Essaouira & Atlantic Coast

Essaouira & Atlantic Coast: Why go

After a few days in the desert or Marrakech, what could be more refreshing than cooling off in the Atlantic? Sea breezes will blow any remaining cobwebs away and big waves will keep surfers happy for hours. Morocco's Atlantic coast stretches over 3,000 km from Dakhla, near the border with Mauritania up to Cap Spartel and the Straits of Gibraltar. Apart from a handful of resorts, the beaches remain unspoilt.

Avoid Agadir - a characterless, package tour destination - and head instead for the delightful fishing port of Essaouira (pronounced Esa-wEEra), 170km/2-3 hours west of Marrakech. Its relaxing atmosphere and the excellent conditions for windsurfing have long made it a popular spot with independent travellers. Once loved by Orson Wells and Jimi Hendrix, it now counts Cat Stevens among its admirers.

Imposing fortifications (still with cannons) are an impressive reminder of the battles that once raged along this stretch of coast. Essaouira, formerly known as Mogodor, was conquered successively by the Carthaginians, Romans, Portuguese, Spanish and finally the 60s hippies.

Inside the walled town you'll find narrow streets and whitewashed houses with blue shutters, atmospheric souks, wood workshops, shaded squares and cafes. From ancient times to the present Essaouira has been an important port and fishing centre. The lively harbour is filled with colourful fishing boats, nets, vendors and stalls grilling the day's catch.

The beaches are broad, sandy, apparently endless and very windy; the sea is all around, deep blue at noon, white and wave-whipped in the afternoon, orange-red as the sun sets behind the ‘purple islets’.

02:33 | GMT + 0 Hours