Post-colonial elegance reigns at Heure Bleue, a hotel built into oceanfront Essaouira's medina walls. In Marrakech's alternative, seaside sibling where the likes of Bob Marley and Jimi Hendrix once relaxed, this luxurious hideaway offers peaceful rooms with traditional carvings, fabrics and lamps in a lavishly low-key atmosphere.
Get this when you book through us:
Traditional hammam body scrub for two in the 'Zen Rituals' space (book your treatment before arrival)
Double rooms from £124.70 (MAD1,573), including tax at 10 per cent. Please note the hotel charges an additional local city tax of MAD3.00 per person per night on check-out.
Rates include breakfast.
At the hotel
TV and DVD in-room, WiFi throughout. Billiards room. Gorgeous hammam with a cushion-decked relaxation room, spa and beauty treatments (in-room on request), home cinema room.
Our favourite rooms
All the rooms look onto the peaceful inner courtyard, a tranquil hideout of palm-trees, day-beds and inviting loungers; those on the upper floors are quieter and brighter. For a bath tub, book a suite: standard rooms only have showers. Most suites also have fireplaces separating the bedrooms from the sitting areas. The Oriental Suites are a sensuous deep red.
The heated rooftop pool is surrounded by decking; there are wooden sunloungers, with parasols to loll under.
Sunscreen. Essaouira is famously windswept, which can make the sun seem mild when it isn’t.
Book ahead for private use of the screening room. There are books everywhere for your pleasure, and a DVD library, or bring your own favourites. No pets.
Cots and high chairs available. Children aged three to 12 can share parents’ room if staying in a Senior Suite.
Royal Air Maroc (www.royalairmaroc.com) flies to Essaouira from Paris Orly, but most visitors arrive via Marrakech’s Menara Airport, which you can reach from various hubs across Europe with British Airways (www.ba.com), EasyJet (www.easyjet.com) and Ryanair (www.ryanair.com). Coaches run from Marrakech’s bus station (which is a €12 taxi journey from the airport) and cost around €7 a person.
You won’t need a car to get around Essaouira but if you’re planning to drive to the town you’ll find rental desks for Avis (www.avis.com) at Marrakech and Essaouira airports. The journey from Marrakech along the N8 highway takes around two hours. There’s parking at the hotel.
Worth getting out of bed for
Essaouira, on the Atlantic coast, is largely a laid-back beach city where hanging out on the sand or eating your fill of fresh seafood are order of the day. Sandy Essaouira beach is an easy walk from the hotel, and offers plenty of watersports as well as camel and horse rides. Explore Essaouira’s rivers and beaches on a quad bike with Palma Quad, or head out of town on camelback with Zouina Cheval in the village of Diabet. For an eco-conscious Argan grove tour, try Ecotourism et Randonnées; trips culminate in a traditional Moroccan tea. If you're a golfer, you're in luck: Mogador Golf Course is ranked among the world’s top 20 most exciting courses, though the 18-hole Gary Player-designed golf course has Atlantic views good enough to distract you from your game… If cooking's more your thing, learn from the best at L’Atelier Madada, the top spot to discover the delights of Moroccan cooking.
Housed in a former almond warehouse, La Table Madada (7 Rue Youssef El Fassi) has stone arches and tasteful art on the walls, and a European-North African fusion menu with some top-notch seafood dishes. The Loft is more casual, with wood-line walls and multi-hued plastic chairs, but its tempting dishes (beef tenderloin with pears, eggplant and goat's cheese mille-feuille and saffron-infused crème brûlée) make it feel like a fine-diner.
Arriving to an indigo sky and abandoned streets, at first we presumed our driver had dropped us at the wrong spot. Here we were, hammering on the walls of the medina. There were no lights to guide us, and no one around – just the sound of the sea crashing behind us. So, when the ten-foot oak doors finally inched open, creaking, to reveal a hotel, relief washed over us.
Dropping our bags and falling back onto the sheepskin-clad kingsize, we found ourselves in a junior African suite that suited us only too well after a three-hour drive from Marrakech. Dripping with heavy carvings and fabrics, decked with lamps and wooden-shuttered windows, the room was cavernous, sumptuous and luxurious. We tried to imagine who had owned this 200-year-old riad in the days when Essaouira had only just changed its name from Mogador.
In the morning, we woke feeling well and well-rested, to multicoloured sun streaming through the stained-glass windows. The madness of taxis, fishermen, shoppers, and market vendors tearing up the port below our window noisily announced that it was time for us to explore.
