Many visitors to Essaouira come via Marrakech to the coast (although this will change as more and more airlines fly directly to Essaouira). On arrival, they are often pleased to find that the medina is smaller and less overwhelming than that of Marrakech, and the shopkeepers and stall holders tend to drive a slightly easier bargain than their big city counterparts.
However, many of the shops sell the same kinds of souvenirs you can find all over the country. What if you want items that are distinctly local? Do not despair! Essaouira has a reputation as an artsy town and there are many local and expat artisans and artists offering unique gifts for you to take home. Here are some of the Best of Essaouira in terms of souvenirs.
BEST for jewellery – Othman Shop
Othman could win prize for funkiest guy in Essaouira. He and his dad are local landmarks. You will find them day in and day out at the foot of Rue Laalouj: Othman sitting on an antique outside his Aladdin’s cave shop and his dad on the corner crocheting beanie hats. Nowhere else will you get such a range of wool-wrapped baskets and bowls or such as friendly welcome (without hollering at you from halfway down the street) as you peruse the artefacts, jewellery and objets (many of which Othman designs himself). Find Othman at 86, Rue Laalouj
BEST for stylish souvenirs – Histoire de Filles
The team at Histoire de Filles and – new for summer 2014 –Coin des Saveurs., have got style in Essaouira nailed. The former stocks all manner of modern takes on Moroccan design, including homewares, accessories, clothing and much more. Designers are all Moroccan or Morocco-based. Check out the scarves by local Australian crafty woman, Colleen Cassar. Colleen reinvents silk, cotton and wool scarves from the local flea market as beautiful, upcycled floaty treasures – perfect for fending off Essaouira draughts! Even the shop’s decorations are for sale! Coin des Saveurs next door is rapidly becoming the go-to destination for culinary souvenirs. Why get your spices in a grubby plastic bag in the souk, when you can get them in a mini-Kilner jar along with a “Keep Calm & Eat Tajine” tea towel? Visit both shops in Rue Mohammed ben Massaoud.
BEST for modern thuya designs – Az-Zahr
French artist and collector Patrick has finally opened this artisan’s workshop and showroom in the ground floor of his 18th century riad. The plan is that a cafe will soon follow. Patrick sells local art, rescued and upcycled ceramics and furniture and a range of jewellery and home wares made from thuya. Thuya (a confider of the cypress family) is indigenous to Essaouira and you will see boxes and furniture made from it all over town. Patrick has found artisans, carpenters and cabinet makers willing to break from the norm of highly varnished pieces with intricate marquetry inlays. This collaboration has resulted in bangles, rings, bread boards, stools and ornaments in a meticulously designed, sanded style which allows the grain and knots of the wood to tell their own story. Instead of the smell of varnish or oil, Patrick’s boutique offers a waft of the delicate scent of freshly sanded thuya. Az-Zahr is tucked away down Rue Mohamed Diouri.
BEST for a bargain – joutiya
Essaouira’s Sunday joutiya (flea market; the name comes from the French ‘jeter’, to throw away) in the industrial quarter is great for rummaging. Come here to pick up bargains such as camel or goat hair blankets, second hand kaftans, ceramics, decorative items and remodelled furniture, plus all kinds of half-broken, dusty junk. Venture into the alleyways behind the market to find the shack workshops of some of Essaouira’s most current naive artists such as Baki and Asma. Self-taught, their work (on canvas, furniture and sculptures) uses bright, primary colours and is reminiscent of the indigenous art of other cultures. Find the joutiya in the area between the Jewish cemeteries and the Asswaj Assalam supermarket.
BEST for leather bags – Basma
Business woman Hafida set up her own shop in 2013 after managing the boutique at Taros for years. She is now in her second location and has never looked back. She welcomes all her customers with a broad smile and offers a carefully curated selection of jewellery, accessories, small paintings, and other decorative items made by Moroccan and locally-based artisans. The stand out stars of her collection, however, are her leather shoulder bags and clutches in a wide range of on-the-minute colours. Basma Shop is on the Skala – head around the ramparts from the main square (Place Moulay Hassan) and look for the smiley sign.
BEST for shopping with a conscience – Mashi Muski shop
When you shop at Mashi Mushki in the impoverished Chbanate neighbourhood of the Essaouira medina, you are helping make a difference to local lives. Many of the items are made by local women or coops and a percentage of the profits goes to the Project 91 charity. Funds support local young people to get skills and training (such as a hairdressing qualification, English language or driving lessons). The P91 campaign, “Leave your wardrobe in Morocco”, encourages tourists to leave clothes behind for sale in the P-91 charity shop on Rue Tetouan. You can donate unwanted clothes at the shops or participating riads. The Mashi Mushki shop is on Rue Chbanate under Dar 91.
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