A beautiful port city on Morocco's Atlantic Coast, Essaouira is a must for a truly memorable Morrocan travel experience. During their trip to Morocco, the Grantourismo team decided to escape the hustle and bustle of busy Marrakech and head to the walled town of Essaouira for a few days. While there, the couple managed to kick back and relax in Dar Lazuli
, a cute three-storey Riad with rustic-chic décor, owned by Rachel Krish.
We wanted to learn more about how it's like to own a holiday home in beautiful Essaouira, so we asked Rachel a few questions about the property and her reasons for a buying a Riad in Morocco. What's more Rachel also offers her top tips for travellers in search of a laidback travel experience. For more great tips and inspiration about things to do and see in Essaouira, read all Lara and Terry's posts on Essaouira.
Why did you choose to buy a property in Essaouira?
We were first inspired by the renovation opportunities in Morocco when we threw a party in a rented Riad in Marrakech in 2004. The group visited Essaouira for the day, and the relaxed and friendly vibe appealed to us. Essaouira has enough flavours of exoticism and adventure whilst not being entirely dissimilar to our home town of Brighton, only with many more days of sunshine! With a mild and sunny climate, Essaouira is an ideal all year round holiday destination for visitors who want to chill out on the beach, experience the thrills of souk-shopping and haggling but also be able to get a cocktail and locate a range of international cuisines at the end of the day. It's a Moroccan location away from the constant hustle and bustle of the cities.
When did you buy the property and approximately how much did you pay for it?
We came back in February 2006 to search for a manageable renovation project in an excellent location which we did find, minutes from everything. Dar Lazuli was open for guests in September 2007 which wasn't bad since we were working in the UK and flying out at weekends to check on progress and refine and tweak designs as we went along. Our initial outlay for property and fairly major renovation costs were in the region of 100k pounds. Property prices have risen since this time and continue to do so. The process took a lot of patience but we embarked on the project ready to enjoy the journey; the people we met along the way (including the old lady, Khadija, who owned the house we bought, adopted us as extra daughters and hosted a Moroccan feast when we signed the deal) and the local trades and crafts folk who worked on the house. It gave us unparalleled access to how materials such as tadelakt were used and mosaic and zellig were installed. We designed the house ourselves and communicated with our largely Berber and Arabic speaking builders with 3-dimensional hand-drawings and coloured chalk outlines on the walls! We also speak French so were able to negotiate through all the official business and endless trips to council bureau.
Why did you decide to make it into a holiday home / rent it out?
Moroccan hospitality is well known and we knew that with the help of our housekeepers, Rachid and Latifa, who see to the day to day running of the Riad, we could create welcoming, high-quality self-catering apartments, which with the increase of tourists to the country was in demand. From the outset, our intention was to create a unique accommodation that would appeal to international visitors and offer them a comfortable and cosy refuge. Most importantly, by creating four independent living spaces, each with their own kitchen, bathroom, super-king bed and open fire sitting area, we wanted our guests to be able to shop in the markets and experience the pleasures of buying fresh spices and herbs to create whatever they wished in their own fully equipped kitchens. And if guests don't feel like cooking, then our housekeeper will deliver one of her delicious dishes to the door to enjoy at leisure. Our guests tend to be independent travellers who don’t want to be confined to hotel dress codes and dining options; here they can do what pleases them.
On average, how many weeks do you rent out per year, and during which months?
Dar Lazuli is made up of four individual apartments which can be rented in any combination, and some families or groups rent the whole house. We like to visit every three months but thanks to the year round clement weather the house is open all year, we have guests throughout the year with especially busy periods at New Year, Easter, during the Gnaoua music festival in June and throughout the summer months.
Why should people come to visit Essaouira?
Whatever time of year people visit Dar Lazuli there is always so much going on in Essaouira to suit all interests. For the outdoor types there is quad biking or camel/horse trekking in the dunes or even wind or kite surfing lessons at the many schools along the beach. For the culture vultures there are some renowned exhibitions of North African art to see or even commission the artist directly as well as exploring the ancient alleyways and riads that makeup Essaouira medina. Plenty of people watching opportunities from the many cafes serving mint tea (Berber whisky!) and delicious pastries; there are also roof top bars serving a range of alcoholic drinks. Photographers will be spoilt for choice either down in the port watching the wooden boats being built or the catch brought in or up on the ramparts. The beauty of Essaouira is its friendly welcoming people; whether you can speak a word of French or Arabic they will be keen to chat to you and ensure you have a great time and when you are ready for a rest Dar Lazuli is right in the middle of it all; minutes from the cafes, port, beach and souks which is especially handy if you have bought too much and need to drop it home!
What are your top tips for living like a local in Essaouira?
Top experiences are to get a delicious Italian ice cream from Dolce Freddo's on the corner of Place Hassan and take it up to the ramparts, find a spot on the wall and watch the sun go down. Also booking in advance (men and women at different times) a gommage at the Hammam, (housekeeper Latifa can help) you will be scrubbed, sluiced, exfoliated and massaged and left feeling shiny as a new pin. And finally, for foodies, pick a recipe or two you fancy from the books in Dar Lazuli, take a wicker basket off the hallway hook and explore the food markets to get the freshest seasonal fruits, vegetables and fish and then come home and cook your own Moroccan feast.
What is you favourite place in Essaouira?
Our favourite place to go is the Artisans Court (opposite hotel L'Heure Bleu) to watch the jewellers, carpenters and weavers at work; it is the best place to have personalised pieces made with beautiful Thuya wood boxes inlaid with a name or word or have a throw made to your colour requirements. It's a quiet shopping area which supports the local community by giving apprenticeships to young people, and sourcing local materials.
What is your favourite local dish and the best place to enjoy it?
Our favourite place to eat would be on one of the three outdoor terraces at Dar Lazuli with Latifa's home cooked preserved lemon and olive chicken Tajine and if you are lucky slices of cinnamon orange or a chocolate mousse.
What’s the best thing for travellers to take home as a souvenir from Essaouira?
Get something made at the Artisans Court such as a tray or jewellery box and look out for lovely semi-precious stones such as coral and lapiz lazuli (inspiration for the Riad's name!). Essaouira also has a creative rafia and rattan industry and you will see everything from sun loungers to brightly coloured shoes for sale or head to the small stall selling loose coloured pieces of rafia which you can take home and tie up all your presents with!
How would you describe the local people in Essaouira?
Smiley! Hardworking people with a strong faith in Islam who are willing to help and talk to you about where you come from and what you might like to see. Don't ever be too polite though if you are on your way somewhere and not interested in the slippers they are selling; for example, just be firm and pleasant and they will understand. Haggling is everything in Morocco and once you have the hang of it you will be fine - there are fixed price shops too for those of a nervous disposition. All Dar Lazuli's guests will get to know housekeepers Rachid and Latifa who are delightful, friendly and helpful.