My Ultimate Travelist

I received the Lonely Planet Ultimate Travelist for Christmas last year. It details the “500 best places on the planet… ranked” and it is possibly the most wanderlust-inducing thing I’ve ever read!

It got me thinking about what my ultimate travelist would be. So, I’ve decided to put together a top 10 of the places I’ve already visited and the 10 that are highest on my bucket list. I’ve ranked them in order, which was not an easy task!

 

Top 10 Places Visited

1. Khao Sok National Park, Thailand

Khao Sok National Park is situated in the Surat Thani province of Thailand. The crowing jewel of the park is Cheow Lan lake, which is home to beautiful lime stone karsts.

I stayed in a floating bungalow on the lake, where the facilities are very basic and there is only electricity for a few hours in the evening. The setting is absolutely stunning and my one-night stay is one of my all time favourite travel memories. Quite simply, it’s the most breathtaking place I’ve ever visited.

Read more: 9 Reasons to Visit Thailand 

 

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2. Great Wall of China

The Great Wall probably makes it on to most people’s travel bucket lists, it is a bit of a cliche.

It rightly deserves a place, it is out of this world amazing. I was super excited to hike the wall but nothing could prepare me for quite how incredible (and steep!) it was.

I visited the Jinshanling section of this wall and there were barely any other people!

 

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3. Temples of Angkor

The Temples of Angkor are out of this world and like nothing I’ve ever seen before.

I joined a small cycling tour when I visited; we got to Angkor Wat for sunrise and then cycled around the other temples and surrounding countryside.

Read more: Female solo travel in Cambodia and Vietnam: a 3 week itinerary 

 

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4. Hoi An Old Town

Most people that have visited Hoi An Old Town would probably agree that the place just feels absolutely magical, especially at night when the beautiful old buildings are lit up with colourful lanterns.

It was definitely my favourite place in Vietnam, although as you’ll see, two more places in my favourite country ever have also made it on to my list!

 

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5. Hanoi Old Quarter, Vietnam

Hanoi is by far my favourite large city in Asia. It’s busy and it’s polluted but it also has so much charm!

Home to many beautiful buildings, Hoan Kiem Lake, Ngoc Son Temple and lots of lovely restaurants, there’s plenty to see and do. But this is also a place where you can just wander and get lost, taking it all in.

Read more: Vietnam Travel Tips

 

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6. Galle Fort, Sri Lanka

One of the things I loved most about Sri Lanka is that every place we visited was so different. Galle Fort was no exception, I certainly wasn’t expecting charming cobbled streets, boutique shops and a lighthouse in Sri Lanka!

I stayed within the fort, which I’d highly recommend doing.

Read more: Sri Lankan Adventure Part 1: Colombo to Galle

 

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7. Plaza Mayor, Cuba

Trinidad in Cuba is by far one of the prettiest towns I’ve ever visited. Cobbled streets and pastel coloured buildings, it is a delight. It attracts a fair amount of tourists but it still felt really laid back and not at all crowded.

Plaza Mayor is the historic centre of the town and it’s the perfect place to wander for a couple of hours, followed by a cold beer.

See more: Cuba: Photo Edit

 

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8. Halong Bay, Vietnam

Halong Bay is a must-see for visitors to Vietnam. It’s famous for its limestone karsts and dramatic scenery.

I stayed on a traditional junk boats for two days and it was an amazing experience, not to mention that the seafood served on board was some of the best and freshest I’ve ever eaten.

 

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9. Habana Vieja, Cuba

Think of Cuba and Habana Vieja is likely to be the picture in your head- the bright, pastel coloured old buildings in the old part of town.

They are iconic and even better experienced on a ride around Havana in an old American car.

Read more: Cuba Travel Tips

 

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10. Le Jardin Majorelle

I recently visited Marrakech and was concerned that I’d be disappointed by Le Jardin Majorelle given all the photos I’d seen and the masses of tourists.

I definitely wasn’t disappointed, the gardens were absolutely magical and like a complete oasis away from the slight madness of Marrakech itself.

