Up on the hill on the road out of town towards Marrakech and north to Safi and El Jadida is a parking area with a viewpoint over Essaouira.
The roads in each direction are separated by a barrier so that traffic can no longer cross here in front of oncoming traffic so you need to continue on to the roundabout down at where the road turns left to head up the coast to Safi and El Jadida or stop here on your first approach into Essaouira.
I stopped here quite a few years ago but never made a tip - and previous visits we have usually arrived in the dark! This recent visit in May 2013 was early evening when the coast line tends to get a sea haze so my photos are not the best - but do take the opportunity if possible to have a morning visit here as it really is impressive in the right conditions!
Thuya is a hardwood, with a lovely perfume, that grows abundantly in the Agadir and Essaouira region, and has been a source of prosperity for these regions.
Almost every part of the tree except the branches can be used. Its used to make such things as coffee tables, caskets and boxes in all shapes and sizes, trays and jewellery. and decorated with polish, inlaid with decorative motifs in citron wood, mother-of-pearl or ebony and sometimes with threads of copper, silver or camel bone.
Essaouira has been renowned as the capital of marquetry and its regarded that some of the countrys best marquetry craftsmen can be seen working in the small workshops in the former munitions stores beneath the ramparts. There are plenty of shops here with items for sale.
Some nice examples can be also seen in the small museum Musee Sidi Mohammed ben Abdullah next to the post office and Hotel Majestic and also in the Cooperative Artisanal des Marqueteurs at Rue Khalid ibn oualid which is off the square where you find the renowned Pattisserie Driss.
MAY 2013: To update this tip not much has changed - Thuya wood is still great - the marquetry is a beautiful and I love it! I bought a jewellery box at Uniprix in Agadir last year as I had regretted through the years not having bought one in Essaouira especially when the same price buys in London an item that really does not have much class! - I got a good size for about £20 but I would prefer to buy in Essaouira - the furniture and other household items I think are very appealing! and whatever you choose will make a longlasting and valuable souvenir of your time in Morocco.
With the mix of cultures and heritage in Essaouira theres a wonderfully interesting mix of architecture to be seen as you roam around the medina - such as Moorish, Portugeuse, French and even Jewish styles to be seen.
Walk on further down to the old Mellah area - the Jewish quarter - down near the Bab Doukkala end of the medina - and look for interesting details - though when we were last there it looked like whole blocks were empty for demolition!.....6 years later in May 2013 its all still there - a few kids yelling out not to take photos and the Moroccan friends I was with were not comfortable to be in the area for too long worrying that some of the locals looked and sounded quite rough..Some impressive old walls here and you can still see into the ruins of apartments and houses
..sad that history is disappearing but there were still very much lived in areas to roam around
Skala means sea bastion and two were built in Essaouira to protect the town - the Skala du Port in the south and the Skala de la Ville in the northwest.
The fortifications of the old city are a mixture of Portuguese, French and Berber military architecture . The Skala de la Ville is the impressive sea bastion built along the cliffs consisting of a crenellated platform, with Spanish cannons, up to the North Bastion built on the site of a citadel constructed by the Portugeuse in about 1505.
It is here that is popular with locals and tourists to stroll and watch the sun set.
A passageway leads from the bastion down into the former munition stores where now are dozens of souvenir shops and thuya woodcarving and marquetry workshops.
We were here again May 2013 to have a new look around, get sunset photos and visit a restaurant we were invited to have dinner at by a friend who manages the place and to meet the owner.
It hasnt changed much since I wrote this tip in 2007 still with great views, impress protective seawalls and great place to see the sunset - looked like the same artists were here that I bought art from when here in 2007! Certainly an area that is a must see and makes Essaouira an interestingly historical town to visit.
Built as a few other in the beginning of the 16th century, this fortress, soon lost by the Portuguese, still dominates the city, as íts best monument and a good testimony of our military architectural skills.
The 'old' walled medina of Essouira with its white houses and blue doors, narrow streets and ornately decorated arches is one of the cleanest and brightest medinas in Morocco. and surprisingly by Moroccan standards not old at all with the town being built only 500 years ago...
(though thats a lot older than our New Zealand!)
Theres an interesting mix of history in the architecture here - Portuguese, Berber and French... the Portuguese had established a military and commercial site here towards the end of the 15th century, losing it 1541.
With ramparts already in place providing fortifications from the sea Essouira was an ideal place for the Alouite ruler Mohammed ibn Abdallah who needed in the mid 18th century a southern base from which to counter any possible revolt from Agadir. The sultan commissioned a French architect to design a port and a town.
The outer walls facing the sea are typical of european fortifications whereas the inner walls which have square crenallations are Islamic in style.
Wherever you go in Morocco, you may find all kind of handicrafts, generally without any mention of its origin and quality.
Thuya carvings and inlaid works are very appealing, by the delicacy of the work and soft smell of the wood.
If you go to Essaouira, then forget buying thuya works anywhere else. Here you may watch the carvers doing their pieces, and buy directly from the producers, practicing the favorite sport in Morocco - bargaining.
Door to door, in the narrow streets of the Medina, in the shades of the walls, comparing styles, shapes, prices, and smiles, you feel the real Morocco. And save money!
