A day trip from Marrakech to Essaouira, the UNESCO world site port.
The ideal contrast to the hustle and chaos of Marrakech: art galleries, sea food stalls, nearby deserted beaches, Game of Thrones settings and sweet farniente are what makes this day tour special.
Our day trip from Marrakech leaves the city behind and two hours later, the deserted landscape around us softens and the panorama changes from arid beige to vivid green. In the distance, still some way off, a blue stripe rises above the argan groves on the horizon. It takes a little while to realise that it is the Atlantic. Below us, spread out like a map, lies Essaouira - a stunning splash of white between the sea and sky, much more Mykonos than Morocco with its honey-combed white chalk houses and blue framed windows.
Essaouira was for centuries a working port and that is what makes for its rugged charm. The Romans came here for the precious purple dye which they used to stain their imperial togas, but it was the Portuguese who put this place on the map, as a market place for gold and ivory, slaves and spices. The spice trade lives on in the colorful stalls in the ancient souks. Sightseeing visitors sip cool drinks in the cobbled square where slaves were sold after their long march across the Sahara. This was their last sight of Africa before the grim voyage to the New World. The black slaves left their music behind and its streets still resonate with the hypnotic rhythms of Gnawa while some locals may still remember the brief visit of a certain Jimi Hendrix in the 70's. After the Portuguese left, Essaouira became a free port in the 18th century - Morocco's window on the world. Foreigners flooded in, especially Jews, who transformed it into a boom town; in the 19th century there were more Jews than Muslims living here.
The greatest relics of those boom years are Essaouira's stark battlements, built to guard the city against pirates and invaders. Morocco's sultan had decided he had enough of the Republic of Sale and its pirates, a rebel 'state' within his kingdom, and commissioned a French architect to build a new port, with proper bastions, walls, canons and perpendicular streets. Orson Welles filmed his Othello on these robust walls more than half a century ago and scenes from 'Alexander', 'Kingdom of Heaven' and more recently 'Game of Thrones' ( where Khaleesi purchases her army of Unsullied) were shot here. Tall towers festooned with cannons still define the borders of the old town. Beyond these battlements, the new town, the ville nouvelle, peters out into countryside.
Thanks to its magnificent fortifications and overall bohemian ambiance, Essaouira is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site. But Essaouira is still a market town and its white washed houses and year- round hippy-like atmosphere ressembles somehow what Ibiza must have looked like in the 70's. Among all this, rural Berbers still come to hawk their wares to the artisans who live and work here and the world famous Gnawa music festival held every June still draws crowds of thousands filling its squares and beaches.
It is an ideal place to relax, wander on the beach and admire the different crafts and activities. Essaouira's real strength comes from the fact that tourism hasn't yet spoiled the town, which remains a hive of activity where fishermen and boat builders get on with their daily activities as they have done for centuries. An excursion to Essaouira would mean nothing without lunch in one of the food stalls along the sea front where delicious fish and seafood caught the very morning can be enjoyed while taking in the sea breeze and admiring the Purple Isles. In the afternoon, if you are not mad about European military architecture, go on lose yourself in the art gallery- packed streets, a world away from the hustle in the souks of Marrakech or explore the wild beaches that lie south of it.
Whatever the choice, your driver will be glad to meet you at the end of the day and share the impressions of the day with you before starting the journey back to Marrakech.
A day trip to Essaouira wouldn't be complete without speaking of argan and thuya. The argan oil produced by the fruit with its unique qualities and wide spread use in both cooking and cosmetics is widely exported to Europe. On the road back, you might catch the sight of goats climbing up these trees in order to collect their food. Before you think the long journey has gotten the best of you, we can assure you this is nothing out of ordinary.
You are free to choose your time of departure. However, in order to make the best out of your day out, we recommend leaving no later than 8 AM. Forecasted return time in Marrakech is 6- 7 PM.
PRICE.............................................................................................. 70 EUROS PER PERSON ( BASED ON 2 PERSONS SHARING THE VEHICLE). DISCOUNTS APPLY FOR 3 OR MORE PERSONS.
The rate includes: private ( sole use) of the modern air conditioned Toyota 4x4 and the English fluent driver- guide, entrance fees to all sites and monuments, refreshing drinks inside the vehicle, pick up and drop off from/ to the hotel/ Riad and transport insurance.