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Chilled-Out Coastal Town where Hendrix Hung Out

May 6-9

We had a very uneventful and easy-going 3 hour bus ride from Marrakech to Essaouira, a very laid-back town on the coast due east of the craziness of Marrakech. Originally built as a Portuguese city in the 1500s, the city is steeped in history. The Portuguese left their mark in the form of city ramparts -- massive, fortified walls surround the place, the largest ones facing the open sea. Orson Welles' 1948 movie "Othello" was filmed on these ramparts. In the 60s, Jimi Hendrix used to come here to relax and find inspiration for his music.

Scala du Port

The Scala du Port fortress

A large fortress, the Scala du Port, is visible from the waterfront and provides a nice backdrop for the busy fishing harbor at its feet. Fisherman sell the day's catch to tourist and local alike there at the harbor. A freshly-grilled meal of seafood (you pick -- fish, shrimp, squid, or crab) with salad and bread will set you back about $3 US per person. Back inside the city walls, a variety of restaurants, both Moroccan and international, offer lots of dining choices.

Essaouira Beach

The Incredible 10km-long Beach

Of course, the main reason most people come to Essaouira is its beach. And what an incredible beach it is -- stretching nearly 10km (7 miles) from beginning to end, its golden sand is soft and its water perfectly safe for swimming. Essaouira is known by windsurfers the world over as "Wind City, Afrika" because of the strong winds that often blow here, creating perfect windsurfing conditions. This is not, of course, great news for sunbathers and other beachgoers, but we got lucky and had virtually no wind during our 3 days there.

Castle in the Sand

Jimi Hendrix' "Castle in the Sand"

On our second day, we took a long walk down the beach, about 5km (3 miles), down to an old fortress which was long ago reclaimed by the sea. Partially, at least -- its eroded remains actually sit on the beach at low tide, which makes for a very picturesque setting while hanging out on the beach. The remains of the fortress are supposedly the inspiration behind Hendrix's "Castles Made of Sand." It's impressive enough to believe that just may be the case (and even if it's not, it sounds good, so we'll run with it).

City Ramparts

A corner of the city ramparts

Essaouira is a great town to just head out in any direction and take a stroll. There are lots of nooks and crannies to explore, and yet it's small enough that you'll never get lost. One day while walking through the tiny little lanes of the medina, we popped out under the city ramparts. A ramp led up to the top of the ramparts, where we had an awesome view of the rocky shore below and the Scala du Port out by the harbor. From this vantage point, it's hard to imagine how any navy, no matter how large, could have invaded Essaouira from the sea.

The Main Square

The main square with its many cafes

This picture pretty much sums up life in downtown Essaouira -- not a whole lot going on. Except the usual cafe life, which makes for a very relaxing way of passing time when not hanging out on the beach. As in much of Morocco, the street cafes are social meeting places. We found ourselves here in the main square over and over again, sipping mint tea and cafes noir as we watched the world go by.

Woman in Square

Woman in Square

We really loved our time here, and wished somehow we could have spent a few more days lazing about on the beach before heading back to the hectic city. Unlike Marrakech, the people of Essaouira are very laid-back. The vibe of the place has gotten to them, too. There are very few hustlers, and while it's a fairly popular tourist spot, it has somehow managed to avoid the crush of the crowds which plague many other popular Moroccan destinations. This is probably because most people who visit Morocco that want to go to the beach go further south, to the overdeveloped city of Agadir. Which is just fine with us, Essaouira should stay just the way it is -- quiet, mellow, and a beautiful place to kick back for a few days or weeks.

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