Tourist First

Travel notes and advice from around the world. Above, the daily flight from Managua at the San Carlos, Nicaragua, airstrip.

Sunday, April 30, 2017

Morocco: In Essaouira, the Medina Is at Beach

Fish are displayed at an outdoor waterfront fish restaurant in Essaouiara. There are maybe 16 places like this
between the medina and the beach. Grilled and fried fish are staples in Morocco's coastal cities.

 Essaouira should be on the must-visit list of any tourist in Morocco. Not only does it have a delightful medina, it's the heart of argon country -- the oil that's used cooking and in cosmetics -- and it's a center for wood carving. The wooden boxes, bowls and sculptures that you'll see in medinas elsewhere probably came from Essaouira. Most importantly, there's a great beach.
    We were here from March 10 to the 13th. That Saturday was perfect beach weather, sunny, temperatures in the 80s and a light breeze.  The next day was somewhat cooler and had a strong wind that pushed clouds of sand along the beach, so we went further inland to a winery. Essaouira is not much of a surfing destination, but it's very much a wind-surfing scene thanks to the dependable winds off the Atlantic.
     The beach is wide and clean, complete with ATV rentals, horse rides and camel rides, in addition to wind-surfing outfitters and beachfront bars and cafes. The Ocean Vagabond (click HERE) is a good walk from the medina, but well worth it for its outdoor restaurant  and bar. People find lounges they like and keep them for the afternoon. As a plus, the sandwiches and salads are very good -- and you should't be afraid of eating salads in Morocco. We stuck with bottled water, but we didn't avoid raw fruits and veggies that had been washed in what we presume was tap water. No problems.

A street in the medina.

     Also beyond the Medina -- about a half-hour ride out of town, actually -- is that vineyard and winery, southern Morocco's only vineyard, the French-owned Val d'Argon (click HERE), which produces some of Morocco's best and most expensive wines; 35 hectares yield about 100,000 bottles. We went to the winery for a tour and lunch. The tour was pretty much like any other winery tour -- a look at the vines, a look at the barrels and vats, and a look at the bottling operation. Since we were there in March, everything was pretty idle, except the kitchen. That lunch consisted of something like a dozen small plates, accompanied by unlimited access to all of Val d'Argon's best wines. Moroccan wines are red, rose, gris and white. Gris is sort of a lighter rose, I think. Moroccan reds are Bordeaux-style blends and usually very good. Whites are a bit less dependable (to me, anyway). Lunch also gave us a chance to compare and contrast argon and olive oils. The argon is lighter and more delicate, I think, but very good. We came home with a bottle.
     We went to one restaurant in Essaouiara three times -- once for lunch, once for drinks before dining elsewhere, and once for dinner. It was the rooftop Cafe Taros (click HERE). At the lunch Jane had a gigantic steamed hard-shell crab. It looked like something from "The Deadliest Catch." I had perfectly grilled sardines. There's live music in the evenings, mostly people doing covers of western hits, including some Motown and even, once, a Joan Armatrading song. The building is at the medina wall (the entrance to the stairs that lead to the restaurant are outside the medina) and the roof terraces have ocean views and views of the waterfront. Customers appear to be a mix of tourists and young locals.
    Another place worth mentioning is Caravane Cafe (click HERE), which seemed to have more tourists than Taros. It also has live music, but traditional Berber music, not western covers. A fire dancer performed the night we were there.

Spices and herbs for sale in the medina.

Lunch for two at Val d'Argon.

That's a Massey Ferguson 185 tractor at Val d'Argon's vineyards.
Football on the beach. 
Camels await paying riders on Essaouiara's beach. That's part of
the port in the background.

A vendor in what is called "chaste dress" sells dishes to tourists in the medina.
I bought a woolen cap from this vendor. It amounted to 7 U.S. dollars; I didn't try to bargain.

A fortress protected Essaouiara back when it was Morocco's
premier Atlantic port. Casablanca has taken its place.

Below, a quick video showing the beach at Essaouiara, March 11, 2017,
an unseasonably warm day. It seemed to be mostly young locals in the
water, with women and girls dressed conservatively. Men and boys
wear what Europeans and Americans would wear at the beach.

The next video shows a fire-dancer at Caravane Cafe in Essaouiara.

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