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Discover Morocco’s chilled-out side in Essaouira. While ‘relaxed’ isn’t the first word to spring to mind when most people think of Morocco, Essaouira isn’t the first place they think of either. The hustle and bustle of the markets in Marrakech could be another world away when you’re hanging out with surfer dudes on the windy beaches of this quirky coastal town.

In some ways Essaouira feels more French than Moroccan. Maybe because it was designed by the architect behind St Malo in Brittany, or maybe because the French language is widely spoken by everyone in town. Of course, Essaouira still retains plenty of Moroccan charm with the smell of spice and the sound of drums infiltrating the intimate alleyways of the UNESCO listed medina.

Word of warning: Essaouira’s strong trade winds and water currents means it’s not the best place for sunbathing or gentle swimming. However, if you’re into water sports like kite surfing, there are few better places to holiday. In fact, Essaouira is considered to be Morocco’s water sports capital.

Pop into one of the surf shops along the coast; many have multilingual instructors who would be happy to show you the ropes (or the boards, as it were). Most also offer equipment hire for experienced enthusiasts who don’t want to pay extra to fly their own gear out.

Of course, there’s more to Essaouira than water sports. Laid back nightlife, excellent seafood, and atmospheric souks (without the aggressive bartering) are just a few things you have to look forward to during a trip to Africa’s windy city. The fish market is one of the best places in town to eat. Pick out the fresh seafood of your choice and wait as it’s cooked in front of you.

The beating heart of Essaouira can be found in La Place, the town’s main square. Cafe culture is strong in this French inspired town, so sit down with the morning paper and sip a ‘half and half’ (half milk, half espresso).

There are lots of great places to stay in Essaouira, whether you’re looking for a five star spa hotel or just a basic place to lay your head after a day on the waves. Accommodation in the city centre is usually quite traditional. Most of the hotels are built around an internal courtyard in the Moroccan ‘riad’ style, and the medina teems with family run guest houses and B&Bs. Over by the waterfront, you’ll find more modern developments and chain hotels, many of which are geared towards families.