As we entered the medina of Essaouira that first night, I felt that sense of travel and adventure spring back into my soul. Although it was still densely populated with tourists, it was a far cry from the package holiday feels that oozed out of every pore of Agadir.
The sun wasn’t far off setting over the Atlantic, and we could see the golden skies starting to darken above us, with the flocks and squawks of sea gulls overhead.
Both being HUGE Game of Thrones fans, we knew that some of the series was filmed on the old fort here. In season three, the town was used as the setting for the corrupt city of Astapor, where Daenerys Targaryen, otherwise known as Khaleesi, encounters the army of The Unsullied.
With the knowledge of this being filmed on the fortress walls, we headed there straight away. The sun was at a perfect height to reflect off the stone walls and canons. The seagulls swept through the air above us, as the loud crash of the waves against the fort sounded below. Looking behind us we saw diners on the rooftops of the white washed, Mediterranean styled buildings, enjoying their wine and their sunset, and in front of us we saw the sea glimmering with a golden hue. It was such a welcomed magic.
After taking all the appropriate and inappropriate pictures, we left the fort walls to head into the medina.
We wandered around for a while, looking at the stalls selling artwork and jewellery from both Moroccans and from the hordes of European Expats who now call Essaouira their home.
Like in every town or city we’d been to in Morocco so far, Essaouira was not without the slightly badgering behaviour of the guys in the street that want you to eat at their restaurant. After strolling for a while, we agreed to go with one guy, who assured us of beautiful homemade Moroccan food, and live music in a nice restaurant. We agreed, and followed him down the back paths of the medina, and away from the main artery of the town, and away from the crowds. He took us to a restaurant (which for the life of me I cannot remember its name) before returning to the main street to hustle up some more business.
We could hear the drums from standing on the street before we went in, along with the cheers and whooping. We walked into the dark room and saw lots of smiling faces from happy diners in a small area. A stressed blonde lady rammed past us in what we thought was a rude way, but we later realised she was what appeared to be the owner / chef / manager/ waitress and hostess; so she can be forgiven.
The tables and chairs were arranged in the central room, with them all being focussed upon the band who were at the forefront of the room. They were all native Moroccans playing African instruments, from a boxy looking, homemade guitar, to the clippie sounding percussion instruments we’d seen so much of on our trip so far. Their instruments may have seemed a bit botched looking; however they knew what they were doing. With smiles on their faces they sang repeatedly to diners, and I’m pretty sure everyone’s feet in that restaurant were tapping along to the strange, yet enjoyable sounds that were being made.
We were seated in an alcove-come-extension to the side of the band, where we were presented with a beautifully Moroccan menu. We chose our meals, and sat back with some drinks and watched the entertainment unravel before us. After around 15 minutes of eating amazing baguettes and such nice butter, a table became free in the main section of the room, by the band, so we grabbed our chance and moved over there, where we could watch on from the front. Although I love Julien deeply, there was no need to speak to each other, especially as our amazing food arrived (I had a sizzling hot lamb tagine with almonds and prunes) and we both became immersed in the evening’s entertainment and the incredible food.
A couple of hours later with bellies full of red wine and gorgeous food, we strolled along the now quiet streets of the medina, in the dimly lit cobbled pathways, arms around one another, and feeling an overwhelming feeling of contentment and satisfaction.
We arose the next day to what we’d hoped would be beautifully clear skies like we’d seen that previous day, however peeking out from behind the thick curtains the sky was a horribly grey overcast scene.
Staying positive we thought we’d go and see the sights, and then the sun would just have to come out later in the day and burn off all the cloud.
We decided to start by walking along the beach in the opposite direction to the fort and medina, and pay a visit to some ruined rocks just on the very coastline. I remember reading that some said these rocks were the inspiration for Jimi Hendrix’s classic “Castles Made of Sand”, however seeing as the song was released a year before his visit to Essaouira, this is probably not true.
We walked along the beach, barefoot and watching the waves crash into the ruins ahead of us. We got asked if we’d like a camel right by many enthusiastic camel owners, however politely declined. Been there, done that, don’t want a sore under carriage for the rest of the holiday thanks.
We climbed around on these old ruins for about half an hour, scrambling and slipping on the moss and we tried to get high enough up to get good vantage points of the lighthouse in the distance. When we felt like we’d tempted fate too much with regards to the tide, we decided to head back.
