Since Morroco's popular tourist destination of Marrakech has no beach to call its own, those wishing to combine the exotic charms of the Ochre City with a beach holiday need look no further than the gorgeous coastal city of Essaouira. Perched on rugged cllffs looking out to the Atlantic Ocean, Essaouira is less than 200km from Marrakech and can be reached from Marrakech in just two and a half hours. It also has its own airport, with direct flights from Paris and Brussels, allowing for plenty of connections with other major cities. Crucially, however, it is able to combine many of the rich cultural delights of Marrakech with a laid-back surfer-friendly vibe, placing it high on our list of must-sees of Morocco.
We take a closer look at Morroco's wonderful coastal destination.
While we can't expect Essaouira to fully replace the bounty of treasures, cultural, architectural and natural of Marrakech, it does have a number of fantastic places well worth visiting. Its ancient, fully pedestrianised Medina - a UNESCO World Heritage Site - also offers a colourful array of souks for you to peruse, albeit at your own pace, such is the ambience of the city - where Marrakech may seem like a whirlwind of flavours, fragrances, sights and sounds, Essaouira is more akin to a gentle sea breeze. Beyond the ceramics and metalcrafts of the local artisan souks, the Medina is full of cafes and fantastic little shops for you to explore, or to sit back and enjoy a mint tea in. Meanwhile you might also choose to make the most of the opportunity to experience a true Moroccan hammam or an authentic Berber massage.
Meanwhile, its historical ramparts offer fascinating architecture and a walkway from which you can gaze out over the lapping tide of the Atlantic or admire the pretty blue boats in the picturesque harbour.
Finally, similar to Marrakech, Essaouira is blessed with a number of fantastic lush, green golf courses, for those of you looking to spend some time on the fairway.
The key advantage Essauoira has over Marrakech, of course, is the selection of beaches in easy reach of the city. Indeed, the city itself enjoys a number of beaches which run alongside it, These vast stretches of open beaches are somewhat exposed to the wind, making them favourite destinations for kite-surfers and windsurfers. You can also delight the kids with camel rides along the beaches in the city.
Those with a little more time on their hands and/or their own form of transport might enjoy following the cost further south to other sandy delights, such as sidi Kaouki, Tafedna (with its breathtaking vistas) and the bohemian beach town of Imssouane en route to Agadir.
Following the coast North will take you to the laid back village of Diabet, where you can find an enchanting beach, somewhat shielded from the elements by large sand dunes, ove which you can indulge in spot of quad biking or horse riding. It is just outside the village of Diabet that you can find the ruins of the Sultan's Palace, peaking out of the windswept sand dunes. Rumour has it that Jimi Hendrix wrote his classic ballad Castles Made of Sand after visiting the ruins - we're not going to allow the fact that he first visited Morroco two years after that song was released get in the way of a good story!
While you may choose to visit Essaouira from Marrakech, the option to rent a villa or riad and stay there, using it as a base from which to explore other places along the coast is well worth considering. Those visiting Eassouira from Marrakech may find that after the hustle and bustle of the Ochre City, the relative peace and tranquility invites a stay of more than just a day or two. Allowing yourself the opportunity to take your time and enjoy a more leisurely pace can't be underestimated. Furthermore, the chance to revel in the chilled out charms of some of the seaside gems along the coast may prove attractive for many.