Read more: How to Spend a Long Weekend in Marrakech

 

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So, that’s where I’ve been. Now for the list of the top 10 places I’d like go visit form the Lonely Planet Ultimate Travelist:

1. Bora Bora, French Polynesia

2. Machu Picchu, Peru

3. Petra, Jordan

4. Taj Mahal, India

5. Bagan, Myanmar

6. Gardens by the Bay, Singapore

7. Dubrovnik Old City Walls, Croatia

8. Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque, Abu Dhabi

9. Cristo Redentor, Brazil

10. Empire State Building

Check out the Lonely Planet Ultimate Travelist here.

Where are your top 10 places visited and the top 10 you want to go to? I’d love to hear from you xxx

How to Spend a Long Weekend in Marrakech

 

Marrakech is certainly one of those places that is an assault on the senses. The hot African sun beating down, crowds of people, brightly coloured stalls filled with handmade Moroccan wares, the smell of traditional spices. The Red City is like no other place that I’ve visited. Everything feels so alive, and at times it can be overwhelming.

Overwhelming but enchanting, definitely somewhere that should be on your bucket list. I will admit that Marrakech wasn’t one of my favourite cities by the time I left but there is something really special about it.

I’d recommend visiting for a long weekend, after all the flight from the UK is actually a lot shorter than you’d expect! Here’s everything you need to know about spending a weekend in the Red City.

Getting there

There are regular flights from the UK, especially from London airports, in to Marrakech Menara airport. Flight time is usually between three and four hours.

Arriving at the airport

Couple of top tips for arriving at Marrakech Menara: take a pen to fill out your landing card, and when putting down your occupation, write your job title in the simplest form. My boyfriend’s job title is a bit obscure and it meant that he spent 10 minutes being questioned at the border. For example, instead of putting down my title of “National Account Manager”, I simply put “Sales Manager”, which raised no questions.

Getting from the airport to the city

You can quite easily grab a taxi from outside the airport terminal and it shouldn’t cost much at all; a trip in to the city doesn’t take long. Be sure to haggle and agree a price before you get in to the taxi.

I pre-arranged a taxi with our riad, definitely the easiest option. Although more expensive by a long way (though still cheap by Western standards), it is much more straightforward if you’re staying in the medina. Taxis can’t enter most of the medina, and as such, it’s unlikely that you’ll be dropped off at your accommodation. Booking transport through your riad or hotel means that they will take you right to the door of where you’re staying, no matter how far in to the medina it might be.

How to dress

Marrakech is a predominantly Muslim country, and as such, you should respect local customs and dress appropriately. As a female, cover your knees, shoulders and chest as much as possible. I found that long culottes and midi skirts worked well. Take a light scarf as an extra cover up.

It’s a little more relaxed for males, although I’d still keep your shoulders covered. Plenty of male tourists were walking around in shorts and who can blame them in such a hot country.

Where to stay

I’d highly recommend staying at a riad (a traditional Moroccan house with interior garden or courtyard) within the medina. It’s an unforgettable experience, read more here. I stayed at Riad Spa Sindibad and Riad Dar More, both of which I’d definitely stay at again.

 

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What to see and do
Medina

It’s likely your accommodation will be within the medina, especially if you opt for a riad. Just wandering the medina is an experience in itself, the narrow streets are bustling with people, scooters and horses.

Souks

Morocco is famous for it souks (marketplace or bazaars). Wander through these and get lost amongst all manner of stalls, selling everything from Moroccan spices to rugs to trainers to fresh olives. Be sure to keep on your poker face when trying to buy something, and haggle, it’s expected. Vendors can start at up to three times the price they actually want for an item. Yes haggling feels uncomfortable, especially when it’s over a small amount, but it’s completely normal in Morocco.

 

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Koutoubia Mosque

The largest mosque in Marrakech, Koutoubia is stunning and not to be missed. Although non-Muslims are not permitted to enter, it’s well worth visiting to see from outside.

 

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Le Jardin Majorelle

These gardens, lovingly created by French painter Jacques Majorelle over a forty year period, are one of the most visited attractions in all of Marrakech. Yes you’ll likely have to queue for a while to get in, yes it will be crowded, but trust me it’s worth it.

The gardens are filled with beautiful trees, plants and cacti. The buildings are painted in beautiful Majorelle blue and yellow. Definitely not to be missed.