Going into the markets to browse around just to see what is being sold and bought is an important part of my tourism. The amount, quality and variety of the stuff in the markets is an important indicator of the culture of a country and a barometer of the state of its economy. In the town of Essaouira, the markets lie in the centre of the Medina. They are still traditional, in the sense that there is little or no hygienic packaging. Such is the shopping on Ave de l'Istiqlal, for example, or Ave Zerkatouni. One shop that sold a variety of herbs, spices and remedies was of particular interest to me. It had many jars as well as piles of stuff, all labelled, some of them is very quaint manner. You ought to zoom in and try to read the labels.
In towns like Essaouira, where a lot of tourists throng the streets, a lot of shopping is meant not for the locals but for the visitors. Mostly the shops showcase goods much better so as to attract the money-spending tourists. They sell local handicrafts, artwork, jewellery and souvenirs that can remind the visitors of their visit when they get back home. Even if you don't intend to buy anything browsing around can be quite an experience. Some of the places where shopping is meant mainly for tourists lie close to the Bastion du Nord and the streets that go south and east from there.
The best way to view and soak in the atmosphere of the sea, the harbour on one side and the Moulay Hassan Square on the other, the action on the fish wharf, the people coming and going and the gulls keeping afloat in the breeze is to go up on the ramparts. You will have to pay a small entry fee but the stroll along the ramparts, which have gun emplacements, and especially the climb up the bastion to take photos or videos can be very rewarding.
When visiting Essaouira, I always enjoy taking a walk to some of the places, not very well known by tourists, but where Moroccan people are living their everyday-life.
If you like to do that, you could start outside Bab Doukkala and begin by walking to the bus-station. On the way you will pass by a very fine local market for vegetables -- and a lot of shops with all kinds of stuff: Clothes, furniture -- just everything. There is always a lot of things going on, and it's easy to find a nice café, if you need to take a break.
After the bus-station you can cross the big Avenue Al Akaba - and on the other side you will find some neigbourhoods, where mostly Moroccans live, and you have an impression af what life is like for people here. Again, there are lots of tings to look at and plenty of shops and restaurants. But I would advise you not to walk there alone after sunset.
You can take the sidewalk to the north along Ave Al Akaba and in the northern end of it you will pass by the neigbourhood called Skala (not in-the-Madina-Skala, but Lotissement Skala).
It is built in a special style, and it is a rather poor neigbourhood --- but it certainly has its own charm and beauty. Usually I just walk by on Av Al Ak -- yet sometimes also take a walk inside Skala.
(But I never stop and stare at people (or what's going on), and never take photos here -- I do not think europeans/ tourists are expected to come here, and I feel like I have to respect, that people here do not want to many tourists come and stare like it's some kind of a "zoo" here).
North of Skala, at the end of Ave Al Ak, you will find a beautiful beach, called the Safi-beach, almost only used by local people (and not much used at all). I sometimes go there just to enjoy the look of this beautiful, deserted coastline. Important: If you want to take a walk along this beach, you should find yourself a reliable guide, I have been told that it's not safe to do it alone.
For getting back -- it's easy to find a small taxi, it will cost 6 dh to get back to the Madina.
(Since this tip was written there has been some changes in the area: Right next to Skala, on the other side of Ave Al Akaba there has been built a great new super-market, Aswaq Assalam -- so it's easy to combine a visit in Skala and the Safi-beach with some shopping!)
If you plan to do a day trip to Essaouira from Marrakech like we did, then please allow some time to sit in the sidewalk cafe, have a refreshing drink and people watch overlooking the beach.
We enjoyed watching the seaside activities and footy on the beach whilst contemplating our wonderful day.
You can't miss seeing Scala Kasbah and the fortress walls and canons when visiting Essaouira. Sure, it's a tourist thing and crowds to go with it...but definately worth seeing.
The Scala Kasbah was built by the French and the canons were a mixture of Portugese, Spanish and Dutch. It certainly looks intimidating perched on top of the hill overlooking the rocky coastline. If I was the enemy back in the old days....I'd give this place a miss :o)
A must do in Essaouira - wander around the fishing port. Here you will see the locals bringing in their catch, nets, birds flying around, fresh fish smells and a hive of activity selling fresh fish etc.
Check out my travelogue for more.
Original arts and crafts.
Gallerie L’Arbre Bleu, Essaouira.
If you like to see some fine arts and crafts – a little different from what you find in the shops elsewhere in the madina – a visit in atelier ”L’Arbre Bleu” can be recommended.
It is located in a small calm street in the madina, Rue Chbanat, near Bab Marrakech – right next to “the small” Bab Marrakech, very easy to find.
The creative french artist Monique Favière runs here a fine atelier & tea-salon.
She exposes her own works: Paintings, sculptures and different kind of crafts. You can also find fine works of moroccan artists, and some artists from other countries, living and working in Essaouira.
Everything in a very fine quality, so there is a lot to look at for no matter what kind of taste you have got.
In the nice little tea-salon you can take a break and maybe a little chat with Monique.
After visiting L’Arbre Bleu” a walk along Rue Chbanat to Bab Doukkala can be recommended – here you ca still find some original “Essaouira-atmosphere” and some nice small workshops with different kinds of crafts.
L’Arbre Bleu: www.galerielarbrebleu.com
There are several hotels with pools in Essaouira, Top of the range is the Sofitel, Atlas Spa and Hotel des Isles. There is also an Ibis and Hotel ElJesira, there are others too. The beach is a wide curving bay with the port at one end and the dunes and village of Dibat at the other. There is an area that provide life guards but from what I have seen they are more interested in watching the girls rather than the bathers. Essaouira is famed for the wind which is perfect for kiting and surfing but not always ideal for sunbathing. Camel, Horse and dune buggy rides are available at the far end of the beach.