Essaouira is one of the most beautiful cities in Morocco. That’s what I thought when I first went there for the Gnaoua Festival’s first edition. Little did I know that I would be working for that same festival 19 years later. Life has a funny way to bring you back to where you first fell in love. Because falling in love with a city is what I do best.
It’s my second year as Catering & Stock manager of the Gnaoua Festival and I love the opportunity I get to discover the city all over again. Last year I stayed at Riad Mumtaz Mahal, which was an oriental dreamland, with enormous suites (that are labeled just as rooms which… okay? I wish my room was this huge), and this year I stayed at Dar L’Oussia, which is where almost all the team stays making it easier for meet ups between all the running everywhere. I’m not kidding you run, and you run out of phone credit (how can I go through my 30 hours phone plan in a week is something I will never get), and you run out of time, and you don’t necessarily have time to feed yourself, to rest or even sometimes look decent – I mean I tried – but when the festival is over, and you see that everyone had a good time, that the artists and the team were happily fed (which is my main mission), that your dinner parties were a success, then you take a breath of fresh air and relish in the satisfaction of a job well done.
- Staying in
Both Mumtaz Mahal and Dar l’Oussia are at the entrance of the old medina, called « Bab sba3 » (the lion’s door), and there’s a parking on the other side where you can park your car for the night (cost : 20dhs/night – barely 2€, although last year it was 30dhs/night and 40 during the festival, so it goes up and down I guess, still not expensive). If you need any help transporting your luggages, there are little hand carts – called karroussas – that you can require practically everywhere in exchange of a small fee. You can also choose between staying at one of the many riads in the medina (going from 25€ to much more depending on the standing), or one of the hotels in the main boulevard leading to Bab Sba3. The Atlas Essaouira & Spa, the Mgallery by Sofitel, or even the Sofitel which is farther away from the city. It all depends on your budget and how you wanna spend your holidays.
- Safi dishes and pottery
Essaouira being close to Safi, there’s countless pottery shops where you can beautiful ornate dishes, tableware and small decor. The one I made my best deals is located in Al Haddada, right under the new Mega Loft restaurant/concept store. They’ve given me a 50% discount on every item and I don’t know if it’s a longstanding thing or that it was just temporary but it doesn’t hurt to ask.
- Eating out
Suitcases in the the ceiling and color festival, Mega Loft is the OG out of the box place in Essaouira. Othmane the owner is a visionary, and I’m glad I had to witness his evolution, how he went from working at his dad’s little street crochet shop into making one of the most stylish restaurants in town. Three stories, a cooking workshop, a live band, a beautiful terrace, great kitchen and greater cocktails, one of my favorite places in the Windy City
In the old medina, Salut Maroc is a riad hotel, with a downstairs and upstairs café and restaurant. From the zellije floors to the embellished roofs, the acute attention to details and the colored rooms, this riad is a whole work of art by and in itself. A definite must in the city even if it’s just to take a drink in their terrace ????????????
Café Saha, is the one of the main square coffeeshops under the big town clock entrance. Perfect for late breakfasts or just a mint tea between running around the medina.
One of the most refined places in town, Umia Restaurant has that clean and sharp Scandinavian influenced furniture, mixed with Amazigh and Souiri decor. The type of interior I could totally see myself having at my own place.
Relais de Paris
Huge crush for the Relais de Paris terrace in Essaouira (let me just be clear and say it upfront, every terrace in Essaouira is gorgeous, what with seeing the sea waves and sunsets, they are pretty lucky in the rooftop department). I had the opportunity to work with their team to plan the last Festival dinner there, and it was a blast. The chef of the place used to work in Palais Namaskar and Paradis Plage just to name a few references, so you know how good the food is.
The ultimate place for having drinks in town. Taros is a coffeeshop, a restaurant, a bar and a pub with good music and a pretty amazing view over Essaouira Port.
Safran is a moroccan restaurant specialized in fish and seafood. You have to try their fried fish platter and their hot goat cheese drizzled with honey. I’m not a fan of goat cheese and yet I still liked the dish. Goat cheese is a thing in Essaouira, served in almost all restaurants, the taste differ from what I’m used to in Casablanca. It’s not that sharp or strong (the things I don’t like about cheeses, I know, I’m a total fraud), and it’s deliciously creamy.
Bellevue just opened up this year in time for the Festival, used to be Green Wok (Essaouira’s people know how good that place used to be), they still offer the same menu : asian woks and dishes. Perfect for a quick lunch in a quiet setting but still inside the medina. Right next to Pâtisserie Chez Driss, it’s upstairs in a cute little dining spot overlooking the busy street of Moulay Hassan’s square.
- Strolling around the medina
But what you can do best in Essaouira, besides eating out and lounging in your hotel, is to aimlessly wander through the gorgeous city. Almost every major Moroccan city has its medina, but the difference is that those medinas are now becoming dissociated from the actual city life. They’re places where to buy artisanal products, have typical moroccan food or stay at Riads, but the rest happen outside of it. In Essaouira the medina is still the main place where everything takes place. The cooking workshops are there (and God, how many I’ve seen ! I have yet to find gorgeous locations like « L’atelier », « Madada » or « Mega Loft » for classes like these in Casablanca), the Gnaoua Festival happen in these very streets, the parties, the breakfasts, the tea times, the restaurants, everything is in Essaouira’s medina and I love to spend those ten days there every year. I keep falling for the city over and over again, the niceness and the warmth of the people, the typical wind and the slow pace of life. For a stressed out person like me, this city is all I need.
To see more pictures and videos of the city, restaurant and festival shenanigans, the highlighted story is still up on my Instagram page. Have a great summer you guys ????