Entry to the gardens costs 70dh (around £5.50) and its an extra 30dh to enter to Yves Saint Laurent museum.

 

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Kasbah Mosque

Another beautiful mosque worth checking out.

 

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Bahia Palace

My favourite of the palaces in Marrakech, Bahia is absolutely stunning. It was built in the 19th century and took 14 years to complete. Think intricate architecture, beautiful tiles and the most gorgeous colours.

We paid 10dh for admission but a lot of people just skipped this and entered for free; the ticket office is literally a little cabin by the entrance that can be walked by easily.

 

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El Badi Palace

El Badi Palace was completed around 1593 after 15 years.

Be sure to head up the stairs just left of the entrance, there’s a view point with great views over the palace.

 

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Jemaa el-Fna Square

The main square in the medina, Jemaa el-Fna is filled with stalls and orange juice stands by day. At night, vendors set up street food stalls. There’s also a number of street entertainers, snake charmers and people with monkeys on chains.

I’ll be honest, I didn’t like Jemaa el-Fna at all. If you visit, please don’t take photos with the snakes or monkeys, as you’ll only encourage these cruel practices to carry on.

It’s worth noting that locals will expect payment if you’re taking photos of them or their stalls. Also, be aware of the ladies offering henna. One came up to me and started brushing henna onto my arm without permission. Say no, be firm and walk away.

 

Maison de la Photographie

This photography museum takes you on a journey back time, with exhibitions documenting the history of Marrakech.

I didn’t love the exhibitions that we saw but I think I was unfairly comparing them to the ones I saw at Fotograsfika in Stockholm earlier this year, which were incredible.

The museum is well worth a visit just for the beautiful internal architecture and the gorgeous rooftop café, which has great views over the city.

 

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Enjoy the view from a rooftop

There are plenty of rooftop cafes, restaurants and bars in Marrakech. In my opinion, spending time at these is the best way to soak up the city. If you visit during spring, you’ll be able to see the Atlas mountains in the distance; they make an amazing backdrop.

 

Food and drink
Moroccan specialities

Whilst in Marrakech, there are a few local and regional specialities you must try:

  • Fresh orange juice
  • Olives
  • Mint tea (with sugar!)
  • Tagine
  • Cous cous
  • Harira soup
  • Pastilla
Zwin Zwin

This was my favourite rooftop spot in Marrakech. It’s lesser known than some of the other places in the city and this makes it a more relaxing, less crowded place to grab some lunch.

The wraps and salads are fresh and tasty. They also serve alcohol, something that isn’t true of many places in Morocco.

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Nomad

Nomad is a trendy spot, perfect for grabbing lunch, a fresh juice and doing a bit of people watching. It gets busy and you may have to wait for a table.

The food is expensive by Moroccan standards but it’s tasty and there’s quite a few vegetarian dishes on the menu.

 

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Al Fassia

There are two Al Fassia restaurants, serving delicious traditional Moroccan food.

 

Beats Burger

Sick of tagine and cous cous? You don’t exactly expect to find a great burger restaurant in Marrakech, but Beats Burger is just that.

The food is delicious and the restaurant itself is really cool, complete with a rooftop of course.

 

Kosybar 

As I already mentioned, not many places in Morocco serve alcohol outside of tourist hotels.

Kosybar is situated in the medina and has a lovely rooftop where you can enjoy a drink. The wine and beer is good but avoid the cocktails- the Espresso Martini I ordered was pretty awful.

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Have you been to Marrakech? Do you have any other recommendations? 

 

Why You Should Stay in a Riad in Marrakech

 

There are hundreds of traditional riads in Marrakech, from the simple to the outright decadent. During my recent trip to Morroco, I stayed in two riads within Marrakech medina, and I absolutely loved the experience!

If you’re heading to Morocco, I’d 100% recommend that you stay in a riad for at least part of your trip, it’s an unforgettable experience. Here are all of the reasons why.

You’ll be greeted like an old friend

There’s no hotel welcome like a riad welcome in my opinion. You’ll knock on the door of the riad and be greeted by a friendly local, who will usher you in to the tranquility of the courtyard.

You’ll be seated then offered some traditional Moroccan mint tea with sweet treats. Beats a watered down cocktail/fruit juice you get in most places!

