ESSAOUIRA is by popular acclaim Morocco’s most likeable resort: an eighteenth-century town, enclosed by medieval-looking battlements. Its whitewashed and blue-shuttered houses and colonnades, wood workshops and art galleries, boat-builders and sardine fishermen and featherIt’s midnight in Essaouira, and a castanet-like rhythm is drifting over the ramparts on the steely Atlantic breeze.
It’s midnight in Essaouira, and a castanet-like rhythm is drifting over the ramparts on the steely Atlantic breeze. This is a lila, one of the intimate musical gatherings that take place each night during the city’s annual Gnawa music festival. The Gnawas (or, in French, Gnaouas) are a spiritual brotherhood of healers and mystics whose ancestors, animist West Africans, were transported to Morocco as slaves. Their hypnotic music, a blend of sub-Saharan, Berber and Arab influences, is key to their rituals.
MAISON DE LA PHOTOGRAPHIE
The Photography Museum has a collection of over 8000 old photographs, covering the period 1870-1950. It highlights the origins of photography in Morocco, with works by the early photographers who worked there.
It holds exhibitions of photos from its collection on different themes, which change every six months. It is also a research centre offering teachers and students information on the history and heritage of Morocco, as well as an educational tool available to schools.
The village and ski centre of OUKAÏMEDEN is a calmer and much easier trekking base when compared to Setti Fatma, especially in the summer and for those setting out towards Toubkal, and a good target in its own right.
In summer, there are some attractive day hikes, and the chance to see prehistoric rock carvings (see Prehistoric rock carvings in the Atlas), while in winter, of course, there is the chance to ski – and it’s hard to resist adding Africa to a list of places you have skied.
THE OURIKA VALLEY
The Ourika Valley is a popular escape from the summer heat of Marrakesh. The village of Setti Fatma is a weekend resort for young Marrakshis, who ride out on their mopeds or BMWs to lie around and picnic beside the streams and waterfalls.
The village lies at the end of the road, but a piste (to Timichi) and then a mule track continues up the valley to passes to Tacheddirt and Oukaïmeden, which has the best skiing in Morocco and interesting prehistoric rock carvings. The path also continues through to Imlil and Toubkal, making it a useful starting/finishing point for trekkers.