If you’re brave enough (and people really should be at least once) to take a toddler on holiday somewhere different, I would highly recommend Essaouira, on the coast of Morocco.
Morocco is a great place to take kids – they love them here. Whist navigating the souks your toddler or baby’s head will be patted from various passerbys, all smiling down at them. My boy squirmed away every time someone patted him but this is very normal here, as my cousin who lives here testifies. The language is get-by-able – Morocco is a French speaking country, and your high school French should suffice. And if you travel with children you are high priority at the airport, even if you’re pregnant. They’ll rush you past security and the queues. A great start to a holiday.
Essaouira, on the Atlantic coast was made infamous in the 1960s when Musicians Cat Stephens and Jimi Hendrix visited the city, inspiring waves of hippies to follow in their footsteps. And some of them never left.
It’s a surfers haven here. The beaches, most very quiet if not deserted at this time of year, boast incredible high waves. Camels stroll the sand and wait for passengers. If the wind is strong, as it often is, it can put you in mind of Laurence of Arabia, sand whipped and raw.
Ellis loved the beach – he couldn’t wait to get his little toes on the wide expanse of the sand and play with the waves. He stripped down to his swimmers almost as soon as he saw the beach; the locals stood by watching incredulous in their jumpers and scarves. February is firmly still winter to them, to us, what’s the problem?! It was like a summer’s day in Scotland.
Lunch at Ocean Vagabond on the beach edge was as cool and hipster as you can get, the pizzas going down a treat. The decor – furniture made from driftwood and deckchairs in the courtyard.
The medina in Essaouira is a welcome experience compared to the large one in Marrakesh. The sellers don’t chase you down the street, here they are much more relaxed and we weren’t reluctant to enter their realms, full of fossils, intricate copper domes and lamps, multicoloured scarves, shining pots. Ellis witnessed bargaining as it should be done; with laughter and no obligation.
The medina is nestled in the walls of the sea fort that basically cradles Essaouira. It was founded in the 18th century by the Portuguese. There are still canons lining the towering walls which offer some kind of protection against the Atlantic wind.
In the morning go to the harbour; it’s a dazzling array of colour, sights and smells. The fishing boats are shabby chic, the feral cats are fluffy, and well fed with spare fish guts. The smell, well, it’s pungent.
We stayed at a French run villa, Les Jardins De Silona at the top of the hill, a 10 minute drive from the centre of Essaouira. Every inch of the hotel was well thought out, every space designed carefully with a French Moroccan feel with a retro look. Visiting children are well thought of too, with their own play room and a swing set behind the pool area. Highly recommended.
The final day was spent on our own beach, a drive of about 30 minutes north of the city, a ‘let’s set off and see what we find’ day. The beach stretched for miles and miles – a huge expanse of pure sand situated under a haphazard traditional fishing village.
We found large shells that you could actually hear the sea in (honestly!) and was teased by the tide for hours. As the waves started to wash away any traces of our footprints we decided it was time to climb back up the stunning sandstone rock formations and back to reality.
A week later, I’m still finding shells in Ellis’s pockets.
You can fly direct to Essaouira pretty cheaply – EasyJet fly from £28 one way from London.
Or you can fly to Marrakesh from all major airports – Glasgow has just started a new route with Easyjet – flights start around £40 – it’s then a 3 hour drive from Marrakech to Essaouira.