It’s also likely that your hosts will give you a guided tour of the riad and will offer plenty of helpful advice about Marrakech. With the accommodation being much smaller than your standard hotel, you’ll find the service to be much more attentive, even in a mid-range riad.

 

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The riad will be your oasis

Marrakech medina is an overwhelming place at times. Vendors, crowds, scooters, even horses trotting by make for a real hustle and bustle. It’s fun, it’s interesting but after a long and hot day, stepping in to your riad will be a welcome oasis.

Although you’ll still be right in the heart of the action, step in to your riad, and it will be like a different world. Quiet, cool, clean and relaxing. Possibly the exact opposite of the medina itself.

 

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You’ll get serious interior decor inspiration/envy

Traditional Moroccan décor is absolutely beautiful and your riad will no doubt feature it in spades.

Think pretty tiles, gorgeous lanterns, handcrafted furniture, colourful cushions and lush greenery.

Aside from being perfect instagram fodder, you’ll feel like you’re experiencing the real Morocco.

 

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You’ll get luxury without a huge price tag

Compared to what you’d pay in Europe, accommodation in Morocco is really reasonable. Riads are usually cheaper than your standard chain hotel and offer a real sense of luxury, from the surroundings right through to the service.

Staying in a riad is much like being in a boutique hotel, something that you can pay a lot for in many places.

 

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A traditional Moroccan breakfast is the best way to start your day

Most riads will offer a complimentary Moroccan style breakfast. Fresh orange juice, mint tea, traditional breads and pastries, omelettes, fresh fruit; you’ll be spoilt for choice.

It’s a great way to start the day and certainly beats most hotel breakfasts I’ve ever had!

 

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In-house spas mean pampering right on your doorstep

Many riads have in-house spa facilities that are again reasonably priced compared to in Europe.

Massages, hammams and manicures available right there, what’s not to love?

 

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You can embrace rooftop living

With a mild winter climate, and being warm to hot from Spring though to Autumn, Marrakech is the perfect city to experience on a rooftop.

Lots of riads have lovely roof terraces on which you can enjoy your breakfast, or spend a relaxing evening. Again, this offers an oasis away from the craziness of the medina.

You may even be able to enjoy a traditional dinner up on the terrace organised by the riad.

 

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It will be a completely unique experience

The main reason that I’d recommend staying in a riad is that it is a totally unique experience and definitely one you should have whilst in Morocco.

I can’t quite explain what makes staying in a riad so unique and special, so my advice would be to book a stay and experience it for yourself.

 

 

I stayed at Riad Spa Sindibad and Riad Dar More, both of which I’d highly recommend.

Riad Spa Sindibad is the slightly more traditional of the two; Riad Dar More feels a little more like a boutique hotel. Click on the links above to find out more, or I’d be happy to answer your questions!

An Honest Review of My Stay at Essaouira Lodge in Morocco

I stayed at the beautiful Essaouira Lodge for 5 nights during my trip to Morocco and wanted to share an honest review of the hotel, in case you’re thinking about staying there or are looking for a great place to stay in Essaouira.

Location

The hotel is located in the hills of Essaouira, about a 15-minute drive from the city and the coast. It is on the edge of a thuja forest, which is so beautiful and definitely embodies the hotel’s tagline; “The Spirit of Nature”. Although out of the way of town, the hotel provides a free shuttle service throughout the day, about every hour. I adored the location of the hotel, I really felt like I was able to get away from it all but could still explore the sights easily too. Plus, Essaouira is known as Morocco’s Windy City, which can be frustrating at times. As Essaouira Lodge is away from the coast, it gets nowhere near as much wind. Perfect for relaxing in the sun.

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Room

We stayed in a Superior Suite, which was comprised of a spacious bedroom, kitchenette, bathroom and terrace. The accommodation is relatively basic and more like an apartment than a hotel suite but it’s clean and comfortable. Our terrace was huge, with beautiful views.

Essaouira Lodge also has villas for larger groups, some with their own private pools.

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Facilities

The pool and surrounding area is one of the best aspects of Essaouira Lodge. The pool is large, heated and the tiles are beautiful, as you’d expect in Morocco! There are plenty of sunbeds and seats around the pool, perfect for relaxing. There is also a spa that offers hammams and massages.

