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’.

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Our top tips for Essaouira & Atlantic Coast

Eat

Cheap eats By the port

Essaouria's port is lined with stalls selling plates of fresh grilled sardines; perfect for lunch on the go. For something more leisurely, try to get a table at Vagues Bleues (2 rue sidi Ali Ben Abdellah), a simple, tiny restaurant, which seats just 10 people. The courgette, almond and fungi gnocchi wins rave reviews, and glasses of fresh fruit and vegetable juice are on the house.

Shop

A world of women Medina

Histoire de Filles is a concept store, which celebrates the 'history of girls' through a unique blend of European-meets-Moroccan styles, all made by local artisans. Leather handbags, hot-pink metal lanterns, embroidered blankets, pretty jewellery, colourful raffia baskets, scented candles wrapped in leather sleeves, and beautiful silver-edged djellabas. Perfect for presents. (1 rue Mohamed Ben Massaoud)

Drink

Wine tasting near Essaouira

Les Domaines du Val dArgan is the smallest vineyard in Morocco, and the only one in the south. Its 30 acres of vines have taken 4 years and massive effort to establish, the grapes uniquely flavoured by both desert and ocean breezes. Come to taste the different varieties (Clairette, Roussanne and Grenache Blanc whites and Mourvèdre, Grenache and Syrah reds) and to lunch in the lovely bodega.

Eat

Chic shack Sidi Kaouki

Mouette et Les Dromadaires is a laid-back French-owned restaurant by the surfers' beach of Sidi Kaouki, serving fresh seafood and chilled wines - think Dorado Carpaccio and tea-smoked Monkfish. It's a 20-minute taxi from Essaouira and utterly worth it for the picturesque, quiet setting.

Do

Watersports Essaouira & Atlantic Coast

If you're here for the wind, we'd recommend Explora Morocco for your equipment hire and lessons. The bilingual team are experts in surfing, windsurfing, kitesurfing and SUP, and will give you the lowdown on where to go out in town, as well as hosting traditional Moroccan dinners for the team and guests every week.

Eat

One Up Essaouira

This hip restaurant in the middle of town serves up modern European food and a perfectly chilled atmosphere. Run by a Scottish interior designer, One Up is beautifully designed - a wall of mirrors, Vivienne Westwood wallpaper and low-hanging Moroccan lanterns - despite its underwhelming exterior. Come for cherry mojitos, a funky playlist, smiley waiters and a divine slow-cooked lamb shoulder. (1 rue laalouj.)