Tag Archives: Essaouira

Morocco Journal 9: Shopping, Eating, Sleeping, Body Work

Back home in North Carolina after 14 days in Morocco, the quintessential shopping bazaar, with a 2-day stopover in beautiful Madrid, Spain.   Now, I prepare to return to Oaxaca, but not before a final set of Morocco recommendations to share with you.

Tisnet tagines copyright Norma Hawthorne

Tisnet tagines photo copyright Norma Hawthorne


  • Riad Bahia Salam, Marrakech, a restored mid-range guesthouse situated within easy walking distance between the Mellah, Jemaa el Fna, and the souqs.  Great food. Serene spa with best massage. Excellent service.  English, French, Arabic spoken. Tell Omar at the front desk I said hello.
  • English-speaking Marrakech taxi driver Abdellatif will drive you anywhere for a reasonable price.  He has a university education in linguistics and can’t find professional work!  Very nice, honest man. Tel  (00212) (0) 6 60 47 98 42
  • For incredible Marrakech hand-woven cotton and agave silk scarves see artisan Ahmed El Baroudi, Souk Serrajine,  No. 69, Tel 06 58 37 19 80
Spice market, photo by Norma Hawthorne

Spice market, photo by Norma Hawthorne

  • Chez Laarabi is in the Mellah, down the street from the spice market and the old Jewish synagogue no longer in use.  It is a mini-bazaar with a fine selection of rugs, leather bags, clothing, old and new Berber and Tuareg jewelry, tea sets, babouche (pointy-toed slippers), and all things Moroccan. Arset El Maach, Rue de la Radeema No. 41 (upstairs). Tel 06 66 09 11 59 email: simolarrabi@hotmail.com  Say Hi to Mohamed for me.
  • Stay outside the city in the Palmerie at Mosaic Palais Aziz & Spa for deluxe, grand luxury experience.  The two swimming pools and spa offer a retreat from the hubbub of being in the souq.
  • Chez Chegrouni for the BEST tagine and people watching on Jemaa el Fna.  I had both the vegetarian and the chicken tagine on two different nights.  Cheap and delicious! Recommended by locals in the know.
  • Don’t get kidnapped by the henna artists on Jemaa el Fna.  They are con artists who grabbed my wrist, started painting my hand in motion, and dragged me to their chair before I could protest!  Cost 100 dh to get out of jail. Evidently they are famous.  First price she asked me to pay to be bailed out = 800 dirham.  Don’t fall for it 🙂
They saw a live one coming!

They saw a live one coming!


Essaouira, Morocco photo copyright Norma Hawthorne


  • Taros Restaurant, Essaouira, consistently the best food, views, Atlantic Ocean breezes, great wine.
  • Buy your tagine in the fish market square.  Don’t pay more than 30 dirham!  I bought one made in Tisnet which is just south of Agadir on the Atlantic coast.  It has a beautiful green/brown glaze.
  • Eat dinner at L’Heure Bleue, the luxury Chateaux et Relais hotel at the Bab Marrakech (the Marrakech Gate) if you want to spend $100 per person for superb food and house label wine.
L'Heure Bleue courtyard, photo copyright Norma Hawthorne

L’Heure Bleue patio, photo by Norma Hawthorne

  • See Abraham Touarez for great authentic, old Berber and Twareg jewelry at very reasonable prices.  Avenue Sidi Mohamed Be Abdellah on the left side closer to the end of the shopping as you walk toward the old Mellah.  There’s a pool hall directly across the avenue.  Tel 06 70 95 404  He says the best way to clean Berber silver (a metal/silver mix) is to use salt and lemon juice! Map.
Argan oil, nuts photo by Norma Hawthorne

Argan oil, nuts photo by Norma Hawthorne

  • Best lunches are at teeny tiny Vague Bleu on a side street to the left off Avenue Mohamed El Quon as you walk toward the Bab Marrakech after crossing the BIG main shopping avenue.  Seats 8-10 people.  Get there early.  Daily specials. Terrific.  Went there 4 days in a row.  Not boring.  French ex-pat hang-out.
  • For rugs from a trusted merchant go to Maroc Art, 8 Bis Rue Laalouj, next to the museum.  Ask for Abdel Mounaim Bendahhane or his colleague Abdoul Gnaoui. Tel. 05 24 47 50 50  or email maroc_art@live.fr
  • Bring home Moroccan spices, dates, argan cooking oil and argan nut spread (be sure you buy the authentic kind made with almonds not peanuts) from a young man in a stall on the left side of Ave. Mohamed Zerktouni close to the Bab Doukala.  Very fresh.  Keep your empty water bottles and pour the oil into them.  Then wrap in bubble for safe travels.

Best53-15 Best53-8

  • Azur Spa & Hammam for great deep tissue massage.  1-1/2 hours for 500 dirham  — an incredible bargain!
  • Visit the Essaouira Synagogue and discover Jewish Moroccan history — deeply embedded in the town’s identity as a trading center.
Mohamed Touarez copyright Norma Hawthorne

Abraham Touarez, photo copyright Norma Hawthorne

How to get from Marrakech to Essaouira?  It’s a two to four hour bus ride depending upon which company you choose.  SupraTours and CTM offer first class direct service and have their own stations.  Any bus that you take from the Gare Routiere will stop in every hamlet and crossroads along the way. Avoid El Mahabba Voyages, second class, shabby. Prices are about the same.  You choose.  And, don’t get swindled by somebody who wants a tip to reserve a seat for you!  Bags are extra 5-10 dh each depending on which service you choose.

Below, dinner at L’Heure Bleue.  C’est magnifique.

