Holidays from the Island

The next step on our trip to Morocco was to head out to the coastal town of Essaouira. We had heard that this was the perfect place to chill out for a few days as it constantly caressed by winds from the sea, much like our lovely little island! This would be a welcome relief after the heat of Marrakech.

However, all was not going to run smoothly. The intercity bus services in Morocco are very good with frequent journeys and clean, air conditioned vehicles. As a result they get very booked up, which we did not know. When we got to the bus station we found that all the buses on the day we wanted to travel on were full. However there was a day return bus which we could go on and not bother to use the return part of the ticket. Expecting to be charged the full fare for his, we accepted as we had accommodation booked. However we suddenly found hat our fare was reduced by around 30%, and we didn't have to bargain at all - things were looking up! So we found ourselves getting a two and half hour bus trip for the princely sum of 9 euros!

The trip to the coast was uneventful, except that we did manage to see Argan trees. Argan oil is used as a health food in Morocco and also for massages. Goats are very partial to the nuts of the tree and even climb them to get to these tasty treats!

We had opted to stay in a riad for this part of our trip. These are old traditional houses located in the old parts of towns or medinas in Morocco. They are often built round an internal courtyard and have roof terraces. Sound lovely don't they. The only problem is that taxis can't get to them so you have might have to carry your own luggage. With all the shopping we'd done in Marrakech we weren't relishing the thought of this. However, the free market came to our rescue. At the bus stop we were met by a myriad of lads all with barrows ready to take the load off us. We just followed and enjoyed the view of an almost perfectly preserved maze of streets many with ornate columns and archways.

When we arrived at our  riad, the Mamouna, we weren't disappointed. It was beautiful. Essaouira was a fort in olden times and we were staying on the walls of this. Our view out of the window was the dramatic coastline and we were lulled to sleep with the sound of the waves crashing on the rocks below.

The inside of the riad had many sumptuous seating areas where you could relax with a good book.

The courtyard doubled as a restaurant and had a gently bubbling fountain.

Breakfast was served on the roof terrace so you could drink in the view along with your mint tea and freshly squeezed orange juice.

Pleased with our accommodation we set off to explore the town. Walking the streets was a pleasure to both the eye and the senses. It was far less crowded than Marrakech - see my previous article on shopping in the souks. Shopkeepers didn't hassle you and there were many little plazas where you could stop for a coffee and an ice cream. Apart from the lovely smells coming from the spice shops, the mint stalls gave a wonderful aroma to the air.

Many of the streets are very attractive for instance this one where all the shops sell jewellery. It also helped that thanks to the sea breeze the temperature was much lower than in the inland. In fact it was quite chilly, even in July, in the mornings and evenings and we needed to wear light jackets.

Essaouira is a busy fishing port and down at the port you can see all the wooden fishing boats lined up.

They hold a fish auction on Mondays to Saturdays from 3-5pm in the hall just outside the port gates which is well worth a visit. You can then sit at one of the many stalls and select your fish for the barbeque.

This was followed by a gentle stroll around the Skala, the old ramparts which has some great photo opportunities of the town, the islands off shore and the fishermen hunting for crabs along the rocks. It also had extremely clean toilets and it only costs a euro to get in to the complex.

We then headed off to the beach - which, unlike the town was absolutely packed! OK so it was a Sunday, but I think we are more than a little spoiled here on Fuerteventura with our uncrowded versions.

We started to walk along he esplanade when I spotted something very rare - a wally trolley. We used to have one here in Corralejo but for various reasons it doesn't run anymore, even though we have been assured it is coming back for months now.


So on we hopped and found a quieter spot on which to sunbathe. We hadn't been there long when we heard he sound of hooves. You can take rides along the beach, but this turned out to be a couple of policemen. I noticed that were very vigilant in ensuring that people behaved well towards each other. At one point they moved some boys who were playing football too close to families.

After a heavy day relaxing we now wanted to try a Hammam. These are a little like a cross between a steam room and a sauna, but less intense. First you have several buckets of warm water thrown over you and then you are left to sweat for a while. Next comes the gommage where you are scrubbed all over with something resembling a brillo pad. Not part of you is sacred in this, soles of feet, armpit and your ears! More copious amounts of water are used to rinse off all the grime and dead skin. We had then opted for an additional massage, mine was with mint oil which left us feeling almost comatose! We went to the Hammam Mounia, not far from our hotel.

While I was in the mood for being pampered, I decided to have a facial. This took place in an unusual pharmacists shop, where they not only dispense traditional medicines but also have homeopathic and natural remedies. In addition to this they conduct AIDS education for teenagers and rent out crutches if you are unlucky enough to break a leg! Upstairs Wafa had all the various machines and potions to take years off me! This took over an hour, but I felt and looked great afterwards.

Wafa does a whole range of beauty treatments in this shop so if you're there she is well worth visiting. The pharmacy is close to the Hammam Mounia and can be found at 122 Av Sidi Mohamed Ben Abdellah which is one of the main routes through the old town. 

The next day we headed off to a beach south of Essaouira, Sidi Kaouki. This is around 27 km away and it takes 45 mins on the bus, but it only costs 12 cents return! This place is reputed to be one of the best windsurfing places in the world and the wind was certsainly up when we were there - very reminiscent of Sotavento. There is not much else to do there apart from taking a camel ride along the beach. A perect palce if you really want to chhill out.

There are a couple of small hotels there, one of which seemed to have been designed by with a very interesting view of architecture, and a string of cafes for eating some of the fish caught that morning. We had char char, no idea what this would be in English - and a lovely vegetable tagine. Extremely cheap and absolutely delicious. Interesting to see a large wind farm there, much bigger than the one on Fuerteventura!

Back to Essaouira, there around 5 buses a day and time for some nightlife. We went to Taros near the harbour which has a wonderful roof terrace and does yummy cocktails. There was live music and a lovely touch was that hey would lend you a poncho if the wind was a bit too cool for comfort.

Downstairs was an excellent restaurant, beautifully decorated and also featuring a library of second hand books.

There are lots of great restaurants here. Another one we tries was the Dar Loubana, located in an open courtyard yet sheltered from the wind. They have live Moroccan music on Saturday nights and do a great fish curry.

Well rested and a lot  more relaxed we were ready for our next trip into the Atlas Mountains.

Corinne Sellens

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