The Hedonist: Wining and dining in Essaouira
What to see and where to be seen
Friday 30 November 2012
In my dazed and confused state, it feels like I’ve landed in something out of Aladdin. In fact, I’ve just arrived in Essaouira, Morocco’s laid-back, bohemian coastal city. After the cab grinds to halt by the Bab Marrakech gate in the medina, I make my way over to Hôtel Heure Bleue Palais (00 212 524 78 34 34; heure-bleue.com) at 2 rue Ibn Batouta. The former palace’s design is an archetypal Moroccan riad; the decor and ambience a heady combination of Moorish and Portuguese influences. The attentive staff usher me in with mint tea and basbousa, a syrupy semolina cake, before whisking me up to my bedroom: courtyard views and opulent Moroccan decor.
There’s plenty to explore in the hotel. Of the four restaurants, it’s the rooftop eatery that’s calling my name, but I can’t resist a quick dip in the roof-terrace pool beforehand. The manic bustle of the souks rises from far below and there’s a panoramic view of Essaouira.
On the way to lunch, I pass Essaouira’s centuries-old port and drop in to Chez Sam (Au fond du port; 00 212 524 47 65 13), one of the best fish restaurants in town; my John Dory baked in garlic tastes exquisite.
Next stop: the bustling souks, alive with energy and local shopkeepers trying to hustle deals as I pass. Quickly succumbing to temptation, I buy an ornate mirror, haggling it down to half price.
It’s easy to get lost in the souks. I somehow find myself a bit off track outside the medina by the fortress. Built in 1506, the monumental fort is a dramatic part of Essaouira’s landscape, but I can’t stay for long. There are two miles of beach to explore, which once lured the likes of the Rolling Stones, Bob Marley and Jimi Hendrix (who found his “castles made of sand” here).
Finally back at the hotel, I book myself in for a hammam in the glass room on the roof, where I spend the late afternoon in a hazy state of relaxation. Then, recharged, that evening I head to Il Mare (00 212 524 47 64 17) at 43 Essaouira for cocktails, before wandering on to Elizir (00 212 524 47 21 03), at 1 Derb Agadir Medina, for dinner. The restaurant’s decor is Seventies retro, with an array of souvenirs and memorabilia dotted around. The cuisine is a mix of Moroccan and Mediterranean with a modern twist: I wolf down a plate of lamb tagine with gorgonzola.
Full – and just a little bit tipsy – I head back through the medina towards Taros Café (00 212 524 47 64 07) at 2 Rue de la Skala for live music and drinks on yet another rooftop terrace. The bar is buzzing with locals, travellers and surfers, embodying Essaouira’s hippie vibe.
Breakfast? Khobez flatbread, jam and mint tea at the hotel’s courtyard restaurant. I bask in the sun. Essaouria has worked its magic.
The Independent travel offers: Discover a world of inspiring destinations
- 1 Should Apple buy Greece?
- 2 Michael Douglas regrets 'embarrassing' Catherine Zeta-Jones with oral sex comments
- 3 Drummer Lee Rigby's family reject 'extremist' groups using Woolwich murder for political gain
- 4 Tunisia hotel attack: Locals form 'human shield' to protect hotel from gunman Seifeddine Rezgui
- 5 Fox News anchor asks 'what's to prevent' three people from marrying after same-sex marriage legalised
French air-traffic strike: Seven more days of strikes planned
Tunisia hotel attack Q&A: Does the atrocity indicate a new trend among terrorists? How does this change our mindset on travel?
Tunisia hotel attack Q&A: What are the options for people booked to travel to Tunisia?
Inside Travel: Greece 2015 Q&A - should we cancel our Greek holiday? Are our flights safe? And what will we be spending there?
Greece travel advice Q&A: Tourists urged to bring cash not cards on holiday
The moment a Queen's Guard soldier lost it and drew his gun at annoying tourist
Austerity is essential if Britain wants to reduce inequality – why can't the left-wingers who march against it realise this?
Greece crisis: The wider lesson is that it’s time to abandon this failed experiment in currencies
'I wish the BBC would stop calling it Islamic State' – David Cameron unleashes frustration at broadcaster
Extend Right To Buy to tenants of private landlords, Labour's Jeremy Corbyn says
David Cameron struck double blow in his hopes to win Britain a new EU deal
£22300 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This museum group is looking for a Payro...
£39,000: ICE ICT: Specific and detailed knowledge and experience of travel sys...
£25000 - £29000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: To support their continued grow...
£25K + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking an experienced Plumber / Mainten...