We strolled back, and like we’d hoped, the sun burned the clouds away, and soon enough the factor 50 was getting slapped on the necks. We walked along and back to the fort walls where the cannons were, so we could see it in the daytime. Here we clambered on the walls, and sat precariously with legs dangled over the side of the fort, straddled cannons and generally tried to be explorers.
After a quick trip back to the hotel to change and another look around the shops and markets we went to the harbour area of Essaouira, and stood on walls while we watched the local fishermen cut fish and feed the scraps to the circling seagulls above their heads. We ran in and out of the fishing boats, and chased birds for photo opportunities where they all dispersed and then came back to land again in the same place.
We then climbed the slight incline up to another part of the walled fort, next to the harbour, where there is still an intact turret that you can ascend. Before we got to that though, we saw a small stall sat in the middle of the path. We looked to our right and saw a hole in the wall, perfectly designed to capture a shot of the town. We sat in this circle and took photos which turned out to look really lovely with this peep hole to the city behind us.
After this we ran up the turret and got beautiful yet daunting views of both the town and of the harbour. The wind was extremely gusty up there at the top, and as I’m sure you can imagine, the health and safety was none existent. Not that I’m complaining; such a beautifully decadent and old piece of architecture shouldn’t have a big ugly gate stuck on top of it.
We ran back down the stairs, and along the cannons, chasing more seagulls and taking in the sights.
We then walked through the harbour, where we saw the less touristy side of the town, as fisherman gutted their fish, cleaned their tools, and shouted loudly trying to make sales with each other. We looked into the centre of the harbour and saw a large fishing trawler which had clearly gotten flooded, as it was on such an angle, still with crew on-board, whilst others gallantly tried to help drain the boat of all its excess water.
After watching a short while and admiring their efforts, we continued our walk around the harbour. As unsurprising as it may be, you won’t be shocked to learn that the smell of fish in the strong African sun was so overpowering, it was incredibly nauseating. So after a few more minutes we agreed to leave and to head back for some more time sun worshipping by the pool.
Out we lay with books, and beers, until the last bit of sunlight left the poolside, and we begrudgingly returned indoors to shower and head back out for supper.
We again enjoyed the most beautiful of sunsets and another wonderful meal, before heading back to the hotel for some much needed rest.
The next day would be our last full day in Essaouira. We woke up and walked to the old town again, where we enjoyed walking amidst the donkeys and the shouting and general busyness of the town. We explored some more streets, and decided to have a breakfast on this beautifully sunny day on a rooftop close to the old fort wall.
As we sat there I felt that feeling of complacency again, and could just imagine saving up enough money to make the move one day, and buy a beautiful whitewashed old apartment in the medina, and open it up as a guesthouse. However, it’s the unfortunate reality that in actual fact a lot of people have ended up doing the exact same thing over the years, and prices reflect this. But – it’s nice to have a dream.
We spent the rest of the day again, lazily strolling around the medina, eating and drinking everything there was to offer, and buying little trinkets and pieces of jewellery.
We were then drawn once more, back to the pool, where we had drinks and caught our final hours of rays, before then taking our final walk to the medina, to watch the sun set and to have our meal.
In the morning, we woke up, and for the first time had the hotel’s breakfast, packed our bags, and set off again in the Hyundai, headed for the hustling city of Marrakesh once more.
We were conscious we had to get the car back to the rental office before a certain time, or run the risk of paying for an additional day, so unfortunately most of this day was spent rushing back (all within the speed limit, of course)!
We got back to the riad, where we had stayed the first time round in Marrakesh and unfortunately no one was in just yet. So we did what any logical young couple would do to kill time, and we fed a donkey some pizza. Was very cute.
After getting access back in, and changing, we went for our final meal in Morocco. We walked back to Jmaa El Fna, and ate at a beautiful restaurant that looked out over the square. Again, we had wine and some lamb tagines in the dimmed light of the restaurant. It was a perfect way to end a perfect holiday.
I sincerely recommend Morocco as a holiday destination for those who love adventure. There are certainly the sides of it, which cater to the more, feet up an relaxed holiday, however I feel the true gritty and loveable side of Morocco is on offer in abundance if you want to take it up.
It can be stressful, and the holiday didn’t go without the frustrated bickering every now and again, but it is so worth it. It’s a truly mesmerising and wonderful place, and I’ll always hold that holiday in high regard.