Keen followers of maroc-o-phile.com will know that I haven’t been living in Essaouira full-time for a while now. I have been fortunate to be there twice this year already and things are a-changing, albeit at a slow, sleepy Swiri pace… Here’s a round up of what’s new in Essaouira for 2016.
There is a new spectator sport in Essaouira: at the end of the beach nearest the port where once kids jumped off rocks into the ocean, there is now a vast construction site. Locals sit or stand and watch trucks and diggers come and go all day. While a nearby sign indicates forthcoming improvements to the port – an extended boat yard, jetties for the iconic blue flouka fishing boats and changes to the basin inside Bab Mersa, the gateway to the port, there is no official notice of what is happening at the end of the beach… Watch this space (and the diggers)! Just in time for the 2016 Gnaoua Festival, work began on the medina end of the promenade – it currently looks like a bomb site…. The other big building site of the city is the hospital – set to gain a whole new wing, funded – among others – by the EU.
Well known fish restaurant and Essaouira institution, Chez Sam, disappeared from the end of the port as the works got under way, as did its less well known neighbour, Le Coquillage at the entrance to the port. Many jobs have been lost in the process and there is no indication as yet that either proprietor will re-open elsewhere.
At the other end of the beach, Tamouziga is undergoing renovations with a change of management. Despite the somewhat grumpy demeanour of the former boss, Dave, their pizzas were the best outside the medina and it was a great place for sunbathing away from the chi-chi crowd of Beach and Friends or Ocean Vagabond either side. Let’s see what the new management makes of it!
In the medina, the Othman shop has gone and Othman has moved just around the corner from his shop (and his dad’s crocheted hats) to open Mega Loft, a funky restaurant featuring frequent live music. There are rumours about town that Elizir is going to close. That will be a real loss to the town, so get down there for one of Abdelatif’s steaks before it’s too late. Rumour has it the funky fixtures are going to be sold off – I predict some seriously stylish riads around town!
And hello to….
New Friday and Saturday tapas nights at Ocean Vagabond. I always felt that this end of the beach needed an alternative to the young party scene at Beach and Friends and Ocean Vagabond looks set to deliver it.
New benches, playgrounds and sports equipment have sprung up in the neighbourhoods of the new town. Some are already looking the worse for wear, but many are being enjoyed by local families.
Talking of the new town, cafes, take aways and restaurants are springing up all over the place, catering largely to the limited budgets of local youngsters and families. My favourites so far are Paradise in Lotissement 5 (for a while they were even doing fish and chips, but it didn’t last!) and the Borj branch of DolceFreddo, the ‘Italian Cafe’ on the main square (which, incidentally, has new cake and breakfast additions to its menu).
While we are on the subject of cake, Charlotte Patisserie has made a coup in securing baker-patissier Abdelatif, formerly of Maison Gourmande and Patisserie du Coin. In the great Essaouira bake off, my money would not have been on Charlotte to win. However, Abdelatif has brought fresh ideas and an excellent quality-price ratio to really give this neighbourhood bakery a boost. A better quality of pastry is now in the grasp of local families and the quality will attract the more discerning expat crowd as well. Another new opening is Le Cupcake in Lotissement 5, run by a Moroccan-German couple. Patachou, the patisserie well-loved by many French expats as well as locals, is set to move to larger premises up the road in Borj.
Back in the medina, the building on the square to the side of the Bab Laachour cafe is set to become a documentation centre on Essaouira history, although work seems to have halted. This will be a welcome addition to the heritage trail. Essaouira has a fascinating history, but often it is just too difficult to track down.
As for eating in the medina, you can now do so with an alcoholic drink at the fabulous Umia (Rue de Skala). And you can have a muffin with your juice from the Juice Bar on Rue Attarine. When you are sick of tajine, you can try Indian food (beside Le Patio in the Kasbah) or sushi on Saturdays at La Tête dans les Étoiles (just outside the medina in the re-vamped park area between Bab Sbâa and Bab Marrakech). The latter’s musical evenings with set menu are also getting a good reputation – see the flyers or their Facebook page for the programme. Chez Francoise (Rue Houmman el Fatouaki) has re-opened, under the new management of Francoise’s daughter. After several recent management changes, let’s hope Ginger (Rue Ibn Rochd) and La Tolérance (Rue Houmman el Fatouaki) are now on a stable footing.
If you’d rather DIY your own dinner, you still can’t buy fish from the medina fish market. The temporary fish market next the prison (outside Bab Doukkala) looks like a shanty town and doesn’t have running water. Locals prefer to buy their fish from the port, although apparently the authorities are trying to crack down on this. Without a proper fish market, locals don’t have much option!
A novelty across Morocco are the modern people-carrier grands taxis. The blue ones zipping in and out of Essaouira’s taxi station look very slick but I can’t help regretting the inevitable demise of the sturdy old Mercedes taxis, even if parts of their interior were often held together with sellotape (or all together absent, like the window levers often were!)
Nothing stays still for long, even in sleepy Essaouira. Some of these developments are designed to last, others will inevitably disappear as quickly as the sugar lumps in your mint tea. The best of the new businesses will make it into the 2nd edition of my e-guide to Essaouira, The Best of Essaouira. Watch this space!