Essaouira is the perfect holiday destination. Located on a vast sandy beach on the Atlantic coast of Morocco, Essaouira showcases the best that Morocco has to offer. Delicious cuisine, shopping in the souq, beach sports, a rich culture – and all in a way that is totally accessible to families travelling with children.
In contrast to some of the larger and more well-known cities like Marrakech and Casablanca – Essaouira feels like an undiscovered corner of the world (at least to us Brits). It has largely escaped globalisation (you’ll find no Mcdonalds here!) and feels like an authentic experience of a beautiful and bygone era. It’s also much smaller and less busy than the aforementioned cities. While we generally held our children’s hands (aged 9, 7 and 4), we weren’t afraid of them getting mowed down by motorbikes in the pedestrian areas or of them getting lost – something that I would be more nervous about in Marrakesh for example. The locals love children and the whole vibe of Essaouira is very chilled out, this meant that we were also able to relax and enjoy our holiday.
Old Essaouira is a historic fishing port; flanked by ramparts and cannons on one side and on the other side, by winding streets selling spices, carpets and argan oil in the cobbled Medina. Whether you enjoy shopping, eating, soaking up a different culture, sunbathing on the beach or watersports – there is something for everyone. Essaouira has been nicknamed “the windy city” but because of that, the temperature is really pleasant, and it’s perfect for surfing, windsurfing and kitesurfing. We were holidaying at the beginning of November and the temperature was in the high 20s – but the breeze made it feel cooler which was perfect for us.
You can fly directly to Essaouira from Stansted airport with Ryanair, and the 3.5 hour journey is totally manageable with children. Once you arrive in Essaouira, you’ll find that accommodation, food, car hire and shopping is very affordable – in fact much cheaper than holidaying in Europe. Alcohol is more expensive however, since Morocco is a Muslim country. You can purchase alcohol in certain bars, hotels and at the Carrefour supermarket, but be prepared to pay a bit more for it.
We decided to kick off our holiday with a walking tour of Essaouira, organised by Palma Quad. The tour was exclusively for our family and our guide Yassine, was great with our children, superb at English and so knowledgeable. We learnt about the history, politics, architecture and culture of Essaouira and Morocco.
Yassine pointed out his favourite food places that only the locals know about – I guess the equivalent of our “greasy spoon” sort of eateries. Since we are a family that loves our food, we had to try out his recommendations later in the week. At one, we picked out which freshly caught fish we wanted and then had it grilled for us on the spot. We had the best calamari, shrimps, prawns and monkfish we have ever tasted. We may have been the only westerners eating there – but that didn’t bother us, at all times on our holiday we felt safe and welcomed by the local people.
Also at Yassine’s recommendation, we went to a local restaurant where you can bring your own meat and vegetables from the markets and then have the chef cook it for you. It would be like going to a restaurant with the groceries that you had just got from Asda. Saving money at a fancy restaurant, but getting a custom-ordered meal, prepared by a real chef (and no washing up either!) Since we weren’t very knowledgeable about the going prices at the local market – we just asked the chef to buy the ingredients too – we put our order in (more fresh fish and a fish tagine) and came back an hour later to a heavenly feast.
Yassine introduced us to the chef who was a family friend – the restaurant has been in the family for generations, and Yassine himself had happy memories of eating there as a child and playing with the now chef when they were boys together. Family and friendship is very important in Moroccan culture and being welcomed to eat in a traditional place, totally off the tourist route, with Yassine’s friend felt like a truly authentic experience.
Having a walking tour on the first day of our holiday definitely enriched our experience of Essaouira – we discovered bits of the city we never would have stumbled upon by ourselves, we had a much deeper understanding of the history and culture, and we had far more authentic experiences with the locals.
At the second place where we ate, our son was desperate to communicate with the chef’s son – but not having a great grasp of the French language, he tried his luck instead at communicating through “rock, paper, scissors”. It turns out, that game is played by Moroccan children too! These sort of experiences are exactly why we love travelling with our children – because in the end, if our children grasp that our common humanity binds us far more than politics, religion or cultural differences divide, then they will grow up to be the kind of humans that can better the world.
The tour lasts 2 hours (although ours took longer because of little legs!) and starts from €50
You can organise your walking tour by contacting Rashid, the owner of Palma Quad. He will custom make your tour according to your requirements. For example, I told him that our youngest (aged 4) could comfortably walk 2 miles, but might struggle with a longer walk. If your party has special requirements, just let Rashid know and they will accommodate you.
To avoid disappointment, make sure you give Palma Quad as much notice as you can about your trip to Essaouira, so that they can make sure they have the staff available.
We also went on a cultural day with Yassine at a local oasis. Be sure to check out my review.