Essaouira: Another View of Morocco
Located on the Atlantic coast, between Casablanca and Agadir, the location of Essaouira was already known in the 2nd century BC when King Juba II developed there the production of purpura. It was later known under its Portuguese name of Mogador in the 16th century. It was then an important center for the production of sugar cane and the sugar was exported all over Europe. In 1764, the Alaouite Sultan Sidi Muhammad ibn Abdallah decided to build there a fortified port from where his pirate fleet could rule the ocean. This was done under the supervision of one of its prisoners, a French engineer called Cournut who designed the map of the city (Es-saouira means well drawn) according to the rules edicted by Vauban.
Since 2001, it’s been listed by Unesco: “The Committee inscribed the Medina of Essaouira (Formerly Mogador) on the World Heritage List under criteria (ii) and (iv):
Criterion (ii): Essaouira is an outstanding and well preserved example of a late 18th century European fortified seaport town translated to a North African context.
Criterion (iv): With the opening up of Morocco to the rest of the world in the later 17th century Essaouira was laid out by a French architect who had been profoundly influenced by the work of Vauban at Saint-Malo. It has retained its European appearance to a substantial extent.”
It is a very well alive city, with its fishing harbour, its souks with many spice stalls, where you can walk for hours. We strongly recommend a visit to the fishing harbour and the souks!
During your stay there, you may visit the city of Safi, about 100 miles North, the main morocco pottery center. When you buy a piece of pottery in morocco, chances are it was made in Safi. It’s also a main sardine cannery harbour. The road to get there is very nice and offers you superb views of the coast. On your way, you may stop to buy some food at some typical markets in the villages along the road. While there, you can enjoy one of the best tajines in town, in the tiny shop, Chez Hosny, in the middle of the pottery shops. Don’t forget a look at the remains of the ancient Portuguese cathedral.
La Kasbah de Khemis Meskala, run by Abderrazzak Khoubbane, is a guesthouse restaurant and cheese factory (mostly sheep and goat) in Khemis Meksala, about 50 km from Essaouira, off the road to Marrakech. It is within a superb riad inside an old fortified ksar. A few years ago, Abderrazzak left his position as a professor in a university in Canada to come back to his roots and save this family property from the injuries of time. He now supplies many fine restaurants in Morocco with his cheeses.
Chez Sam is a typical sea food restaurant, located at the very end of the harbour, in the middle of the fishing boats pier. To get there, you will cross the harbour, among fishermen unloading their catches of the day or getting ready to go to sea, all in a very friendly atmosphere.
At the entrance of the medina, you will find the L’Heure Bleue Palais Relais & Châteaux hotel, a superb place to stay. The food mixes French and Moroccan influence, an the terrace offers you a gorgeous view over the city and the sea.
Sofitel Essaouira Medina & Spa
Under the direction of Thomas Greggory, this hotel, a jewel of the Sofitel Group, is undoubtedly one of the best resorts to be in Essaouira. The architecture is inspired by the traditional Moroccan riad. Facing the ocean and the Mogador island, with a private beach, the stylish red hotel is built around a swimming pool, where you can enjoy breakfast or lunch. Located near the main entrance to the medina, it is the ideal place to start a visit to the city.
With its three restaurants, it’s also one of the best places to eat in Essaouira. You can have meals served at one of the three restaurants of the hotel. They are under the supervision of the Head Chef, Menad Berkani. Menad has worked in many countries like Italy, Spain, Germany, Venezuela, USA or French Caribean Martinique island before coming to Morocco, so it’s no surprise that his teams can prepare all kinds of international cuisine. You will of course enjoy French food, but also sea food, some fusion dishes and typical Moroccan cuisine. The Arganier is the gastronomy restaurant where you will be served succulent meals in the dining room or by the pool. On the beach is the Côté Plage with fresh sea food delivered directly to the hotel by local fishermen with their catch of the day. Dar Dada is the typical restaurant where chef Dada prepares Moroccan food according to his mood. Menad if fond of local culture, and has started o a collection of aromatic olive oils, made from the best oils of the area, where every possible local aromatic herb is set to macerate. Ask for a special treatment with oil condiment! To drink with your meals, don’t forget to try some local wines, the Mogador Wines made by Charles Melia in his Domaine du Val d’Argan with Côtes du Rhône grape varieties.
At the end of the day, you will go to the lounge bar, the Mogador’s Club, where you will find one of the best list of spirits and cocktails in town and enjoy a British atmosphere.
Of course, you will find there all the luxury amenities you can expect, including a hammam, a fitness center and a thalassotherapy spa.
Sofitel Essaouira Mogador Golf & Spa
A new residential domain, Mogador, is located at the south of Essaouira, near the sea and featuring 2 golf courses designed by Gary Player.
That is where Sofitel has opened its new Moroccan hotel in March 2011. Designed by Didier Gomez, it combines in harmony the needs of a modern luxury hotel inspired by the local Essaouira style with the preservation of the splendid natural site, a vast area of dunes and forest, along a wild and virgin beach. Daniel KARBOWNIK, manager of the hotel, is launching this new venture.
Headed by the Chef Philippe BOURDON, its 3 restaurants welcome you for a gastronomy experience: L’Atlantique for seafood, Le Café Kabah and L’Atelier aux Arômes for more international and fusion meals.
After a day on the golf course, you want to relax, and then you will enjoy the warm atmosphere of a clubhouse, the Gary Player Lounge. You may prefer the Tiki So Bar whose atmosphere reminds you of the saga of rhum, or the Pool Bar to sip a cocktail in daytime.
Article by Eric Guidet