Arrival in Essaouira

25.03.09 — Arrival in Marrakech and the journey to Essaouira

There have been a few firsts on this journey — my first trip outside Europe since 2003, my first time in Africa since 1997, and my first time asleep on a sleeper train ever. Although we were naively expecting old-world colonial opulence in our first-class couchettes, the garish orange functional compartment turned out to be the most comfortable yet — we all got a great night’s sleep.

Arrival in Marrakech was a calm affair, the new station greeting us in a grand but cool manner. Marrakech itself is the same polluted asylum I remember — we made our way from the station to the grand taxis through choking fumes, glad of our hastily arranged Mercedes for the escape from them.


Our driver Abdi, a grinning toothless Berber local, tore across the plains and hills to Essaouira with glee. Essaouira itself has changed little in 12 years — it is no longer the semi-secret traveller haven it was, with a few coaches turning up during the day and a number of new hotels built further down the beach, thankfully away from the Medina and port. What hasn’t changed is the wonderful laid back atmosphere which is every bit as addictive as I remember. We wander at a very slow pace — nothing needs to be done in a hurry here.

After a well-deserved early evening doze in our riad, which incidentally is a self-catered delight, we ventured out for some food. Our riad, Riad de la Mer, sits just inside the Medina walls, down a dark alley filled with tiny shops, shadowy doorways and feral cats. We wove through the dark streets to Restaurant Les Alizés where the food was delicious and the service incredibly discreet.

We started our evening drinking Moroccan wine on the roof terrace, the lights, noises and smells of Essaouira drifting up from below, the Atlantic becalmed in the distance. We finished the evening well-fed and content, the calm Atlantic air certainly agreeing with us.