A sleepy coastal town for much of the year, windswept Essaouira transforms in spring and autumn into one of Morocco’s most charming destinations. Just a two and a half hour’s drive from Marrakech, this former hideout of rock stars and rebels is now a laid-back seaside retreat, where the slower pace of life calls for gentle medina strolls, leisurely sampling of the catch of the day and restorative nights in luxurious boutique hotels.

When to go

Avoid the high-summer crowds escaping Marrakech’s scorching heat. June is hot and breezy; autumn is pleasant if you’re planning on exploring the city on foot.

Food & Drink

Tastebud-tingling tagines and freshly grilled seafood are on offer, of course, but Essaouira also plays host to risk-taking kitchens and cosmopolitan restaurants. Elizir whips up enticing fusion fare in a quirky vintage setting. Romantic Umia is just the thing for a tête-à-tête: watch the chefs at work from the intimate, pared-down dining room.

Not to miss

Pack your jodhpurs for a pulse-raising gallop on the beach.

Nightlife

Once a beachside hangout for the likes of Jimi Hendrix and Jim Morrison, Essaouira still bears traces of the free spirit of the Sixties. The coastal town has a bustling nightlife. Head to Il Mare for live music and photogenic sea views over the city’s fortified walls. The venerable Chalet de la Plage has been going since 1893: chase down tasty seafood bites with a glass or two of crisp rosé.

Where to stay in Essaouira

Essaouira’s fortified medina is wonderfully atmospheric and dotted with charming guesthouses and cleverly converted luxury villas. Golf courses and unspoilt beaches await beyond the city walls, near blissful boutique boltholes that know how to pamper and treat.

How to get there

Essaouira Mogador Airport has direct flights to London, France and Belgium. Marrakech has better international connections; rent a car to explore the region’s rugged coastline.

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