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Grounds

The grounds are stunning, the gardeners clearly work really hard to keep all the greenery looking gorgeous. The accommodation is spread over a relatively wide area, which really adds to the being in nature experience; it never feels crowded.

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Food

Essouira Lodge offers breakfast, lunch and dinner. The breakfast is very good value, around £4.50 for a variety of Moroccan breads and pastries, preserves, a continental selection, freshly cooked eggs, fruit, yoghurt, fresh orange juice and coffee.

The lunch is also very tasty, you pay around £16 but get a huge plate of salads followed by a delicious main course, and then dessert. Although more expensive than most options in town, it’s well worth trying if you fancy a lazy day.

For dinner, you choose from a few set menu options.

There’s a cosy dining room with a big open fire for colder days and evenings, or you can sit outside on the patio if it’s a little warmer.

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Drinks

As Morocco is a predominantly Muslim country, you’ll find that a lot of places don’t serve any alcohol. Essaouira Lodge offers beer, wine and cocktails, which is nice if you fancy a tipple whilst you’re relaxing around the pool.

The drinks are pretty good but on the slightly expensive side, as you’d expect at a hotel.

Activities

Essaouira Lodge has its very own yoga lodge and offers both yoga and pilates classes. Although I didn’t attend any classes, I checked out the yoga lodge, which looked rather good! Definitely a great place to start the day with a yoga session.

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Staff

All the staff we interacted with were super friendly and helpful, making the stay at Essaouira Lodge even better. Nothing was too much trouble and everybody always has a greeting and a smile as you walk by!

Value for money

Rates are more than reasonable for the standard of the hotel, we paid around £268 for 5 nights, working out around £27 per person per night. You could definitely find cheaper accommodation in Essaouira but if you’re looking for a beautiful setting with friendly staff and a relaxing vibe, you can’t go wrong.

Overall verdict

Essaouira Lodge is a great place to relax for a couple of days or for a longer stay. You’ll leave feeling a lot more relaxed than when you arrived and it offers an oasis away from the hustle and bustle of Essaouira town.

You can book a stay at Essaouira Lodge directly here or on Expedia.

All booked and ready to go? Check out my Essaouira guide here.

Disclaimer: we were kindly offered a free upgrade from a standard room to a suite by the hotel but with no connection to my blog. All views are my own.

Morocco’s Windy City: Essaouira Travel Guide

 

When most people visit Morocco, their likely destination of choice is usually Marrakech, Fez, Casablanca or even Agadir if they’re looking for an all-inclusive package.

Although definitely on the tourist trail, Essaouira is certainly not one of the busier destinations in Morocco. It’s escaped the curse of overdevelopment and big chain hotels by the wind that constantly batters the city. Whilst undoubtedly beautiful and charming, Essaouira is not a relaxing beach destination by any stretch of the imagination.

Still, I’d highly recommend this coastal town if you’re visiting Morocco. It’s got a bustling medina, beautiful architecture (and door ways!), amazing shopping, a laid-back vibe and some great restaurants.

I spent four days in Essaouira and wanted to share some of my experience, tips and recommendations.

 

 

Getting there

There is a small airport with flights from the UK via Easyjet. You can also get there pretty easily from Marrakech via a private transfer/taxi or using a bus company. Supratours are recommended, we travelled with them Marrakech to Essaouira return and had a good experience. The journey takes around 3 hours with a 20 minute rest stop at a place with clean toilets, a shop and restaurant. Be sure to book tickets ahead as the buses do get full; your hotel or riad should be able to organise this for you.

 

Things to do

Get lost in the medina

Like a lot of Morrocan cities, Essaouria has a medina, which is the heart of the place. Less bustling and overwhelming than Marrakech medina, wander and let yourself get lost within it.

 

 

Put your haggling skills to the test

The shops and stalls within Essaouira medina have so many beautiful things that you can buy; including rugs, crockery, artwork and scarves, amongst others. Where there is no price indicated, you are expected to barter over the price. Bear in mind that vendors are likely to ask for 3 or 4 times more than what they’re looking for initially. Yes it’s uncomfortable but get haggling and be a bit cheeky, it’s how it’s done in Morocco. Be sure to keep a poker face, don’t show how much you love what you’re trying to buy!

