ThinkStockQuiet, unassuming, minimalist – these words best sum up Madada Mogador, a comfortable riad centrally located in Essaouira, a picturesque port resort on Morocco’s Atlantic coast.
Madada Mogador’s relaxed atmosphere is due in great part to its willowy manageress, Pauline, and her helpful, unobtrusive staff. Originally from Senegal but brought up in Paris, Pauline guided us to some of the best places to hear traditional gnawa music, including the terrace bar of ‘Taros’ where we enjoyed the unique melodic fusion of guitarist and singer, Simo Haniche.
We reached Essaouira following short stays in Marrakesh and Oualidia – it’s a two to three-hour drive from either place, with a personal driver costing around one hundred and fifty dollars for the ride.
Our suite was a split-level one, with a bed above and below, located alongside several others around the central lobby. The owners have avoided fanciful decor, the room being more minimalist in style, with bare walls, a tiled floor and a brass wash-hand basin; amarble bath-shower combo lies in an adjoining room. Our veranda doors looked on to a small, private terrace and beyond to a grassy square lined with sit-down stalls serving fresh fish on paper plates on the port side of Place Moulay Hassan.
Aside from two sultry cats – Sultan and Sultana - two features of Madada Mogador make it alluring. The first is its expansive, open terrace facing the bustling port, traditional wood shipbuilding area and stone rampartson one side and on the other, a wide, crescent-shaped beach featuring a mix of camels, surfers, footballers and beach-buggy riders. The second, an intimate, glass-paneled room above with views over the fiesty sea and jagged teeth-like rocks – no better place for a delightful massage.
Marie Christine, owner of Madada Mogador, has also opened a restaurant, ‘After 5,’right next door. Akin to a cellar-Budha bar combo, it caters mainly for a younger, hip clientele and offers Morrocan food with a fusion twist.
Beside it, in keeping with a growing tourism trend, Christine’s brother, Pacha, has renovated a quaint area, known as l'Atelier Madada, out of a former warehouse and designed it specifically for cooking classes. Chefs Mona and Nour-eddine taught my partner not only how to prepare her first chicken tajine but also how to eat it in the traditional manner – using fresh bread dipped in the sweet and salty sauce to pick at the tender chicken in the pot.
An important trading port for the Greeks, Phoenicians and Carthaginians in the first century and later the Romans, Essaouira became known in more modern times, in celebrity terms at least, through Orson Welles and Jimmy Hendrix. Welles shot scenes for his production of Shakespeare’s ‘Othello’ there – the murder of Rodriguez in a fish hall – thus making it the first Moroccan town to become known as a cinematic location. Running out of money, it’s said costumes ended up being made from jute sacks used for transporting almonds and weapons from sardine tins. A small monument in Orson Welles Square honors the great director’s efforts. Hendrix spent only a few days in Essaouria, though legend would have it that he spent years there, bought a riad, wrote ‘Castles Made of Sand’ and even fathered a few Moroccan children. A sign in Restaurant Chez Sam – a three-minute walk from Madada Mogodar – saying, ‘A mon ami Sam, ‘63’ is quite simply a forgery but the restaurant itself - located literally on the water’s edge on the farthest point of the port - is worth visiting. Choose the fish baked in salt menu item and get there early before the crowd arrives.
The highlight to any Essaouira visit is a leisurely stroll through the labyrinth of alleyways in the old medina. There are three ‘must-have’ stops on that itinerary. One is a tiny pastry shop, Lamandine Souiria, where a quiet-spoken Faical Moulay serves up delectable Moroccan sweets. His mother and aunt are the heavenly bakers of the shop’s ‘gazelle horns’ as well as comossa, negrita, baklava and macroute. Lamandine Souiria is located on Rue Med Ben Abdellah.
The other two stops on the itinerary are close to each other along a narrow alleyway beside the central fish market. For 12 years a good-natured fellow by the name of Yunis has sold a colorful array of babouche (traditional slippers) out of his stall. Open to negotiation on price, he is a fair-minded man and an enjoyable conversationalist. Stall 181 of Souk El Gazelle.
Thirty meters away along the same alleyway is Said Asmarray - introduced to us by Chef Nour-eddine. The shelves of his small stall are lined with glass jars of succulent spices and scents for sale. Said himself will sit you down for mint tea and in addition to explaining the various uses of his products will also relate his family history with frequent references to photos hanging along his walls.
In salute, and indeed in fond farewell, to Essaouira, be sure to sit on the terrace of the Bab Laachour to enjoy the sun slowly setting behind the impressive sea bastion known as Skala du Port, the Ile de Mogador beyond and the needle-like outcrop of rocks that provide a half-submerged landing strip to them.
For more informtaion visit www.madada.com and www.lateliermadada.com
Image above and those below credited to Columbia Hillen
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Crescent-shaped beach with breakfast.
Happy chefs after a satisfying day in the cooking school.
Informal reception area, made for mingling.
Faical Moulay aims to please.
Does the slipper fit? asks Younis.
Food and music right next door at