ESSAOUIRA is by popular acclaim Morocco's most likeable resort: an eighteenth-century town, enclosed by medieval-looking battlement, facing a cluster of rocky offshore islands, and trailed by a vast expanse of empty sands and dunes. Its whitewashed and blue-shuttered houses and colonnades, its wood workshops and art galleries, its boat-builders and sardine fishermen, its feathery Norfolk Island pines which only thrive in a pollution-free atmosphere: all provide a colourful and very pleasant backdrop to the beach. The life of the resort, too, is easy and uncomplicated, and very much in the image of the predominantly youthful Europeans and Marrakchis who come here on holiday; unlike Agadir, few of the visitors who stay here are on package tours.
Essaouira features in none but the most trendy brochures and upmarket TV travel programmes, and you will only be aware of packaged tourism at lunch-time when hungry coachloads from the four-star hotels in Marrakesh arrive. The seafront restaurants are best reserved for the evening meal.
Many of the foreign tourists, making their own way, are drawn by the wind, Known locally as the alizee, which can be a bit remorseless for sunbathing but creates much sough-after waves for surfing and windsurfing. In recent years, Essaouira has gained quite a reputation in this respect, promoting itself as "wind City, Africa" and hosting national and international surfing contests. This burgeoning population is , inevitably, changing the town's character; with villas springing up along the corniche, but as yet it's very far from spoilt. and remains a thoroughly enjoyable base to rest up after the big-city tension of Casa or Marrakesh.