Chez Rebecca, Essaouira, Morocco
On Morocco’s Atlantic coast, about 170 km west of Marrakech, is the delightful little town of Essaouira. With its romantic fortified medina (a UNESCO world heritage site), photogenic fishing port, French style piazzas, beautiful beaches, world class watersports, characterful restaurants, art galleries, music scene, easy-going people and excellent climate it is not hard to see why so many people have fallen in love with the place.
In the heart of the ancient medina, yet just 10 minutes walk from the beach, is Chez Rebecca - an exceptionally light and airy rooftop apartment. The apartment has plenty of space for open-air living, including a sheltered private terrace (perfect for a leisurely breakfast or lunch) and a large rooftop terrace with panoramic views of the medina and the Atlantic Ocean. This is shared by the two other Mogador apartments so is a great place to meet other people and possibly share a barbecue or glass of wine as the sun goes down.
The interior, which has recently been restored, is decorated mainly in the blue and white which is so characteristic of Essaouira. The bright and airy living room, which opens onto the private terrace, has a traditional open fireplace, bench seats and a dining table which can accommodate up to six people. It is also exceptionally well-equipped with ADSL internet television, DVD player and HiFi. There is even a WiFi connection for your laptop in case you need to catch up on work or simply want to surf the net, listen to your favourite radio station or check on the latest weather forecast.
The main bedroom has a double bed, a open fireplace and double doors which open onto the sunny private terrace. In the second bedroom (which doubles as an extra sitting room when there are only two occupants) there are two bed/settees and a window which opens onto the terrace. Unlike a dar or riad (courtyard house), Chez Rebeccas windows face the outside so you can go to sleep to the sound of Atlantic waves and wake up to blue skies and sunshine (most of the year!).
The bathroom has a large bath/shower made out of honey-coloured tadelakt (the pigmented polished plaster that is traditionally used for hammams). There are plenty of niches for candles or glasses of wine!
For eating, you are spoilt for choice. The food souks are just a stones throw away so you can buy super-fresh raw ingredients to cook in the well-equipped open plan kitchen. If you want to eat in but dont fancy cooking you can order in delicious home-cooked food - anything from breakfast to a traditional Moroccan meal or even a barbecue. But with numerous characterful and good value small restaurants within 10 minutes walk of the apartment you will probably want to eat out most of the time.
Regarded as one of the most beautiful towns on Africas Atlantic coast, Essaouira (ancient Mogador) has a unique charm. You get a feeling that life is easy here. People have time to talk - and listen - with an easy-going tolerance and friendliness born from centuries of mixing with people of other nations and cultures. Even the many stray cats and dogs seem to get on well with each other and their human neighbours. Yet alongside this relaxed, laid-back and slightly bohemian atmosphere there is a sense of sophistication and energy – the feeling that this is a happening place to be. The town is increasingly becoming known as a centre for arts, crafts and music and, each year, hosts several world class festivals and other events. With mild temperatures all year long and around 300 days sunshine a year it is a great place to visit at any time.
The atmospheric medina is a delight to walk around. It is clean, well laid out and safe, even at night. With no motorised transport allowed inside the walls your only risk of being run down is by one of the blue painted handcarts (krossas) that are used for transporting goods.
Designed in the mid 1700’s by a French architect commissioned by a visionary sultan, the medina is an intriguing fusion of French-style piazzas with traditional subterranean passages, vaulted alleys and courtyard houses. Its whitewashed buildings, with ornate doorways and windows painted blue to match the sky, are enclosed by intact pink fortifications. Not surprising then that, in 2001, it was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site
Although it is only a leisurely 10 minute walk from one end of the medina to the other it is so packed with fascinating architecture, artisans workshops, galleries, shops, restaurants and cafes that it would take weeks to discover everything. Shopping here tends to be an enjoyable and sociable experience with none of the hard-sell that is typical of other North African towns. You will find hundreds of tiny shops crammed with characterful leatherwork, metalwork, exquisite carpentry, glazed pottery, jewellery, brightly coloured carpets, original art and foodstuffs such as olives, spices and rare argan oil.
The hub of the town is Place Moulay Hassan, a French-style piazza where you can spend time people-watching in the sunshine whilst enjoying mint tea, excellent coffee or freshly squeezed orange juice accompanied by pastries from the nearby patisserie.
Opposite Place Moulay Hassan is the photogenic fishing harbour. Here you can watch the catch being unloaded from brightly-painted boats, learn how the vessels are made using centuries-old techniques or have lunch at one of the seafood stalls which serve wonderfully fresh fish and shellfish simply grilled over charcoal and served with a baguette and juicy tomato salad.
Listed as one of the world’s best beaches, Essaouira’s main beach is a wide crescent of golden sand which stretches for two miles from the medina to the former hippy village of Diabat. It is famed for its watersports which include world class surfing, windsurfing and kitesurfing. You can book lessons and equipment at several places along the main beach or take a caleche (horse-drawn taxi) out to the less crowded north beach.
If you dont fancy participating, why not sit at one of the numerous waterfront cafes or restaurants and enjoy watching the colourful watersports. There is also usually a game or two of football to watch, even at night when the whole beach is floodlit. Further along the beach, among the sand dunes, there are horses and camels for hire. Even further south, you can walk at low tide to the romantic fort of Borj El Barod which is slowly crumbling into the sea. Nearby you can watch birds at the Ksob estuary or else take a short boat trip to the Iles de Mogador, breeding ground for the rare Eleanora’s falcon which can sometimes be seen circling over the town.
The medina and beyond
The medina (walled town) is pedestrian only. Essaouira is quite a small town and everything is within walking distance of Chez Rebecca so a car is only necessary if you plan to take day trips to nearby beaches or beyond. There are several car hire agencies in town where it is possible to hire by the day. For watersports enthusiasts the beach at Sidi Kaouki is worth a visit. Marrakech, with its shopping and nightlife, is about two hours drive away. It is about two more hours drive to the Atlas mountains where you can enjoy spectacular scenery, hillwalking or even skiing.