Essaouira’s Festival of Atlantic Andalusian Music

It all started during a week-long adventure through Andalusia with one of my favourite gals. We had arrived in Cordoba where it was raining heavily, so we retreated to a wonderful Andalusian-style restaurant serving the most amazing Sephardic cuisine. As we sipped wine and sampled amazing dishes from the region, the sun broke through and the Andalusian musician played below.

Back in Morocco, in particular in Essaouira, one can easily feel transported to an Andalusian village. Christian, Jewish and Islamic symbols decorate archways and buildings. The old Portuguese Church remains shuttered up down a narrow alleyway while several synagogues await restoration in the Mellah district where the Jewish population previously lived peacefully among their near-by Christians and Muslims neighbours. (Today only one Jewish resident resident remains in this seaside town.) So it only makes sense that this coastal town hosts an annual Festival of Atlantic Andalusian Music in October.

We started the weekend off with a fabulous Flamenco show and then flocked to Dar Souiri on Friday afternoon for the Benjamin Bouzaglo concert in the Andalusian-style venue. Though we didn’t understand the lyrics, a kind woman explained the religious contexts as we clapped and sang along nevertheless.

Saturday morning we gathered for the film Aida by Driss Mrini which told the heart-warming story of Judeo-Muslim relations in Morocco and set between Rabat and Essaouira (the film has been nominated for an Oscar in the best foreign film category).

Unable to make it to the closing ceremonies later that evening, we enjoyed an afternoon concert by the female ensemble Arij all the way from Tangier. Accompanied by the oud, violin, piano and kanoun, the women sang to and performed for a standing room only audience.

As with all festivals, the weekend is enhanced by fine dining and hours spent in cafes with great friends. This weekend was no exception. My top tips:

Perfect for cooler evenings, the ambiance, food and service all get a thumbs up. Scottish owner John is brilliant and wonderful host throughout the evening. (We may have stayed here well in to the wee hours of the morning, but hey it’s the weekend!) This restaurant will be a regular must-do on return visits to Essaouira.

Without a doubt one of my favourite restaurants in Essaouira for its simple, but interesting menu, clean decor and wonderful service. Be sure to save room for dessert as the chocolate fondant with salted caramel sauce and ice cream is simply the best!

Green Wok
I love this little hole in the wall for its fresh Thai curries, spring rolls and cheap eats for a quick lunch with friends.

Patisserie Driss
We stopped in for breakfast daily and a few hours later we were still sitting in the courtyard of this Essaouira institution (it’s worth a visit just to see the art collection that cover every inch of the walls). Friends stop by, others come and go, interesting conversations shared and ideas told before saying our farewells until the next coffee break.



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