Seeped in history, Essaouira is one of Morocco's most atmospheric and inviting coastal towns. It's been a trading base for well over 1,000 years, dealing in everything from slaves and rare purple dye to tea and sardines, and its medina, fortified by the Portuguese in the 15th century, is still a thriving commercial centre, full of tiny shops selling beads, carpets and handmade shoes. But it's most famous for the friendly, laidback vibe which, since the 1950s, has inspired artists, musicians and filmmakers including Orson Welles, who famously used the city's impressive ramparts as a backdrop for his cinematic version of Othello.
Essaouira's old town is dotted with pretty riads and small hotels which attract discerning, arty laid back travellers looking for a low-key alternative to Marrakech. Essaouira's windy climate makes it unsuitable for a traditional seaside holiday but nonetheless there are some attractive, international-style hotels catering for those looking for a beachfront base.