Located on Morocco's Atlantic coast, Essaouira is well worth a visit and differs entirely from the bustling metropolis that is Marrakesh. You can get there by flying into Marrakesh and then getting a taxi onto Essaouira. The journey is long but is an adventure in itself and helps to keep Essaouira safe from the hordes. However, try to get a taxi to yourself. My friend and I found ourselves crammed into a taxi and were in fact stopped by the police part way through the journey and had to all have our passports checked.
Essaouira is a walled city lost in time. The streets are still populated by people wearing traditional hooded robes - slightly scary when encountered down a dark alleyway at night. We stayed in a traditional riad run by a French couple. The place was beautifully decorated and incredibly cheap.
Essaouira has a large sweeping beach where Byron is said to have ridden his horses. There is also what looks like the remains of a castle in the sea on the edge of the beach which is said to have inspired Jimi Hendrix to write his song 'Castles made of sand'.
In the sixties, legends such as Frank Zappa and Jimi Hendrix visited the town and took part in local music events. Music is one of the most memorable aspects of Essaouira as it has many shops which sell some of the best North African music you can buy. It also plays host to the Gnaoua World Music Festival. In the forties, Orson Welles filmed 'Othello' in Essaouira - he described his time in Essaouira as "One of the happiest times I've ever known".
You get the picture - Essaouira is a place that is brimming with creativity and soul. The people are gentle and intelligent, they exchange text books with one another. When chatting to a shop owner, he told me that the only thing that he envied about living in England was the standard of education as he loved his life of creating art and hanging out with friends on the beach in Essaouira. Who can blame him! It makes you feel ashamed of all the British people who make no use of their educational opportunities.
If you're buying jewellery, surely it is better to buy something handmade by someone who is part of a place with such a history. Essaouira filigree is delicate and reasonably priced (you will need to haggle). The choice of filigree jewellery in Essaouira is vast! You can also buy leather goods, scarves (if you meet a guy from Mali selling scarves say hi to him from the two english girls who bought so many scarves that he started to get suspicious that we were going to set up a shop), spices, perfumes and wood carvings.
Let me know if you've been to Essaouira or if you're planning to go...