Essaouira's annual Gnaoua Festival
Every June Essaouira starts to really buzz - the year I was there for this annual music festival the place was full of happy holidayers on the beach enjoying the music from the performers from the stage set up beside the beach, along with the crowd at numerous outdoor restaurants and bars enjoying food and excellent moroccan red wine to great sounds.
We followed this with a relaxing hour or so in the beautiful courtyard of the Hotel Blue Heure along with Gnaoua entertainers before heading off to the entertainment in the main square. The next day was an excellent line up of groups such as Youssan Dor - with for example their international hit I'll Be Waiting.
An excellent festival and an excellent time to be in Essaouira.
This year in 2015 this festival was brought forward and held in May because of Ramadan falling during the month of June...so if there are any special events you are really wanting to get to it pays to check if any information has been released online
- Historical Travel
- Arts and Culture
Essaouira's Alcohol shops...
I've noticed many enquiries on the Internet from desperately thirsty newcomers to Essaouira, trying to locate the local "bottle shop" to purchase a bottle of wine to accompany their dinner at their lodgings. Morocco being a muslim country means that in deference to local custom, the sale and supply of alcohol within the Medinas is forbidden (harram!) but in the Ville Nouvelle outside the Medinas there is always a thriving trade, it's just a matter of knowing where to go....
So, there are three such outlets in Essaouira, the street names won't be much help, because they are not signposted, but directions are as follows.........
The best new self service off licence is in Avenue al Masira, exit the Medina through Bab Doukalla and take the second street on the right, it's on the right hand side about half way down.
There are two long established ones side by side on Avenue Moulay Youssef, exit the Medina through Bab Doukalla and take the first street on the right, the two are on the left hand side.
Another long-established one is in Rue Charif al Idrissi, a street running parallel to the beach road Boulevard Mohammed V, and behind Cafe/Restaurant Mogador.
The alcohol shops are "low key" in their street presentation to avoid incensing devout muslims, and are easily by-passed by the casual observer, confusing them with ordinary shops.
Always take note that these shops will be closed on Fridays, Ramadan and any other religious holiday, so be prepared and stock up on essential supplies. Some bars and restaurants may offer to sell carry-out alcohol supplies, but this is purely at the managements discretion, although the prospect of a nice tip to the waiter will often sway the balance!
Addendum...........for smokers searching for essential tobacco supplies, these outlets are also strictly controlled by the Moroccan government, ( Regie des Tabacs) and are not always obvious at street level, but looking closely at the shop sign in the second photo at the top left-hand corner reveals three circles entwined in a blue and white background shop sign, this always indicates the location of the official tobacco outlet, although, depending on the region in Morocco, unofficial street vendors of single cigarettes are tolerated by local police, Moroccan men, deprived of their nicotine "fix" can become aggressive and sometimes violent, so the rules may be disregarded by police to prevent street disturbances!
- Beer Tasting
- Wine Tasting
Only in Essaouira.........
These African goats feed on grass, leaves and in particular the foliage and fruit of the Argan tree. Their ascent and descent balancing on the thin branches seems quite precarious, but they are sure-footed and adept at obtaining their food, without falling off. When lower branches are already stripped of reachable foliage, even by standing on hind legs, a black leader goat starts to climb the tree, the others, anxious not to miss the feeding, quickly follow him, until the entire flock is perched on the upper branches.
Sometimes in Diabat village, two kilometres from Essaouira, local shepherd boys offer to lift and place the goats on the branches as a tourist photo opportunity for ten dirhams or so, but if the goats are left to their own routine they will climb on to the trees, unassisted, I managed this alone in my self-appointed capacity as "goat herder!"
- Hiking and Walking
A bumper catch!
On a stroll down to Essaouira's port I noticed more than usual activity at the quayside, it was difficult to move among the crowds and parked-up refrigerated trucks, the reason for the congestion soon became apparent when I saw the enormous number of plastic crates brimming with fish being offloaded from the night trawlers. A frantic atmosphere prevailed, the crews of newly unloaded vessels were under pressure to withdraw to allow more fully-laden, low in the water trawlers to berth and offload their massive catches in turn. Local restauranteurs were eager to buy the fresh fish with cash in hand to complete urgent deals. The refrigerated trucks competed for space to load up and deliver the fish to Marrakesh and beyond. Everybody was busy, everybody was making money! There were large piles of maroon-coloured nets to be repaired, after the night trawl they can foul on underwater sharp rocks and tear, crews were busy stitching them up for the next shift.The weighbridge was being supervised by Gendarmerie to prevent trucks departing with overloads, I noticed one Gendarme returning to his sentry box with a big grin on his face, I suspect he managed to get some Backsheesh by overlooking an overload!
