Morocco : Essaouira
Essaouria is a small coastal town with a friendly, relaxed vibe which has inspired (and become the home of) many artists, musicians and film-makers. The old and most attractive part of town is within the sea-battered Medina walls, where the streets are lined with colourful shops and private art galleries. Being small, it is easy to navigate and very visitor-friendly. There is a fortified harbour and busy port at one end, and either side of the town there are long sweeping beaches, popular with surfers and kitesurfers, and you’ll also see horses pounding along the sand. Essaouira is somewhere to stroll around the ramparts, watch the drama of the fishing boats unloading, to eat fresh fish from the restaurant stalls by the fish market and sip mint tea or a coffee in the square as life goes by.
Villa de L'O is a spacious 18th Century riad which was completely renovated in 2008 and is now a sophisticated boutique hotel offering discreet personal service, sumptuous accommodation and breathtaking views. It has a distinctly colonial atmosphere, with high dark wood ceilings and old comfy leather chairs which have been subtly blended with unique contemporary furnishings. The 12 bedrooms have been furnished to the highest standard, combining all modern comforts with more traditional features, such as the lovely old photographs, aged books and vintage antiques. There are oversized loungers on the roof terrace, which has a lovely view over the ramparts and out to sea. There is also a spa with a spa pool, aromatic massages and a hammam.
Dar Liouba is a bright little haven run by a French couple in the heart of the medina. A former Imam’s home, it is airy and full of colourful, stylish decor. The bedrooms are spread around the sides of a carved pergola that rises over three levels to an octagon-shaped skylight. They are small and simply furnished, and have huge windows (unusually) onto the street as well as into the courtyard, bringing in lots of light. The rooftop terrace is higher than any surrounding buildings so offers privacy for sunbathing, and it’s ideally placed for exploring the medina.
This relatively large riad is in the centre of the old town and was originally the local pasha's (prince's) villa. This 18th century building has been restored to its former glory and has one of the finest courtyards in Essaouira with intricate tile and mosaic work and a central fountain. Beyond the Moorish arches and high pillars are comfortable sitting areas and a charming Moroccan restaurant. All the 23 rooms are on split levels and overlook the courtyard. They are individually decorated and vary in standard, and include family rooms and four luxurious suites if you are looking to treat yourselves. It has been a guest house for over 40 years and has entertained Jimi Hendrix, Tennessee Williams, and Leonard Cohen in its time!
Run by the charming and roguish French owner Jean-Gabriel, Ryad Watier is a great riad in the heart of the medina. After years spent sailing yachts around the world, Jean-Gabriel converted this former ruin into a simple, bright haven with 10 large bedrooms over four floors. There are two family rooms with mezzanine levels, and the bedrooms are all have their own decor and character. His wonderful and eclectic art collection adorns the walls of the rooms and corridors. Breakfast is on the roof terrace, from where you can watch the fishing boats coming in after their nights’ work, and you can have dinner in the riad if you let them know in the morning. It is good value and a great riad for families (though by no means exclusively so), and although it doesn’t have a swimming pool or garden, it’s full of character and gives you a taste of the real Essaouira.