The popular port town of Essaouira (called Mogador by the Portuguese) dates to Phoenician times, but it was redesigned in the 18th century by a French architect who was in the service of Louis XV. Its cultural mix, blue-painted and whitewashed buildings, and pinkish-red ramparts make it one of the most attractive resorts on the Atlantic coast.
The Medina at Essaouira is a UNESCO World Heritage site and is a delight to explore. Its labyrinth of streets and alleys house a thriving marketplace where locals go to shop for fresh fish, vegetables and meat, spices, household items, and clothing. The town is less touristy than other parts of the country, but there are still plenty of shops selling wooden crafts, fine leather goods and other souvenirs.
The working harbor is the place to go in the morning and in the evening, when the small boats return with their catch. Much of this is taken to markets elsewhere, but it is possible to buy fish fresh from the boat or from the many stalls close to the harbor, where you can have it cooked to enjoy on the long picnic tables. Alternatively, visit the fish souk and haggle over your purchase, then have it gutted, filleted and de-scaled for a small tip.
The large beach just south of the medina is a favorite with wind surfers and visitors looking to work on their tan or enjoy a camel ride. It does tend to be windy at times, but that means a lack of annoying bugs, particularly in the late spring. There's an excellent cookery school in the old Medina area. L'Atelier Madada offers workshops on traditional Moroccan cuisine including the famed local dish, fish tagine, as well as the delicious almond pastries known as Gazelle Horns. http://www.lateliermadada.com.
Another big draw is the annual International Gnaoua and World Music Festival, which takes place in May or June. Because the festival attracts a large crowd and accommodations fill early, it's best to make reservations well in advance if you're planning to visit then. http://www.festival-gnaoua.net.
Day trips can be made to Safi (a coastal town famous for its tiles and pottery) or El-Jadida (with an impressive Portuguese fortress and a golf course). Essaouira can be reached by bus from Agadir or Marrakech. It is 110 mi/175 km west of Marrakech.
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