Tourists on day trips from Marrakesh bumbled around amidst all the activity and only served as nuisance value in the working port causing encumbrance, but the workforce appeared very tolerant.
That evening in Bar Hafra the session was very busy, many fishermen were celebrating their good fortune, drunks were staggering around and the occasional empty bottle of beer crashed on to the floor, the gorilla bouncer was summoned from his perch at the end of the alleyway to ensure nobody was out of order, he did not look happy.
A typical day in Essaouira.....
- Sailing and Boating
Essaouira North Beach observations......
My regular daily walk among the dunes behind Essaouira's north (Safi) beach reveals the local livestock feeding and recreation territory. The camels and bulls rest and graze contentedly on the dry plentiful vegetation and turgid succulents at the sides of the piste leading to the waste water station, only supervised by a lone gardien sleeping in the shade of the bushes.
A pleasant and peaceful atmosphere prevailed until I sneaked up and disturbed a sleeping camel, intent on obtaining a close up photograph, but noticing the control ring pierced in his nose, I realised he was one of awkward temperament prompting me to back off as he ground his teeth in displeasure, making aggressive 'honking' camel noises.
However, not before I got my photograph!.......
- Hiking and Walking
- Budget Travel
Synagogue Rabbi Hiam Pinto, Essouira.
This year, on my walkabouts in Essaouira, I noticed the Synagogue in Rue Mellah was open to the public, I poked my head cautiously through the front door, everything seemed quiet, so I ventured inside, a gardienne was in attendance and allowed me to look around, climb upstairs and take photographs, unsupervised. The many pictures hung on the walls and the prayer room were interesting.
There was no formal admission fee, but my tip of five dirhams was gratefully received.
- Historical Travel
- Religious Travel
Christian Cemetery, Essouira.
The Christian cemetery is situated just outside the Medina main gate, Bab Doukkala, its location is clearly identified by a cross carved into the wall above the door. A close examination of the graves reveals an interesting era of history, when the city was under Spanish administration in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
Although the graves are supervised by a gardien who charges ten dirhams admission fee, the graveyard is in a dilapidated condition, overgrown by succulent weeds. The engraving on many headstones is illegible, the stonework has succumbed to the corrosive coastal weather, but a few stones have survived and can be read.......
- Historical Travel
Drive up the coast to Moulay Bouzektoun
I stayed here in 2005 with friends when we drove over from Marrakech for a few days in Essaouira for the Gnaoua festival.
Once a fishing village this small village is a quiet haven amongst the stones that originally the small houses and walls are made with and a number of these houses have been restored as holiday homes - there are still the remnants of others as ruins around the village and a number of newly built 2 storey houses but otherwise not a lot change since our recent visit last week in May 2013.
Still very popular with windsurfers there were quite a number out on their boards at the time, a shop handy for rentals and repairs this unprotected beach has a good amount of wind that Essaouira attracts surfers for.
There were quite a number of campers on the crest above the beach - and a small manned police booth near them. The policeman was friendly enough when we said hello and had a bit of a chat.
The restaurant cafe La Wama on the cliff top overlooking the beach and out to sea is still there - all in nice condition and with stunning views and balcony seating and tables to make the most of the views. They have roof top viewing as well. The restrooms were notably clean and handy.
Its about 20 mins drive north from Essaouira on the road to Safi and El Jadida - the road is marked on the Michelin map as scenic route as there is a highpoint that you can stop and look over the road as it inclines down to sea level with great views for quite a way up the coast. The road takes you through forestry land with a few argane trees and quite a number of donkeys along the road sides.
- Road Trip
Borj el Berod, Essaouira.
When I first visited Essaouira in 1999, staying at the Hotel Tafoukt, I was intrigued by the sight of an old fort on the horizon at the end of the beach on Bvd Mohammed 5.
From a distance of one kilometre, it was evidently some sort of fortification and when I walked down to investigate it turned out to be a small lookout post for the main Portuguese fort further inland amongst the sand dunes.
At that time the lookout post could be explored at low tide, and much of its stonework bore inscriptions in Portuguese and the defensive crenellations were still intact, but sadly, on my return visit this year, I was disappointed to see the structure disintegrating and slowly sinking into the sand.
The tide has also changed, at no time during my ten-day stay could I wade out to explore the ruined remains, the water was too deep, so a distance photo had to suffice, plus an historical one.
