 26th so make sure you go register right away!
After spending all day playing you’ll want to eat. Luckily you’ll be able to find some of the freshest and most delicious seafood in Morocco here. Visit the port and pick out whatever looks good to you. Fish, shrimp, crabs, lobsters, eels, and so many more varieties I’ve never even seen. Take your catch to one of the grills and have them cook your choices. Moroccan salads, olives, and bread complete the meal.
I haven’t tried kite surfing yet but I’m pretty sure on our next trip to the coast I’ll give it a shot!
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- 10000The laid back, windy city of Essaouira is a family favorite. We love the coastal location and short distance from Marrakech. But, maybe most importantly we love the food! In big cities we've found great food, at higher prices but in Essaouira we consistently have found excellent food at low prices. Whether you're dining alone…
- 10000The medina of Essaouira is 100x's easier to follow than Marrakech. It's straight forward without the winding, twisting alleyways that seem to double back and turn in circles. It's not loaded with products to entice tourists (this is not to say those products don't exist). It's a market for the people who live there.…
- 10000The first time I went to Essaouira I had only been in the physical presence of my then-fiance 5 days. It was on my second trip to Morocco (the first having been when we met). It was in March and I was on spring break from college. I remember the weather being cold as the…
The laid back, windy city of Essaouira is a family favorite. We love the coastal location and short distance from Marrakech. But, maybe most importantly we love the food! In big cities we’ve found great food, at higher prices but in Essaouira we consistently have found excellent food at low prices. Whether you’re dining alone or feeding a family here are some of our favorite recommendations and tips.
Essaouira has a large souq that is closed off to most vehicles (though you may have do dodge a motorbike or two). If you’re traveling with kids this can alleviate a lot of stress and sweaty palms. Doting these streets full of treasures are stands selling snacks. Sfinge (a yeast doughnut), crepes, and maakouda (fried potato patties) sandwiches are some choices. For only a few dirham you can satisfy the pleas of “but mom I’m still hungry!”
I’m going to share a little secret here. Moroccan breakfast is pretty much the same no matter where you stay. Whether it’s an upscale hotel or budget riad it’s all fairly standard. Some of the prices we’ve seen are upwards of $10 (per person) for breakfast! No, you can do much better than this! Every neighborhood has many hanuts – small shops that sell everything you can imagine. Stop by one, pick up some yogurt, bread, cheese, crepes, or other breakfast pastry. You’ll get these things for a tiny fraction of the price of your hotel breakfast. Then take your bags and make your way to a coffee shop. Order a coffee, mint tea, or juice and enjoy! This is totally ok in Morocco and I promise more cost effective. We would have paid at least $30 for breakfast where we stayed, instead this breakfast cost us under $10 for 4 people.
You can’t visit Essaouira without eating fish and seafood – it’s what this city is known for. You will find seafood abundant on restaurant menus but you can also choose to “pick your own” and have it grilled on the spot. If you feel really confident venture to the port and make your selections fresh off the boat. If you’re not quite as comfortable you will find many open air restaurants lining the end of Plaza Moulay Hassan (the big square just to the edge of the old medina). Choose what you want and they will grill it fresh for you. Then there’s a third option I wrote about in 2011. Whatever choice you make you’ll walk away happy and full!
Now, you might be asking what about picky kids? While my boys are pretty adventurous eaters, they really aren’t big on fish and seafood. The good news is you can pick up something else for them, a shwarma, pizza, or other take away food and they can eat this while you’re enjoying the seafood. It’s no problem!
If you asked MarocBaba why I go to Essaouira he would say for the crepes. You can find crepes in much of Morocco but they are usually only available at breakfast or late in the evenings at cafes. In Marrakech I find them to be pretty pricy, and always have orange blossom water added which I don’t really care for. But in Essaouira they are sold all over the place for at least 1/2 of what they are in Marrakech. A Nutella crepe with almonds is only around $2! Each location has plenty of sweet and savory options. It’s my go to snack and breakfast..and sometimes dinner! My kids also love them – and I’m sure yours will too.