Breakfast at Heure Bleue is a well-stocked, plush affair in a traditional riad courtyard, complete with twittering birds flitting from table to table as you munch. Three floors of bedrooms all look down onto this grand, stone-pillared breakfasting banquet. Warning: resist the urge to take a flying leap onto the rope hanging from the ceiling as a sneaky shortcut to your fruit salad. (And don’t even think about it when you come home after a night on the tiles.) Having plotted a route on the map over a pastry and head-swimmingly strong Moroccan coffee, we headed out.
Built into the medina walls, the hotel is an oasis of luxe in laidback, countercultural Essaouira, the sandy sister of Marrakech and old hang-out of Jimi Hendrix and Bob Marley. The beach was getting a pummelling from the face-slappingly fierce winds that Essaouira is known for and, suddenly, the camper vans of the spliff-sucking hippie contingent made sense; they just wanted to retreat from the punishing wind. Declining a friendly offer of a smoke, we made our way to Place Moulay Hassan and up to the rooftop Café Al Faid, where we got a bird’s-eye view, sipped espressi and got our bearings.
Essaouira really is compact. Tripping over an Italian film crew shooting here (the town has played host to some epic-looking films – Kingdom of Heaven and, more recently, The Hills Have Eyes), we wound our way around the slipper/spice/hooded-robe souks and back down the main drag of Avenue de L’Istiqal. Meanwhile, the North African sun belted down and burned Mr Smith rather epically. Yup, even on a chilly February day, the sun can almost skin you alive. Quote of the day, as we snapped up some wooden carvings and boxes: ‘You’re welcome, one thousand times!’. Sweet.
Luckily, the hotel is just ten minutes’ pavement-pounding from the centre of town. So, nipping back to the rooftop pool, we cooled burned brows and took a breather while the call to prayer sounded from the minarets. A quick peek into the mini spa made us wish we’d factored some official pamper time into the schedule. The exquisite black-tiled, candlelit treatment rooms were begging to be abused. But foiled by the clock, we opted for the next best thing: food.
Make a reservation for Les Alizés. It’s a rinky-dinky, unassuming, traditional little restaurant – but ridiculously popular. We waited half an hour for a table, with an endless supply of pink olives to placate us. The happiest waiter in Essaouira brought us a beautiful tajine, complete with finger-burning earthenware to eat it from (why does that never look as good when you get it home?), plus comedy-proportioned huge wooden ladles to slurp soup with. Narrowly sidestepping the waves breaking against the medina walls, we ducked into Il Mare Mogador (Rue de la Skala) for a cheeky post-dinner drink. But as the live band struck up, we struck out – back to Palais Heure Bleue’s English-style bar for a bit of a late-night leather sofa/cigar/whisky action.
If you fancy a luxurious, anonymous, squidgy-bathrobed weekend in a stylish boutique hotel, punctuated with the odd meander through an atmospheric port and its film-set ramparts, then this is just the jaunt for you. Ideally, come when you need a post-Marrakech chill-out. A three-hour drive from the hustle and bustle, this is one beautiful, hushed hideaway in one very beautiful, ancient town.
Whenever you book a stay at a Smith hotel or villa, we’ll invite you to review it when you get back. Read what other Smith members had to say in Heure Bleue’s Guestbook below.
We loved the impeccable service, which is so rare these days, as well as the individualized attention - everyone came to welcome us. This is a true place of peace, relaxation and luxury. We spent three nights here and are ready to go back for a week! It has professional staff, excellent service - a one of a kind riad palace. I would recommend it without question.
Don't expect to need anything - the staff anticipate your every need.
Stayed on 3 Jun 2019
Wonderful environment - this is an oasis of calm in the medina - with a kind and helpful team, excellent spa treatments, good kitchen for all the regular dishes, but mostly for being so very civilised.
The rooftop with decent sized pool is great if its not too windy. Essaouira is always windy but if excessively so, forget sunbathing and take a trip inland to one of the small garden hotels for lunch.
Stayed on 10 Apr 2019
The beautiful room, stylish and spacious and comfy for us two and baby Smith. Lovely bath products and soft bathrobes, perfect for lounging around on long winter evenings. Fantastic roof terrace with pool, bar and light restaurant at lunch.
Huge amounts of natural light in your room unless you can get ours (number 38 on the third floor - highly recommended).
Stayed on 29 Dec 2018
The hotel's hammam was exquisite. The perfect place to relax and try the traditional Moroccan bathing experience. Staff were lovely and attentive, the perfect blend of local culture and luxury.