 

 

 

 

Visit the Kasbah Gallery

We stumbled upon this place and were so glad we did. Full of beautiful art pieces and furniture, it’s a great place to escape from the afternoon sun. There’s also a cool roof terrace at the top, which has some pretty good views over Essaouira.

 

 

Scale the port

You’ll no doubt have seen photos of the historic port and iconic blue fishing boats on any official Essaouira literature or if you’ve done any research in to the city. Head down there and see it for yourself. For Game of Thrones fans, check out Skala Du Port, which was used in the filming of the series.

 

 

 

Relax by a pool

If you’re planning on staying in the medina, chances are you won’t have a swimming pool. Lucky for you, you can pay a fee to use the gardens and pool of some hotels in the area if you’re looking to relax for a day.

Les Jardins Villa Maroc offers a BBQ lunch and use of their pool for around 25 euros per person.

A cheaper option is to book a day pass for Essaouira Lodge, the hotel that I stayed at (full review coming soon). I think it costs around £12 per person and includes full of use of the pool, a delicious lunch and transfers to/from Essaouira centre. The hotel is around a 15 minute drive inland and the wind is no where near as bad as by the coast, which makes for a lovely environment if you want to relax for the day by a pool.

 

 

Watch the world go by over a mint tea

Mint tea is a staple in Morocco. It’s usually served with sugar and is absolutely delicious. You can beat finding a comfy seat outside a restaurant/café in the median, ordering a pot and just watching life happen.

 

Other activities

Although we didn’t do so, you can easily book activities such as horse-riding, windsurfing and quad biking whilst you’re there.

 

Places to eat and drink

Tara’s Café

Located in the heart of the medina in a cute square, Tara’s a great place to grab a fresh juice and light lunch. The goat’s cheese salad is tasty and filling.

 

 

 

La Tolerance

 Don’t let La Tolerance’s tiny size put you off, it’s a cosy restaurant serving delicious local food at cheap prices. The lemon, olive and chicken tagine is lovely, as is the traditional mint tea.

 

Mega Loft

 Not your typical Moroccan restaurant but great none the less. The vibe is laid back, the interior is cool and they have some great live music on during the evening. Food is a mix of Moroccan and Western, with some veggie options. You seem to be able to sneak in wine to have with your dinner, just be discreet when handing it over. They’ll whisk it off behind the counter and decant it in to a teapot. Or they did for a couple of young ladies whilst we were there.

 

 

 

Gusto

Had your fill of tagine and couscous? Head to Gusto, an upmarket Italian restaurant situated away from the main part of the city. The restaurant itself is lovely, the food is pretty tasty and they make a good Aperol Spritz.

 

 Adwak

 Leaving the best until last. Be sure to get to Adwak as soon as it opens around 7pm, we arrived 5 minutes after and the restaurant was filled within 15 minutes. Testament to how good this place is. You can choose from different set menus that cost around £7-£11 for three courses. The Moroccan style soup and chocolate cake are particularly good. Probably the best place we ate in Morocco in terms based upon food, ambience and value for money. Staff are rushed off their but friendly.

 

 

Safety

Essaouira feels very safe and doesn’t attract much trouble. Watch out for the locals hanging around by the port offering drugs and generally hassling you after sundown.

If you’re female, I’d definitely recommend dressing conservatively whilst in Morocco. Although the catcalling and stares weren’t as bad as in Marrakech, there was still a fair amount. Cover your knees, chest and shoulders as much as possible. A light scarf or pashmina is ideal too.

 

 Other things to consider
  • OK so it is called the “Windy City” and this may be seem very obvious but it is extremely windy in Essaouira. I’d recommend taking a bobble or head scarf if you have long hair, it gets very annoying when you’re trying to sightsee and take photos but you’re hair’s blowing it to your face.
  • There are a lot of beggars within and just outside the medina. Quite a lot of these are children. Although it’s really sad to see, the official advice is not to give money, especially to children, as this can bring shame on their families.
  • With regards to tipping, there isn’t really an expected amount. I’d definitely encourage you to leave a generous tip if you received good service; a little goes a long way for most locals in countries like Morocco.

 

Happy travels!