It’s hard to find really great Moroccan food in restaurants when you’re used to eating home cooked Moroccan food. But, that doesn’t stop us from trying. We toyed with the idea of having dinner at a Thai restaurant we stumbled across but were swayed by the bright blue exterior, low seating, and cozy feel of Restaurant Laayone. The menu is traditional Moroccan (with some pasta mixed in) and is incredibly reasonably priced. We ordered two tajines, this chicken and rice dish (that I’ve never seen anywhere else), and a lamb and prune tajine. Our oldest son ordered spaghetti marinara. Our meal came with plenty of bread, but we brought in some gluten-free bread for MarocBaba – again no problem. We ended our meal with mint tea for everyone. Our total bill was under $20.
Restaurant Laayoune ~ 4 Rue El Hajjali ~ Essaouira Morocco
Having an afternoon or after dinner coffee/tea in Morocco is similar to having tea in England. It”s a daily standard. It’s also a great chance to take a break, grab something to sip, and people watch. During this trip, I happened to spot a man selling rugs out of the corner of my eye. We were able to get two really nice hand woven Berber rugs for $25! I would have totally missed this were we not enjoying our coffee. You can always get mint tea, and most places serve hot milk or hot cocoa a favorite of our kids. Moroccan coffee is called nouss nouss or kahwa hleb (you can make it at home too – here’s my recipe) and is at least 3/4 milk with a bit of espresso. Most shops now also give you a small bottle of water with your purchase. I have to admit slowing down and enjoying this tradition hasn’t been easy for me, but it’s now one of my favorite parts of the day.
Cafe de France (a Souari institution since 1917!) ~ Place Moulay Hassan ~ Medina Essaouira
Watch for more posts about our favorite things to see and do in Essaouira and more Moroccan cities! Have questions about traveling in Morocco with kids? Leave me a comment or drop an email and I will do my best to answer!
“The Sea, once it casts its spell, holds one in its net of wonder forever.”
Nets washed to the shores of Essaouira, Morocco October 2012
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- 93It's far beyond the star It's near beyond the moon I know beyond a doubt My heart will lead me there soon We'll meet beyond the shore We'll kiss just as before Happy we'll be, beyond the sea And never again I'll go sailin' ~Frank Sinatra "Somewhere Beyond the Sea"
It’s far beyond the star
It’s near beyond the moon
I know beyond a doubt
My heart will lead me there soon
We’ll meet beyond the shore
We’ll kiss just as before
Happy we’ll be, beyond the sea
And never again I’ll go sailin’
~Frank Sinatra “Somewhere Beyond the Sea”
(You can find Part One of this adventure here)
As we walked out across the water I began to wonder where Ismail was taking us. Actually I was really wondering when this horse ride was going to be over. It is safe to say that at this point my back was starting to send me messages I hadn’t heard in awhile. But, he wanted to show us something. I was really hoping that it was something good. We began winding down a sand trail and my eyes caught something in the bushes. There were small white dots all over. As I led the horse a little closer to see what it was I saw that the bushes weren’t dotted – they were loaded with small white dots!
The dots were small shells that had blown up from the ocean and attached to the bushes. It was very cool! We continued our climb and I realized that turning back was not going to happen for awhile. After making a turn we were able to see something cresting over the hill.
Ismail told us that these were the ruins of an old fort. There are many ruins that can be found on the beaches though far away from the “beachy” areas. I’m afraid I don’t know much more about these specific ruins or who built the fort to begin with . It was pretty amazing to walk around them, as they to me were ignored bits of history with no story to accompany them. I wondered who was there to build them and who might have died defending them.
As we began to walk away there was some noise coming from one of the big towers that was still standing. We were so alone in this area and were carrying our bags and a decent amount of money I started to panic. I wondered if this guy had led us all the way out here away from anyone to rob us. Maybe he had a partner who was waiting here and it was all going to happen at that point. I was just about to call out to my husband (the guide didn’t speak English) when I saw a young man sitting at the top of the tower. He was eating a sandwich and drinking a Coke. The fear subsided and I was able to enjoy the rest of our ride.
Although my back might disagree, our horseback ride was a wonderful part of our vacation. It’s something both my husband and I remember and look back on fondly. Essaouira will always be a very special place for us and I’m sure that as our children go we will bring them here to experience everything we love!
