The Hippy Artist Vibes of Essaouria

We have arrived to our new home in Algiers and I’ll start providing updates real soon. Our house (you read that right, house) is incredible. It is big and interesting and has a ton of windows. It’s built into a hillside and has a patio on one level, and a yard up above that. I have decided to become a person who gardens and composts. Much more on that in the future.

But I’m not done with Morocco. I still want to share a few more blog posts from places in that wonderful country. Like Marrakech, how have I not done a post yet on Marrakech? But first: The beach town of Essaouria.

After finishing up that freakin’ hard hike last month, Adam, our two friends, and myself drove a few hours toward the coast to the what might just be my new favorite Moroccan city: Essaouria. Its beachiness lends it a laid-back feel, a cool Atlantic breeze, and a bit of a hippy backpacker vibe. But it also has an arty thing going on with lots of beautiful boutiques and galleries. If you’re looking to buy a gorgeous painting, I’d do it here. I could have shopped in Essaouria all week. Unfortunately, we stayed for just three nights.

We planned this trip around Essaouria’s annual Gnaoua World Music Festival which bring in musicians from all over the African continent for impressive nighttime shows. Gnaoua music itself is really cool to watch – picture men in robes wearing hats with a long fringe they spin around and sort of rhythmic and energetic chanting, singing, and instrument-playing, but there’s only so many hours that I want to watch, so luckily this festival is more eclectic than just gnaoua music.

Tip for this festival: We all shelled out $70 for a festival pass, but you don’t need to. These tickets got us in a packed area next to the main stage, but I’d be perfectly happy back further like most of the other festival-goers (almost all of whom are Moroccan). Also, we stayed at the stylish Jack’s Apartments, and learned on the last night of the festival that you could see the main stage perfectly from the rooftop, so if you’re crowd-averse, this is a great option. Bonus: You can drink up there! I didn’t see much alcohol in Essaouria, so don’t expect to stock up at the neighborhood wine store. This ain’t Spain. (But I will say it had a French/Spanish vibe going on). If I’ve learned anything from living in Muslim countries, it’s that you must always pack wine when going on an adventure. Never assume a place will have wine. Because when you assume, you end up not having wine.

An adorable room in Jack’s Apartments
A room with a view in Jack’s Apartments
The view of the main stage from the uppermost roof of Jack’s Apartments

We had a great meal at La Table by Madada, where everyone but me ordered the famous spider crab gratin. I will say this vegetarian was a little jealous because it looked decadently delicious. Still, I was excited to sip a creative cocktail (creative cocktails are hard to come by in Morocco) and eat some okay pasta in the chic former carob factory. Also had a yummy lunch – which included a beet salad drenched in woodsy argan oil and goat cheese ice cream – at Caravane Cafe, whose funky decor and plants reminded me of a cool Tel Aviv lunch spot.

All this veggie goodness AND sangria at Caravane.

One day we walked out of the old city to what was reportedly best gelato in town at Caffetteria Dolcefreddo, and the gelato (and tiramisu) were indeed excellent, but what we all really loved was the gnocchi. After we walked back to the medina, we noticed another Dolcefreddo location is right smack in a busy square, but I’m not sure if it’s the same menu at both.

I loved strolling through the medina and poking into shops. This might be the sunniest and widest medina streets I’ve seen, unlike Fez’s mysterious dark rabbit warren vibe, or Marrakech’s narrow, packed and buzzy shopping streets.

I was surprised to find a few gorgeous and huge antique stores in the medina. Plenty of antiques in Morocco, but more often than not, they’re piled high in an impenetrable storefront, not beautifully organized in a two-story riad like in Gallery le Kasbah in Essaouria. I bought a little painting and my friend bought two really cool modern Arabic calligraphy framed paintings.

And there were a handful of art galleries with really unique stuff. You could easily outfit an entire house with art from Morocco, but most medinas tend to have a dizzying amount of paintings of the same motif: Number one most popular: Warriors on horseback, often riding in the desert. Number two: Doorways and quaint old city streets. But the art in Essaouria didn’t didn’t have that generic feel and the galleries featured lots of young artists and female artists, especially Association de Attilal des Art Plastiques.

L’Atelier de Frederic Damgaard

We were days away from the movers coming and packing all our things from our Rabat apartment but I managed to sneak some beautiful hand-blown tea glasses into our shipment, bought at Beldi Chic. I just love the glasses used for serving Moroccan mint tea, clear glasses with a lip near the top for holding daintily on to your little glass. Beldi Chic’s are all hand-blown so each has a little hole where the blower went. I bought 18 and I’ll be using them as wine glasses here in Algiers. I also bought a vase in the same style, just like a little tea glass, but it’s huge, and green, my favorite color. I also bought a chic lotus flower embroidered pillow cover from Basma Boutique, and I wanted to buy everything in a high-end boutique called Minimal but couldn’t afford to do so.

Beldi Chic
Minimal

Also in Essaouria: Beautiful wide sandy beaches!

It’s a shame we waited until the end of our time in Morocco to check out Essaouria, because we’d have certainly gone more than once if we had known how great it is sooner. Oh well, we’re but a quick little plane ride away, so more likely than not, we’ll be back.

To Essaouria,

Emily

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