- Castles and Palaces
For as long as anyone can remember there has been a Jewish community in Morocco, they were encouraged by the Arabs to settle in the cities, to act as intermediaries in trade and commerce, and enjoy the protection of the King's police.
Although their numbers have been in decline in recent years, there are still "Mellahs" (the Jewish quarter) where they prefer to live among their own people. Essaouira has a sizeable Mellah and it's own Synagogue and Hammam (bath house), but many of the ancient buildings are being demolished, as some are in generally unsafe condition.
Until recently, Essaouira's Mellah had a bad reputation for illegal alcohol consumption and drug dealing, some deaths were recorded by intoxicated men falling from the sea wall on to the rocks below, but this situation is improving, with the worst area along Rue Mellah being demolished.
A stroll through the narrow medievil streets provides a fascinating insight into a different culture from centuries before.
Essaouira's "Industrial Estate"......
Essaouira's, "Industrial estate" Avenue Mohammed el Akkad, a side street off Avenue Moulay Hicham, on my daily route to the north beach, on foot.
Morocco is essentially a third world country, and the disparity of extreme wealth and extreme poverty are easily observed on any street corner........
As such, low incomes and the ever-increasing cost of living, inspires much entrepreneural activity. Commodities which I, in my comfortable first world lifestyle are taken for granted, with easy bank credit, are eagerly sought after in the backstreets of Morocco and facilitated by "recycling".............. useable spare parts can be employed to remanufacture or repair a broken essential household item in daily demand for families in impecunious circumstances, unable to afford the luxury of a new refrigerator, cooker, or any desirable household object to make life easier for housewives, already struggling to pay for clothing and schoolbooks for their children.
The Medina shops can provide the essential low-cost basic items such as clothing, by haggling and negotiation, but "Industrial Estate" offers more technical support for someone reliant on an inexpensive mode of transport, in terms of spare parts for old cars and other vehicles, motor bikes, pedal cycles and horse carriages.......
This is where "Industrial Estate" appears out of necessity, to provide these commodities and services........
I know this area of Essaouira from way back in time and have always been sternly warned not to use my camera in this sensitive locality, the appearance of which always provoked an adverse reaction, much aggressive shouting and wagging of the right-hand index finger from side to side, with the utterance "LAA" (no!). I discerned that the legality of some business activities here might be suspect!
But Benny doesn't scare easily, so I pressed the camera button on this location, in defiance of the "avertissement" (warning)..................and survived to relate the experience!
- Budget Travel
Near Essaouira is Diabat an empty, concrete Berber village that is practically devoid of attractions except the Hendrix ruin and a Hendrix Cafe. It's best visited in the early morning and then return to Essaouira via a short and very romantic walk on the beach, past the castle in the sand of Hendrix fame.
- Family Travel
- Road Trip
Have you seen the tree ? TOO LATE ! ITS GONE
If you are a lover of trees or just have 15 minutes to kill this hidden treasure will not only take you by surprise but will also offer you a peaceful retreat from the hustle and bustle of the street.
At Bab Marrakech is the Complexe Artisanal, it faces the hotel Heure Bleue. Walk through the gate and keep to the right, before you get to the end you will see a dark tunnel, .....I really feel at this point you should put a blindfold on.
Often a polite young boy is hanging around to give you some information about the tree, You will be able to tell him that it is a 500 year old Ficus and comes from Brazil, and like Essaouira once belonging to Portugal.
Sadly this tree is no more, I am told that digging to lay new drains disturbed the roots and it died. Everyone who loved this tree is so sad.
- Arts and Culture
- Budget Travel
Sunday market at Had Daraa
Sundays there is a big market in a small town near Essaouira, Had Daraa. It is really a fine experience to spend a day visiting !
To get to Had Daraa you can take a grand taxi from the place beside the bus-station, it will cost you about 10 dh (1euro). Normally there will be 5 - 6 passengers sharing the taxi.
In the market you will find, in different places, donkeys, dromedaries, cows, sheep and a lot of other things --- and it is rather interesting to see, what is going on -- and nice, just to enjoy the atmosphere.
There are a lot of small restaurants in tents, where you can have a nice lunch for a very reasonable price. All included it might be something like 15 dh (1,5 euro) for one person.
Le Val d’Argan winery is about 15 miles from Essaouira (go north on N1, towards Marrakech) and they have a tasting room. It is in a beautiful setting, and the wine is good.
Hours: 10-6, daily
They also serve lunch, but we didn't eat there.
- Wine Tasting
- Arts and Culture