Best53-10 Best53-9

Morocco Journal 7: Camels and Beach Life Essaouira


Last night at sunset I met friends at Beach & Friends Cafe, the last set of buildings on the Essaouira strand before leaving town and heading south toward Agadir.  It is where you can get a great seafood dinner with a good glass of vin ordinaire — red table wine — for a reasonable price.


The ocean view and camel entertainment can’t be beat.

It takes a brisk half hour walk from the Medina along the crescent shoreline to get there.  In the distance I could see the sand dunes rising and the outline of camels and horses.


I passed families strolling and tourists catching the last rays for the perfect tan.


Camels!  I have ridden elephants in Thailand but never camels.  A camel ride at sunset in Essaouira?  Why not!  The view is nothing short of spectacular.

It is not easy to get on top of a camel, even when they are sitting.  That hump is very big.  When I got situated on top of the Boucherouit rug that covered her back, I was pretty high up and the camel hadn’t even risen yet.  I was thinking, how will this animal get up without me falling off.


Hang on, the two young camel herders said in French as they motioned for me to grab both wood poles attached to the saddle.  With my camera and money bag dangling, the camel slowly rose and I swayed like I was on a small boat in rough seas.


As the camel made its way across the dunes, I looked out and imagined what Lawrence of Arabia must have felt like.  Then, someone told me he rode a motorcycle across the desert.

Most of the photos were blurry.  Have you ever taken a picture from the back of a camel?  Hah!  I surrendered my camera to the herder who assured me he would get great photos for an extra 100 dirham as he pointed the lens into the sunset and stepped back into the surf.


Do you recognize me?  These three women in a camel train ahead of me were on their way back to the cafe, too.  I managed to get one in focus, sort of.


And, I loved the experience!  Scary.  Thrilling. Definitely fun.


Morocco Journal 6: Essaouira Faces and Places

The melting pot of Essaouira attracts Anglos and Moslems from throughout the western and African world. This week I met a Parisian couple, both professionals, whose parents immigrated from Tunisia and Algeria.  Their gorgeous children captured my eye.  The mom of these children, Saoud, speaks four languages fluently — French, Arabic, English and Spanish.

Sept23Essa-6 Sept23Essa-7

We are meeting people who have left France and the U.S. to find comfort and an easier lifestyle in Essaouira.  Many have been here since the 60s and 70s when pop-rock stars like Jimi Hendrix and Cat Stevens visited.  Stardom is not far.


I also found delicious Italian food prepared by a Moroccan who has a 10 seat restaurant called Vague Bleu.  It’s on a little side street off the road to the Bab Marrakech (the Marrakech Gate) and recommended by ex-pats who have been living here for years — he from the U.K. and she from Long Island, NY.  The gnocchi topped with a pesto spinach sauce was heaven.  So was the aubergine (eggplant) rolls, tender melt-in-your mouth morsels of puree.

Sept23Essa-23  Sept23Essa-28

And, the fresh fish topped with curry spice couldn’t have been more tasty.

Sept24_General-9 Sept23Essa-30

Our lunch companions included Parisian antiques collector Richard, local resident Rachid whose father was a silversmith, and a young woman with a great smile.  Je ne parle pas francais, I say, and launch into Spanish only some understand.

Sept24_General-7 Sept24_General-6

Henna painting is a big thing here.  Street corner artists set up shop to paint fantastical designs on any part of your body.  Or, pick up a tagine clay cooker to bring home to prepare one of Morocco’s most famous pyramidical foodie dishes — veggies, seafood, chicken, lamb or goat — seasoned with cumin, coriander, cinnamon and peppers.

Sept23Essa-8 EssaBlue9222013_2-43

Along the early morning avenues before the shops open, the egg man pushes his cart to vend brown, fresh from the hen goodness as shopkeepers sweep the 17th century cobbled streets to prepare for the tourists who are the town’s economic lifeblood.

Sept23Essa-3 Sept23Essa-2

Our favorite morning past-time is to take a seat at a cafe, sip a rich cup of fresh ground and brewed Cafe Americano and people watch.  Maybe accompanied by a croissant filled with chocolate, too!

Sept24_General Sept24_General-5

About 70,000 people live in Essaouira and they need to eat.  (Once, 40 percent of the population was Jewish.) There are thriving fruit, vegetable, fish and meat markets intermingled with tourist shops selling Berber jewelry, handwoven rugs, antiques, pottery, and organic argan oil. Everywhere is a hammam or spa.

Sept23Essa-21  Sept23Essa-19

On every corner there seems to be a patisserie or bakery offering delectable French and Middle Eastern treats made with figs, dates, honey and pistachios.  The French influence is strong.  You can’t go more than 20 feet without coming upon a creperie stand turning out handmade delicacies drizzled with chocolate.

Sept23Essa-35 Sept23Essa-10

The people are warm, friendly and helpful.  We met Nora at the local coffee shop owned by her family.  In addition to serving an incredible cup of cafe Americano, she led us to her favorite hammam where we made an appointment for the real deal — the traditional communal (same sex) experience with body scrub, sweat bath, masque, massage and hair wash for under $25 USD.  My skin is now soooooo soft.

Sept23Essa-33 Sept23Essa-36

What’s a babouche?  Pointy-toed shoes of course!  The traditional style for Moroccan women and men.  The original ones intended for outdoor wear are treaded with car or truck tires, I’m told, and last forever.  The ones for inside the house are more like slippers.  Then, of course, there’s the jewelry shopping and this happy salesman (above right) made the sale of a lovely Tuareg silver and carnelian pendant and was eager to show it off.

Sept23Essa-40 Sept23Essa-15

I’ve not succumbed to the many sweets yet, but the temptation is very strong.   Now, I’m off for my morning cup of coffee.  Only one or two required.