I thought this photo was really fun. Both pictures were taken in Essaouira on the beach – kind of funny how six years can make a difference!
Finally if you’re heading to Essaouira and looking for a decent place to stay on a budget I’ll recommend the hotel we found (after searching for like an hour) It’s located in the medina part of the city, close to the ocean and other activities. When we travel I don’t like to stay in fancy American hotels (I can do that here) but love finding riads that are nice and a fraction of the big hotel cost.
Dar Mounia fit the bill. They brought us breakfast in bed after we told them when we wanted it and let us store our luggage with them after we checked out but were still exploring. They also have a lot of add-ons like massage, hammam, and can book horseback riding, quad riding, and a number of other excursions. We paid 300 dirham for the night in a suite that had a fireplace (though we didn’t use it).
2, Rue Laalouj – Essaouira
The medina of Essaouira is 100x’s easier to follow than Marrakech. It’s straight forward without the winding, twisting alleyways that seem to double back and turn in circles. It’s not loaded with products to entice tourists (this is not to say those products don’t exist). It’s a market for the people who live there. Dotted with stalls that sell the products to meet the daily needs of the inhabitants. You’ll find small butcher shops carved out – and you’ll know it’s a butcher because who could miss that? The Scala or fish market is tucked back, but just a little bit. It’s wet and once you enter be careful of where you step. The early morning will have the best selection.
Lining the outer perimeter of the scala are the herbalist and spice purveyors. There are tens of spices waiting to be tried. The best deal however is the sea salt. I bought 2 kilos (nearly a pound) of fantastic sea salt for 2 dirham or 25 cents. If I would have had more room I would have bought more.
My favorite food stall to visit is the olive man. Towering temples of jewel colored olives fill the entire store front. In Essaouira not only are there olives but towers of diced preserved lemons. This is why when you go to Essaouira you need to rent an apartment. With so many fresh, fantastic food options so close at hand you will want to run out and grab whatever you can find and make something great.
Bucket List #46 – Ride A Horse on A (almost) Deserted Beach
I have a bad track record with beaches. I do not like to swim in the ocean and I do not like to wear a bathing suit. I do love looking at the ocean. The first time we went to Mogador (Essaouira) the weather was very cold and there was no activity at all on the beach. This time the weather was overcast but we were determined to at least take a walk. It was there we stumbled across horses and camels waiting for tourists to take a ride. I had never ridden a horse (unless you count ponies at the fair), but had taken a very long camel ride and knew I didn’t want to do that again. MarocBaba dutifully chatted up the men with the horses and through the magic of whatever pixie dust he has scored us an hour-long horseback ride for $20 - total.
There is a section of the beach reserved for the animal handlers. Ismail was the gentlemen that took us for a ride (you should really ask for him if you go). Take your pick camel or horse and get ready to explore the unknown.
But hold on tight because riding a horse is NOT as easy as it looks (nor as comfortable). One hour didn’t seem like much to me – but 15 minutes into it ay my back! Down we went across the hard packed sand. Jimi (after Jimi Hendrix of course) my horse was slow to warm up to my direction so there was quite a bit of start and stop action. There comes a point in the journey where the ocean turns to river, or the river to ocean. There I learned we would be crossing said water. My horse slipped on the rocks and I saw myself plummeting down and being trampled to death. OK that’s a bit dramatic but I was scared! Ismail took us to see something very old and interesting……
But you’ll have to wait until next week to find out what!
Essaouira is known for it’s horseback riding and horse trekking. There are numerous reputable agencies to arrange this. Trips can range from a few hours to several days. One hour was long enough for me but if you’re interested in longer treks, check with your hotel or riad and seek out a few options to meet your needs.
Looking for more travel information about visiting Morocco? Check out my Morocco Travel Page!
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- 66One of our favorite places in Morocco is the seaside city of Essaouira. It's less than two hour drive from Marrakech but it feels like a world away. The first time I visited, was right after MarocBaba and I were engaged, and we've gone regularly ever since. Ask my kids their favorite city in Morocco…