Friday, 17 April 2015

Try Somewhere New This Summer

If you’re a parent of school aged children you’ll already know just how prohibitively expensive it is to go away in the summer holidays. Budget flights don’t exist once the school term has ended, and you can pretty much forget hotel accommodation if you want to keep costs under £3000 per family.  Add in other necessities, such as car hire and food, and a week in the sun can make a seriously scary dent in your wallet. The Guardian published some interesting figures last year showing just how much prices for family holidays can rise out of term time – think somewhere around  25-40% on average.

If you’ve been trying to book your summer getaway recently as I have, you’ll know that research like this is backed up by personal experience. It goes without saying that holidays are a luxury and that to be able to even consider one puts our family in a much more privileged position than others. But travel is something we enjoy as a family and we make small sacrifices throughout the year to justify our summer getaway. However, even with two okay-ish incomes and the aforementioned scrimping, getting away to popular destinations on the continent (and also in the UK) is becoming increasingly difficult to do on anything vaguely resembling a budget. Even the price of camping has escalated - it can cost you upwards of £2000 for 10 days at some of Eurocamp's Italian and Spanish sites.

So how about trying something a bit different this summer? We recently visited the Moroccan coastal resort of Essaouira, around 2 1/2 hours from Marrakesh. With direct EasyJet flights starting in May from London Luton, this laid-back Moroccan resort offers a much more budget-friendly alternative to the well-travelled hot spots on the Continent; fares start at around £67 outbound and £35 return. We stayed with family, but there is a good selection of well-priced, atmospheric riads in the centre of town. While not ideal for families, a riad does offer the quintessential experience, with direct access to Essaouira's bustling but easy to navigate medina, as well as its huge beach, an obvious draw if you've got little ones in tow. 

For accommodation options that are a little more family friendly, you could consider Le Jardins Des Douars, just outside of town, which has resort-style facilities in a luxe-y setting. It's got the all-important swimming pool, lovely gardens to chill out in and a babysitting service. A week in July for a family of four will set you back around £800, making it a much more affordable option than a comparable resort in Europe. With its traditional Moroccan decor - think tadelakt walls, glittering tile work and carved wooden furniture - this place couldn't be further from the sterile, could-be-anywhere look of your average mid-range resort. 

So, what to do when you're in Essaouira? Perhaps best suited to older children who don't need access to playgrounds and toddler pools, this is a relaxed resort where you can pass the days hanging out at the beach, hitching a ride on a camel or navigating the sand dunes on a pony ride. Older kids will appreciate a wander round Essaouria's colourful souks which are much less hectic, noisy and overwhelming than those in Marrakesh. You can see most of the town in an afternoon, stopping to look into the interesting marquetry workshops (Essaouria is famed for its exquisite wooden handicrafts - see if you can catch the local craftsmen at work in the small 'Thuya' workshops that line the the alleys near the harbour.)

The harbour is another must-see - kids will love watching the fishermen bring in their haul of the day. You can then visit a fish grill where you can choose the fish that takes your fancy and have it cooked to order. A walk along the Skala du Port gives great views out to sea and across the sparkling white city walls. 

The beach isn't the most scenic and the promenades that line the beach are a little rough round the edges - it's not quite the South of France. But what the beach lacks in sophistication it makes up for in space - you won't struggle to find a wide patch to spread out on and make a sandcastle or two. Be warned that Essaouria's beaches attract wind and kite surfers for a reason - the town's 'alizee' is an almost constant breeze that can blow up with some force at times. The sea - being Atlantic - is on the cold side and may sometimes be too choppy for safe swimming. Adventurous kids and grown ups can visit one of the surf schools that line the shore and take to the water in wet suits to catch some waves. 

At the far end of the beach, furthest from the town, you'll find some surfy hangouts and schools, as well as a collection of camel ride operators. A camel ride in Morocco is a bit of a given, and there's something very evocative about sitting aloft one of these ancient animals as you navigate the dusty sand dunes. Be sure to bargain a little before you mount that hump, though - if you can't get the price you want, try one of the other camel owners. Stop off at Ocean Vagabond, a funky beach cafe serving good value food including kid-friendly burgers and pizza.

On the subject of food, eating out in Morocco is much more kind on the wallet than its European counterparts. You can eat in quite an upmarket restaurant, with wine, for around £50 for a family of four. We loved the unusual Elizir restaurant in the medina, a truly unique eating experience where you can enjoy traditional Moroccan food alongside child-pleasing Italian dishes. The menu is small but you should find something of the pasta variety to keep little ones happy. What's particularly alluring about this place is that it's rather hidden and very eccentric - the owner (who trained in Italy's gastronomic capital, Bologna - hence the Italian references) collects retro bric a brac and furniture, creating an eclectic fusion of traditional Moroccan wall art and flooring with funky 60s dining chairs, lighting and other weird and wonderful objects trouve. 

Other highly rated restaurants to try include the sea-front Chalet de la Plage, reputed to serve some of the town's best seafood, and Chez Sam, a rustic joint down by the harbour, also good for sampling the day's catch. If you need somewhere to rest your legs mid meander through the Medina, make a pit stop at the charming Patisserie Driss, just off the main square. It gets very busy and the service can be slow, but it's a good place for a cafe au lait and a delicious Moroccan confection - try the pastries filled with almond paste. There's a pretty courtyard to sit in or you can take your goodies away with you.

Come evening head to Taros Bar, a cool but friendly rooftop hangout where you can eat or just enjoy a cocktail or glass of Moroccan Gris wine overlooking the sea. Kids are welcome and it's got a laid-back, Ibizan-style vibe that makes it feel a bit of a treat for grown-ups.

Other activities you might like to try include testing your golf skills at the Mogador golf course, just outside town. Kids are welcome to use the driving range and putting course, and prices start at about £20 for a family of four.

Essaouria might not quite have the polish of resorts in France, Italy or Spain but it's got an unpretentious charm and character all of its own. And with prices for flights, accommodation and holiday entertainment coming in at a lot less than its European counterparts, the little corner of North Africa has a lot to commend it...

For alternative side to Morocco, read my post on Marrakesh here.

1 comment

  1. Always fancied Morocco but was worried it might not be great for kids. Sounds like it might be an option, though, for a cheaper holiday!


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